THE HUNGER GAMES TEASER: A Viral Reading Campaign?

In the :58 teaser for The Hunger Games, there is no explanation of the title, no explanation of the premise, no description of the “world” entered, other than the audio-visual evidence that a female archer is under assault in a threatening and soon to be fire-bombed forest. There’s no introduction of the male narrator or his relationship to the “you,” he encourages and praises. Nor is the significance of the gold MockingJay pin explained, despite its sensuous, extreme close-up presentation, its subsequent bursting into flames, and its ubiquity as the key graphic in the marketing campaign. Indeed, in this spare herald of the film to come, there are no shots of the “reaping,” the Capitol, the training, the competition or the televisual spectacle that readers of Suzanne Collins’ best-selling trilogy will recognize as essential components of the dystopian fantasy that is “The Hunger Games.”

Given yesterday’s (Monday, March 26th) box-office report, I wanted to consider the A/V marketing campaign. The Hunger Games has met and surpassed its distributor’s ample expectations; its record breaking debut is challenging expectations for Spring releases and providing a welcome successor to Harry Potter and the all-too-soon-to-be-concluded Twilight series. I first noticed that whereas the teaser is opaque, the official trailers (#’s 1-3, see below) are explicit about story, stakes, characters and spectacle. This is not a rare or unexpected difference; in fact, it’s typical, although I venture to say that this teaser is especially oblique –especially parsimonious–in its presentation of story information. Why might that be?

A review of comments and twitter posts indicates the existence of an extremely engaged and knowledgeable fan base—evidence of the appeal of Ms. Collins’ books as well as a paradigmatic confirmation of selection bias. (Those who watched the youtube teaser are those most likely to be interested in the movie, invested in the books and eager to engage with others like them.) What was noteworthy about the comments—and admittedly, this is an anecdotal sampling—was the literary discrimination evinced by the authors, who disdained the Twilight books and movies, seeing themselves rather in the mold of J.K. Rowlings alcolytes, passionate about reading and this trilogy in particular, excited about the film yet anxious lest it prove faithless to the source material.

Let’s take a look at the teaser in order to ground our analysis and explication in details from the film text: The Lionsgate logo opens the preview, followed by shots of a forest landscape, with a soundscape built of crickets chirping, mosquitoes buzzing and birds winging through the air. Cue a dull chiming phrase/melody, and the sound of “giant footsteps,” to add the sense of human habitation and looming threat. A series of shots presents a human figure, seen first from the legs down through the underbrush, then from the front, but at a distance, and partially blocked by foliage. Next, she’s seen close-up, but from the back of the head before finally, we see an extreme close-up of anxious eyes. Between the first three shots, the editor has cut to black, but then the edit speed quickens and the cuts are direct, from shot to shot, whether scene of Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) running through the forest or a scanning close-up of the golden contours of the MockingJay Pin, which is probably computer generated.

After we see Katniss’ eyes, the voice-over begins. It’s dialogue from Gale (Liam Hemsworth), addressing Katniss: “Kate, listen to me…You’re stronger than they are, you are.” We now see Katniss in a medium shot, striding toward the camera, a quiver of arrows on her back. As Gale concludes, she begins running, and we cut to the MockingJay graphic, gold on black. Returning to the forest, Katniss is now running (shots of her torso alternate with shots of her legs and feet), reacting to a fire-bombing attack. (Falling tree trunks; fire-balls in the branches.) Gale’s narration returns over Katniss’ flight “they just want a good show…That’s all they want,” as Katniss flees against a flaming backdrop, which is match cut to another closeup of the golden pin. “You know how to hunt, show them how good you are,” continues Gale, as Katniss leaps a fallen log, draws an arrow and sends it spiraling toward the camera, and then, as the P.O.V. reverses, we see the arrow fly into the graphic, striking the pin and merging with its iconography (the bird now holds an arrow in its beak) as it bursts into flames.

The title card appears over the fiery pin, the tagline “May the Odds be Ever In Your Favor” above, with the date, March 23rd, 2012 indicated as well as the Twitter hashtag, “whatsmydistrict” in the lower left corner. A four note phrase (identified within comments as Rue’s whistle—and present in all the trailers as a tonal signature) plays as the tagline is replaced by an invitation to become a Facebook fan, with the the Facebook url provided on this alternate or secondary title card.

This teaser is all about anticipation and awareness rather than satisfaction or revelation. Until the title card, a casual viewer would have no contextual cues by which to guess at the movie being advertised. Apart from a heroine in peril, and mention of her strength, skill, and a “show” in which she is to perform, the teaser relies on audience familiarity with the famous novel that’s being filmed to reconstruct the particular scene that’s shown. There is no indication of the time or world, apart from what appears to be a temperate forest and a heroine dressed in contemporary clothes, albeit using a bow and arrow as weapons.

What I admire, as an erstwhile teacher of literature, is the reliance of the movie marketers on the reader fan base to anticipate the film, contextualize the scene and spread the word by their enthusiasm and expectations as well as by their anxieties and criticisms. This teaser seeks to “infect” a population of readers and writers who will take to social media to tweet, post and share with their peers.


ALL OF THE HUNGER GAMES TRAILERS–TEASER & OFFICIAL 1-3

The official trailers address a broader audience, those who haven’t read the books but learned of them from friends and social media, and found themselves in the unenviable position of being late to a generational bonding experience. As such, the trailers are clear and content rich, revealing Hollywood’s realization of a beloved book—its world, its characters—to core fans while appealing to the unindoctrinated by way of genre and spectacle.

I guess, the strategy worked.

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movietrailers101 by Fred Greene is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

About Frederick Greene

Entertainment Copywriter & Visiting Assistant Professor, UCLA Dept. of Theater, Film & Television. I teach a graduate seminar in new movie marketing, which focuses on the history, contemporary practice and likely future of a/v advertising for motion picture entertainment.
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