by Marc Snetiker and Michelle Profis
Happy Hunger Games! If you were one of the devoted few (or apparently, the not-so-few) to attend the first midnight screenings of the film, chances are your moviegoing experience was something similar to the experiences we had in two separate screening rooms in a Times Square theater last night.
On the costume front, filled with Effies and Senecas and Katnisses (Katni?), overflowing with side-braids and Mockingjay pins. Lines snaking throughout the entire cineplex, with at least one bathroom queue overflowing down the aisle of an actual theater. Fans re-reading the books while patiently waiting, chanting the words “Hunger Games” and chattering about tributes, sponsors, and something called a Peeta.
Above all, you probably got to experience the single best part of going to a midnight screening (depending on what kind of franchise fan you are): the ridiculously unrestrained audience reactions. And if you hate it, then tough luck, because in buying a ticket, you know exactly what you’re getting into. There may be something in the phrase “midnight showing” that’s synonymous with heckling, hollering, and altogether audible audiences. Peppered in throughout The Hunger Games, there were dozens of spontaneous bursts of vocalism; here are just a few we experienced (WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD! YOU CANNOT GET MORE SPOILED THAN THIS!):
(A quick aside on the trailers: Midnight premieres are typically an interesting – though not particularly enduring – barometer for first impressions of other high-profile franchises. Last night at Times Square, The Amazing Spider-Man was cheered, Battleship was jeered, and teasers for both of Twilight author Stephenie Meyer’s forthcoming films, Twilight: Breaking Dawn – Part 2 and The Host, received universal boos, despite – or perhaps because of – the frequent comparisons between the former and Hunger Games.)
And the top 10 moments that had the audience going wild:
10. Biggest laugh: Between Elizabeth Banks’ Effie, Woody Harrelson’s Haymitch and Stanley Tucci’s Caesar, there was no shortage of comic relief – and the crowd made that wildly evident, as almost every line by these three fan favorites was delivered to raucous laughter and theater-wide hysterics. But oddly enough, the biggest laugh came not from Effie’s colorful musings or Caesar’s mugging to the camera, but rather, it was Haymitch’s written nudge – “You call that a kiss?” – that busted guts.
9. Most inappropriate entrance applause: Peeta’s selection at the reaping, with a crowd of relieved District 12 boys revealing the baker-slash-painter after his name is called, was the first sign of a booming crowd welcome (it’s clear which side of the love triangle the theater was rooting for). Amid the gravitas of the situation on screen, one girl on Team Peeta even crassly called out for Capital-caliber coitus.
8. Most appropriate entrance applause: The character to receive the warmest crowd welcome was Lenny Kravitz’s stylist Cinna, whose debut in the Remake Center drew an absolute eruption from the girls in the audience. I’d wager that if Team Cinna shirts were readily available, they’d far outsell any others.
7. Most polarizing moment: Katniss’ grand entrance in the tribute parade — where she earns the nickname “The Girl on Fire” — was the movie’s first big moment that franchise fans were dying to see interpreted. So how’d it go over? As the music swelled, the chariot rolled, and the bright artificial flames engulfed Katniss and Peeta, the moment sent the audience into a frenzy of cheers…in one theater. In another, the hotly anticipated effect fell totally flat, with some whispering that the moment was utterly anti-climactic.
6. Biggest gross-out: The bloody Cornucopia battle got some quiet murmurs, but the sharp intake of breath through gritted teeth during extreme close-ups of Katniss and Peeta’s gory leg wounds was unmistakable when 200 people did it at once.
5. Loudest cheer: Every franchise action movie has its share of saves-the-day scenes, and The Hunger Games’ best received of such moments came when Thresh rescued an ailing Katniss, who was about to become deli meat at the knife-wielding hand of Clove. When he violently disposed of Clove and told Katniss, “Just this time, Twelve, for Rue,” the flood of satisfaction was palpable, even at 2:00 a.m.
4. Best scare: The entire theater was waiting for those vicious mutts to burst through the woods and break the eerie silence of Katniss and Peeta wandering at night – and it was still scary enough to catch the audience off guard, resulting in a chorus of shrieks and screams, and a few folks literally jumping out of their seats.
3. Biggest shock: Cato’s vengeance on an absent-minded tribute after he accidentally allows Katniss to blow up the alliance’s supplies is, in a word, horrific. With no other sound but the snapping of the tribute’s neck, Cato shows that his temper tantrums are something you don’t want to be on the receiving end of.
2. Loudest sobbing: From the first second that Rue appeared on screen, those in the audience who knew what would eventually befall her were preparing themselves for the worst. Though she earned cheers for her wit and for coming to the rescue of a tree-trapped Katniss, the most undisputedly touching moment in the entire film was her death, which sparked a range of reactions from quiet weeping to full-on wails of grief. In one theater, a girl distributed tissues to other sobbing moviegoers, and when Katniss finally broke down, so, too, did the crowd.
1. And the moment everyone was talking about: Katniss and Peeta’s kiss in the cave was the climax of the film’s love story, and for Team Peeta fans, it was a gratifying moment. When the camera switched to a shot of Gale watching the romance unfold, though, the romantic tension had the audience making “oh, snap!” faces. That reaction said it all. A love triangle may be secondary to this franchise’s plot, but if anything was clear through bleary midnight eyes, it was that audiences love the entangled romance of Katniss, Peeta and Gale. We saw both theaters pick their sides, and it looks like fans are ready to throw down over their recommendation for Katniss’s heart. Since poor Gale doesn’t even get a shot with Katniss until Catching Fire, it’s apparent that the love triangle will heat up until it catches fire, too.
Things are going to get interesting, Hunger Games fans. What were your favorite audience moments? More importantly, whose side are YOU on?