Last night – well, I guess it’s technically early this morning, right? – I attended the midnight movie premiere of The Hunger Games at my favorite local theater. From the initial presales to the opening, they increased their midnight showing to six screens, so I knew to expect a big crowd. The lobby lived up to it, and all the chairs in my theater were taken except the very front two rows of those crane-your-neck-until-it-hurts seats. Impressive!
The composition of the crowd was interesting. Although The Hunger Games is a young-adult book series and has a huge teenaged fanbase, the audience was at least half adults. Which is very cool considering it’s spring break for the high schools here this week, so it was actually not a school night for the kids even though it’s a work night for the grownups. And the crowd showed how much The Hunger Games isn’t just a book for the ladies of all ages, too. A lot of men and boys were there – and I even overheard one young man trying to summarize the story to his girlfriend who hadn’t read the books. I also saw quite a bit of racial diversity, as well. I did notice one interesting dynamic, though: while there were groups of girls and women, and lots of couples, I didn’t see any groups of just boys or men. Many reviewers have commented on the broad-based appeal of The Hunger Games across gender, age, and race lines, and the crowd at the midnight showings definitely bore that out.
For all the reflexive comparisons of The Hunger Games to Twilight, the reaction to the trailer for Breaking Dawn: Part 2 was actually quite muted. I heard a bit of cheering but not much, although it appeared to come from the same girls who later giggled at the handful of very brief scenes – sometimes just a flash of a facial expression – used to remind the audience of the thin love triangle undercurrent in The Hunger Games.
Without getting into spoilers – look for a full movie review later this weekend – my gut reaction to the movie is that it had a much stronger emotional impact than I anticipated. Maybe some of that comes from my exhaustion of still being awake at nearly three in the morning when the film ended, and I’ll be interested to see if I feel similarly affected when I see the movie again in a daytime showing. But I suspect that my intense emotional reactions will remain, in large part because director Gary Ross did a great job with using the movie medium effectively.
The film adaptation captures the spirit of the novel while also taking advantage of ways in which a movie can convey certain emotions more viscerally than a book can. For example, some of the early sequences of the movie are shot with shaky handheld cameras, and my first reaction was that if the whole movie looked like that I wasn’t going to like it. As the movie progressed, though, I realized that Ross was selectively using the shaky visuals to deliberately evoke that reaction from the audience. The shaky visuals gave me an almost physical feeling of discomfort, and Ross used it when that’s what he wanted. In other scenes, the traditional stable cameras gave the normal experience of watching a movie. Which is the great meta-level irony to The Hunger Games – we’re watching a movie about a culture, the decadent Capitol, watching a reality-television teenaged death-match. At times Ross lets us experience the unfolding events the way the Capitol does, but at other times he wanted to remind us, in the real world, that it’s supposed to be awful. If the camera work was smooth and comfortable, the viewer becomes the Capitol, and he didn’t want that. He wanted us to experience the moment with Katniss.
One last thought for now, along the same lines – I thought Ross did a great job with handling the violence of the Games and its impact on the teenagers without crossing the line into gore. Because really, the story isn’t about the bloody violence; it’s an allegory about how to struggle against the monstrous crimes of an oppressor without becoming a monster yourself. Having now seen the movie myself, I think the message Ross and Suzanne Collins are sending to the audience, and to some reviewers, is this: if you think the movie should have had more graphic violence in it, then maybe you’re already closer to the mindset of the Capitol than you realize.
The Hunger Games novel trilogy really makes you think: about yourself, your choices, and the society we live in. Although the movie succeeds in a lot of other ways too, keeping true to that fundamental aspect of The Hunger Games may be its biggest success.
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