Liz Smith: Will “The Hunger Games” Eat Up the Box-Office? Yes, It Will!

Jennifer Lawrence as Hunger Games heroine Katniss Everdeen

And more from our Gossip Girl: New Yorkers in a frenzy at a “sneak” screening of the long-awaited film

“ONLY WHERE children gather is there any chance of fun,” said writer Mignon McLaughlin.

Maybe that’s true, but certainly not in the new expected blockbuster movie, “The Hunger Games.”

I’ll be totally upfront. I had never heard of the bestseller, aimed at young adults, upon which this movie is based. Like the “Twilight” phenomenon, the book only came to my notice as the film itself was being readied for release. I never read a Twilight novel and I might not read Hunger Games. I am not a young adult.

Attending a “special” screening of “Hunger Games” the other night down at the SVA Theater on West 23rd Street in New York City gave a good opportunity to gauge the reason the studio Lionsgate is so sure they have a giant hit on their hands. The streets were packed with screaming fans, many of them holding copies of the book, hoping to get Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson or Liam Hemsworth to sign. (They are the three teen protagonists of the film.) Although the crowd was so hyped up, they would have settled for Stanley Tucci, who plays one of the awful adults who gleefully send adolescents to their doom. I know I’d settle for the sexy Mr. Tucci.

Inside the theater, we asked the eternally dapper and amiable Andrew Saffir of The Cinema Society, “Why did you keep saying, ‘Don’t tell about this screening in advance? ‘Mum’s the word’ and all that. This place is crazy, what more could there be?” Andrew laughed and said, “What more? How about people sleeping on the street in front of the theater for three days? That’s what happened in L.A.”

Well, considering the furor, “The Hunger Games” screening — co-hosted by Calvin Klein Collection — began remarkably near its scheduled 7:30. The crowd was a mix of high-style, hip-style, super-casual and quite a few kids.

* * *

SO, WHAT about “The Hunger Games?” It’s not an original concept, for one thing. The post-apocalyptic world where people are forced to fight each other to the death in arenas, or watched on TV by millions, is a well-known sci-fi plotline. We’ve all seen those movies. This one is different because the “warriors” are children, chosen from something called a “reaping” — two from each District. There’s not a lot of backstory as to how the world degenerated into this condition, but I guess if you’ve read the book, it is clearer.

“Hunger” is big and impressive and expertly directed by Gary Ross. But when the lights came up after two hours, what was one left with? I was morbidly depressed, upset. It had been two hours of relentless sadism and a cruel battle to survive. It was like “Lord of the Flies”/”The Truman Show” and “American Idol” all gone really bad. If I wanted to see people suffer endlessly, I’d just watch a marathon of The Food Network’s sadist’s paradise, “Chopped.”

The film is aimed at a young audience, so the violence, while slightly less gruesome than in, say, a “Saw” movie, is still fairly graphic. Leaving the theater, I felt I’d been hit in the head with a large rock. Maybe this is what the director intended? Maybe adults are more distressed by this than their kids? There is tentative uplift at the end, despite all the agonies. And the sequel is well under way.

The three young stars — Miss Lawrence, Mr. Hutcherson and Mr. Hemsworth — acquit themselves extremely well. Although Mr. Hemsworth has no more than ten minutes screen time. I assume he’ll have more to do in the sequel(s). As the frightened but increasingly resourceful heroine, Miss Lawrence (Oscar-nominated in 2011 for “Winter’s Bone”) is clearly poised as a figure of young female empowerment. I didn’t find her especially charismatic, but she is in almost every scene of the movie, and threw herself into her grueling role with remarkable energy. (She looked far more attractive and vital in person, with lighter hair and a low-cut green dress. But one might argue her role in “The Hunger Games” wasn’t about glamour or cleavage.)

Wes Bentley, Donald Sutherland, Lenny Kravitz, Elizabeth Banks and Woody Harrelson are on hand as well, preparing the children for their deaths. (Out of 24 “contestants” there can be only one survivor.)

It’s a gripping movie, but left too bad a taste in my mouth to recommend it to anybody other than a fan of the book. From what I hear, most fans are quite pleased with the adaptation from page — or Kindle — to screen. But I’m glad I saw what promises to be the first of at least two more gigantic hits. And the industry needs a few of those. Maybe I will read the book.

* * *

AFTERWARD, EVERYBODY traveled over to The Standard Hotel, crushed against each other happily. Or at least with grumpy resignation (if you accept one of these invites, don’t expect a cozy candlelit dinner where you can chat in normal tones about the film). Among the crushed were Debra Winger Tony Danza Cuba Gooding, Jr Rob Thomas Gayle King Seth Meyers Jake T. AustinKathy Najimy Scott Gorenstein Sally MorrisonSpike Lee Courtney Love Dan Abrams Gina Gershon. The cheeseburger sliders were especially moist and the fries, wonderfully salty. DJ Mia Moretti really mixed it up in a truly engaging way — and as we escaped the madding (and maddening!) crowd, Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” was blasting.

But the big moment of the night — aside from the movie itself — was the party entrance of Mr. Hemsworth, aka Miley Cyrus’s boyfriend. Mr. H., who is very tall, sauntered into the Standard and scooted to the booths reserved for the stars, and friends and family of the stars. He immediately took off his beautiful gray suit jacket, unbuttoned the top three buttons of his shirt, pulled out his shirttails and rolled up his sleeves, revealing massive forearms. This performance was so compelling that a group of otherwise normal-looking young women became undone, and in jockeying for a better look, almost knocked over one of the servers. As it was, the plate of lobster rolls he was carrying rolled to the floor.

More than any pro or con critiques of “The Hunger Games,” it was most often said that night: “Miley Cyrus is one lucky girl!”

6 comments so far.

  1. avatar Ber says:

    Liz – thank you for the overview of the “Hunger Games”.  I’ve heard and seen snippets about this movie everywhere yet had no idea what the buzz was about.

    I do think I will pass on this movie after your description as there is enough to get depressed about in the world without paying for more.  As it’s creating so much interest – maybe I will read the book however. 

       

  2. avatar Lila says:

    A friend (who has young-adult kids) gave me the Hunger Games books a while ago. I found them enjoyable entertainment, but was surprised to hear that they were being made into a movie. Curious to see how it does. Some reviewers think the movie is even better than the books.

  3. avatar Jay Gentile says:

    I find the premise of killing children for entertainment highly objectionable. No thanks.

  4. avatar Frau Quink says:

    I read about 100 pages of this book and found the writing to be excellent, but the subject too dark…..I am not surprised that the book got snapped up for a movie, because it is very good.

  5. avatar maytaguide says:

    I am certain Hunger Games is a film I will never go to see.

  6. avatar Megan Freedman says:

    The back story of the world in hunger games is reestablishment after nuclear war (we are led to believe). They set up the capital with supporting districts. The districts rose up against the capital and were defeated. As their punishment, their children are reaped every year to fight to the death in the horrific games. It reminds them of what they stand to lose should they ever rise up and fight again. In my opinion, these books are on par with the Enders Game series, which also has children as the main characters, and are classic literature. They are quite well written. I’m interested to see how they do the adaptation myself.