The Hunger Games: Bigger Than March Madness?

OK. Somehow Prez O was able to score some tickets for the first round NCAA game  today in Dayton between Mississippi Valley State and Western Kentucky. And British Prime Minister David Cameron will be tagging along as the guest of the Hoopster-in-Chief.

No harm no foul here. Yet something tells me that if the Prez really wanted to make some points with his British counterpart, he would have taken him to a private showing of The Hunger Games, which premiered at the Nokia Theatre in LA yesterday.

That flick is shaping up as an event that far eclipses March Madness as it makes its way into general release March 23. There is even some talk in the Jewell household of me being in the queue for one of the first showings. LOL

Actually, I’m still reading the book — the best-selling novel by Suzanne Collins. And so far so good in terms of an engaging story, and from what I’ve read about the book, I pretty much know the plot. Yet, and I recognize that I am beginning to fret too much in my dotage about things that are out of my control, I have some reservations about how this is going to be portrayed on the big screen.

Essentially, this is a story about children being placed in the unimaginable situation of having to kill other children — or be killed. Not many yuks there. And if the flick is any good, I imagine the audience will form some emotional bonds with some of the characters who don’t make it out of the arena standing.  Gee. Kind of a Spartacus for those who can’t shave yet. I digress.

And just to show that I’m not always the only one crawling out on the thin end of the tree limb on these matters, here’s an interesting NYT story, “Peer Pressure? How About, Like, Fighting to Death?“:

HERE’S a pop math quiz: “The Hunger Games,” a best-selling novel by Suzanne Collins about children killing children, is recommended for readers 12 and older. The “Hunger Games” movie, which shows kids killing kids, is angling for a PG-13 rating when it hits theaters March 23. To complicate matters, many readers under the age of 12 are dying to see the movie. Meanwhile, Jennifer Lawrence, the film’s star, is 21. She got the book at the behest of her mother, a reader and fan.

So who is the audience for “The Hunger Games”? A tense and gritty critique of media culture with violence as entertainment, it could be a movie squarely aimed at grown-ups. Or a family film that works on different levels for older and younger viewers, the way Pixar releases do. Or it could be the next “Twilight,” another smash young-adult-novel-to-teen-movie adaptation with a similarly vexing (if less prominent) love triangle.

The open question reflects the book’s audience. In recent years a wave of popular young-adult novels has generated a happy convergence of readers who are young, readers who are young adults and readers who are, well, old adults. These best sellers may have caught Hollywood’s attention, and led to major deals. (See the dystopian “Divergent” and “A Fault in Our Stars.”) But that doesn’t make even a blockbuster like “The Hunger Games,” which has sold more than 11 million copies in the United States since it came out in 2008, a sure box office hit.

“There were a lot of ways this could become a movie that didn’t honor what the book was about,” said one of the film’s producers, Nina Jacobson, who described herself as obsessed with the novel, and who optioned “The Hunger Games” immediately after reading it. She made a passionate case to the author, promising to respect the book’s fans without pandering to a teenage audience. But Ms. Jacobson assured Ms. Collins she wouldn’t dilute the story by aging the characters up or by glamorizing its violence. “I loved the book as an adult,” Ms. Jacobson said firmly. “I don’t think it’s a Y.A. novel.”

And more:

For Ms. Lawrence that central conflict posed “one of the biggest problems” for the movie: “If we protect the audience from the brutality of the story, you lose the impact. You take the heart of it.”

The filmmakers seem to have taken the tack of focusing on the impact of the violence, rather than the violent acts themselves. The drama arises not from what a 14-year-old does with a knife or a blunt object, but with the stunned and terrified ways the other children view those actions. And there is no happy let’s-learn-to-do-magic windup to the darkness they face.

Well we’ll see.

And I’ll assume that the main character, Kitniss, will survive longer than my March Madness picks.

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