03.26.12: culture blotter {the hunger games}

i picked up a paperback copy of the hunger games at the jetblue terminal at JFK in early december; i tried to buy the sequels six hours later when joe and i touched down in phoenix, but the concessions at sky harbor had already shut down for the night (this is why you lost the war, phoenix), so i talked my mother in law into driving me to walmart* for them a few days later. catching fire and mockingjay are not, in the final analysis, worth a trip to walmart, but the hunger games could be; suzanne collins's writing is every bit as propulsive as stephenie "true love waits" meyer's, but collins uses a variety of adjectives, and her heroine's more than capable of taking care of herself. moreover, her adolescents' interactions have an authentically emotional crackle and snap that harry potter and friends never quite generate as they get older and lumpier, if you ask me; j.k. rowling nailed tween-harry's feelings in her first few books, but his teenage years with ron and hermione read like frodo and sam's wanderings in mordor circa the return of the king scotch-taped into a few episodes of saved by the bell.

but i digress. the hunger games is a winning, entertaining young adult book, and it had the potential to be an outstanding movie. several of the casting choices were brilliant (jennifer lawrence as katniss, stanley tucci as caesar flickerman, elizabeth banks as effie trinket, donald sutherland as president snow, lenny kravitz and his gold eyeliner as cinna), the pre-release marketing campaign was gorgeous (the capitol couture e-zine, with content from design houses like mcqueen and prada, is the most satisfying online tie-in since noel's website circa felicity**), and early footage was so promising!

it was not an outstanding movie, not by a long shot. jennifer lawrence was a fine katniss, and i think folks who argue that she looks too healthy to be a starved district 12 tribute can pipe down and netflix a bunch of off-putting skeletal-christian-bale movies, if that's what they're into (katniss is a hunter and is supposed to be in good shape, at least until the games start); the real trouble with the role is that her character's stoicism works in the novels because they're narrated in the first person and we get her vivid interior monologue.*** lawrence killed as a strong, silent type in winter's bone, but that film traded in shades of minimalism; it hurts me a little to say this, but i think the hunger games needed some substantial voice-overs. the audience needed to know how desperate katniss was in the flashbacks when peeta threw her the burned bread; lawrence did what she could with a look, but we needed the backstory of how his gesture gave her hope. that scene was choreographed badly, as were the few katniss shares with gale; we're supposed to get a lifetime of partnership and communion in that first hunting scene (to inform the awkwardness of gale's viewership later on), but it's hardly clear that he's essentially family. the sad-trombone cuts between gale at home in district 12 and peeta and katniss in the love cave were funny-awkward, not, er, awkward-awkward.

speaking of funny-awkward, can we talk for a moment about how peeta goes all pan's labyrinth on himself after hurting his leg so that katniss nearly steps on his face when she finds him near the river? that was true to the book, and it was a nice detail - peeta's a baker's son and a cake-icin' machine, so he was a quick study at camouflage during the pre-games training - but shouldn't he have been halfway underneath something? did the makeup team really take a good look at that tree-face and pronounce it badass? paint me skeptical; our theater laughed.

but enough about my hunger games; how did it strike you?

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 have you seen "lana del rey's 'hunger games'"? go ahead, i'll wait.

02 have you seen battle royale (the 2000 japanese movie to which, as umpteen critics have noted, suzanne collins's books bear striking similarities)?

03 did you read any of the suzanne collins books? if so, how many?

04 do you think the movie would have benefited from more exposition - or, as i've argued, more narration?

05 should the violence in the arena have been more explicit? did the fact that the tributes' bodies remained in place (instead of being whisked away as they are in the books) serve a dramatic purpose?

06 would you have stepped on peeta's face?

07 did anyone dress up at your screening? if you were to costume yourself as a hunger games character, which one would you pick (and what would you wear)?

08 should the filmmakers have gone for broke with the mutant dogs and given them the fallen tributes' eyes?

09 will you see the next movie?

*walmart in their town has an LDS book section. i hid some things there.

**please note, however, that i am not one of the felicity people. i have my pride.

***"Dystopian fiction," laura miller writes in "fresh hell," the new yorker essay that convinced me to pick up hunger games in the first place, "may be the only genre written for children that’s routinely less didactic than its adult counterpart. It’s not about persuading the reader to stop something terrible from happening—it’s about what’s happening, right this minute, in the stormy psyche of the adolescent reader."


anonymous said...

I read all the books, and enjoyed them. Haven't seen the movie. The thing I didn't like about the books: the two guy thing. Didn't convince me. The thing I hoped to like about the movie: the costumes:).

kidchamp said...

the costumes are...not bad, i'd say. cinna was such a force in the book that he deserved a serious montage in the film; the leg-waxing scene and the bit of patter about how he chose to dress katniss and peeta for their debut (which features the best outfits of the film, i think, and i'd like them to inspire a streetwear craze) wasn't nearly enough. we need a montage! also, everyone deserved to be as lovingly costumed and manscaped, respectively, as elizabeth banks and wes bentley were. and the cuted-down lovebird outfits for the final interview - would the film audience have gotten that they were dressed thus to downplay the fact that they had defied the capitol at the end of the hunger games? o, the info we lacked!

all of that said, the "capitol couture" stuff in the promo materials really is fabulous. here's hoping the next film ups its game to match the hype.

Rachel (heart of light) said...

01. At work. I always miss out on these things. Will try to remember to check at home. 

02. No, but now I want to!

03. All three in the trilogy, without pause. It was a book binge. 

04. Haven't seen it, but I was reaaaaally curious about how they would handle that. So much is going on in her head vs. the image she has to project and I just don't see how any actress could do that. Katniss has to be a good actress to survive, therefore the real actress isn't going to be able to show the underlying emotions. Voice overs are tough to do successfully, though. And there aren't many chances for her to have conversations that would give exposition. Maybe lots of flashbacks would have helped?

07. One of my girlfriends said that at the screening she went to many, many people were dressed up but her personal favorite was the Peeta dressed as a life size pita with a sign saying "I knead you". She's a sucker for puns, obviously. 

08. THEY DIDN'T DO THAT? That's the creepiest part. 

09. Supposing I get around to seeing any movies in the next few years, these will probably make the list. 

holli said...

1- No I hadn't. Thanks for the giggles.

2. I haven't but my husband had... & not having read any of the books that was his first call out post-movie

3. All- in record time.

4. Absolutely... I think that was the movies biggest flaw, besides the obvious parts they left out (hello mayors daughter? where you at? was that supposed to be greasy sae that just shrugged over the mockingjay pin!?)

5. Yes. It was a gorey book, F those preteens who couldn't make it to an R movie- and I was having a panic attach after Rue died, like WALK FASTER KATNISS YOU ONLY HAVE 30 SECONDS OR SO TO DECORATE!... but no. take your time hovercraft.

6. Lol maybs.

7. No.... I did wear my digby & iona arrow necklace though ha

8. I think if they weren't going to link the dogs to the fallen tributes they should have left the dogs out altogether. Go big or go home

9. duh

kidchamp said...

@holli yeah, the complete lack of mockingjay-pin-significance was kind of weird. hey, katniss has a pin her sister gave her! sweet, but TOTALLY MISSES THE POINT.

re: 07 i...wore a shirt with a bright pink splotch and sequined shoes. the aging hipster on fire?

re: 08 agreed on the muttations. 

@rachel re: 02 me, too - it's kind of shocking that i haven't seen it yet, really. 

re: 04 flashbacks could have worked as well. i'll be interested to see how you feel about the flashbacks they did include.

re:07 i fantasized about wearing a santa beard and, like, a lot of old lady perfume and going as president snow. i probably should have put joe in a wig to be haymitch. 

babyjo said...

2. yes, about....3 years ago?  i actually couldn't watch all of it (as in, looked away, not as in, didn't finish the film).  the death scenes are pretty gorey, and i had a hard time enjoyng the film at all because i found the concept so disturbing.  frankly, it was kind of stressful to watch the film.  that's really why i have no interest in reading or watching the hunger games

jk said...

01: i still have yet to see actual lana del rey.

02: a more clever, cultured friend of mine passed "battle royale" to me, but i have yet to watch it. i have heard it's quite violent.

03: i waited to read 2 until after seeing 1 (having read 1 before). like the other commenters, i tore through both of them very fast. don't think i'll be able to wait on 3. but i don't understand everyone's issues with 2. i much preferred the story to 1, though it's admittedly dodgier writing.

04: ah this. i blame a lot of the films flaws on them trying to stage the whole book in one movie. there's too much ground to cover. in the effort to cram it all in, they lose (1) narrative, (2) any notion of tension + release, (3) character development. you know, the small stuff. i think there would've been a way to write a bunch of new dialogue to cover the expositional elements (first idea that comes to mind is more tucci commentary -- which would be an interesting meta-commentary on, er, commentators). anyway, that's off the top of my head, and good thing this is not twitter.

05: yes.

there's just too much irony to bear with the fact that a story commenting on the use of gladiator-style violence as ruling class amusement & its parallels to our society's relationship to violence **doesn't show violence when turned into a movie to be consumed by that population**.


06: obviously.

07: no. i went in LA where it is teen-heavy. in this town, the adults are prolly more likely to show in costume.

08: yes. see 05.

09: yes, absolutely. and i hope they split this one into two, although maybe they can't because everyone finds the stuff at home to be boring?

10: that laura miler quote is fascinating. i continue to process my feelings about people's relationship to social and governance issues. will have to check out the full piece.

jk said...

Also were you in LA? Let me know when you next come through with time!

Rob S. Parham said...

Haymitch was too clean. He did to be more drunk. Gal was too much of a wuss. How did the other 11 tribute know what katniss did for Rue? I thought they would be more on fire.
AND WHAT WAS WITH THE PIN SCREW UP???? We lose the tie-in with the mayor for the future. the flashbacks were too fragmented the breaking of the scene lost power.

Rob S. Parham said...

06 Yes. That was bad. I thought he was tucked up under a muddy over hanging bank covered in mud. He must have had a great mirror. and he came out perfectly clean, what was with that. just his face is dirty? She didn't have to work very hard cleaning him up.

07 No. Haymitch.

08 YES, and they should have made what's his name moan all night like he did in the book.

09 you bet.

Rob S. Parham said...

01 I just did, that was worth it.

02 no

03 I read the Hunger Games trilogy

04 Yes. We miss the history of the conflict. We miss the oppression of the districts we miss the reason for the creation of the mutants

05 No, seemed to be enough and wasn't a focus. I dont' think the violence was a focus in the book. It made it less dramatic. With them being taken away it furthered how in control the capital is.

kidchamp said...

absolutely! it was a bit of a surgical strike that time (just two days at my sister's place en route to the OC), but we plan longer stints soon, particularly since the beach was uncooperative when we were out there just now. 

kidchamp said...

re: 04, there's a really depressing Q&A with gary ross over at the times arts blog in which he both sounds satisfied with what he was able to convey in the movie and maintains that "Of course, in the film, we can't get inside Katniss's head." really, gary ross?

this makes it official: hollywood, please to be firing gary ross and having david fincher remake the first movie and take over its sequels. he gets strong women (cf. girl with the dragon tattoo, he gets games (see, y'know, the game), and he gets successful voiceovers (FIGHT CLUB). i know all of my movie posts end up being about fight club, but come on, this time it totally makes sense.

kidchamp said...

haymitch was a huge failure in characterization, i agree. he's the most intimate demonstration we get of how doing what you have to do to win the games basically breaks your soul; woody harrelson bitching over breakfast in a prince valiant wig doesn't get that at all (since the reaping WAS one of the longer scenes, we could at least have gotten haymitch falling off of the stage). 

agreed on the fragmentation, as well. it's not as though katniss was remembering the scene with the bread in bits and flashes; that was a searing memory for her. i get that it perhaps needed to be revealed to us slowly, but since ross did such a shitty job of drawing the emotional importance of that exchange out for us, all we got was several confused tag-backs. 

_M_D_F_ said...

01: I've recited lines from this literally seventy times in the last week. 02: Yes and it is good stuff. I remember a quiet scene near the end, between Beat Takeshi and Tatsuya Fujiwara, as being astonishing. 04: For someone who read not a word of the book, I thought the movie worked pretty well, and I saw it specifically to hate on it. [Don't know if a voiceover would've worked in THG, but they've worked before: "As far back as I can remember I always wanted to be a Tribute..." or "The Capitol... shit; I'm still only in the Capitol... Every time I think I'm gonna wake up back in the arena."] What was it about Katniss starving? As an outsider it seemed more significant that Peeta had bread to give. Also, the way Gale spoke knowingly of the Games as manipulative TV entertainment gave me the impression he understood just what the Gamemakers had in mind with all the kissing. Is he credulous in the book? If so, disappointing. 08: As soon as the first mutant dog was let loose, I heard Rick Moranis' voice in my head say, "Okay, who brought the dog?" 0?: Spoiler Request- How does it all end? Is it upsetting?

anonymous said...

The bread lost a bunch of importance in the movie. Katniss was starving to death, so was her family. Then, this stranger is beaten by his mother for ruining bread, he is supposed to toss it to the hogs but tosses some to her when mom isn't looking. Later we find he burned it on purpose, to save her. and this really was a turning point in her life, makes her start to take care of her family and become as strong as she is.
Spoiler: Katniss wins and everyone loves her, except for the gov't types who all wanted her dead.

kidchamp said...

Guest up there has it about right, MDF (both the bread-significance and the ending). the ending is mostly upsetting because the next two books aren't nearly as good as the first one is; good films could fix that, i think, and i'm hope-hope-hoping a different director gets his hands on them. 

re: gale, i...don't remember him caring about the peeta thing much one way or the other, to be honest. a lot of the feeling he seemed to have for her at the beginning of the series is never spoken of again (there isn't really a TEAM GALE / TEAM PEETA structure here; it's more of a TEAM PEETA / TEAM NOBODY sort of thing).

why am i not watching ghostbusters right now?

Rob S. Parham said...

I'm looking forward to H porting this thing. Remebering to not be "Guest" is, apparently, a struggle for me.

kidchamp said...

i know H is a wizard (he even has a beard, right?), but i admit i'm skeptical that everything can be moved. this site has been held together with tape and friends' goodwill for a lo-ong time. 

syn said...

Battle Royale was a book before the movie. Read the book (it's better) *and* see the movie.

lauren said...

i wasn't wild about the movie, which was stylized in a way that seemed awkward (i felt the same way about the host, that movie about the giant killer tadpole-thing in...korea?), but it wasn't bad. didn't know there was a book - i'll hunt it down! thanks, pastor phil.