Originally published in 2008, "The Hunger Games" haunted the New York Times' best sellers list for over two years, has been translated into 26 languages and became the first part of a trilogy when two sequels, "Catching Fire" and "Mockingjay," were published in 2009 and 2010, respectively. Author Suzanne Collins earned her chops writing for '90s Nickelodeon shows like "Clarissa Explains It All" and "The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo"; now, she's the best-selling Kindle author of all time.
Read The Book If You Can -- It'll Take You Two Days
At 374 pages, "The Hunger Games" is the sort of novel that you can devour in a few sittings, with an instantly engaging plot and carefully placed cliffhangers. The film makes itself accessible to non-diehards of the series by laying out the rules of its fictional society, but there are subtle moments in the screenplay that remain lost to the unfamiliar viewer. For instance, in an early scene, Katniss asks Gale how many slips of paper his name is on in the bowl for the Reaping. He says, "42." Readers will know exactly why he has 42 names in the bowl, but a non-reader will have no idea what the hell this muscular dude is talking about. If you have time, put down the Chekhov and indulge in a giddy Young Adult read, so as to fully enjoy the film version.
Kids Die, But It's Not TOO Violent
A story about 24 kids fighting to the death in a government-sanctioned arena is going to have a little blood, right? "The Hunger Games" does indeed include unsettling depictions of teens getting killed in battle, but none of the gore is too graphic, and, if anything, the violence helps to underline the deeper political issues at play, from the scary realities of a totalitarian regime to the extremity of voyeurism in our reality-TV-obsessed culture. If you're worried about bringing your kids to a blockbuster movie where people their age are mercilessly whacked... that's understandable, although "The Hunger Games" keeps its PG-13 rating intact pretty well, and its most intense sequences are more emotionally taxing than blood-splattered.
It’s Got a Killer Soundtrack
Released on Mar. 20, “The Hunger Games: Songs From District 12 and Beyond” was produced by T-Bone Burnett and features tracks from Taylor Swift, Arcade Fire, the Civil Wars, Kid Cudi, Maroon 5 and Miranda Lambert, among others. More importantly, their contributions to the folk-heavy compilation are uniformly above-average (except for Cudi’s “The Ruler and the Killer,” but hey, even the folk diehards need a curveball every now and then), making for a solid front-to-back album that lives up to its marquee status and will move a lot of units. When’s the last time a soundtrack has been able to accomplish that? Even the indie-leaning “Twilight” supplements have included more buzz band filler than memorable tunes. There’s no “Kiss From A Rose” or “Wild Wild West” on here, but “Songs From District 12” makes a strong case for the soundtrack revival.
It's "Battle Royale" for Kids, Sorta
A quick, painless plot description: in a post-apocalyptic North America (now called Panem), the government is super mean and holds an annual televised death match for 24 kids just to keep its citizens in place. The competitors, called "tributes," are chosen at random from 12 desolate districts in an annual ceremony called the Reaping, and from District 12 comes our hero, 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen. Katniss' little sister, Prim, gets chosen at the Reaping as a tribute for The Hunger Games (got that?), but Katniss, like a boss, decides to save her sister from the killing marathon and volunteers to compete in her place.
It's Got a Strong Female Narrator -- But Also, A Love Triangle
As the narrator of the book and star of the film, Katniss represents a fairly unique female character in popular literature: more concerned with providing for her family than ogling over the Tribute Next Door, she illegally hunts with a bow and arrow to put food on the table, and uses those same archery skills to become a legit candidate in The Hunger Games. She's intelligent, resourceful and level-headed; hell, "Independent Woman Part 1" was basically written about girls like Katniss. That's not to say that "The Hunger Games" doesn't have any lip-smacking love stories -- the other tribute from District 12, Peeta Mellark, may or may not be harboring feelings for Katniss, while her hunky best friend, Gale Hawthorne, is a source of romantic confusion. But for Katniss, boys come second to nailing squirrels with a clean shot through the eye -- as they should.
Yes, Lenny Kravitz Is i The Movie
A funny thing happened to Lenny Kravitz over the span of six months: his music career effectively hit a brick wall -- new album “Black and White America” debuted at No. 18 on the Billboard 200 before free-falling off the chart three weeks later – and his film career morphed from “a few scenes in ‘Precious’” to a legitimately tantalizing prospect. As Cinna, the reassuring, gold-eyelinered stylist that quickly earns Katniss’ trust, Kravitz makes an impact without overplaying his hand, and leads a deep supporting cast (props to Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks as well) that fleshes out the fast-paced adventure. How far can Kravitz’s acting career go? No one knows. At least “The Hunger Games” is letting us wonder what would have been unimaginable a few years ago.
This is Only The Beginning
This is Only The Beginning
“Catching Fire,” the film adaptation of the second “Hunger Games” book, is slated for a late 2013 release with all the principal players returning, and “Mockingjay” is all but confirmed for two films, just like the last “Harry Potter” and “Twilight” books were broken up into two features. With the third biggest opening weekend of all time and the biggest ever for a non-sequel, chances are that the next films will haul in even more off the bat (the “Potter” and “Twilight” franchises have historically grossed more at the box office as the series have progressed). Are you really ready to tune out a cultural phenomenon that’s guaranteed to consume mass media for the next half-decade – especially one that is, surprisingly enough, pretty damn good? Take this opportunity to play along with “Hunger Games” now, because, hey, “THG” overload is only going to get worse from here.
Jennifer Lawrence Is the Best
Jennifer Lawrence plays Katniss in the film version of "The Hunger Games," and the 21-year-old actress effectively owns the movie, flipping from badass killing machine to empathetic caretaker in the blink of a beautiful eye. The Kentucky native earned an Oscar nomination in 2011 for "Winter's Bone," a dark, muted indie flick in which she must traipse through the woods and talk her way past a bunch of drug dealers in order to find her deadbeat father. As far as Heroines In Young Adult Adaptations go, Lawrence is a cut above Emma Watson and eight cuts above Kristen Stewart -- she possesses a sturdy yet intoxicating onscreen quality that allows her to fully inhabit the role of Katniss, and with "The Hunger Games," she has (rightly) become a star.
Gary Ross is Kind of a Fascinating Director
Did you know that the guy who directed "The Hunger Games" also wrote "Big," which is about as far from "The Hunger Games" as you can possibly go? Gary Ross earned his stripes penning big-screen comedies like "Big" and "Dave" before making his directorial debut with the heady fantasy "Pleasantville" in 1998. Ross next helmed the Best Picture nominee "Seabiscuit" in 2003, and then... nothing. For nine years. He's certainly making up for lost time though, taking on an $80 million budget for "The Hunger Games" and having already signed up for the film version of "Catching Fire." And it's a good thing for the franchise, since the director grounds the film with a focus on human emotion instead of outlandish spectacle. "Yes it's entertaining, but it's also very emotional and it's also very real and you connect to it," Ross told The Hollywood Reporter last week . "I think above all else, I wanted to keep it real."