Release Date: March 23, 2012
What It Is: The latest Young-Adult-book-series-turned-lucrative-film-franchise.
Why I Care: Look, if you haven’t read these books yet, go steal them from the backpack of the nearest teenager, and don’t finish this sentence until you’re done with the trilogy.
Not that you’d be able to put them down, anyway—The Hunger Games books are addictive as sin, and good Young Adult lit to boot. Stick an adrenaline needle into the heart of The Giver, and you’ll start to get the idea. They read like a leaner, scarier Harry Potter, or a sleeker, grittier His Dark Materials, or a less-Mormon version of Twilight where the heroine has a spine.
Reasons for Hope: You can’t blame Hollywood for seeing these books as prose-form screenplays. They’re taut and suspenseful, mixing honest sentiment with nauseating gore. Author Suzanne Collins created a world full of iconic moments and visual contrasts—for example, between the high-tech capital and the soot-coated mining district. Making movies out of these should be like hitting balls off of a tee.
And as the trailer already reveals, Jennifer Lawrence is a worthy heroine. She makes moments stand out: her desperate scream when her sister is chosen; her quick composure to repeat “I volunteer”; her darting eyes on the windowsill with Peeta. It’s silly to gush about a performance in a 2-minute trailer, but I know she’s going to nail it.
Reasons for Fear: If there’s one thing you can judge from a trailer, it’s a film’s visual texture, and The Hunger Games lacks one. The district looks plain. The capital looks sterile. I’ve got faith in director Gary Ross as a storyteller (the man wrote Big – he’s earned some slack), but the story is already written. The movie needs to retell that story in a visually arresting way.
The Verdict: A weaker, saner man than I would say, “Obviously it’s too early to tell.” But instead, I forward the following predictions:
- Rave reviews for Jennifer Lawrence and the adult supporting cast.
- Modestly positive reviews for the film as a whole. Aggregate score of 66-70 on Metacritic.
- Forgettable performances from the teenage male leads, who can’t hold a candle to Jennifer Lawrence—except in the hearts of young Twilight fans looking for a new love triangle to lose sleep over.
- $60 million box-office haul on opening weekend.
- Two or three Oscar nominations, perhaps including a supporting actor or actress nod. No victories.