, , , , , , , , , , ,

PH and I FINALLY got to see The Hunger Games! It took us a while to find a sitter, but my friend Pug Mama saved the day and took Owl for the afternoon yesterday.

You all know how excited I have been to see this movie. I was practically bouncing with anticipation as we waited for the movie to start.

So, now I’ve seen it.

I’m not sure what I think.

Overall, it was good. Really. I mean, the book is pure action, so it’s hard to mess up. The best thing was that they didn’t just turn it into a pure action thriller. They actually put soul into the movie.

  • The Reaping and the death of Rue were both excellently done. Very moving.
  • The plot is pretty much all there, and they actually added some behind-the-scenes stuff that you don’t get to see in the book, because the book is told in the first person. That was pretty cool. Seneca Crane, for example, was a much bigger character than in the book (and I LOVED how they handled his, er, final scene).
  • Several scenes were PERFECTLY set up for Catching Fire. Just watching them, PH and I were exchanging meaningful looks, knowing how these scenes would be reflected in the next movie and come to take on new meaning
    based on subsequent events.
  • Things LOOKED right (well, except the Cornucopia, which was bizarre). You know things are done well when you recognize the character right off, and I recognized almost everyone).

I only have three serious complaints.

I mean, yes, there were small things, peas in the mattress so to speak, like Haymitch being far too pleasant (“If only Heath Ledger were still alive…” says PH), Peeta’s eyes being the wrong colour, the deletion of certain important lines (“Stay alive” being one of them) and so on. But those little niggling details will always be present in any movie adaption of a book.

No, there are only three real problems with the movie. The odd thing is, while the touches I was missing were small, they really affect how I feel about the movie. These two differences make the difference between “yeah, that was pretty good” and “OH YEAH I’M WATCHING THIS OVER AND OVER”.

Complaint 1: The PG effect.

You weren't planning on seeing anything in this movie, were you?

I was somewhat prepared for this. I knew it was listed as PG13, so I figured they’d HAVE to tone it down.

In fact, I thought they’d totally alter Cato’s death, so I was surprised that they showed as much of it as they did.

And it wasn’t as bad as some movies, like The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, where people manage to stab and kill their enemies without getting so much as a drop of blood on their swords (I’m sorry, but when find yourself taming down C.S. Lewis, you have toned things down too much). But this was the frigging HUNGER GAMES, man.

Now, I’m no lover of blood and gore. I don’t watch horror or even thriller movies. I even avoid your standard action flick. But sometimes, when they tone down bloody moments in book, the impact of the scene is lessened.

This happened with The Golden Compass. They took an awesome coming-of-age story and tried to aim it at the under-10 set and it didn’t work. If they had left in the blood, the betrayal, and the sexual overtones, they would have had a better movie and more income.

Well, The Hunger Games wasn’t that bad. But in their attempt to keep it PG13, they blurred out a lot of the action. They did the jiggly-camera thing CONSTANTLY during action sequences, so you couldn’t really see WHAT was going on, and I found it highly annoying. I came to watch a movie, not to get seasick. I realize you don’t want the 13 year olds to see too much, but I object to the fact that I don’t get to see what’s going on either.

Complaint 2: The Peeta Complication

I wasn’t wholly satisfied with the whole Peeta romance thing. I’m not sure that they did a good job in conveying how conflicted Katniss is about Peeta:

  1. He saved her life.
  2. She promised her sister she would do her best to win.
  3. Winning means that Peeta has to die.
  4. Which means she might have to kill him.

Exactly how am I supposed to work a thank-you in there? Somehow it just won’t seem as sincere if I’m trying to slit his throat.

And she can’t figure out Peeta’s game. On the one hand, he announces his big love for her, holds her hand and so on. He wants to train together. He compliments her.

On the other hand, he’s the one who convinces Haymitch to actually make an effort and give them some help. He is the one who demands to hear strategy, who closets himself with Haymitch and comes out with an act to charm the cameras.

He hasn’t accepted his death. He is already fighting hard to stay alive…. Which…means kind Peeta Mellark, the boy who gave me the bread, is fighting hard to kill me.

So then she thinks she has started playing his game, too – acting for the cameras, playing up the show. But is it just a show?

And speaking of shows…

Complaint 3: Self-Awareness, Or Lack Thereof

How despicable we must seem to you.

Now, for this, I would love to hear from people who have watched the movie but have not read the books, because I may be underestimating people.

The movie-makers did a good job of portraying the emotions of the movie, the general awfulness of being thrown into an arena to fight for your life while people cheered, and the sickness of the popularity of The Games. They kept in all kinds of important minute details (by the way, I loved the touch of dressing the Avoxes like mimes).

But there were a couple of potential finishing touches that they seemed to shy away from…

When you read The Hunger Games, and its sequel, Catching Fire, there are certain recurring (I would even say near-constant) themes whenever Katniss has to interact with people from The Capitol, and when she is in the midst of The Games.

Your average person from The Capitol has no idea what it is like to be Katniss. Their decadent life is so far removed from her life of hardship and struggle that they completely lack the ability to empathize with her. They simply don’t realize or think about how much her life must suck.

While you do have evil tyrants like President Snow around, your average person from The Capitol is simply thoughtless.

What do they do all day, these people in the Capitol, besides decorating their bodies and waiting around for a new shipment of tributes to roll in and die for their entertainment?

Katniss’s prep team is a perfect example.

They are portrayed as kindly, friendly people who genuinely care about Katniss. And yet they are constantly saying thoughtless little things that show how little they understand Katniss’s situation.

It’s hard to hate my prep team. They’re such total idiots.

And then there are characters like Effie Trinket – almost admirable in many ways, but with that Capitol taint on them.

Effie takes both of us by the hand and, with actual tears in her eyes, wishes us well. Thanks us for being the best tributes it has ever been her privilege to sponsor. And then, because it’s Effie and she’s apparently required by law to say something awful, she adds “I wouldn’t be surprised if I got promoted to a decent district next year!” Then she kisses us each on the cheek and hurries out, overcome with either the emotional parting or the possible improvement of her fortunes.

Much of that is eradicated from the movie. Oh, you see the cheering crowds in the Caesar Flickerman audience. You see Effie’s cheerful “Happy Hunger Games!” and you are certainly aware of the fact that this is being treated like a big show. But at any point (and tell me, those of you who haven’t read the books) do you realize that WE are The Capitol?

There are two layers to The Games. The first is the primary purpose of the Games – to instil fear and despair into the districts, while also giving them something to dream about – the hope of winning The Games.

But to the people in the Capitol, it’s just a great reality TV show. They don’t think of the kids going into the arena as being real human beings. They don’t wonder how it would feel to be ripped from your family and thrown to your near-certain death for the entertainment of others. Even when they are moved to tears by Katniss’s protection of her sister, or Peeta’s star-crossed lover act, they don’t really register that these are real people.

I think the movie could have riffed on that more than they did. We see people in Districts 11 and 12 watching the Games, but they are watching straight footage – the same thing we see on the big screen. And yet, in the book, The Hunger Games is clearly a TV show, with narration, editing, and “highlights”. They could have shown us the SHOW – not the Caesar Flickerman show, but the actual Hunger Games show. They could have dressed it up to look like Survivor.

Playing Survivor is so much like being a contestant on the Hunger Games, at times I find it hard to believe that author Suzanne Collins hasn’t been a Survivor contestant herself. – Stephen Fishbach, Survivor Finalist.

And they could have shown the people in The Capitol, sitting around, watching children die while they munched popcorn.

Just like us.

Our society is only a step or two away from that of Panem’s Capitol, and Suzanne Collins isn’t gentle in trying to get that across to us. The way that Katniss looks at the Capitol – well, isn’t that how many third world countries look at us?

See how we fret over a few extra pounds, while children starve to death in the same countries that provide us with our morning breakfast cereal?

See how we put ourselves into survival situations for the hope of a million dollars, when people everywhere are living that situation for the hope of… well… survival?

They say the average child has seen 8,000 murders on television before finishing elementary school. By age 18, that number has increased to 200,000.

We can say “oh, yeah, but they aren’t REAL murders. It’s acting. We don’t sit and watch real people die for our entertainment.” And that’s true. But our society is tame by historical standards, as Suzanne Collins once again points out with all of the subtlety of a sledge hammer.

Don’t most Capitol characters sport Roman names? What were the Gladiators, but tributes forced to fight for their lives while people cheered?

Human beings are naturally bloodthirsty. I don’t like it, but it’s true.

So, someone wrote a book commenting on it. Then we took that book and turned it into a movie, and we all turned up in droves, excited to watch children die.

How those tributes would despise us.

Do you know what have seen in stores? A small book with glossy colour pages.   It’s a Tribute Guide.

Each page has a picture of one of the tributes, and their name, age, district etc. Even sicker, it openly addresses itself to “Citizens of Panem”.

So here’s the movie company, promoting their movie, marketing it to us as though we were those Capitol fans, excited for the 74th annual Hunger Games. And there’s no finger pointing, no attempt to make us feel ashamed.
Why would there be? Suggest that we are sick to buy their merchandise, or to see their movie? That would be craziness, surely. So they don’t.

They don’t try to hold up a mirror to us, to make us ask ourselves “are these Capitol people really all that different from us?”

Of course they don’t.

They are like The Capitol themselves, selling sensationalism, selling death, even as they tone down the gore and blur the death scenes, so that parents can feel better about bringing their children in to join the fun.

But I wish they had. It sounds ironic, but that would have made me feel a lot better about the whole thing.

Even as I wish that the movie had been bloodier.