Dear The Hunger Games cast and crew,
The Hunger Games is not the next Twilight.
I’m sorry. I know you all want to make money and roll around in Hunger Games hats and pins and Team Peeta t-shirts while hoards of fans line up outside movie theaters worldwide for days on end. I get that, I do.
But here’s the thing: When I read the Hunger Games book trilogy, I was surprised that it was marketed to young adults and children. The Hunger Games felt closer to the dystopian depress-fest of 1984 than to Twilight’s substance-less glitter.
The difference is that while Twilight is painted as a young girl’s fantasy, The Hunger Games exist in a world like our own: one that fully illustrates the consequences of our behavior.
We litter so the people of Panem live in filth. We waste food so the people of District 12 starve. We are lazy so young people in the future scramble to hunt and fight. We don’t use our vote responsibly so the corrupt Capitol can institute a game where children murder each other.
The Hunger Games envisions one potential future for us, and that future ain’t pretty.
If anything, the books are cousins to Shirley Jackson’s infamous short story The Lottery, wherein people of the future are chosen to be stoned to death through an arbitrary lottery system. The tale was so bleak that after it was published in The New Yorker in 1948, people cancelled their subscriptions and barraged them with hate mail. The story hit too close to home, but in time it came to be regarded as a mandatory classic -- relevant and necessary.
This is the line The Hunger Games movies should walk.
Look, guys (and girls, and Twi-hards searching for that next bandwagon), these are trying times in the real world. Unemployment in the United States is at a high 9.1 percent, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Over 925 million people on Earth qualify as hungry. The nation's official poverty rate in 2010 was 15.1 percent and climbing. Kim Kardashian is the highest paid reality television star, making $6 million a year. Survivor is on its 22nd season. Did you know people still watch Survivor? Jesus, it’s bleak out there.
Sometimes escapism is the answer, and in the movies, doubly so. It’s what we rely on them for. It’s why Transformers 3 got made.
Jennifer Lawrence, your stern Anne Robinson-hosting-The Weakest Link face in the short clip that premiered during the MTV Music Awards told us nothing about what the movies will be like. The other casting decisions haven’t exactly been what the fan base wanted. Choosing Josh Hutcherson over the Internet’s boyfriend Hunter Parrish as Peeta was a gutsy move. I was too excited by picturing Lenny Kravitz as flamboyant badass Cinna to even care who played Mopey-Dum (Peeta) and Mopey-Dee (Gale).
These minor bits are, so far, all we’ve got to go on, aside from a few early love triangle-based images that have given some Hunger Games purists ulcers. If you’re more worried about how hot Peeta will or won’t be, you may as well travel back in time and debate Team Edward vs. Team Jacob with some middle-school tweens because you’re entirely missing the point these movies could make.
Twilight fans like to argue that in order to really understand Twilight you have to read the books first. Just seeing the movies, they say, is what makes critics believe the series is dumb. If that’s true for Twilight, do you want it to be true for The Hunger Games?What a missed opportunity that would be.
Nightmare scenario: US Weekly starts running production stills of Katniss and Peeta under the headline “J-Law and J-Hutch Spotted Smooching!” ‘Saturday Night Live’ mocks how sexy Jennifer Lawrence is made to look, even while covered in mud and supposedly beaten and starving. “Sex sells!” Kristen Wiig (as Katniss) will proclaim while voguing with an arrow through her eyeball.
No one remembers that these books are about a government that forces children to murder as part of a reality television program, but everyone will remember it as just another silly little movie all the "tweens" are obsessed with.
As a fan of the series, I don’t want to get that glazed ‘Twi-hard’ look in my eye whenever someone brings up The Hunger Games movies.
“No!” we’d cry, as we’re summarily dismissed. “Just read the books! I promise the books have such a good message!”
Do you want to make us that person, director Gary Ross? Because I don’t want to be that person.
So as production wraps on the first (and most important) Hunger Games installment, the point of this letter is to tell those involved in these movies this: Don’t try to be the next Harry Potter, and certainly don’t try to be the next Twilight. The Hunger Games are harsher and realer than that. The message of the books is too strong and too needed. The movies should be horrifying wake-up calls, and not just serve as the basis for shirtless Peeta posters on the bedroom walls of thousands of 14-year-old girls. Children are forced to be strong, be independent and most of all, to kill, and there are no wizards or vampires to save us. The message of The Hunger Games is that we can only save ourselves, but you're the only ones who can save this movie from becoming the biggest joke of 2012.
Hollywood likes its sets and its heros and heroines to be pretty. It likes to gloss over the dirty, less-than-pleasant messages and present everything in a neat little package with a big pink bow.
The only bow on The Hunger Games should come with a sturdy quiver and a stack of sharp arrows.
May The Odds Be Ever In Your Favor,