How Will ‘Hunger Games’ Fare in Shadow of ‘Harry Potter,’ ‘Twilight’?

Anybody who’s been paying attention to the movies coming out next year has probably heard “The Hunger Games” being touted as the successor to the “Harry Potter” and “Twilight” franchises. It’s been featured on the cover of Entertainment Weekly and written up in every major movie magazine and blog.

However, since the original novel has only been out for three years, there’s still a very large portion of the movie going audience which has no idea what this thing even is. Lionsgate has released the first full trailer hoping that it will entice those unfamiliar with the property.

Based on the young adult novel of the same name, “The Hunger Games” takes place in a dystopian future which uses the titular games as a form of entertainment and intimidation against the younger generation. Every year one boy and one girl are chosen from each of 12 districts; the 24 youths are then pitted against each other in a televised battle from which only one can emerge alive. The story focuses on Katniss Everdeen, played by Jennifer Lawrence, who volunteers in order to replace her younger sister who was chosen by lottery.

Connoisseurs of Japanese fiction may quickly take note of the extreme similarity to the Koushun Takami novel “Battle Royale”” and its subsequent manga and film adaptations. Though “Hunger Games” author Suzanne Collins claims to have never read or seen “Battle Royale,” the only difference in the basic premise is “Battle Royale” pits students from the same class against each other rather than from different districts.

This lent a somewhat more horrific aspect to the violent tale since teenagers had to fight and kill people they knew and were friends with. Lionsgate should be thankful the highly praised “Battle Royale” film never had an official theatrical or DVD release in the U.S., though it is available via Netflix.

It’s a rather violent premise for what is expected to be a PG-13 rated film, and the trailer doesn’t shy away from that. Actually, the trailer is largely about building the tension, and it does so expertly. There is almost no actual youth-on-youth combat shown, but the fact that it is inevitable is made clear. There are some training sequences and the trailer takes audiences right up to the start of combat.

There are a few odd things that muddy the waters, though, mostly the depictions of some of the adult characters. The woman who announces the competitors looks like she was imported from a burlesque circus and later on Wes Bentley is seen with a preposterously manicured beard. These images clash harshly with the gritty nature of the survivalist games that is being pushed. They may make more sense in context, but right now they stick out badly.

While the trailer does excellent work building the tension and selling the basic idea, it seems a stretch for this to be the next “Harry Potter” or “Twilight,” as the Hollywood promotion machine would have viewers believe. Though “The Hunger Games” is certainly successful and spawned a trilogy of books, it hardly has had the cultural penetration that either of those properties had prior to film versions being made.

Also, the controversial subject matter will make it difficult for the adaptation to engage the wide demographics of “Harry Potter,” and its fan base hasn’t proved to be as fanatical as “Twilight’s.” The film is scheduled for a March 23 release; that’s when Lionsgate will find out if it marketed the movie as well as it needed to.

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