Sunday, April 01, 2012

The Hunger Games: The Movie

[Warning: Spoilers ahead for both the Hunger Games movie and book. Please don’t continue if you haven’t read and watched it, and read with caution if you’ve only read the book and haven’t yet seen the movie.]

My family just got back from a week in the Dominican. When my husband booked the trip, he announced at dinner that he booked it for March 23. My brow furrowed, and I said, “Something is happening on March 23.” He looked at me, stunned… this is the guy who NEVER looks at a calendar before booking things, and is constantly double-booking everything he does. (Half my DVD collection is probably “I’m sorry” gifts from when he’s booked golf travel pieces – he’s a golf writer – on special occasions. Other women want roses or jewelry; he knows the way to my heart is a DVD box set. Ha!)

“No, nothing’s on the 23rd!” he cried. “I actually CHECKED for once.”

“It’s weird… it just feels to me like something is on that date.” I kept eating... could it be that I just constantly have Hurley's numbers in my head, and any mention of 23 has me saying, "Why, that date is IMPORTANT!" About five minutes later sat back in my chair. “Ah! It’s the opening of The Hunger Games!!!!” He stopped, fork midway to his mouth, closed his mouth, tilted his head, and said, “Really? Really, you save that information in your head?”

“Look, you save every baseball stat in your head since the early 1930s. Let me save important release dates for films and TV shows in mine.”

Ahem.

So, as our plane rose into the air, I knew that everyone at my work was heading to the film that night (having bought tickets in advance) and I’d be missing it. Ah well, maybe we’ll figure out a way to get babysitting the weekend we return, and we’ll get to see it. And we did.

So, off we went to see the movie yesterday. I originally discovered The Hunger Games when a friend of mine mentioned her teenage son was reading the books. The second book had just come out, and she said to me, “Have you heard of this?” No, I hadn’t. “You should read them; they’re fantastic. My son has read them several times.” So I did. And then, unlike the majority of adult readers of the series, had to WAIT for Mockingjay to come out because I’d started reading just as the second one was released. I loved the first book, and thought the second book was even better. (The clock set? Brilliant.) The third book was a bit of a letdown, but the epilogue was great, and really brought things around, for me.

My husband, despite calling me the family geek, has a sci-fi streak in him as well, and I told him these weren’t Y/A novels like Twilight; in fact, I’m surprised so many really young kids are reading them. (Just my opinion – every parent is entitled to their own decision based on the maturity of their kids – but I think I’d recommend them to my daughter when she’s about 12 or 13, but not younger than that. But she’s an extremely sensitive girl who cries if she finds a dead butterfly on the ground, so these books are probably a little harrowing for her.) By the way, I could write an entire blog post about this, but while the jury may be out on whether 10 is too young, I don't think many people would think 4 is the proper age, yet the theatre we went to was FULL of children who should have been seeing the Lorax (I saw as young as 18 months, a few around 3 and 4, and lots of ages 5-8), and I thought that was awful. Right. I'm sure your kid in grade 2 will totally get all of the subtle political satire. And won't have any scary nightmares about Rue yanking that spear out of her chest.

Anyway, I talked my husband into reading the first one, which he did in one afternoon (damn him for his fast reading! What I’d give…) And then he devoured the next two. He loved all three of them, and the third one more than I did, I think.

And so, despite his snarkiness, he was pumped to see this movie as much as I was. Kids were off at playdates, and we went to the movie. And then, as we left, he said, “So? What did you think?” And for the first time, I had to pause a long time before I could come up with a proper – and qualified – response. As a movie on its own – not as an adaptation – I thought it was interesting. If I hadn’t read the books, I think I’d definitely have a sense of the political turmoil that surrounds the Hunger Games, I’d know the lead-up, I’d have a sense of who Katniss was, and I would know at the end of the film that there was definitely a second one coming.

But, as someone who’d read the book – and this could actually be a testament to Suzanne Collins’ ability to describe everything to a T – there were times where I found myself a little bored. Bored because I knew what was happening next; very little was surprising or changed from the book (but there were subtle differences). Now, I wasn’t bored the whole time, obviously, and by the end of the movie I realized there are ways the movie functions on its own that are more effective than the book. I’ll get to that in a minute. The sets were stunning, and it was like the set designer reached right into my head and pulled out EXACTLY how I’d pictured things – well, most things – and put them right up on that screen. But that could have been part of the reason I felt it lagged a bit at parts.

What I loved:
• I know there were a lot of haters, but I was thrilled with the casting of Jennifer Lawrence when I heard about it (having been a huge fan of her work in Winter’s Bone… and seriously, does that woman have to cook and eat a squirrel in every movie she’s in?) and my conviction was rewarded in this. I thought she was a fabulous Katniss.
• The Reaping. Even though I knew exactly what was going to happen, I felt my hands start to sweat and imagined myself as every child standing there, not breathing, waiting for his or her name to be called. That scene was absolutely terrifying (and Elizabeth Banks was wonderful in her constantly clueless, perky, annoying way).
• Rue. She was exactly as I pictured, from her eyes to her tiny stature, to her sweet, mousy little ways. The scene of her covered in the flowers was lovely and heartbreaking. (I read an article recently that talked about how fans were upset with the casting of Rue and Cinna, because neither one of them was black in the book, and I was shocked. People really need to learn how to READ and not skim their books, because both of them were clearly described as having darker features. Rue was perfectly cast.)
• Speaking of Cinna, my husband thought Lenny Kravitz was miscast, because he thought Cinna was much younger and more effeminate, but I kind of liked him. I thought he looked much younger than his 50 years, and he played Cinna as someone whose sexuality was unclear, but unlike the Cinna of the book, who gave in to the flamboyant looks of the Capitol, this Cinna is more rebellious, preferring to dress in only blacks and have a bit of eyeshadow on his lids.
• The set, as I mentioned. From the clearing to the trees and water, I thought it was perfect.
• The Capitol, and the crazy fashions and styles of the people living in it. Again, from the bright colours to the insane styles and doll-like makeup and dandyesque quality to everything, it was almost exactly as Collins had described it.
• The outfits on fire. I had no idea how they were going to execute it, and I thought it was WONDERFUL.

A lot of the book was left out, obviously. Where Collins spent pages describing the fashions of the people in the Capitol, a simple sweep of the audience in the movie covered that off, so they gained ground there. But you don’t see a lot of District 12, or get a sense of how important Katniss and Gale are to the rest of the town. Speaking of Gale, he’s a very minor character in the film, with only a handful of lines and appearances.

I remember the sadness of Katniss lying strapped to her tree and watching the skies each night for the In Memoriam of each person who’d died that day, but I’m thinking they just showed it once to let you know it happened, and didn’t harp on it repeatedly. I really did love the music they used for that the first time, and the tunes that both Rue and Katniss whistled for the mockingjays.

Now, I’ll admit, I’ve read the book only once, and that was two or three years ago, but I remember the mockingjays playing a much bigger role. I believe you could talk around them and they’d mimic what you said, and you could hear what other people said, not just sang (am I remembering that correctly?) {UPDATE: Dusk just pointed out in the comments that I'm mixing up the mockingjays with the jabberjays. Thanks, Dusk!!} Also, I pictured the tracker-jackers being bigger and more mechanical-looking (my husband thought exactly the same thing) and these just looked like bees. And partway through the film, I suddenly realized, “They’re not going to do the hybrid dogs. If they do the wild dogs at all, they’re not going to have the faces of the fallen.” Sure enough, they were just wild dogs. Having the faces of Rue and Foxface in the book was far, far creepier.

And other parts of the movie were entirely new. I barely remember the game-maker in the book; I’m sure he’s there and he just didn’t stick out in my mind, but Wes Bentley has a much bigger role than I remember that guy having in the book. (And I couldn’t take my eyes off his curlicue beard; that was fantastic – I was delighted to see Bentley in a major role again, by the way; I think he's a very underrated actor.) In the second book (SPOILER) the arena is manipulated more obviously by the game-makers. But in the first book I don’t remember them doing too much to the actual place; where Wes’s character says, “Make a tree fall” and someone sweeps their hand to do it, I don’t remember that happening in the book at all. Perhaps I’m either not remembering properly, or Collins created a more controlled environment in book 2 and wished she’d done it in book 1, so this screenplay allowed her to do that. But watching this woman create the wild dogs on the computer, then raise them with a flick of her hand and send them on out to the playing board, was cool to watch, even if it didn’t feel true to the book. It was something new that captured my attention.

But here’s the thing: Watching the movie was an entirely different experience than reading the book. While the plot itself was the same – hence the moments where it almost seemed to lag, whereas the book never stopped for an instant – the experience was different. Here’s what I mean: When I read The Hunger Games, I was reading this politically charged satire of a world gone wrong, a world controlled by a heavily top-down government that is so awful the only way it gives the people hope is by massacring their children. But when I was watching the movie, I suddenly had a terrible feeling wash over me partway through: I just paid money to watch children massacre each other. I am complicit. I am one of those people watching the 74th Annual Hunger Games on the screen.

As a result, I felt uneasy for the second half of the movie, which takes place in the arena. The book was heavily detailed, where every battle lasted several pages and every facet of every death was described, and it only occurred to me after I’d finished the series that there were parts of the books where you’re rooting for Katniss (obviously) over other children… but they were children. We shouldn’t be rooting for anyone, which was what Collins was trying to tell us. But when the books tell us the perspective of the characters and get into their heads and make them come off like little adults, you sometimes lose perspective that even if they were trained in some military from infancy and volunteered, that doesn’t make them heinous; they’re still being thrown to the slaughter, regardless of how well trained they are.

But the movie brought all of this home. When the little boy with the big curly hair is lying motionless at the Cornucopia at the very beginning, I imagined myself being his mother and watching that on the screen. As Rue giggled and conspired with Katniss, I realized she was about the same size as my daughter, and I saw my daughter’s laugh and eyes in her. As Katniss sat over her, singing her to her death, again I imagined Rue’s mother watching with horror that her daughter had just died, but having some relief that she didn’t die alone, that Katniss had been there.

So ultimately, I think both the movie and the book work extremely well, but for different reasons. The books explain the background much better, and give you a sense of the despicable politics and world that could allow something like this to happen. They instill in the reader the anger that Katniss has within her to keep her going, and you want to see her show up the Capitol, and cheer when she and Peeta manage to do it at the end.

But the movie brings home the reality of the Hunger Games. These are children killing other children, and it’s wrong on many, many levels, in a way that really hits home and makes you angry through your tears. The Hunger Games are not about hope, despite the bullshit that President Snow spouts. They are entirely about control and a reminder of what the Capitol could do to you should you step out of line. As you watch that movie, you become a mother to every child that falls, even Cato, who at the last moment stands with his hands about to break Peeta’s neck, crying that he knew he was dead the whole time.

My immediate reaction upon finishing the movie was that I’d recommend the books to people over the movie. But upon reflection, I think it’s worth going to see the movie in addition to the book just to get a slightly different perspective in the movie. When you read it, you’re above the situation, shaking your head in disgust at this culture. But when you watch the movie, you become complicit, paying for your ticket and watching children kill each other, thankful that it’s not happening to you. In that sense, this is one of the most fascinating and unexpected adaptations I’ve seen.

I’d be interested to hear from people who saw the movie but didn’t read the books first. Everyone I know who went had also read the books, but if you didn’t and saw the movie, please leave a comment and tell me what you think. And for everyone else, I’d love to hear what you thought of the movie as an adaptation, and whether your experience of watching the movie rather than reading the book was similar to mine or completely different.

30 comments:

Graeme said...

Never read the books but saw the movie mostly because my non-geek wife wanted to see it.

My reaction to what I will probably forever call the Child Endangerment Olympiad was mostly mixed. Jennifer Lawrence was superb, often better than the material. I thought Woody Harleson was great as ever. The use of the '70s electronic music piece "Sediment" during the Cornucopia sequence was brilliant.

But most of it was unaffecting. It's a combo of the Fifth Element, Blade Runner, Lord of the Flies and the World's Most Dangerous Game but it's done for a PG rating so it doesn't try hard enough to bring us into any of those aspects. Truthfully, I suspect the book is better in bringing the horror of it out more becuase it gets into the characters. Everything is studiously done to hint at the violence rather than show it, and to avoid you knowing the opponents except Rue so it's just off screen killing of ciphers. It did nothing for me.

It suffers the YA-fantasy-adaptation problem of depiction of the book rather than letting a director interpret it (the Harry Potter books are even worse at this), so I got the sense that things were more about capturing A to B to C for the book readers than making a compelling film.

My two cents anyway.

Ambivalentman said...

Nikki, I didn't read the books first, even though many of my students have been recommending them to me for quite awhile now. In a strange irony, I didn't want the book to spoil the movie for me. It's unfortunate that many people can't separate a novel from the film adaptation as the different mediums provide such a different perspective on storytelling -- something your review points out really well.

In terms of the film, I was thrilled by it overall. Like you, I felt complicit in the violence, which is a testament to Gary Ross' direction. But what I struggled with most was the lack of political and moral concerns by the characters. In all dystopian fiction there's a moment where the characters discuss the issues at hand in their society. Why weren't people more vocal in their disapproval of the Games? If the government is so totalitarian that people are afraid to voice their opinion, why couldn't we have seen someone arrested, killed, or pushed under the rug by the government?

But the film wanted to focus more exclusively on Katniss, and Jennifer Lawrence was exceptional in the role. I also found it funny that she can't be on the big screen unless she's hunting squirrels and taking care of her family in the face of absent parents.

And lastly, you and I are absolutely simpatico when it comes to kids being in the theater to see films they are not ready for developmentally. I have had multiple occasions in which I've argued with parents, or others, over this in the theater. My biggest concern is underage kids being taken to horror films and raunchy R-rated comedies. Nothing ruins your sense of humor more than listening to a churlish 6-year old laughing at dick jokes right along with you.

Page48 said...

I never heard of THG until Nikki blogged about it last summer.

Since then, I've listened to the audiobook (I like being read to more than I like reading) and I'm now in the early chapters of the sequel. I haven't seen the movie yet, but I certainly intend to.

Amandla Stenberg (aka Rue) had a great little action hero bit, playing a 10 year old version of Zoe Saldana in "Colombiana". I have no trouble imagining her as Rue.

I never get "I'm Sorry" gifts. Where do I apply for those???

Joan Crawford said...

I saw the movie yesterday too! In fact, I was sitting behind you trying to breathe in the air you breathed out! Haha! Sorry, that was weird. But I really did go and I have to say I was disappointed with the dogmonsters at the end. To me, one of the truest horrors of the Hunger Games was that you didn't just get to die *once* and get out of that hell - no, no, you had to be reanimated into a dogmonster, only to go on killing until you were killed again. It's a stupefyingly evil thing to do to people. That to me was the biggest indicator of the cruelty and malice of the Capitol. And you knows I live off that stuff!
Can we take a minute to give Wes Bentley and his devastatingly beautiful (yet still incredibly masculine!) eyes and nose and mouth a big "Hell, Yeah!"? He fell off into heroin for years and years and I am really glad to see he's back from the Land of Death.
Also, A Big Fat Boo for Haymitch. Haymitch was supposed to be drunken, useless, fartbag who illustrated that even when you won and got to leave the Hunger Games, you still never got to escape - there was no victory. His transformation in the book was an individual example of triumph, of hope and determination, over the grinding despair the Capitol kept these people under. In the movie though, he was a man who drank moderately and wasn't that much of a liability to begin with nor a Shining Champion when we needed him most.
Aside from that, I loved it, I really thought it was fun. I thought all of the other characters were cast perfectly (Now, you know I hate to say it, but, Peeta looked... his face from certain angles... he sort of came across like he might need you to remind him to lace up his shoes and make sure he drinks all his milk at snack-time) but I was bummed we didn't get to see Rue jumping from tree to tree because I was looking forward to that. And now that I think of it - Rue's death and Katniss singing to her had a huge impact on the People of Panem but they neglected to show that in the movie. Hmm, I still liked it though.

Dusk said...

I haven't seen the movie yet. Read the books a little while ago.

From what I recall, mockingjays can mimic notes, hence the song that becomes Rue's death lament is echoed in the trees.

These are not to be confused with jabberjays, which are in the 2nd book and are similar, but have a very different effect.

The Gamekeepers can draw the tributes together with things like a fireball that burns Katiness when the tribute are too far apart, or the audience is stating to get bored and want action again.

I think you mean Gale, not Gage. He doesn't have a big role in book 1 either, after the reaping most of his time in the book is in Katiness head thinking about how he'll react to what she and Peeta are doing in the games.

Really? Age 5? I really don't think that's a good idea.

I've read other reviews that say it's good at making the viewer feel ashamed, like someone from the Capitol watching this for fun.

I have concerns that their might be four films if they split the last book into 2 films. It's plot isn't structured for that. I can't even point out a good place for them to end one movie to kickstart and 2nd one.

Inara said...

I have read the books—LOVED the first, liked the second, not thrilled with the last but am going to reread—but I wanted to put in my 2 cents' worth:

Cinna was never meant to be "Capitol" flamboyant. This is the description of him from the book: I'm taken aback by how normal he looks...Cinna's close-cropped hair appears to be its natural shade of brown. He's in a simple black shirt and plants. THe only concession to self-alteration seems to be metallic gold eyeliner that has been applied with a light hand. It brings out the flecks of gold in his green eyes...I can't help thinking how attractive it looks.

Also, the reason we got to see more of the gamemakers and Caesar in the movie is because of the decion to not make it exclusively Katniss' pov, as it is in the book, but to open it up—I think this works well, especially as they did without the internal monologue (also a good choice).

I'm not sure that I liked them softening up Haymitch as they did—and I do wish they had left in the scene when District 11 sent Katniss bread although I understand how it would have broken the pace of the action to do so.

I also wasn't happy with the under 10 set in the theatre, especially when they started giggling at Rue's death scene. I guess it's better than having nightmares later.

Nikki Stafford said...

Yeah, sorry about the Gage typo... of course I know he's Gale. I'm appalled that I typed it twice and not just once (however, I feel a little better that just now when I typed it, I typed it Gage again... I'm thinking my fingers automatically want to go to "age" rather than "ale"). ANYWAY.

Graeme: What an interesting perspective, and you're absolutely right, by the way. My husband's first comment was that it wasn't nearly as violent as the book, and he wondered if that had to do something with chasing a PG rating, too. And in many ways I felt that they were so beholden to the plot, as you say, they couldn't do anything new and focused on action instead of meaning.

One thing I failed to mention was that I was a little disconcerted (and I was meant to be) by the scenes of battle where the camera angles were SO close up you couldn't figure out what was happening or who was doing what to whom. That was on purpose -- it's one thing to watch something from further back and thinking, "Oh come ON, Katniss, you could totally take this guy," but to see it from her pov, up close, and realize how disorienting something like hand-to-hand combat is, you realize what they're really up against. That said, I found it difficult to follow, and a few pullback shots here and there wouldn't have hurt. Not to mention I felt a little woozy. ;) But I did think it was a nice use of direction to show that material.

Nikki Stafford said...

Ambivalentman: LOVED your comment about the kids. I don't want to go on and on about it, because I have friends who've let their younger kids read the books, but the 18-month-old babbled and talked and sang through the scene of Peeta and Katniss sitting in the window at the Capitol on the eve of the Games and no one in the theatre could hear it, until finally someone shushed the baby loudly, and the mom finally gave up and left. Seriously, I know what it's like to want to see movies when you have a baby, but with movies for mommies every Wednesday, GO THEN. Or get a babysitter.

But honestly, the baby wasn't paying any attention. It's the 5-year-olds directly behind me talking and asking what was happening and whimpering during the scenes that made my stomach churn. I saw a little girl who looked about 8 get up and run out to the bathroom and back, and I thought, I got babysitting for my 7-year-old. Why did other parents think it was ok to just bring 'em along?

I shudder to think at the desensitization we're about to face with the upcoming generation of kids. Of course, I'm sure the generation that preceded me thought the same thing. Hell, I sometimes think Phineas and Ferb is too advanced and I should switch to Sesame Street.

Sigh.

Nikki Stafford said...

Page48: Haha! I'm glad to have opened your eyes to the Hunger Games! And as for the I'm sorry gifts, I should have qualified that those died out a few years ago. Now I just get a shrug. So I plot my revenge instead.

Heehee...

kluu said...

I read the books at your recommendation last summer.

I can't add much to what others have already said, I liked the film but understand what you are saying, since I knew the story and plot it didn't surprise as I think it might if I had not read the books.

I also missed the Dist 11 contribution and expected it.

I thought that they could have shown more of Dist 12 at the beginning to give more of an idea of what life was like there.

I assume for brevity they dint add the memento of each district and the giving of the Mockingjay pin by her Friend. I seem to remember that the Friend did something important later but maybe not.

I don't think they played up the 'fake' romance between Peeta and Katniss. Am I remembering wrong about them implying she was pregnant and they were planning to be married or something like that. I thought it was this that caused the changing of the rule to allow both of a district to win because the Capital would have had a riot if they forced one of them to kill the other. The changing of the rule in the movie seemed kinda arbitrary to me without more of a play up of their secret love.

I saw the movie with a friend and when they created the hounds I was kinda disappointed they weren't genetic creations. When they mad ethem tho, my friend said oh crap, and I siad, wiat it gets worse. I had thought that the game master was going to say soemthing more but it never happened. It appeared like he was going to say something like, " Make the faces on the hounds look like those Tributes already killed in the game," followed by an evil grin. But they just went to the evil grin without this added cruelty.

Anyway, it was still an excellent film and I look forward to a second which like the book, I think will be the best.

Nikki Stafford said...

Joan: Have I ever told you the time that Wes Bentley walked up to me in a movie lineup? It TOTALLY happened, and yes, those eyes are just as blue up close as they are far away (it was during the TIFF, and he was promoting his documentary, that I actually already had tickets to. He was thrilled we were already planning to go see it. SWOON). I hadn't heard anything about the heroin and didn't realize that's why he disappeared. I'm thrilled he's back.

And YES about Haymitch! He played it so well in the beginning, drunkenly falling onto the couch and being a sloth, and I thought this is great... and the next thing you know he's quietly holding his hands over his glass to indicate he's off the sauce (right... because it happened that easily) and there wasn't that big turnaround. That's what gets you hooked on Haymitch in the books, but I didn't find him very likeable in this.

But then again, I always pictured Jeffrey Dean Morgan in the role anyway.

Nikki Stafford said...

Dusk: Jabberjays! You are absolutely right. I was worried I was remembering it wrong, so I'm glad I stated that outright. Mockingjays sing, jabberjays talk. That's right. Thanks for the clarification!

kluu: I agree about the romance. I said to my husband, "I think they were in that cave a LOT longer in the book," and I got the sense from the book that they'd actually consummated their relationship, but now I can't remember it very well (and maybe I'm just remembering it wrong again!) I didn't like Peeta in the movie as much as I did in the book, but then again I always liked Gale more. (By the way, not trying to open this up to shipping; I'm open to any opinion on this one!)

Dusk said...

@Kulu: The rule change was called into effect when Katiness and Peeta were alive, but also Cato and Clove, two of the Careers. At the end Katiness realies it was all a ploy to raise the stakes for the viewers and then be a great twist when one of the star-crossed lovers killed the other.

You also appear to be overlapping a few things from the 2nd book, but I won't go into spoiler territory.

Also, Nikki are you still doing OUAT recaps?

Dusk said...

@Nikki They didn't go any farther then a few kisses, only one of which Katiness "felt" but her bleedin head forced her to stop. Having her family and entire nation watching them in the cave, going any father is not a good idea.

Rebecca T. said...

I thought this was a fantastic adaptation. I've already written up two (so far) reviews focusing on my reactions to Peeta and Gale and I'll probably do a few more because I have so much in my head about them.

I actually went to see the movie a second time - loved it more, but ended up with more nitpicks - can't figure out how that worked :)

The game-makers was added to the movie, but that's because the books are in first person. Since Katniss doesn't see them, we don't. And I loved the addition, along with the scenes in President Snow's garden.

I think my biggest disappointment (SPOILERS to anyone who hasn't read the books!)was the shortening of the end. For me, Katniss banging on the door as Peeta hangs between life and death was so important to show how much she had come to care for him, even though she hadn't realised it herself. Also, um... Peeta lost his leg in the book! And it was much more overt in the end with Katniss admitting she had faked the romance, which makes a big difference in their relationship.

But it was already a 2:22 movie, so what could they do? I don't know what I would have wanted them to cut out :)

Overall though I thought they nailed the tone of the books and I found the political situation was better and more succinctly expressed in the movie than in the books.

mari0n.com said...

My friend and I (ages 43 and 52) were suitably horrified by the context and the politics and the viciousness of the Careers (even after reading the books) and had a lot to discuss afterwards. We were grateful that the movie didn't go as far as the books (especially the Mutts).
We saw lots of 8-9-10 year olds without adults in the cinema (in Quebec it is rated G??!!) and they seemed blase about the violence, and I know of two young adults who were disappointed in the movies (they wanted more brutality?)..
which only went to prove to us that the desensitization to violence and the lack of empathy has already begun.
Governments can do what they will, vicious, unfair, unfeeling, - people will only care when it happens to themselves, everything else is "entertainment", which is horrifying to me.
And makes the books only more powerful. I loved how the books descended into PTSD and how EVERYTHING has consequences, and even a "just" war is full of victims, not victors.
I put this book in the category of Lord Of The Flies and 1984 in terms of lifelong memory and metaphorical context.

Cynthia B said...

I saw the movie on Friday. I have not read the books, although I've heard lots about them from my students. As a person trained to "read" film and TV in much the same way I was trained to read books, I did not feel the complicity you talked about Nikki. I no more felt like a real spectator of the games than if I had read them described by a narrator in a book. The camera was the narrator, visually telling me the story. I've thought a lot about this in the past few hours since reading your post (although I did, of course, "pause" the thinking to watch Game of Thrones and Mad Men), and I wonder if rather than complicity (which I hate for you to feel), it was more the type of discomfort we feel when watching a documentary about, say the atrocities in the Sudan, and realize we are seeing the results of "man's inhumanity to man," and we belong to that humanity capable of such atrocity? That is the feeling I got watching Hunger Games, and it is a feeling I hope the young people in the audience also felt. Oh, and I thought the movie was great, by the way, visually stunning, well acted, and very important :-)

LT McDi said...

I like to think I can suspend disbelief with the best...I'm a Lostie for crying out loud.

but two very basic plot points in The Hunger Games I didn't buy for minute.

Twelve years old ...really... what entertainment value (longevity) are you going get out of a twelve year old going against an eighteen year old. Not much.

Would 16 to 25 make just as much sense, really? They are still young and have families who love them.

I might also add brutal despotic regiemes don't really need to go to all that trouble to control their populations, do they. Randomly shooting a number of people usually does the trick just fine. Then yous stick in some operatives to control the district and ...viola...

And I didn't like the "Nazi" look to the Capital...geez guys...there have been at least a couple of other despotic regiemes throughout history to borrow your look from.
Why keep going back to the same trough.

I really like the characters and I can see how fans would like the movie...I just couldn't buy the premise so it was impossible for me to get into the film.

Efthymia said...

My sister hadn't read the book prior to watching the film, I had. When the film was over, she was "I have to read the books RIGHT NOW!!!", while I was satisfied, but not as enthusiastic, which comes to prove my theory that it's better to watch the film first and then read the book, because the book is always (OK, nearly always) better, and this way you get to enjoy both.

On issues touched by you and/or others:
- Yes, Gale should have had a bit more screen time at the beginning -showing how close he and Katniss are and how his feelings seem to be other than pure friendship and all that- but I don't really care, because I don't like him. I was actually surprised to see that you like him better than Peeta because, you know, everyone should think like me! Jokes apart, I would much like to hear your reasons why, because I really, really DON'T get it. Maybe he's my new Locke, whom most people seemed to like but I hated with a fiery passion.
- The people who complained about Rue, Thresh and Cinna being portrayed by black actors are complete idiots and probably illiterate. And with Cinna, I kind of get it, because the description of brown hair and green eyes did bring a white person to my mind as well, still his colour is of absolutely no importance and I don't even remember it being described. But Rue and Thresh are DEFINITELY described as black, and I was actually thinking "WOW, great casting" when I saw them. To then see comments like "I'm not a racist, but why did they have to make Rue/Cinna/all the best characters black?" was infuriating. And these people should realise that saying that whn a black actor portrays a character it diminishes your liking of said character DOES make you racist.
- I liked that they showed the Games puppet-mastering. The book's first person POV makes for an interesting read, but I don't think it would have made for an excellent movie having Katniss saying aloud to herself or someone else "I got burned by this fire who was probably set by the Game-makers, because they do stuff like that when nothing 'interesting' is going on and the tributes aren't killing each other" etc.
- I was not happy with the final minutes: I wanted Katniss to lose her hearing from one ear (OK, that happenned kind of midaway), I wanted Peeta to lose his leg, I wanted Katniss to realise that Peeta really had a huge crush on her and Peeta to find out that her feelings were just an act so that they could get gifts from the sponsors, and above all I wanted the horror of the mutts.
- Regarding the age of consent: I'm not one to talk, having read and watched age-inappropriate material all the time when I was young, but perhaps because of that I know how traumatising some material can be. I read 'Alice X' (which is about a girl's descent into the world of drugs and all the degradation that contained) and George Orwell's 'Animal Farm' (which, to my defense, was a gift and I actually thought it was going to be something like 'Charlotte's Web') when I was 11, and I still remember how I felt, even after all these years. Especially with 'Animal Farm', I was extremely creeped out -I still consider it one of the creepiest books I've ever read, even after all the Stephen King I've been consuming for many years now. So, even 12 seems a bit young to me. Maybe 13-14?

yourblindspot said...

As huge fans of the books, my wife and I were definitely excited to see the film. And were universally let down, pretty much all the way across the board. Lifeless, emotionless, boring, completely DOA. And it wasn't hype or overexpectation -- I'm pretty sure if we hadn't read the books and had stuff we were waiting to see, we would have left before the midway point. An enormous disappointment, particularly considering how good the reviews have been. When you have a character that is intended to play largely emotionless in order to be true to the part as written, and everyone singles out THAT performance as the film's standout, then something has gone wrong.

One big 2.5-hour pulled punch.

Ensley F. Guffey said...

Mockingbird and I went to see the film this past Friday. While she has read and enjoyed all three books (and seemed to enjoy the film), I have not, so I can only write about my impressions of the film.

In all I really enjoyed the movie. Jennifer Lawrence has some major chops, and you can never go wrong with giving Stanley Tucci some scenery to chew. Woody Harrelson is one of my favorites, and I am continually surprised by how someone who in every real-life interview I've seen always seems at least half-stoned, can pull off so many different roles. That's one hell of an actor!

Still, I think I'd tell someone who asked that this one is worth matinee prices at best, and could definitely be skipped until you could stream/DVD/on-demand it. It's a good film, but nothing really spectacular or stand out.

That having been said there were some elements of the film that I had real problems with:

I really disliked all of the hand-held camera-work. I can see a justification for it's use in the fight sequences to demonstrate the chaos of it all, but the combined jerky hand-held work and flash cuts as Katniss walks through District 12 didn't work to emphasize the poverty and squalor of the district. Too jumbled.

As for the hand-held cameras in the fight scenes, there too I was jerked out of the story as the camerawork became an obvious tool to de-emphasize the violence and gore. When you can't really see what's going on, you can't see what's going on. Trying to soft-pedal the reality of the brutality and violence these kids were experiencing seems to me to weaken the entire film. I kept MST3King the film by softly singing "steady-cam! Steeeaady cam!" Which means I was so not in the moment of the story.

Also, Panem ("bread")? Really? Come on, this is the most unrealistic imperial structure I've seen on screen in quite a while. It just doesn't work. To be fair, I saw more Rome than Nazi Germany as Lt McD did, but that may have more to do with my brain having already been on the Latin kick from the empire's name.

Finally, I have one big nitpick. Although I think Jennifer Lawrence is wonderfully talented and brought a tremendous amount of skill to this role, she needs to take some notes from Linda Hamilton in T2. Several times, particularly when she was drawing her bow, I was jolted by how soft she looked. Not fat at all, but a girl from a poverty-stricken place, who constantly runs the risk of malnutrition, and who hunts game with a traditional composite/recurve bow to survive, would have a bit more muscle tone. This was definitely no country-girl!

Marebabe said...

Well. I find that it’s a little bit difficult for me to talk about HG the movie. Overall, I enjoyed it, and will no doubt go to see it again, probably in the next week or two. And I’ll buy the DVD, and hope that there’s an extended version. But in my conversations about the movie, I usually feel that I’m offering excuses for it. Along the lines of: “They cut out Rue leaping through the tree-tops because earlier we didn’t get to hear Katniss’ internal dialogue, wondering what on earth Rue could’ve done to earn such a high score from the gamemakers.” Or, even though I LOATHE jiggle-cam: “They used the shaky camera to keep the audience from seeing most of the blood and gore, because it was essential to avoid an R rating.”

But it wouldn’t have cost the filmmakers anything to include one of the loveliest moments from the book. When the mockingjays all took up Rue’s song, their voices harmonized into a beautiful, resonant chord. I can just hear it! I was really looking forward to that moment in the movie, and sorely missed it when they skipped over it.

I read the HG trilogy for the first time recently, finishing it just a few weeks ago. The story was fresh in my mind, so I was able to draw comparisons between the first book and the movie, just like all the fans of the books. And the things that I found unsatisfying about the movie made me long for the experience of reading the books again. So, I began re-reading HG this morning, and my reaction to it was surprising! First of all, I immediately picked up lots of details that I had forgotten, having only read the story once. And almost the first thing we learned about was the animosity between Katniss and Buttercup. (I felt my heart squeeze at that, and fans who know the ending of “Mockingjay” will understand why.)

Most surprising to me was the sense of relief I felt, to be getting back into the story “told right”. The implication there is that the movie got it wrong, but I don’t really feel that way about it. (My husband saw the movie with me, having never read the books, and never even seeing a preview. So, he went into it completely cold, and left the theater a little bit grumpy. That colored my experience slightly.) But the relief I mentioned is sort of like getting to eat your favorite meal when you’re super-hungry, or running icy-cold water over a minor burn. I love it that I’m back into the story as originally told by Suzanne Collins. My relationship to the story is individual and private. And I never feel like making excuses.

KathyT said...

I had not picked up the book until 2 weeks ago. I tried twice to start reading. got as far as when Katniss gets to the woods to hunt and put the book down both times.
I get that it was supposed to be a hard life but I just didn't like her. at all. Her trying to boil the cat and killing the lynx that was her hunting friend and selling it's pelt made her a non sympathetic character to me and couldn't get past it. I just didn't want to read any farther.
The movie however, looked intriging which prompted me to try to read the books. So with that and the fact that my friends were talking about this amazing story, I saw the film last night.
it was SO good!
I felt the outrage and anger at the rich Capital City for punishing the poor districts over and over for a rebellion that the current citizens had nothing to do with.I was horrifed at the near concentration camp feel of District 12. I was shocked at seeing the other tributes young ages. I sobbed when Rue died, thinking she was just a baby.
The whole movie affected my dreams and stayed with me all day today.

Zach Z said...

Well I went and saw it at a midnight showing, which always brings interesting crowds and definitely had an effect and how I viewed the movie. Just because the heavy tweener audience reactions to the movie felt like how the capitol reactions to watching the actual games...

Well overall I was disappointed in this as a movie mainly because it tried staying too close to the book without being able to capture the tone or feel of the book because so much of it is Katniss's story and what she is thinking and going through and you don't get that from the movie. And since the only way to do that is voiceover and that would be terrible more than likely I thought it should have went farther the other way and expand the world better which I thought was done well getting to see the gamemakers and meeting president Snow who is nothing what I thought he looked like in the book, seems a lot less creepy and dangerous looking.

I also worry about them adapting the next 2 books especially with how they portray the other victors. Because of how they softened Haymitch in the movie and he was not a man completely lost to alcoholism for the last 20 odd years of his life.

So in conclusion I thought the movie did a good job looked amazing and showed the the Hunger Games amazing just didn't translate all the themes and sociopolitical backstory.

Zach Z said...

Oh and as my friend wrote for a blog he contributes too the bigger problem with the people complaining about the Rue/Cinna casting is not reading comprehension but the actual racism that is at the core of it.

Here is a link to his article: http://www.teamvalkyrieftw.com/2012/03/racist-hunger-games-fans-outraged-that-black-character-is-black/

or just go to this tumbler if you want to be disgusted by racist tweets: http://hungergamestweets.tumblr.com/page/3

Blam said...


I get what you're saying about the sense of "complicity" that may be felt watching the movie versus reading the book, Nikki, but it didn't work that way for me.

What we paid to see — most of us, anyway, certainly most of us familiar with the novel(s) — was not awesome scenes of young people killing one another but a story that inevitably included such scenes as it denounced the senseless barbarity of them and focused on one young woman's triumphs (getting out alive; getting out alive with her companion by outwitting the gamesmakers) amidst that barbarity.

Ditto to your comments on Jennifer Lawrence's performances her and in Winter's Bone, though. I'd not yet read The Hunger Games when she was cast, despite being prompted to when Catching Fire came out in 2009 and the incipient trilogy became a slow-burning but undeniable phenomenon, but I didn't see how she could be a bad choice — at least in terms of her acting chops. Her baby face notwithstanding, a friend of mine was rather adamant that True Grit's Hailee Steinfeld was a more age-appropriate option.

I have to disagree again on the "outfits of fire" — at least the first one. I liked the flaming hem on Katniss's later dress, but I was seriously underwhelmed by the trailing blue flames on her and Peeta in the opening ceremonies. Lenny Kravitz was surprisingly good as Cinna, whose relative quiet and restraint were all the more noticeable in contrast to an unrecognizable Elizabeth Banks' delightfully spot-on embodiment of Effie Trinket and the great Stanley Tucci as the unctuous Caesar Flickerman (a role that was unfortunately all the more annoying for how well it was played, because the character is just insufferable).

I wouldn't recommend the movie to anyone not interested in either reading Suzanne Collins' novel first — then waiting a while, if like me you find it too jarring to experience original works and adaptations in close proximity — or reading it, eventually, afterwards. The book is so much richer in its first-person narration and, particularly, the opening chapters set in District 12, that the movie's wider scope in general and short shrift given certain material can't help but be disappointing in comparison. I certainly wouldn't recommend against seeing the movie if you have read and/or plan to read the book, however, because it is an interesting and largely faithful spin on the source material.

Blam said...


Ambivalentman: Jennifer Lawrence was exceptional in the role. I also found it funny that she can't be on the big screen unless she's hunting squirrels and taking care of her family in the face of absent parents.

She did play Mystique in last year's X-Men: First Class, in which she merely foraged for food in the Xaviers' refrigerator in the face of absent parents...

Joan: A Big Fat Boo for Haymitch.

I agree with you. Which, as always, has me concerned.

Haymitch as portrayed in the novel looked, in my mind's eye, at least 10 years older and 100 pounds heavier than Woody Harrelson in the movie. I know that playing drunk can veer into flat-out silliness pretty easily, but Haymitch was one of the few characters in the book whom I pictured really clearly and he was nothing like what we got on screen; I admit to complicity there — all sorts of odd little personal things can feed into how we imagine characters on the page in our heads — but Collins' writing had something to do with it as well, and despite her involvement in the film that was a major disconnect for me.

Joan: Peeta looked... his face from certain angles... he sort of came across like he might need you to remind him to lace up his shoes and make sure he drinks all his milk at snack-time

Frankly, I pictured Peeta very much as you describe in the book — kind-of like Moose from the Archie comics. He was taller and doughier, and had a blanker face, in my head than Josh Hutcherson has. Even when Katniss was convinced that he was trying to psych her out during training and whatnot, I read him as, well, a pretty simple guy in more than one usage of the word. Hutcherson had an element of that in the film, but wasn't quite the right kind of blandness to me.

Inara: I do wish they had left in the scene when District 11 sent Katniss bread although I understand how it would have broken the pace of the action to do so.

Yeah, I really missed that scene because it was so moving. My own guess as to why it was dropped was because, even in the book, it felt a little too convenient for Thresh to spare Katniss because of her kindness to Rue especially after District 11 sending Katniss the bread in thanks — despite the fact that there's no causality there, since Thresh doesn't know about the bread. I suspect, too, that the literal gesture of solidarity and the rioting in District 11 felt more important to the filmmakers to include, particularly in terms of setting up later films.

Which brings me back to the most jarring thing about the movie for me, namely the expansion of the action beyond Katniss's immediate world. I don't think that it was a bad idea in theory, since the movie wasn't going to carry her first-person present narration and some way was needed to get some exposition in there, but in practice I really didn't care much for the cuts to Flickerman and Templesmith in the commentary booth nor for the cuts to Seneca's control room. The book wisely didn't delve much into how the Hunger Games arena was brought about, although we knew that it used advanced technology; in the movie I thought that it suffered for being too "magic".

Nikki: I got the sense from the book that they'd actually consummated their relationship

Well, I just finished the book about a month ago, a little too close for comfort to watching the film, and while they did get into the sleeping bag together I don't think they had, as Liz Lemon put it, "Mommy-Daddy sheet-monster time".

Blam said...


Oh, I meant to add that my mother and her friends really enjoyed it — so there's the verdict of some well-educated 60somethings with children if not grandchildren. I'd told her that I would probably give the film a solid B, with the caveat that I had no idea how it might come across to someone who hadn't read the book (which none of themd had). And I was happy to hear that they could actually read Haymitch's "You call that a kiss?" note — because it was such an important moment in the book and the film, yet in my screening the shot was too dark to see the note even though I knew what it was; a major disappointment there.

Joan Crawford said...

@Blam - I agree with you. Which, as always, has me concerned.

Ha! That's funny, I would think someone as smart as you would be used to being right...

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