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Why 'The Hunger Games' is actually a great concept for a theme park land

October 24, 2017, 10:34 AM · Motiongate Dubai opened the world's first Hunger Games themed land last week. The idea of a theme park land based on a dystopian franchise seems absurd to many fans, but in my Orange County Register column this week, I defend the idea of a Hunger Games land.

No, no one wants to spend time in a dystopian wasteland where children have to fight to the death for the amusement of the wealthy. (That is why parents sign up early for Fastpasses to characters meet and greets, after all....) Seriously, though, the characters in an engaging dystopian tale don't want to live in those wastelands, either, which is what drives their stories.

So the focus of a Hunger Games land — or any land based on a dystopian franchise — needs to lie on the story of the hero's journey to escape or reform it. As I point out in the column, the "hero's journey" is perhaps the most successful trope in movies and entertainment. We all want to escape the garbage in our lives.

It’s not as if Tatooine was some paradise where Luke Skywalker wanted to spend the rest of his life. Harry Potter wasn’t thrilled by living under the staircase at the Dursleys’. Bruce Wayne didn’t go home happy with his parents after the show. Life stinks for heroes. That’s what provides them the challenge to become a hero, after all.

Ultimately, it's not the setting for a theme park land that determines its success of failure with visitors. It's how well the designers of the land create something that engages and entertains those visitors. If a Hunger Games land just leaves us mired in District 12 without taking us on Katniss Everdeen's hero's journey, then, yeah, it is going to provide a bleak experience that no one will want to tell their friends to visit.

To compare The Hunger Games with another YA dystopian franchise, The Hunger Games enjoyed the adoration of fans while the Divergent series just burned its fan base because the latter series ultimately denied its hero the completion of her journey. (And I don't care about spoiling anything here. If I can save one person from wasting the time that I did reading the Divergent books, I feel that I will have done y'all a solid.)

But more than that, a successful Hunger Games theme park land needs to give visitors an opportunity to feel as though that they are participating in the hero's journey themselves. We can witness Katniss' journey on the screen or in books. In a theme park land, we need to feel it for ourselves.

A reader offered a great Twitter thread about the unique ability of theme park lands to make fans feel like participants in their beloved franchises, riffing off my column from last week.

Go read the whole thing. The point is that a Marvel land faces a challenge because that franchise does not create an easy-to-imagine space for fans to assume the hero's role, the way that they can in Harry Potter, Avatar, or even Star Wars lands. I think that The Hunger Games actually provides a better fit for a theme park land than some of these franchises because its hero does not need to be born a wizard, a superhero, or a Skywalker. Katniss is anyone. Katniss is everyone. We all could be Katniss, if we can summon her bravery and desire.

Of course, none of this gets to whether Motiongate Dubai's The World of The Hunger Games fulfills the potential of a Hunger Games theme park land. I haven't seen it since it opened, and with only a lightly-decorated halfpipe launch coaster and a scaled down Soarin'-like 3D ride to offer as rides, I doubt that the land was given the budget needed to make a compelling case for fans around the world to make the trip to visit to the lightly-attended park.

Where's the opportunity for visitors to compete in the Arena, like Katniss? Or to participate in the rebellion against the Capitol? We want those experiences. The potential of a Hunger Games land lies in empowering us to take up the fight against Panem and not in just taking us on a sightseeing tour around it.

Read Robert's column:

Replies (12)

October 24, 2017 at 11:35 AM · Great points all around, but it still is a dystopian world where're there is not great big beautiful tomorrow. I feel that really bums people out. I loved the Hunger Games movies and books and I think both have some cautionary lessons on reality TV, celebrity, and government control. I just don't see it as being a vibrant theme park land franchise. Sometimes not everything needs to be turned into a theme park land.
October 24, 2017 at 11:42 AM · I suppose that's true if we forget that Katniss married Peeta for show and it actually didn't happen. By book 3, Peeta wanted to kill Katniss after being brain washed and became psycho. She had a doomed relationship with the boy who she actually liked. They held back because of the games.

Primrose her sister, that she tried to protect in Hunger Games, was ultimately killed by book 3, which we didn't see in the sequel. Katniss' stylist Effie was tortured (also brushed over in the movie).

The dome game was most violent and it was a game between the districts that were most elite and Katniss in district 12 that is most deprived. I do like the Caesar and Effie characters.

Katniss is really motivated by revenge to kill the president by the end of the story. He was also obsessed with her.

Do we really want to revisit this awful place

October 24, 2017 at 12:07 PM · You say, "It’s not as if Tatooine was some paradise where Luke Skywalker wanted to spend the rest of his life. Harry Potter wasn’t thrilled by living under the staircase at the Dursleys’." Can you please point me to the concept art for Star Wars land that resembles a desert wasteland with scorched Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru laying outside a sad little desert home? No? You mean to tell me the Imagineers recognized that wouldn't make a compelling themed environment? And I must have missed the Dursley home when I visited Potter Land. Sorry but the premise of your article is deeply flawed.
October 24, 2017 at 12:08 PM · I guess this would also be the problem with Lord of the Rings. The most interesting places that they travel are the ones we would least like to visit, habitated by things we wouldn't want to meet.
October 24, 2017 at 12:12 PM · "Katniss is everyone" ... so how is that exciting exactly?
October 24, 2017 at 12:12 PM · At least with Lord of the rings there are cool monsters to look at.
October 24, 2017 at 1:10 PM · And this is also probably why a Nintendo theme park will surely be loved! Video games truly force you to be immersed and take part in their story line. You HAVE to be the hero (or you'll die by a goomba haha).

But I also agree with Anthony. The dystopian world of The Hunger Games (Loved the book!) is kinda... depressing. I'm very curious to see how this will play out as a theme park.

October 24, 2017 at 2:32 PM · >>>The point is that a Marvel land faces a challenge because that franchise does not create an easy-to-imagine space for fans to assume the hero's role, the way that they can in Harry Potter, Avatar, or even Star Wars land

I agree, I though the marvel are of IoA looked cheap, but I'm not really sure how you would do it better.

October 25, 2017 at 2:53 AM · First of all, The World of The Hunger Games is not a theme park, it’s a small land and part of a larger Lionsgate zone in a studios-type park. And I think the debate here around the dystopian world of HG is too complicated. You will want to visit a Hunger Games land if you like the movies, period. That’s what my wife says and it’s true. “A Hunger Games area at Motiongate? Cool, I love the films, I want to see that”! Wether it’s being immersed in that world, seeing the sets up-close, meeting the characters for a photo-opportunity, being launched on an exciting coaster with a soundtrack based on the movies, flying over Panem and being involved in a battle etc. It’s kinda like the War of the Worlds set at USH’s studio tour. While it’s depressing in its own right, nobody complains and we actually think it’s a cool set piece of the tour. Either because it’s well done, larger than life or because we are attached to the movie.

By the way, Panem is not a Soarin-style ride. It’s a 360 tunnel like Don the Chase or Fast and Furious Supercharged. See the ride system here : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X4sIZeYHiXY

October 25, 2017 at 7:18 AM · To be clear, my wife and I saw all the movies opening night, read all the books... and have no desire whatsoever to visit a land based on them. They were entertaining, but that doesn't mean I want to experience them. Grapes of Wrath was a GREAT book, but I don't want an experience based on that book either.
October 25, 2017 at 9:22 AM · A great article Robert, with many great points. Imagine if Universal or Disney would do a Hunger Games or Divergent land. I can imagine a multi-layered experience with rides, simulation, interactive elements, games, and themed food. The gift shop possibilities are great as well.

Perhaps in the future we will get to see a dystopian theme park land done properly!

October 25, 2017 at 9:43 AM · Feel free to not post this comment... but I get the strange feeling you're ignoring comments that are critical of your analysis.

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