Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Hunger Games unbiased by the book

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."


  1. I did read the book recently (It's in Grumpy Bulldog Book Reviews) but I haven't seen the movie.

    The "they're too clean" thing is also what I would think watching "Lost" or "Gilligan's Island" or even "Star Trek Voyager". I mean if you're lost at sea or space for years without good nutrition you'd show more signs of wasting away and your clothes would get shabby and stuff, but it's Hollywood.

    The parents go along with it because there's a whole fascist government with guns who will kill them (and probably their families) if they speak up. In the book at least it talks about District 13 that was basically blown out of existence for rebelling against the Capitol.

    The Capitol's wealth comes not just from coal. Each district has some other specialty. I forget what all they are. District 11 grows food, 12 mines coal, etc. It's kind of the Soviet central planning thing. Though it didn't seem believable to me that the Capitol seems to have some technology rivaling Star Trek while the districts are living in about the Middle Ages.

    When the kids go too long without doing anything the "Gamemasters" (or whatever) juice things up by creating external crises like starting fires and so forth to drive people together and drive up ratings.

    The romance thing in the book was pretty blah. In my review I note how Katniss seemed pretty dumb at times. I mean she's pretty much the last one who seems to grasp Peeta loves her.

    Anyway I'm not a fan of this by any means but it's a lot better than "Twilight." I'm just saying.

    1. Grumpy: I don't care what they did to District 13; it wouldn't be enough to keep individual parents from from freaking out when their kids were carted off to be murdered. I get what Collins -wants- us to believe, but, really, it's just unbelievable. At least, it should be for people with children.

  2. Haven't read the books. (I don't read young adult anyway.) Enough people have swooned about this film that I'm curious enough to go see it. I'll be looking for all of those inconsistencies now. Heard the violence was nowhere near the level of Battle Royale, either.

    1. My understanding is that violence was turned way down to make it PG-13.

  3. Replies
    1. Oh, well...
      I'm often disappointed. I'm used to it at this point.

  4. I have not seen the movie yet. I am going this weekend with my book club. I have read the books which I did reluctantly because the idea of children killing each other did not appeal to me. A friend of mine said the same thing about the representation of poverty. In the book the author really sets the tone of exactly how starving and poor these people are and its sad to me that the movie writers did not do that justice. But I have come to expect this. As far as the parents and again I have not seen the movie but I saw the reaping as something like the story The Lottery by Shirley Jackson. Being that it is just a fact of this world they live in and everyone has come to except this fate. Thanks for the review though. I enjoy the movie reviews as much as your book reviews......... for the honesty.

    1. Yeah, "The Lottery" is what came into my head, too, but, like I said, "The Lottery" has the power of superstition behind it. There's nothing like that in Hunger Games, and the fact that not a single parent so much as screamed or wailed was beyond belief.

  5. Contrived. That is a great way of describing it. All very convenient, isn't it? That the characters act the way they do. That the story unfolds the way it does. That it ends the way it ends.

    And you can't really knock it because the only authority you are given is a 17 year old girl who simply says, "This is the way it is."

    Here's just how contrived I think it is -- your initial writings about the parents standing by . . . that thought never occurred to me. Never once. And it should have. Why didn't it? I guess I was just given this authoratative voice and I listened. Katniss says they don't rebel and I say "Okay."

    And move on.

    And I probably would have left the whole thing alone and not thought about it again except that now it's a HUGE movie and I went and saw it and now I'm dissecting it AND the books and finding that both are sorely wanting.

    And once again it is because, as you said, first person is easy. It's been easy since Bella in "Twilight" spawned all these copy-cats. And we've resorted to children killing children to make it feel "real."

    And there are protestors outside my window so I have to go.

    1. Yeah, I think the rise in 1st person story telling is sad. It takes away a lot of the skill, because the author just tells you how you should feel and what you should think instead of having to evoke those feelings in you through descriptive language and dialogue.

  6. I haven't read the book either, or seen the movie. I just don't want to. It's one of those things that I want to read... I think, just out of curiosity.

    But, it really isn't my thing. So based on your review I'll wait until it's on netflix or something. Well, unless one day my wife freaks out and says we have to see it - which I doubt she'll do.

    But unrealistically portrayed poor people is pretty common in movies and TV, Sometimes I get a kick out of seeing some grimed up person with perfect, bleached teeth.

    Actually, people with ugly teeth are usually bad guys I think. I'll have to pay closer attention to that.

    1. You know, I don't mind the perfect teeth. I get that the actors have perfect teeth and, really, there's not much you can do about it. The people in Hunger Games, though... they weren't even grimed up. Everyone was spotless.

      And don't get me started on the convenience of the "wounds" they received during the fighting.

  7. I guess all I have to say is this: I feel like this movie works really well as a companion to the books, because they both provide a different perspective. Events that seem contrived or convenient in the film make a lot more sense in the context of the book. I'm sad that you were so disappointed with it, but everyone's entitled to their own opinion. I would just say that you can't really judge a book by its movie, and in this case it's helpful to have experienced both.

    1. See, that's my problem, though. I think a movie should be able to stand on its own. If you're going to make a movie based on a book, the viewer should not need to have read the book to enjoy/understand the movie. That's one of the things that Peter Jackson did so well with LotR; you didn't need to know anything at all about the books to completely understand the movies.

  8. After all the hype, I finally watched the movie at home last night. I was excited about it from all the feedback on the blogs I had read.

    Then I watched it.

    Immediately the lack of reality gripped me.

    If the people were indeed poor in District 12, as you pointed out, why was mom watching it on a nice TV?

    The heroine never ran out of arrows.

    But I digress. I was disappointed and, I, too, will not be reading the books.

    My review would read thus:

    Hunger games is a conglomeration of 'The Running Man' and the TV show, "Survivor,' with a nudge of 'The Bachelorette' thrown in.

    I believe it was only slightly better than 'John Carter.' In the end, they were both average flicks with big budgets...made for a young audience hellbent on viewing fantasy as a reality.

    1. You saw it at home... um, I don't even want to know how you managed that.

      I give John Carter the higher rating, because cliche beats contrived in my book. Although, I was annoyed by the last minute saves in Carter, I never felt like the writers were forcing the situation to get the characters to do what they wanted them to do.

  9. I enjoyed the first book. Two went on a spiraling slide downhill, and three was a ride on the bottom--the whole way. Obviously, that's just my opinion, because the books are so extremely popular.

    Now, I haven't seen the movie--yet--so everything I have to say is from the book only.

    Peeta was my favorite character, hands down, because he was always kind, knew what he wanted, and made no qualms about it. He wasn't in the least bit wishy-washy or weak. Strong character, through and through. Katniss got on my nerves way more than she should have; Peeta's what kept me reading.

    Haymitch, from all the previews and extras I have seen, was not correctly portrayed in the movie. That's not to say Woody didn't do a good job. I love Woody; he's a wonderful actor. But Haymitch was a chubby, scrubby drunk. The WHOLE time.

    As for Stanley Tucci, he's amazing. I am so glad they cast him as Caesar Flickerman. I have a hard time not enjoying any movie he's in.

    The motivation of the characters in the book, to me, is very clear. Everyone just wants to live, and they want food and supplies for their respective districts. And they're willing to kill to get it. Grumpy Bulldog, March Madman did an excellent job explaining the districts and the Capitol. Especially why the former is so afraid of the latter.

    1. That's another reason I don't want to read the books: most people I know say the first one is great but they just get worse and worse after that. I don't want to read series that's going to take me down like that.

  10. Someone on twitter remarked, "It is difficult for me to believe that the only way for an entire class of people to improve their lot in life is to participate in a game show where kids fight to the death."

    1. Yeah, exactly... another reason I can't really get behind this story.

  11. At the risk of sounding like a cliche, the book was a lot better than the film. A lot of things that made sense in the book were glossed over in the film, so it lost something.

    SPOILER (if you haven't read the book)
    The scene with the dogs was the one that most disappointed me. In the book, it was horrifying. There were a lot more dogs and they were genetically engineered mutants with the eyes of the tributes that had died. So not only did they have to kill those tributes 'again', they also didn't know if those mutants were aware of who they had been, if they had memories of the children.

    1. See, that does sound kind of interesting. Definitely better than them just coming out of the ground.

  12. I read the first book and actually did enjoy it, but from there the series is a huge disappointment. Saw the movie last weekend. I've flushed things that smelled better.

    1. I will concede that there is the possibility that I, too, would enjoy the 1st book, but I don't want to plan to read just that one, and I don't want to read the other 2.

  13. I haven't seen or read the book yet, but I think I will read it. I've seen so very many people rave about it that I'm very curious to try and discern what about it speaks to them. And I want to try and understand why someone decided that this book was worthy of being taught in my sister's high school English class.

    1. The last book I read that everyone was raving over was... well... horrible.
      I have a hard time with the fact that it's being taught. Anywhere.

    2. Me too. I suspect the idea is just to try and make students more enthusiastic by including books that are popular among teens... but still. But I refuse to condemn anything until I've educated myself about it. So I will read at least the first book.

    3. I can undrstand wanting to get kids to read, but I still think that should be done by getting them to read books that are -good- books, not just popular books.

      And, yes, I know I'm making a qualitative judgement, but I have a post on that set for sometime -after- April.

  14. Loved the book, not so much the second or third. Nice post.

  15. Oh wow, you really didn't like this movie. I definitely won't try to convince you to read the book (clearly many have tried and failed), but I will say it did a much better job explaining why there was a reaping, and the Games, in the first place. I personally find that the lottery aspect (in keeping with my K post) makes more sense in the book. Because they do (in the book) know what will happen if they don't send the tributes,and they fear the consequences. You want them to fight back, but they're simply ruled by their utter terror. That part unfortunately gets glossed over in the movie.

    It actually makes me think of my Holocaust class in college, and reading all accounts of the leaders of the ghettos being forced to chose which members of their congregation to send to the concentration camps. You think "how could you ever make that decision?", but I guess fear and despair must make you lose your will fight.

    Other than the part about the Reaping, the rest of your arguments here make sense to me. The movie certainly had flaws. But I DO think Collins used Shirley Jackson's lottery concept in an interesting way in the novel. But maybe we'll just agree to disagree. After all, we can't like All the same things (though up until now I thought that might be the case haha).

  16. S.L.: I understand the why; I just don't buy it. I mean, we actually have historical records of the lengths that people will go to to protect their children, so I don't care how afraid these people are, I can't believe that -no one- would do anythig at all when their child was taken. Standing by beforehand or when it's someone else's kid is one thing, but just allowing someone to take your kid without a whimper?

    As for the holocaust, the reason so many people went along for so long is that the Nazis were experts at extending hope while they killed people. So they'd tell them "we're just relocting you" and people -wanted- to believe that, so they'd go along. Right up until their children were being taken, then they'd fight back, and, yes, get killed. But they fought back.

    And I'll give you a pass on Hunger Games as long as you don't tell me you're a huge McFarlane fan, because, then, we'd have to have words. :P

  17. I still think people are capable of almost anything when they're fear becomes too overwhelming, but I do agree that at least some of the parent's would probably have tried to do something. I would argue that the same hope the Nazi's utilized was also a tool of the Capital (again, in the books, not so much in the movie). But we'll agree to disagree on this one :)

    And no, NOT a McFarlane fan. Why, I wonder, would anyone ever leave Marvel? Marvel is the Shakespeare of comic books in my opinion. Also, not that big a fan of Spawn.

  18. S.L.: True, but I think the actual issue there is what are you more afraid of, you dying or your kid dying. Parents tend to show that not only are they more afraid of their own kids dying but any kids dying.

    I'm glad to hear you're not a fan of McFarlane. Spawn was nearly the worst written of all the Image comics when Image started. He also proved what a lack of actual creativity he actually had without a writer to give him ideas.
    All that, and he talks like a chipmunk (yes, I met him once).