BY PAUL SMITH
INTRO: As Harry Potter’s magic fades and the lifeblood trickles from the Twilight series, there’s a new teen franchise to get excited about. The big screen adaptation of Suzanne Collins’s young adult trilogy, The Hunger Games, opens today.
PAUL SMITH, REPORTER: The novel has been a New York Times bestseller for three years. And the movie’s predicted to shatter box office records. But the story is violent, perhaps too violent for a young audience. The plot centers on teens killing teens in a brutal quest for survival. Paul Smith staid up past his bedtime for a midnight screening. Two hours before the movie opens, there’s a line snaking round AMC Loews Lincoln Square cinema. People clutch kindles and dog-eared paperbacks. And many are in costume – pink wigs, sparkly blazers, some are carrying fake bows and arrows. These diehard fans look slightly older than Harry Potter or Twilight nerds. Elizabeth, a NYU student, is dressed from head to toe in pink, in homage to character Effie Trinket. She says she’s read the novels ten times and just spent her spring break reading them again.
ELIZABETH: As much as I love Harry, it’s nice to have a woman hero for once.
The bravery and resilience of Katniss Everdine appeals to both girls and boys. And being a teen movie, there’s an angsty love triangle too, which entices super fan Kyle.
KYLE: Like Twilight, there’s like team werewolf and team vampire. Hunger Games, Paul, is team Peta or team Gale. Personally, I’m team Gale because he’s so sensual and masculine and quiet and you fall in love with that man.
PAUL SMITH: But wait a minute, let’s rewind. The story is set in a bleak future, when 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen volunteers to fight in the annual Hunger Games, a humiliating public spectacle, intended to punish the innocent. The contest makes Katniss a celebrity. But to be the winner, teens must methodically kill each other off. Tonight, all the Lowes Theater’s multiple screenings sold out, starting at 12.01, 12.02, and so on. Literary crossovers on this scale are pretty rare says Laura Miller, a cultural critic for salon.com. The Hunger Games’s success, she says, is partly literary clout, but also has to do with word of mouth, shrewd marketing campaigns, tantalizing cliffhangers and a not-so-secret allegory for older readers.
LAURA MILLER: What adults respond to is this vulture like voyeurism of highly mediated eea not just reality tv but paparazzi all this stuff the idea that we just consume other peoples lives in a heartless way.
PAUL SMITH: And in a gory one. Kids impale kids with spears. Or they get set on fire. Or attacked by killer bees. The movie’s struggled to earn a PG-13 rating. Beth Puffer runs the Bank Street Bookstore on the upper west side, specializing in children’s literature. She’s been shifting plenty of copies lately, but with a warning.
BETH PUFFER: We do have parents of younger children coming in wanting to read it because they’ve heard about it and we discourage them because we’re very honest about what it’s about and that it can be very troubling to a younger child.
PAUL SMITH: Some moviegoers found it troubling too. At 3.am, the crowd trickled out of a screening downtown, including Dan Walsh.
DAN WALSH: It was a lot more disturbing than I originally thought. When you’re reading it you don’t think about teenagers killing each other but now it’s so blatantly obvious.
PAUL SMITH: Disturbing or not, it’s already hit. Advanced box office sales have pulled in more than $100 million dollars.