by Jon Worley
So The Hunger Games made a shitload of money in its opening weekend. In March.
This doesn't surprise me much. The book was pretty good (something of a tweeny mash-up of 1984, Lord of the Flies and The Running Man), and the book and its successors have sold 25 million copies in the U.S. alone.
The test will come when the sequel, Catching Fire, comes out next fall. Catching Fire is a pale, uninspired rehash of the first book--complete with an almost-identical plot, except for a different twist at the end. I didn't read the third book (Mockingjay) because Catching Fire annoyed me so much, but I do remember the big sensation when it came out. Lots of adults I know were standing on line for that one.
Some critics have complained that The Hunger Games rips off Battle Royale, a hit movie in Japan, but not so much here. I've actually seen Battle Royale, and it's not all that great. Bloodier than The Hunger Games (I haven't seen the movie, but I am trusting the PG-13 rating), but without much in the way of character development. Others have compared Tee Hunger Games to another Richard Bachman (Stephen King's alter ego) book, The Long Walk. I agree there are a number of similarities (also true of the Bachman book that I referenced above, The Running Man), but King himself has repeatedly praised The Hunger Games, so there seem to be no hard feelings.
So. Why The Hunger Games? Why are kids devouring the books and now packing the theaters? What is it that makes this series such an event?
I dunno. I'm not much of an expert on the inspiration of the zeitgeist. Some have suggested that The Hunger Games represents an indictment of Obama and his administration. Interesting idea, except that it was written in the mid-2000s and came out in September 2008. And it was an immediate best seller. Scholastic printed 200,000 copies, eventually putting almost a million and a half books in print within a year. Stephen King (him again!) wrote a glowing review in Entertainment Weekly. In short, the book was massive even before the 2008 election.
Part of the initial success is that Suzanne Collins, the author, has written many other books, including the best-selling Gregor the Overlander series. In a former life, she was also the head writer for "Clifford's Puppy Days," which is about as far away from The Hunger Games as you can get. Anyway, she was already famous and successful when she turned in the book. Thus the order for 200,000 copies.
While adults have taken to ebooks and the like with alarming rapidity, the kids who do read far prefer books. Also, no sensible parent would entrust a child with a $200 (or $500) piece of equipment when the same thing can be had for $10. And unlike electronics, books can survive a host of calamities without going completely on the fritz. Indeed, the most dog-eared and food-stained of my books are among my favorites.
I think that it is that youthful love of the book that has driven the success of The Hunger Games (not to mention the Twilight books, Harry Potter and the ever-burgeoning Rick Riordan colossus). Kids like a good story, and they are fiercely loyal to their crushes. So what if the next two installments kinda blow? The Hunger Games is a great read. Kids and their parents were ready for the movie, and they came out in droves this weekend. It probably helped that the movie was at least pretty good (as opposed to the gawd-awful rendition of the first Percy Jackson book, and I'm not even going to start about the creeping death that is the Twilight movie series), but even if it had utterly sucked, the box office would still have paid for the $85 million cost of the movie in the opening weekend.
So dig it. The new phenomenon. Girl power. Archer's delight. Down with big brother.
What's not to love?
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