The Franchise on Fire

HUNGRY FOR HUNGER GAMES Freshmen Emma, Madelene, Nishali, Sydney and Allison dress in Hunger Games costumes for the premiere. Photo by Caroline

Hockaday students express excitement over the release of the first installment of The Hunger Games

On the eve of March 23 at NorthPark Mall, forty Hockaday freshmen gathered at midnight, clad in matching dark black t-shirts, in anticipation for the event of the spring: “The Hunger Games” motion picture premiere.

Fanaticism had spread through Hockaday faster than the latest Capitol trend.

It seems like just yesterday that the Twilight Saga ignited a firestorm of obsessed tweenage girls and less than enthused film critics. Now, fans count down the days until the premiere of the fourth and final movie “Breaking Dawn: Part 2.” And just last year, the final movie of the “Harry Potter” epic left its fanbase in withdrawal, scrounging for another reason to stir up hype and excitement. Cue “The Hunger Games.”

A popular science-fiction, dystopian trilogy with a strong heroine, Katniss Everdeen, “Hunger Games” rose to best-selling cult-status in four short years since Suzanne Collins published the first book of the trilogy in 2008.  A novel with depth and substance in a short 374 pages, the novel tackles subjects like civil war, nuclear crisis, starvation and tyranny.

“You can blow through the ‘Hunger Games,’ but it’s not something light or just teen fiction. It’s got ideals with actual issues with an actual plot paired with great writing and description,” senior Rachel, who shared her love for the games with her fellow advisory members (including advisor and Director of Health Curriculum Rebekah Calhoun herself) at the premiere said.

Just as before with “Twilight” and “Harry Potter,” Hockaday girls flocked to bookstores, re-reading the novel the week of the premiere and made elaborate plans for the night of. But this time, a more communal effort took place. “Everyone went in their own little groups for ‘Twilight,’ but for this, everyone massed together,” said freshman “Hunger Games” fan Emma.

Seniors Dunni and Daly catch up with homework before the movie starts. Photo by Caroline

The length and easy-to-read nature of the series, many argue, allowed more people to read at least the first book before the movie premiere.

“The books are pretty easy and quick to get through, but a series like Harry Potter is a time commitment. ‘Hunger Games’ you could probably read all of them in a week before the movie,” said freshman Allison, mastermind behind the freshmen gathering. Allison, along with classmate Kenya, ordered the district T-shirts for a group of 60 freshmen that shared their passion for the games.

The unity of the “Hunger Games” fan base was apparent as well as the equal level of obsession between all fanatics. Even despite the division between Team Peeta and Team Gale, audiences at the premiere united together in line, waiting for hours because of the books, not for the hype.

“The Logo makes you feel like you’re a part of something, almost like a cult,” Emma said, “When all of the characters are uniting together, you unite with them. Like when Katniss held up the sign to District 11, everyone else in the theater held it up, too.”

The universality of “The Hunger Games” and its power to reach multiple demographics is an aspect that many other book franchises do not have.

“I decided to read the ‘Hunger Games’ after speaking with students that are 10 years old, university professors and Mr. Ashton, and I was so interested in the variety of responses and the deep interest,” English Department Chair Dr. Deborah Moreland said.

The unity of the “Hunger Games” fan base was apparent as well as the equal level of obsession between all fanatics. Even despite the division between Team Peeta and Team Gale, audiences at the premiere united together in line, waiting for hours because of the books, not for the hype.

“I think there are issues of authority and power and  powerlessness that resonate for not only just teenagers but for many people, a feeling of trying to be effectual in a culture that seems to alienate us because it’s so large and we feel so removed from the political process.”

The successful cinematic interpretation of the first installment of the “The Hunger Games” came as a surprise to many due to the difficulty of adapting literature to film.

“I think that when we love a book and we go and live in another world for a little while…If the things that we love aren’t depicted in the same sort of a way, we feel somehow that the things that we resonated with in the novel are not as good anymore,” Literature and Film teacher Dr. Katherine Downey said.

Naturally, fans did have some qualms. Among the most commonly brought up problems: the depiction of the cornucopia, the absence of Madge and the lack of heat between Peeta and Katniss.

“The only thing I think that would have made the movie that much better was if [Katniss] actually would have looked hungry. She looked too healthy,” Rachel said.

Despite the inconsistencies pointed out by fans, Lionsgate, the trilogy’s production company, still reaped in profits, becoming the third highest movie debut in film history, behind “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2” and “The Dark Knight,” grossing $155 million at the box office in its opening weekend. Every single movie that had a top-ten debut (in terms of earnings) is an installment of a pop culture series franchise.

“I don’t think teenagers know why it appeals to them so much. I don’t think we grow up learning how to read popular fiction. We know we love it, but we have to continually process what is it about these characters that is so compelling?” Moreland said. “I think we need to do that with these artifacts of popular culture, which say so much not only about who we are as individuals but what our culture is doing right now. It’s not something that will be proved universal 100 years from now.”

“The Hunger Games” trilogy addresses the political themes of our culture today; rebellion, violence, discontent, class warfare, racial tension, and the feeling of insignificance as being the “governed”. These difficult topics create a problem for production teams who oscillate between sending out the message in an over the top way versus an understated one.

“It’s such a violent story. It’s about children killing children. It’s one thing reading that and transcoding it ourselves in our own private imagination. But to put this on a screen requires a different visual vocabulary altogether, which I think would be very offensive and not just provocative, but transgressive in a harmful sort of way,” Moreland said.

Luckily for the sake of the series, the violence and cruelty in the text translated into a more subtle tone for the cinema, which allowed the series to stay away from becoming a story too overdone. Its integrity was preserved even through its journey to the big screen, remaining unmarked by the dramatics of Hollywood and unscathed from the pressure of the fans.

“I think the most dissatisfying films are the ones that try to be faithful to the literary texts, and the most successful ones are the ones that take the literary text and then think about what needs to happen,” Downey said. “For some reason, we use this language of fidelity. What we look at is what is important in the novel that needs to come across in the film, and what does film do in order to do that.”

– Katie