From Star Wars to The Hunger Games

The biggest box office hit in America right now is The Hunger Games.  In fact, it isn’t just setting records – it’s  breaking them.

Lionsgate’s record-shattering The Hunger Games opened with $68.25M grosses for Friday’s North American box office, including $19.75M in record-setting midnights. That should make for a first weekend of $140M with upside from 4,137 locations, with a screen count just under 10,000 prints. About 75% of those prints are in digital theaters, including 268 IMAX theaters across North America. Hunger Games records include: the highest non-sequel opening weekend ever, and the highest debut single day for a non-sequel ever, and the highest March opening ever, and the 5th highest opening day ever.

Why is it doing so well? Because this brutal actioner about love and courage was based on Suzanne Collins’ best-selling trilogy of post-apocalyptic young adult novels and made better than it had to be given all the omnipresent marketing and media hype.

For those of you unfamiliar with the novels or the motion picture, here’s the plot:

In a not-too-distant future, North America has collapsed, weakened by drought, fire, famine, and war to be replaced by Panem, a country divided into the Capitol and 12 districts. Each year two young representatives from each district are selected by lottery to participate in The Hunger Games. Part entertainment, part brutal intimidation of the subjugated districts, the televised games are broadcast throughout Panem. The 24 participants are forced to eliminate their competitors, literally, with all citizens required to watch. When 16-year-old Katniss’ young sister, Prim, is selected as the mining district’s female representative, Katniss volunteers to take her place. She and her male counterpart Peeta, will be pitted against bigger, stronger representatives who have trained for this their whole lives.

But is this movie appropriate for children?

Parents need to know that although the bestselling Hunger Games books are enormously popular with tweens, there’s a clear distinction between reading about violence and seeing it portrayed on screen. Developmentally, the 10- to 12-year-olds who’ve read the book may find the movie’s visceral, sometimes bloody teen-on-teen violence upsetting — especially the brutal scene that opens the Games, in which several teens are slaughtered by their fellow contestants. Even young teens need to be mature enough to deal with the 20+ deaths in The Hunger Games; characters are viciously dispatched with various weapons — including spears, arrows, and swords — as well as by having their necks broken, their skulls cracked, and their bodies ravaged by carnivorous and poisonous creatures. Despite the violence (which is, overall, less graphic than the novel’s descriptions but is still very intense), the movie explores thought-provoking themes about reality television, totalitarian government, and screen violence as entertainment. And Katniss, the main character, is a strong heroine who’s resourceful, selfless, and a true survivor. Her mentor, Haymitch, is initially depicted as a cynical drunk, but he ultimately proves to be a valuable ally.

So, the top box office hit in America features children killing other children?  

How callous have we become?  Okay.  Now, I’m depressed.

Back in my day (Here’s where I sound like my Daddy), we had great movies.  In 1975, we had Airplane!, one of the funniest movies of all time (Excuse me, Stewardess.  I speak Jive.) and Jaws (This was no boating accident!)

And in 1977, I attended the following premiere in the now-long-gone Paramount Theater in the Eastgate Shopping Center in Memphis, Tennessee:

Part IV in George Lucas’ epic, Star Wars: A New Hope opens with a Rebel ship being boarded by the tyrannical Darth Vader. The plot then follows the life of a simple farm boy, Luke Skywalker, as he and his newly met allies (Han Solo, Chewbacca, Obi-Wan Kenobi, C-3PO, R2-D2) attempt to rescue a Rebel leader, Princess Leia, from the clutches of the Empire. The conclusion is culminated as the Rebels, including Skywalker and flying ace Wedge Antilles make an attack on the Empire’s most powerful and ominous weapon, the Death Star.

It was a throwback to the old movie serials I used to watch on my parent’s blonde wood, black and white television set when I was a child.  It was an intergalatic cowboy movie, featuring heroes you cheered for, villains you booed, and good triumphing over evil.

The original Star Wars was an allegory, exposing the hero in all of us.  Luke was the average guy, a dreamer, longing for adventure, not wanting to settle for complacency, who received the opportunity for the adventure of a lifetime, and seized the moment, becoming a hero.

Sure, there was violence, but it was Saturday morning cartoon-style violence, featuring fight scenes such as American boys had already imagined while fighting invisible aliens in their bedrooms.

Compared to The Hunger Games, it almost seems naive in its optimistic good spirits.

How did we get this coarse and brutal?  

Now, before you call me an old wuss, realize that I grew up watching Memphis ‘Rasslin’ on Saturday Mornings with my Daddy.  Heck, my Daddy and my Uncle “R” took me to the Mid-South Coliseum, where I watched Jerry “The King” Lawler and Bill “Superstar” Dundee win the AWA World Tag Team Titles from Doug Summers and some huge “Russian”.

Plus, I lived in a neighborhood during my middle school years that was so rough, I had to carry a lead-filled bat around with me, because I was a little feller (and there was no government-mandated anti-bullying drive in the schools back then).

Anyway, I guess I’m just concerned that popular culture is forcing children to grow up too fast.  Middle school kids (‘tweens) are way beyond where we were, in terms of their social development.

And now, Hollyweird has them fighting to the death on a tarnished Silver screen.

And, they call this progress?

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