The Hunger Games: What’s the fuss?

The Hunger Games, directed by Gary Ross, opened last weekend with an estimated $155 million in U.S. and Canadian ticket sales. (Associated Press)

Cinema 3 was full last Thursday night at a special preview of much-talked-about film The Hunger Games, an adaptation of the first book in a trilogy. Some have compared the series to Harry Potter for its rapid rise to popularity and fanatic fan base.

Frankly, I think Twilight makes more sense. Cognitive function is not required to appreciate the message. The story is told from the perspective of Katniss Everdeen, whose character strongly resembles Bella Swan both in looks and development.

Unlike Twilight, however – the literary and cinematic equivalent of a burnt marshmallow – the story of The Hunger Games is sustained a good ‘meat and potatoes’ plot, lightly topped with melodramatic gravy. But to compare it to the seven courses of gourmet storytelling that make up Harry Potter is preposterous.

While the book is rich in a not-so-subtle commentary on the dangers of our preoccupation with Hollywood and the menace that is government whimsy, the movie lacks that sense of possibility and urgency.

The Hunger Games are set in a dystopian future North America, divided in to 13 districts. Twelve of them are ruled over by the capitol and the 13th is presumed obliterated following a rebellion 74 years past. Each district chooses two tributes, a boy and a girl, at random each year to compete in the annual Hunger Games.

Apparently filmed without the use of a tripod, The Hunger Games rushes through its allotted two hours twenty-two minutes without conveying the injustice of a world where 24 12 to 18-year-olds are regularly sent to die in an American Idol meets Gladiator-style competition while their friends and family are forced to watch.

For those concerned about it staying true to the book, you can relax. I noticed only two deviations from the plot, both minor and easy to write around in the sequels. Finer details of the book, namely the violence, did not feature prominently in the movie.

I think where I take issue the most with the comparison of The Hunger Games and Harry Potter is the voice. J.K. Rowling does not subject us to every thought that passes through Harry’s head and allows his character to develop naturally through interaction with others and his responses to the world around him. Without the internal monologue, Katniss doesn’t have much to her.

Really, The Hunger Games paint a world not so very different from our own. The difference is that the entire story takes place within North America, rather than unfolding around the world with North America as the Capitol.

So what is it about Harry Potter, Twilight, and now The Hunger Games that draws such an intergenerational fan base? As far as I can tell, it’s that no one is happy at the age they are. Adults want to be kids again and read books recommended to them by their children. Tweens and teens are in a hurry to grow up, so they read books about people their own age in circumstances that force them to abandon the naïveté and innocence of childhood and take on the responsibilities and emotions of adulthood too soon.

And to some degree, we all place ourselves in the story.