Just to make it clear, I have not read The Hunger Games and I don't intend to. I have my reasons. I have my reasons which I spend a considerable amount of time explaining, as the question of why I'm not going to read The Hunger Games is now the most frequent question I'm asked by people that know me in person. Also, let's just say, the movie only affirmed those reasons, so I'm even less likely to read the book now than I was before I saw it. But I'm sort of jumping ahead...
I had no real overriding desire to go see The Hunger Games, especially during opening weekend, but my daughter wanted to go see it (let's just call that a peer thing, since she, also, has not read the book). Because it was raining and thus there was no softball practice for my daughter, I figured I'd better take advantage of the unexpected (okay, it was expected, because we knew it was going to be raining, but the coach waited until nearly noon to concede defeat to the weather) available time and take her to see it.
So here's the spoiler warning, because I'm not going to be very careful about what I say since I expect that most of you that actually care have already seen the movie anyway (and nothing I say is going to change your opinion, but, still, maybe I can make a person or two stop and think). If you haven't already seen it, you probably don't care enough for it to matter.
We're supposed to believe that Katniss and the other members of District 12 are poor. But not just poor, dirt poor. As in they don't have enough to eat. They don't have good clothes to wear. That's what the film would like us to believe from the presentation. But it doesn't back it up. Everyone is too healthy, and they have nice, clean clothes (and, evidently, plenty of them). Not just Katniss. Everyone. Especially Katniss, though, with her round cheeks. No one here is deprived. They're also clean. All of them. Pristine clean. Even Peeta in the midst of throwing out scraps to the pigs in the mud during the rain is wearing pristine white clothes. Poor people don't live like this. My sense of reality is already at odds with the movie, and it's barely started.
The next major disconnect is "the reaping." It's a stupid name for what's going on as the whole thing is "random." That's not what reaping is at all. But my big issue here is the way that everyone just stands by while it's going on. Even the parents. It's totally unbelievable. Throughout history, we have seen parents go to all sorts of lengths to protect their children. Even up to death. So I can't buy into the fact that the parents just stand by and allow their children to be taken. Without protest. Of any kind. I don't care what kind of social conditioning you try to say is going on, there is nothing that can override the biological need of a parent to protect his/her child. At least, in the short story "The Lottery", the people don't know why the lottery is happening. It's origins have been lost, and they don't know what kind of badness will transpire if they fail to follow through every year. Superstition lends believability to the events. But they do know in Hunger Games, so that whole set up came off as contrived to me. And, of course, it is contrived, because that's what authors do, but it shouldn't feel contrived. That did. Even if Katniss' mother wasn't going to wail or protest, someone should have. Peeta's parents didn't. And there was no mention of it from any other district, either, so it just rang false.
Since we're on the subject, were we also supposed to believe that that was the entire District 12 there in that courtyard? That was it? There's few enough of them to fit all the names in that one little fish bowl? A couple of hundred kids in the whole District? Give me a break. And if that was it, if that's what we're supposed to buy into, then I can't buy into districts that are that small supporting a city the size of the capitol. Especially at the level of technology they have. It's also way beyond plausibility that they support all of that off of coal mining. Seriously? That's what we're expected to believe?
All of that to say that I was already busy shaking my head at the ridiculousness of the entire thing within 30 minutes. I don't know what the book is like, but the movie created a foundation built on sand. I think it was made out of sand, too. I mean, the whole set up is just so that they can make the point that it's all for the entertainment of the city folk. I get the point. I even appreciate the point. But you have to make it believable.
Other things I couldn't buy:
The flaming clothes of Katniss and Peeta: Not that I couldn't believe the possibility of it, but I couldn't accept that Cinna was the only one to think of something extravagant. Again, give me a break. Not a single one of the other publicity people were creative enough to think of something cool to bring attention to their people?
Peeta: Shy boy from a backwater district suddenly becomes all cool and suave for television? No way... That coupled with his speech to Katniss about how he didn't want them to change him just about made me gag.
The game itself. And this will be my last point, but it's a big one.
The idea is that the 24 tributes will fight to the death for riches and glory, but only four of them, the representatives from Districts 1 and 2, are invested in that. The rest of them, mostly, just really want to live. Collins, in effect, put the characters into a situation where they have no motivation to make anything happen. After that first rush for supplies, it becomes enough that the tributes just figure out a way to live. Even Cato, in the end, just stakes his territory and sits around and waits. There is no motivation for anyone to do anything, and that's just bad writing. In order to move the story along, at this point, Collins (because she was involved in writing the script for the movie, too) has to introduce an external force to push the characters into what she wants to happen. Again, this whole sequence of events came off as very contrived. Because it was.
The dogs were stupid. I mean, that whole bit with them coming out of the ground was just dumb. And, then, Katniss and Peeta running to where they knew Cato was? Also dumb. Katniss had already shown great skill at climbing trees, so the fact that they ran off through the forest to get to the clearing was just beyond reasonable. Except that that is where Collins wanted them to be.
Also, the whole "there can be two winners" "oh, no, we lied" bit. Also dumb. And the wasps. Convenient. Especially since they managed to not sting anyone in the at least 12 hours the sitting right next to them.
And, since I haven't read the books, and I don't really know what's going on with it, I won't say a thing about the "love" story. Maybe my initial thoughts about it will be proven incorrect, so I'll reserve judgment.
Not be completely negative, though, Woody Harrelson was great as Haymitch. I've seen a lot of criticism about that character from people that read the books, but I thought Harrelson was great. Actually, I think Harrelson is a generally underrated actor.
The only person better? Stanley Tucci. He was amazing. Tucci is another actor that rarely gets the credit he deserves.
I'd like to say I was impressed with Elizabeth Banks, but I think her makeup did most of her acting for her.
And I'd really like to say that I was impressed with Lawrence, but, really, I don't think she stood out at all in the role. There was nothing that she did to make the role hers. Nothing that made it distinct. Nothing that would keep a dozen other actors from stepping in and doing the job just as well. Or, maybe, better.
And just to put it all in perspective:
My daughter said it was not better than John Carter. Not that she liked John Carter more, but she put them on, basically, equal footing.
My younger son did like John Carter better. A lot better.
My older son said about Hunger Games, "It was good." But, when I asked him what made it good or what he liked about it, he couldn't think of anything. Then, once he started talking about the movie, he actually had nothing positive to say about it. And none of it was prompting from me, because I was trying to get my kids' opinions about the movie without diluting it with my own, so I didn't say anything about the way I felt about it until after I heard from them. I will say, though, that my older son went to see Hunger with his girlfriend, who has read the books, and she loved it, so I think his initial assessment of "it's good" was because he saw it with her. Once I got him talking about it, all he could think of were things he thought were wrong with it. In the end, the only thing he could come up with that he liked was the idea of an apocalyptic war and the idea of yearly tributes for the game.
I suppose this is one of those that I'm glad I went to see just so I can know what's going on with it, because it's all anyone talks about, but I was distinctly unimpressed. I was even more umimpressed by the teenager behind me that announced after the movie was over, "That was the best the movie EVER!" That actually made my younger son burst out laughing. I had to nudge him to make him stop. All I can say to that nameless teenager, "You need to get out more."