Fri 23 Mar 2012
WARNING: Spoilers for the books and the movies herein.
Last night, after recording the latest Galactic Suburbia podcast, C and I rushed off to the movies to see The Hunger Games. The darling man that he is, knew I had been looking forward to this movie in particular and had bought Gold Class tickets as a surprise a couple of weeks ago. (really, the marrying him is such a no-brainer). I’d not been to Gold Class down here and was a bit unsure what to expect. It’s a little more expensive but you get a free soft drink and popcorn. As we entered the glass doors for the Lounge, I realised that we were not the only ones seeing a 9pm movie. And in fact, the Gold Glass at Rockingham has a lot more seats. It also has a regular movie goers section in front of the partitioned Gold Class. It was not … as exclusive, shall I say? Also there were a lot of people, which made it noisy. And we got sat next to some *younger* people. I know I am “older” now when I no longer react to over-hyped teenaged/early 20s young men who are laughing and jeering and making fun of people to a) draw attention whilst b) trying to cover their insecurities. I just mostly don’t care about what they think and I want them to be quiet. And get off my lawn.
So you can see I kinda was unimpressed and a little annoyed when the movie started. I don’t know if that impacted on how I experienced the movie. Everybody was given a bowl of popcorn as the movie started and I did like that. Also, Katniss Everdeen is pretty darn impressive – so much so that even those jeering boys were quiet as the tension mounted and I could feel they thought she was quiet the awesome.
The movie. This a review, after all. Normally, I am really forgiving of movie adaptations from books. I don’t expect the movie to be true to the story. I understand a 2 hour movie has much less scope for subplots or large casts of supporting characters. And I don’t mind if chunks of the book get left out. It’s not *all* crucial and it doesn’t *all* need to be included. A movie is not a book. However, I can’t tell if I just loved these books more than most or if my reaction is fair one. But I felt disappointed for much of the movie. I felt disconnected and a little bit robbed of my emotional journey. And I’ve spent the day thinking this through carefully. I didn’t really like or enjoy the movie.
I didn’t mind the production of this film. I imagined people in the districts to be poorer I guess we might see more of this if the second and third books get adapted. After all, we mostly see District 12 in their Sunday best for the Reaping Day. I did feel though that the whole movie felt less glossy and shiny than a Harry Potter. I’m still not sure if maybe it *should* be, given it’s post apocalypse. And I have to also say that about 5 -10 minutes in, I felt very uncomfortable because the opening Reaping Day scenes are a little bit triggering for me (all a bit too close to rounding people up for things and you know how I am with such imagery). C leaned over and reminded me I picked this film and then said we could leave whenever I wanted to. Actually, maybe that’s what I mean about it not being shiny? These scenes of the District Square and so on had a very 1940s feel to them.
But there were a lot of things I liked about this movie. The capital is very exciting and futuristic, and the stark contrast to District 12 with colour and fashion and design was really well done. Haymmich is played brilliantly by Woody Harrelson. I think he was an excellent choice of casting. The entry scene into the arena on chariots was done well as was the Girl on Fire schtick. And that whole prep prior to the game was also well captured. I found the TV hosts a little grating because they weren’t charismatic enough but at the same time you could see they served as the narrator at points (to explain stuff for info dump, not done particularly savvy) and also were a little bit of a window into the All is Not Well in the Capital foreshadowing.
But really, ultimately, I was disappointed with the storytelling from the time they entered the arena onwards. Too much was cut from this part of the story or did not translate into movie. We see very little of Peeta from when Katniss takes off once the game starts and it means that we lose the paranoid elements of the experience of being in the game – we lose Katniss’s flipping back and forwards with deciding whether he is genuine and loves her or whether he is playing her. And because this is lost, all we get is him shaking his head at her when they are on the dais waiting for the countdown, him as part of that first group of the Careers hunting her down and the trackerjacks and then her going to find him once the rules changed.
There is no motivation or explanation given for why Katniss decides to go find Peeta at this point. Why would she want to save him? We really didn’t get the sense in the movie that she didn’t want to have to kill him, that was dropped much earlier on. And so her last interaction with him is the group coming to hunt her and her setting the wasps on him. More happens between them in the book so that its obvious she would drop everything to find him. And from memory, there was something more in the book between them after the wasps and before the rule change that makes it clear that if nothing else, they are on the same side and would make a natural team. Also that she knows he is injured. In the book there are more opportunities for them to interact in the game so as to start laying down the beginning of a love story for the Hunger Games audience to engage with and make her more of an asset for the producers of the show to keep her and them in. And to in fact change the rules as a response to that. Whereas in the movie, she just ups and somehow knows where to find him and then is all kissy kissy. I was left in the cinema not buying it.
I felt ultimately that the complexity of the relationship between Peeta and Katniss is sacrificed in the movie and so it was a very bland and unsatisfying watch. Katniss’s feelings were far more complex and they make the ending more poignant (and moreish). So too, I don’t feel we got a good sense of Peeta, though possibly because them being a team inside the arena was much shorter screen time than it is in the book. You really felt at the end of the book sympathy for both Katniss because she was playing up the story to survive, yet also really values Peeta as at least a friend, her feelings on him still budding and so hurt that she had hurt him, and also for Peeta who so completely loves her and actually wanted to be picked in order to help her survive, at his own expense, and also knows that his love is helpless.
That said. And I will go back and reread the books now because I felt cheated on the ride. I did still really enjoy a lot of aspects of what makes The Hunger Games awesome. I was struck by how lovely it was to see a heroine dressed up in hero garb – in this case the unitard of the training gear – and still *look* like a woman. She’s tough, there’s no doubt, and there were some great scenes of her fighting guys, and the climatic scene on top of the cornucopia where Peeta gives her a hoist up and then she turns round and pulls him up after her. She clearly was strong and equal physically, which is refreshing to see on the movie screen. She doesn’t just fight the girls and she doesn’t only accept help from the boys. But they never took away from her her womanness. If I can say that. Whether in hunting gear or the ball gown, she was still always feminine. And one of her strongest traits, and I think assets, was her maternal instincts. So used to mothering Prim, she mothers Rue – which is heartbreaking. Oh Rue!! And in turn, Rue is a very strong and important ally. And she cares for Peeta when he was hurt. And then even in the final moment, when she shoots the final dude, I forget his name? and he falls off to the wolves below, her “humanity” is to put him down, with that last final arrow. She is tough and a hunter and survivor, but she is still loving and full of compassion and care. I liked the way they were portrayed.
So, in all. I dunno. It felt like a let down. Am I too much of a fan of The Hunger Games? Did it get in the way of my watching? C had not read the books and said he felt it hung together quite well. He felt less disappointed than me.
I’m going to spend the weekend immersed in the books again. Send tissues and chocolate.
EDIT TO ADD: I realised I hadn’t touched on the depiction of violence in the movie and I wanted to mention it. There are dead bodies of kids. There is some you know, killing of kids. A lot of it is offscreen, as it is in the book. And a lot of the rest of it is filmed in such a way that you can’t really see what’s happening – shaky and unfocussed cam etc. That said, there is no escaping Rue’s death. And its horrible and poignant. And I cried lots.