Heather does The Hunger Games

“If I’m gonna die, I want to still be me.”

The Scoop: 2012 PG 13, directed by Gary Ross and starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Woody Harrelson

Tagline: May the odds be ever in your favor.

Summary Capsule: A brave teenager takes her little sister’s place as a sacrifice for a 24-kids-enter-1-kid-leaves reality show. Political upheaval ensues, and I get to put my foot in my mouth about it being a Battle Royale ripoff.

Heather’s Rating: Mmmm….my first taste of crow this year.

Heather’s Review: Three months ago I was completely ignorant of The Hunger Games series, up until Al and I did our second annual list of judgments and preconceived notions about the movies of the coming year. His inclusion of The Hunger Games on that list, and my subsequent viewing of the trailer, was the first I had heard of this acclaimed YA trilogy and I had what has apparently been a very common reaction among the uninformed: It’s a non-Japanese Battle Royale!

On the one hand it’s easy to make that comparison, as both concern a dystopian future where a government-sanctioned execution game pits young children against each other. On the other hand, the human race has been around a mighty long time and the world population is about seven billion. One would have to be insane to expect no major similarities to be found between the stories we’re writing now and have written in the in the past. I found enough differences between BR and HG to enjoy the two as separate, quality stories that just happen to share a common thread.

The Hunger Games is based on the first novel of the same name in Suzanne Collins’s trilogy. The setting is a dystopian future in a country called Panem, created after the destruction of the North American countries in an unknown apocalyptic event. Panem is made up of twelve dirt-poor districts ruled by the incredibly wealthy Capitol. For seventy-three years each district has been forced to offer up two Tributes, one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen for the Hunger Games as punishment for a violent rebellion against The Capitol.

Our protagonist is Katniss Everdeen, a young lady who has been the head of her household since her father died tragically and her mother lost herself in a deep depression. She has cared for her mother and younger sister Primrose by learning her father’s skill with a bow and arrow and hunting illegally in the forest surrounding her home of District 12. Primrose has just become of age to be eligible in The Reaping, a mandatory public event which chooses the boy and girl to be sacrificed as Tribute. Katniss assures the understandably terrified Prim that she will not be picked, as it is only her first year and there are many more names to be chosen from the pile. Unfortunately Katniss is wrong, and soon after assembling she finds herself being torn away from her sister as she screams out that she will take Prim’s place as Tribute.

Katniss and her male counterpart for the Games, Peeta Mellark, are soon taken away to the Capitol by train to be prepared for the Hunger Games. I can’t say enough about how wonderfully the film version captured what I had imagined The Capitol to be, from the vastly advanced technology to the largely vain and indifferent people with their boisterous fashion choices that would give Lady Gaga feelings of inadequacy. In fact I’m impressed with all of the setting and costume choices, especially Peeta and Katniss’s amazing costumes for the Tribute Parade.

As for the casting, I have zero qualms. I see no more perfect fit for Peeta and Katniss than Josh Hutcherson and Jennifer Lawrence, who continue being standout actors among their generation. Ms. Lawrence’s expressive nonverbal acting was crucial in successfully bringing  Katniss’s thoughts and attitude over from the first-person novel into the third-person film.

And talk about surprises in the cast. Lenny Kravitz as Cinna was completely unexpected, but spot-on. The same goes for Woody Harrelson, who was nothing like I imagined Haymitch and yet portrayed the character with such obvious enjoyment that I came out liking Haymitch’s movie self much more than his novel self. It didn’t hurt that the character’s less-favorable qualities were played down while the audience got to see him working for his Tributes behind the scenes.

The Hunger Games added in these scenes showing what was going on with Haymitch and many other characters outside the arena while the kids were fighting it out, and it played to fantastic effect. Completely absent from the book, these scenes not only made the movie look like a more complete story, but made it more accessible to those who hadn’t read the novel. Having the announcers explain crucial elements of the Games to their audience was a great way to fill in the gaps left by translating the first-person novel to a third-person film without having to drag out the running time even more. Quick and seamless, our audience was brought up to speed along with the audience of Panem.

There are so many things to go on about that the movie got right, but here is where I need to be fair and point out the flaws. First: Shaky Cam. Sweet moistened Wolverine, I wanted to punch the cinematographer halfway through the film. I absolutely hate this trendy, vomit-inducing technique. Some argue that it helped convey violence without compromising its PG-13 rating, but I call BS. One can imply violence without turning the screen into a Jackson Pollack painting. If you suffer from motion sickness I highly recommend sitting as far back from the screen as you can.

Second: Thresh’s scene with Katniss was less intense and emotional than I found it to be in the book. Most changes I got, but I didn’t understand why they did this scene the way they did.

Third, and most important: I’m remaining spoiler-free in this review, so I’ll just say that there is a character whose death is a big deal to most readers of the book. This character’s death in the film was a joke, in comparison, and one of the movie’s weakest points to veterans and newbies of the story alike. It was handled in a stereotypical, goofy manner and I see no excuse for that. I’ve heard some argue that to keep the PG-13 rating it couldn’t be the same death as the book. Again, I say, BS. The killing blow could have been cut away from. Tragedy intact, gore at a minimum and rating retained.

For those in the dark, Hunger Games is a YA series. It’s a lot more violent than America’s movies allow for the same age group, and so a lot of the impact was lessened for many viewers. I think tragedy and violence can be conveyed without blood flying all over the place. I’ve seen films successfully terrify me and disturb me with hardly any bloodshed, and in fact tend to see them as stronger for being able to get those emotions across without it. Where I think THG got it wrong was throwing in all of that Shaky Cam and stereotyping the deaths.

As I finish writing this review, THG has been out for about three weeks and its fame has skyrocketed. It’s becoming another teen phenomenon in the wake of the Harry Potter series and Twilight finishing up, but unlike the latter, it’s deserving of its praise. The Hunger Games calls into question where society is headed, and points fingers at a lot of the nasty motives in all of us that allow reality shows to exist. It’s got its flaws, but overall it is an impressively faithful adaptation and completely works as a standalone piece. Whether or not you think it’s similar to Battle Royale or want to dismiss it as The Next Twilight, which the media really wants to sell it as, you can’t argue that that premise doesn’t beat the crap out of most everything else directed to that age group right now.

"Despite what our mentor told us, and what makes perfect sense, go throw a heavy thing and show that you're not a weenie. Who needs the element of surprise?"

Intermission!

  • Composer Danny Elfman left the film due to a scheduling conflict and was replaced by James Newton Howard. Thank goodness.
  • The name of the main character, Katniss, is derived from the name of a group of edible plant species, genus “Sagittaria”, commonly known as “arrowhead”. This is a reference to the character’s archery skills.
  • The fictional nation in the film is called Panem. This is derived from “Panem et Circenses,” or “Bread and Circuses,” which comes from the latter days of the Roman Empire, in which the government would keep the masses satisfied not by performing their public services well, but by providing violent and deadly entertainments for the people to watch, which is rather fitting for the subject matter of the film.
  • Though she appeared in all three books, and was featured prominently in the movie, actress Elizabeth Banks’s character’s name, Effie Trinket, was never mentioned in the movie.
  • Wilhelm scream: can be heard from one of the victims when Katniss Everdeen cuts off a tree branch and the nest of tracker jackers fall onto some of her opponents.
  • It isn’t explained in the movie, but the reason why Gale’s name is in the drawing so many times is because children can put their names in extra times for a tessera, which is worth “a meager year’s grain and oil for one person”. Because of this, the poorer a family is the much more likely those children will be chosen. Also, your name is entered as many times as you’ve been eligible for the Reaping; so once at twelve, twice at thirteen, and so on. Between the tessera and her age, Katniss’s name is in the drawing twenty times at sixteen. Gale’s is in forty-two times.
  • Our local archery ranges are completely and ridiculously busy in the wake of everyone wanting to take part in their new “trendy” hobby.

Groovy Quotes

Katniss: I volunteer! I volunteer as tribute!

President Snow: Hope. It is the only thing stronger than fear. A little hope is effective. A lot of hope is dangerous.

Peeta Mellark: I just keep wishing I could think of a way to show them that they don’t own me. If I’m gonna die, I want to still be me.

Cinna: I’m not allowed to bet, but if I could I’d bet on you.

Seneca Crane: Hey, hey hey! Who ordered this pig?

Haymitch: This is the time to show them everything. Make sure they remember you.

Katniss: Take care of them, Gale. Whatever you do, don’t let them starve!

Caesar Flickerman: What did you say to your sister when you volunteered at the reaping?
Katniss Everdeen: I told her that I would try to win for her.
Caesar Flickerman: And try you will.

Gale Hawthorne:  Okay, listen to me, you’re stronger than they are. You are. They just want a good show, that’s all they want. You know how to hunt. Show them how good you are.

Katniss Everdeen: So you’re here to make me look pretty.
Cinna: I’m here to help you make an impression.

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11 Comments

  1. What bugs me most about this movie and the book is they never discuss the idea of kids killing kids. You CANNOT have a story based on this concept and not discuss in at least some form or fashion.

    Peeta discusses this for about 5 seconds: “If I’m going to die, I want to still be me,” and again at the very end when a character BRIEFLY says something to the effect of “Killing’s the only thing I’ve ever known how to do.” That’s it?!

    Come on! It just reminds me of the shaky cam, it’s on screen, but the both the book and movie are too scared to actually get dirty in the discussion. This unique concept is simply a given. You said it well so I’ll say it again, “I’m calling BS.”

    • What kind of discussion did you want them to have? Do you want the characters to just outright say “There are kids killing kids. This is bad.”? I think that was more than obvious to both to us as the audience, and to the non-Capitol population of Panem. The pain on the faces of the characters, the mocking portrayal of Effie, and District 11’s response to their younger tribute’s death all make it apparent that this isn’t how the world is supposed to be and that most people are not okay with this. One of the key aspects to getting a film right is “show, don’t tell”, and I appreciate the movie’s decision to trust its audience with this intense subject matter.

  2. I think the overall aspect of the book, movie or any other fictional piece that follows this basic story line is using the killing of kids as a metaphor. When coupled with a distopian (future government gone out of control) government, we are able to see that what we are doing today has a profound and direct effect on tomorrow. The reason they don’t discuss the concept that is so appalling is because that it isn’t about kids killing kids. It is to highlight that there are roads that a population can travel down, but do we now have the guts to stop its onward march or just let it go where it ends up? kids are innocent, so you can see who the strong can dominate the weak all through this piece.

  3. “Thank goodness?” I think Elfman would have done a terrific job. Actually, rumor has it that he left because of the musical situation, which saw JNH’s score dialed way down or outright replaced with music from other movies or a library.

  4. Pingback: The Hunger Games | Grooooovey Moooovie

  5. Sorry if I wasn’t clear. I did not mean to say that I wanted characters having actual conversations about it. My initial statement was misleading. You’re absolutely right, having people simply converse about “the horror” is not nearly as effective. Just look at Rambo: First Blood and his breakdown at the end “Nothing is over!!!” It was far more effective when the movie simply touched on the on the subject through his brief flashbacks when he was being abused by the police at the beginning. Showing IS better then telling.

    What I mean to say is, the Hunger Games did not dwell on the subject. The movie only provided a glimpse or two. My favorite shot of the whole movie is when Prim has just been chosen and she has this look of fear and shock and despite everything that her character is dealing with, she still tucks in her shirt. It was such a simple gesture but it was incredibly touching and poignant.

    Another good shot came when the movie stood it’s ground and did not shy away from the violence when Cato snaps a kid’s neck. Again brief, but shocking. It conveyed so much in such a brief second. It felt like high school bullying to the nth degree and like Prim’s shot, a lot could be said about it.

    I personally just feel like the movie as was the book, more concerned about driving the plot forward more than anything else. Yes, there are examples as you said, showing the district’s reaction to a certain character’s death etc. but the movie’s main concern lay elsewhere. Again, me personally, am disappointed in how they chose to convey or in some cases failed to convey their message.

    This sums it up pretty well:

    “The Hunger Games” is an effective entertainment, and Jennifer Lawrence is strong and convincing in the central role. But the film leapfrogs obvious questions in its path, and avoids the opportunities sci-fi provides for social criticism; compare its world with the dystopias in “Gattaca” or “The Truman Show.” Director Gary Ross and his writers (including the series’ author, Suzanne Collins) obviously think their audience wants to see lots of hunting-and-survival scenes, and has no interest in people talking about how a cruel class system is using them. Well, maybe they’re right. But I found the movie too long and deliberate as it negotiated the outskirts of its moral issues. -Roger Ebert

    • Absolutely yes about Prim tucking in her shirt. That part of the movie made my stomach hit the floor. I’m re-reading the first book for an article I have planned, and that particular touch was added in for the film. Prim’s shirt was untucked in the book, but she didn’t tuck it back in. I am thoroughly impressed with whoever thought to add that bit.

      I definitely understand your point better, though I’m still not sure I agree with you, Mr. Ebert, or any of the film’s detractors on this point. Maybe I was affected by reading the book first, which does talk at length about the horrors of what’s going on. I finished it only hours before seeing the film the first time, so all of it was fresh in my mind. I tried being more objective a week later when I watched it for the second time, and still came away with the same pros and cons.

      I remain impressed with all of the things mentioned in my review, along with the attempt at bringing such a difficult story aimed at the YA audience to screen. It had to be tough to get across a tale about children murdering each other in forced combat amidst our system of censorship. It doesn’t have the same weight as the book, but I don’t blame the film for that.

      I don’t agree with Ebert at all about the film being too long. If anything it needed more time to tell its story better. As it is, there were no extraneous scenes or dialogue, and it does kind of come off feeling rushed, even at 142 minutes running time. I didn’t feel as if the filmmakers focused too much on the hunt-and-survival aspect, but instead gave it the amount of time it needed. I think expansion of President Snow’s character, and the addition of Seneca Crane’s, helped the Capitol’s sickening nature come across more clearly.

    • I think they touched on the subject quite well.

      It’s right there, in every scene, and in the interviews with Flickerman. Everyone in the Districts is terrified of the Hunger Games (save the ones from District Two who train and revel in their mastery). I think it’s rather dramatic when Flickerman interviews everyone like the Hunger Games is going to be this grand, happy event, and the kids in the Districts look at him like, “I can’t believe you are acting like this is nothing bad.” They try to sound enthusiastic, but only because they know their survival depends on gaining sponsors. That very aspect – getting sponsors – is a great way of pointing out how terribly outrageous and disconnected society is about kids killing kids.

      Maybe we see it less in the movies, because more of the movie happens in Capital than it does in the Districts. Capital is totally oblivious to the moral implications of the Hunger Games. In fact, it’s outright mentioned that no one really knows WHY they still hold the Hunger Games because the Districts have been stomped into the dirt and know humility, save that it’s pure entertainment for Capital. They live to see kids running around in fear, dying of natural and unnatural causes. Just like the Romans loved seeing slaves/criminals dying in the Colosseum. You don’t have a in-depth narrative about it – just the fact that people loved the sport was proof enough of how low people sink to be entertained/in control.

      • I completely agree with you, mcclaud. Speaking of Flickerman, while I got a huge laugh when he whipped his head around to the camera and grinned, I also got a chill at how removed the Capitol was from what was really going on that this guy was such a big deal.

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