By Aljean Harmetz | Thompson on Hollywood April 2, 2012 at 8:09AM
“The Hunger Games” did not devour the boxoffice quite as thoroughly this weekend. At the 10:30 screening at the AMC in Century City Saturday morning, I had my choice of half the seats in every row. But the bodies that filled the other half of the seats should make Lionsgate extremely happy.
Men in their twenties, thirties, and forties had come with a buddy. Women of the same ages had come with one or two friends. And there was more than a sprinkling of grey hair too. That teenage girls would embrace a movie in which a 16-year-old girl must fight to the death with 23 other children -- and win -- was a given. That adult men and women would embrace the same movie (as they did the book) was far less inevitable.
The book grew its appeal over the years from high school girls and boys to their parents, both women and men; on its opening weekend, the demographic breakdown skewed 61% female and slightly older: 56% were age 25 or more.
In its theatrical market report for 2011, the Motion Picture Association of America reported that boxoffice in America was down; boxoffice abroad was up; and that the 3-D rose was definitely wilting. But there was a surprising statistic too. Ever since George Lucas said in 1977, somewhat metaphorically, that he made “Star Wars” for 12-year-old boys, mainstream movies have been targeted more and more to teenage boys and the ficklest of moviegoers, male 18 to 24-year-old young adults. Yet the MPAA said that today’s steadiest ticket buyers are adults.
Why are adults spending their dollars on “The Hunger Games?”
First, it’s a good movie that builds tension and suspense without car chases and – until a key scene -- explosions. The games of the title don’t even take place during the first hour of the movie. Second, it doesn’t disappoint adult readers of Suzanne Collins’s "Hunger Games" trilogy. I went to the movie expecting to be disappointed.
For one, the director, Gary Ross, was adept at softer fare like "Seabiscuit." Would he make nice the horrific centerpiece of children killing children? Would he soothe the rough edges from Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) who has kept her family alive for years since her father died in a coal mine accident, by illegally shooting squirrels and deer with her bow and arrow and trading the dead animals for sugar and grain in the black market Hob?
What was lost in translation – Katniss’s belligerent awkwardness, her tough first person voice, some of the ugliness of the decadent Capitol which runs this future world of Panem that grew gruesomely out of the ruins of America – is made up for by what was gained. Words on a page can’t convey the contrast between the near starvation in District 12, Katniss’s home, and the overflowing china plates of much too much rich food. The book painted a word picture of these children forced to die for the amusement of bored people who watch each death on TV and bet on who will survive. The movie shows visually and viscerally the manipulating of the children as they are forced from one almost safe area of the arena to a more dangerous place, because it makes for better drama.
Now if they had only explained the importance of that mockingjay pin…