Pop Rocks: Let's Pick Apart The Hunger Games

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The movie adaptation of The Hunger Games opens nationwide starting at midnight. You're welcome to check it out, provided you can get a ticket:

As if we needed any more proof that The Hunger Games is going to be a box-office bonanza this weekend, Fandango announced Tuesday that the movie has sold more advance tickets on its website than any other non-sequel ever. By the end of today, the futuristic action film will be sold out at more than 2,000 showtimes. The Hunger Games also accounts for a staggering 92 percent of Fandango's daily ticket sales.

I've seen the movie, and feel quite comfortable saying it will make eleventy gazillion dollars. But what about the source material? Suzanne Collins' original novel has taken some recent flak for a variety of reasons, which I'm going to address here. Because they're valid topics of conversation, and also because tagging your post with "hunger games" is a surefire SEO extravaganza.

Charge: It's Too White

Yeah, well, this is a complaint about most entertainment, isn't it? This criticism comes to me third-hand, from a message board frequented by educators, where there was apparently some debate about whether there were any people of color in the book.

I can only assume these same people haven't read the The Hunger Games, for while no one's going to mistake the setting for South Central Los Angeles, there are three characters I can think of: Cinna, the District 12 stylist, and Thresh and Rue, the tributes from District 11 (portrayed by Amandla Stenberg and Dayo Okeniyi in the upcoming movie).

There was more outcry when Jennifer Lawrence was cast as the "olive-skinned" Katniss, though it looks like they've swarthied her up just fine. Was an opportunity lost to cast an actual dark-skinned person in this role? Perhaps, but nothing bad every comes from casting Caucasians in duskier roles, right?

And not to bring another franchise in to the debate, but how many central characters in the Harry Potter universe are non-white? I guess no black people live in England.

Charge: It's Depressing

The world of Panem is pretty grim by YA standards, no doubt. Poverty is a constant state for most, starvation is a persistent threat, and then there's the more or less constant threat of reprisal for a seemingly endless list of offenses against the Capitol.

But then, that's kind of the whole point. While we may cringe at the goings-on down the Jersey Shore, we're free to turn the TV off. The Capitol forces everyone in the 12 Districts to watch the Games, which are themselves a means to cow the spirits of the people who once rose up against the government. And while we may currently find ourselves enjoying cinematic bloodletting or even MMA competitions, we're still a ways off from a televised battle royale to the death between unwilling children.

Am I allowed to say "battle royale" in reference to The Hunger Games? Because that brings me to...

Claim: It's A Rip-Off

Certainly the strongest (in volume, not necessarily accuracy) criticism I've heard leveled against Collins' book is that it's a blatant copy of the 1999 Kōshun Takami novel (and subsequent movie) Battle Royale, which is about (stop me if you've heard this before) schoolchildren forced to fight each other to the death by a future totalitarian government. Collins claims she wasn't aware of the work until she'd turned in her manuscript, and that's entirely possible. Personally, I know few people outside of movie folk and horror nerds who are even aware of its existence. The film never saw a U.S. release (until 2011), and the DVD was only available here through bootlegs or specialty stores until recently.

That's not to say it isn't derivative. The influences come to mind even as you're reading The Hunger Games: the future worlds of King (The Long Walk, The Running Man), Orwell (1984), Jackson (The Lottery) and Atwood (The Handmaid's Tale), the brutality of Golding (The Lord of the Flies), and the myth of Theseus.

A yarn is a yarn. No one, not even Collins, is claiming hers is a wholly original story. The question then becomes whether or not THG is worth all the attention?

Claim: It's Overrated

I don't pretend to understand why certain books (or movies, or "Cassingles") capture the public's fancy. Cultural sensations are funny in that, if you could predict their...sensationalness, you'd probably have a lot more money and hookers.

But that said, The Hunger Games book is just okay. Verb tenses appear to have been chosen arbitrarily, the structure is astoundingly simplistic, and as short as it was, I still wanted less of Katniss wearing pretty dresses and agonizing over how to deal with Peeta and more Katniss sending arrows through necks. I don't think "YA" necessarily connotes "inferior quality," but if the success of this and the Twilight books are any indication, lack of quality is no hindrance to success.

And so, finally:

Claim: Twilight Is Better Than The Hunger Games

I won't argue that Edward wouldn't win the Hunger Games outright every year (because as we know from his family's M.O., they hang around creepily for decades), but in a contest between Katniss and Bella...there is no contest. Bella spends four volumes getting remotely interesting, while Katniss wins a "to-the-death" competition and plants the seeds of rebellion, all in the span of one book.

The box office battle is on. Stay tuned to Art Attack to see the results of the coming blood bath.

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