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The Hunger Games
The Story Behind the Bestseller-Turned-Blockbuster
An article from David R. Smith at

UPDATED: See our final section about the movie, now that it's been released, or Jonathan's blog that he wrote after he saw the film, "After Seeing Hunger Games".

In a post-apocalyptic world where teenagers fight to the death on a routine basis, life is reduced to mere survival. This weekend, movie theaters will show Hollywood’s version of this fictional bestseller. (The ticket pre-sales for this film already broke records, beating out Twilight Eclipse on the first day of pre-sales.)

Ladies and Gentlemen, The Hunger Games have begun.

From Bestseller to Blockbuster
To be honest, I didn’t expect very much when I borrowed the book from a (female) college student of mine back in February…even though it made The USA Today’s and The New York Time’s bestseller lists. But since this story has enraptured teen readers around the world…I knew we’d need to address it prior to the movie’s release this weekend.

I wasn’t excited about my self-imposed task, because, like Twilight – which I didn’t like very much – The Hunger Games was also written by a female author…about a female lead character…in the first person. (Hey, I’m a guy!) Hasn’t this already been done before? I asked myself. And who was this author, Suzanne Collins, whom I’ve never heard of?

But when I finished reading the book, a few hours later, I had become the latest fan of The Hunger Games trilogy! In this article, I’ll tell you why that’s the case, and why I enjoyed movie, as well.

But first things, first.

The Book’s Story
If you pick up a copy of The Hunger Games, here’s the synopsis you’ll see printed on the back cover:
    In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.

    Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister’s place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before – and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that weigh survival against humanity and life against love.

    Winning means fame and fortune. Losing means certain death.
    The Hunger Games have begun….
I’d say that’s a pretty good summary of what the book is about (though the storyline offers readers much more than this). For instance, there are excellent “snapshots” of solid friendships, page-after-page of gut-wrenching action, and emotional conundrums that involve love, fear, and doubt.

You know…the stuff that typifies the lives of many teenagers today.

For these reasons, almost any young person can find something to identify with in this story. It’s well written, and though I know nothing about the author, Suzanne Collins, she’s evidently done her research about hunting, strategy, and survival; at points throughout the story, I felt like I was being led through the post-apocalyptic world of Panem by none other than Bear Grylls!

Further, the book targets readers – particularly teen readers – with several engaging themes. For beginners, it has a love triangle between Katniss (the female lead character), Peeta (a boy from her district that becomes her competitor in the Games), and Gale (a slightly older boy who served as her hunting partner in the woods outside their home). But just before you groan from memories of Twilight’s love triangle, let me say this: the “love story” side of this book in NO WAY dominates the plot. In fact, it’s actually used to enhance the “action” side of the story.

Moreover, throughout the book, the storyline raises really deep questions. What defines morality? Is it OK to kill another human in order to survive? What is love? How important is it? And when does one know when he/she is experiencing it? (Jonathan addresses some of these questions in his blog, helping parents decide how appropriate this story is for their kids.)

Finally, there is the overarching desire of freedom (though this theme only becomes the dominant plot in the latter two books). The Capitol – filled with fat, wealthy people – imposes its will over the impoverished and starving districts because of their rebellion years ago. But now, it seems as though the districts are on a collision course with their Capitol….

But let’s be honest with one another. Most parents and youth workers aren’t deeply interested in “themes” or “genres” or “author’s talent.” They want to know, Is there any objectionable or questionable content in the story?

Aside from the whole “teens-killing-teens-in-a-televised-competition” storyline – which contains no gory details, and in fact, repeatedly denounces them – I’m happy to say that the book is completely free of gratuitous sexual situations, vulgar language, and the superficiality that plagues our culture today.

That said…this is where we should probably turn our attention to the movie that’s “based” on the book.

The Movie’s Version

Hollywood rolled out some sizeable names to tell this story on the silver screen. Actors such as Donald Sutherland (President Snow), Woody Harrelson (Haymitch Abernathy), and even Lenny Kravitz (Cinna), join director Gary Ross’ cast. Elizabeth Banks (Effie Trinket) and Jennifer Lawrence (Katniss Everdeen) round out the list of acclaimed performers.

But just how closely did the movie follow the book’s story? Three of the team from The Source for Youth Ministry attended the midnight showing to find out.

Before the film's release, we observed that the movie’s official trailer hinted that the film would stick pretty close to the book’s script; in fact, there are even a few lines in that clip that are taken straight from the book’s dialogue. This proved to be true with the entire film. I’m happy to report that the movie stuck as close to the book as possible. Aside from a couple very, very minor deviations, the only distinction between the movie and the book were the regular omissions that are standard when shortening a novel to a movie. Bottom line: parents probably won't have any objections to what unfolds on the screen this weekend.

Originally, I was afraid that Hollywood might resort to their favorite bag of tricks and mix in a little (extra) sensuality or gratuitous "eye candy" to boost ticket sales. But they didn’t. Lionsgate, the studio behind the film, really let the story speak for itself…which was a good call for the reasons already highlighted.

Hopefully, you now have enough information about this film to make an informed decision about its appropriateness for your family.

Stay Tuned In
But knowing that millions of young people will be watching this movie over the course of the next few days, we're rolling out several resources (in addition to this updated article). Our movie guys, Jay & Todd, will chime in with their official review of the film at 10:30AM Pacific time today on our MOVIE REVIEWS & QUICK Q’S page, and Jonathan will address the movie on his blog this weekend, as well. Of course, when the film is released on DVD a few months from now, we’ll also be offering you guys a few resources on our MOVIE CLIP DISCUSSION page that will help you pull biblical truths from this story.

In The Hunger Games, every teenager eligible for the deadly competition knows that life boils down to the odds. (They even say, “May the odds be ever in your favor!”) Hopefully, we’ve done everything we can to swing the odds in your favor as you decide how to handle The Hunger Games for the young people in your life.

David R. Smith David R. Smith is a 15-year youth ministry veteran who helps youth workers and parents through his writing, training, and speaking. David specializes in sharing the gospel, and equipping others do the same. He co-authored his first book this year, Ministry By Teenagers. David provides free resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.

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Comments on this post

   Mark Cagno         3/24/2013 5:28:05 AM

Great review! Accurate and insightful

   David R Smith         3/23/2012 10:27:53 AM

Hey Todd, I saw your comment and wanted to offer a few quick thoughts. Yes, the article focused on the movie's alignment with the book, since that was its purpose. (We knew that several million tweens, teens, and adults have read this book.) However, to try and answer your question, I'll refer you to the links embedded in the article. For sake of length, we intentionally put some of that info in Jonathan's blog and Todd/Jay's movie review. (Both are linked in my article.) I'd encourage you to check out both of those quick links for more clarity. I hope this helps. David

   Todd         3/23/2012 9:06:13 AM

I see nothing in your review about actual content, only how closely the movie followed the book. That's not much help for someone trying to figure out if their 14-year-old daughter should see the movie. What about language? Violence? Gore? Blood? Those details would be much more helpful than anything here. This is only a review for someone who read the book and wants to know how the movie aligned.

   Sally         3/21/2012 11:28:33 AM

I was offended by your first few paragraphs, in which you assume that all books written by female authors, about female main characters must be the same. This is a sexist statement, and it colored the way that I read the rest of your article. Although I agree with you that Twilight was terrible, there is a wealth of literature written by women, about women, and such books vary in quality and subject as much as books written about and by men do.

   Tom Butler         3/20/2012 11:14:26 AM

This book was designed to upset and shock. Much like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, you should be offset and upset by the celebration of death, if not the malaise towards it. While the author could have made it much more intense/sexual/gory, there were parts that alluded to nudity/sexuality (full body waxing, modification, lots of time spent naked). Parents should be ready for that if/when it occurs.

   Kelly         3/19/2012 9:05:33 AM

I'm so bringing my kids to see this!


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