This Friday one of the most eagerly anticipated film adaptations since “Twilight” will hit theaters.
“The Hunger Games,” based on the first book in Suzanne Collins’ bestselling trilogy, is already stirring up the same fervor in young viewers as “Breaking Dawn” or the “Harry Potter” franchise, with the New York Times recently reporting a line 3 city blocks long for a meet-and-greet with the film’s stars at the Union Square Barnes & Noble.
Like the “Twilight” books, the “Hunger Games” trilogy follows a young female protagonist who deals with danger and dueling love interests. And, like “Twilight,” “The Hunger Games” has been a smash hit not only with young adult but also adult readers (nearly 3 million copies are currently in print).
But that’s where the similarities end.
While “Twilight” offers a soapy romance that engages the heart more than the head, “The Hunger Games” is a book that will make you think. As an adult reader of the series, I can honestly say I’m excited about this film in a way I never was for “Twilight.” The source material has a lot more to offer than a world of beautiful vampires and hot-blooded werewolves. Instead, Collins has created a dystopian vision in the tradition of “1984” and “Brave New World.”
In the book’s post-apocalyptic world, North America has been reduced by disaster to the nation of Panem, composed of 12 districts ruled by one Capitol. To prove its total dominance, the Capitol requires that each year 2 children from each district participate in a televised fight to the death: the “Hunger Games.” Katniss Everdeen, a sixteen-year-old who lives with her mother and sister in what used to be Appalachia, chooses to sacrifice herself to take her sister’s place in the games. She must thereafter learn how to kill or be killed. More importantly, she must learn how to hold on to her humanity while the Capitol and the media seek to turn her into a disposable object of entertainment.
The books are a compulsive read, fast-paced and full of action. But they also offer a timely commentary on our current obsession with reality television, and our complacence as viewers with all of the ugly human behavior that reality TV depicts. It’s no wonder that “The Hunger Games” trilogy, unlike its “Twilight” counterpart, is being taught in grades 6 and up. Through these books, children are learning to question how and why televised images are shaped; they are learning how to become critical interpreters rather than passive receivers of media.
“The Hunger Games” does another thing that “Twilight” and many young adult novels don’t: it creates a powerful female protagonist and a positive role model for young readers. Katniss Everdeen is far from perfect. She can be bitter, impulsive and angry. But she is also brave and resourceful, even noble. Last year The Atlantic called her the most important female character in recent pop culture history, and not because, like Bella Swan, she has a proclivity for almost-deadly accidents, or falling in love with supernatural creatures. Katniss is competent and calculating, vulnerable and compassionate. In other words, she is a complex character, a tough and likeable heroine, who could do good by reaching a larger audience through film.
My hope is that the movie, like the book, will provide entertainment with a conscience: a plot-driven story with disquieting social commentary. If the film is half as good as its source, it will engage not only the heart but the mind, raising questions about the effects of reality television on our culture, our increasing desensitization to violence, and whether the future that “The Hunger Games” presents might be closer than we think.
“The Hunger Games” is now playing at Minaret Cinemas.