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‘The Hunger Games’ Phenomenon: Examining Film’s Buzz, ‘Insane’ Marketing

March 23, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
When the clock struck midnight early Friday, fans of the wildly anticipated movie "The Hunger Games," based on the young-adult series by Suzanne Collins, cheered as they flooded more than 2,000 screenings across the country. Jeffrey Brown discusses the movie's appeal and buzz with The Atlantic's Jen Doll.
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JEFFREY BROWN: And finally tonight, the “Hunger Games” franchise guns for box office gold this weekend, following its already successful hunt for millions of readers and book sales.

The hype had been building for weeks.

QUESTION: When did you guys get your tickets?

GIRL: Oh, God, like Feb. 22.  Feb. 22.

JEFFREY BROWN: And, yesterday, online ticket seller Fandango was reporting sales of 10 tickets per second.

GIRLS: We love “Hunger Games”!

JEFFREY BROWN: So when the clock struck midnight, fans of the wildly-anticipated movie “The Hunger Games” cheered as they flooded more than 2,000 screenings across the country.

“The Hunger Games” is based on the bestselling young adult series by Suzanne Collins. The trilogy has sold 24 million copies in the U.S. and been published in at least 26 different languages.

ACTOR: This is the time to show them everything. Make sure they will remember you.

JEFFREY BROWN: It’s set in a post-apocalyptic North America, where 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen becomes the film’s heroine when she saves her sister from a deadly government-mandated ritual.

JENNIFER LAWRENCE, actress: I volunteer! I volunteer as tribute.

JEFFREY BROWN: That throws Everdeen, played by Jennifer Lawrence, into a vicious fight-to-the-death competition with other teens on national television.

“The Hunger Games” is poised to be one of the top-earning opening weekends ever.

Jen Doll has been reading, watching, and writing about all this for The Atlantic magazine. She joins us from New York.

So, Jen, for those not in on this, what explains the appeal of “Hunger Games”? Start with the books. What do they do?

JEN DOLL, The Atlantic: Well, I think the very first thing about the books is that they are incredibly compelling and captivating, and yet they are young adult books. So they’re pretty easy to read.

They’re pretty fast-paced, and there isn’t a lot of, I suppose, flowery, intellectual writing that you have to parse through. You get the story. You get the plot. And you can read through it in a night, and you just keep going with it.

JEFFREY BROWN: So, clearly, this has all built, three books, and now a lot of anticipation of the movie. The marketing is everywhere, right, and driven, much of it, online.

JEN DOLL: Yes, the marketing has been insane.

I think that Lionsgate has been touted as marketing this book more than — and the movie more than maybe even the “Harry Potter” series, at least the first movie that came out. And they’ve used social media in an incredibly extensive fashion. They’ve had Facebook pages. They’ve had Tumblrs. They have a YouTube channel.

They have incorporated social media it seems like into every aspect of the marketing of the movie. And that obvious captivates teen readers and also adults who are using social media. So it’s another way of feeling like you’re part of it.

JEFFREY BROWN: I was curious, because we mentioned this very strong female character at the center. But who is it appealing to, the readers? It’s not just girls or women, right?

JEN DOLL: Right, not just girls or women.

And people have said, while a comparable series might be the “Twilight” series, that has really appealed because of the romance side to women. “Hunger Games” has a romance story, but it also has kids fighting other kids to the death and a lot of action and combat scenes and things like that, that boys are pretty much equally, or certainly more so than “Twilight,” attracted to it.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, you said action. Of course, there’s also violence.

JEN DOLL: There is violence.

JEFFREY BROWN: So, I’ve been reading. And that seems to be a question, about the level of violence. I mean, at the heart of this is a contest for survival involving teens killing teens.

Now, what kind of discussion has that elicited?

JEN DOLL: Right.

I think, certainly, parents seem to be concerned about this. You do have to ask yourself as a parent, is this a movie you want to take a young child to? And I think most parents would probably say, there — there is a PG-13 rating, so that’s out there for you already.

But these are difficult questions, and I think the one thing that comes through from the beginning of the book until the ending is that Katniss is the main character, giving herself up as a sacrifice to save her sister. So there is deep love there, and she’s doing this for a reason, that it’s not like a video game, where people are just shooting each other for fun. There’s a real depth to her story.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right. So now. . .

JEN DOLL: And I think that. . .

JEFFREY BROWN: Go ahead.

JEN DOLL: Sorry. Go ahead.

(LAUGHTER)

JEN DOLL: It’s the bad. . .

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, with the film, though, there’s always this question about adapting a very popular series of books to a film. But what’s happened in this case?

JEN DOLL: I think there are detractors. There are people who are going to say that the movie was not as good as the book.

I personally might like the books a bit better, but the thing with the books is that, when you read a book, you can really apply yourself to it, and you can imagine things the way you want them to be. And with a movie, you see things, it’s a little bit more mainstream, and things are laid out for you.

I think both are entertaining in their own ways, and certainly, both for marketing purposes, I mean, it’s great for Lionsgate that they can have this built-in series that people are going to go see because they love the books so much.

JEFFREY BROWN: It sure sounds like the movie is critic- or criticism-proof. People will be going.

JEN DOLL: People will — critics seem to be liking it for the most part, so that’s a positive for the movie and for Lionsgate, I think, despite what people may say, that plotlines were dropped from the books and that kind of thing.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Jen Doll of The Atlantic, thanks so much.

JEN DOLL: Thank you.