Wednesday, July 10, 2013

71. The Hunger Games (2012)

Code-name: Mockingjay

Director: Gary Ross
Type: book-to-movie adaptation, sci-fi, drama, young adult

Katniss Everdeen- Jennifer Lawrence
Peeta Mallark- Josh Hutcherson
Gale- Liam Hemsworth
Haymitch- Woody Harrelson
Effie Trinket- Elizabeth Banks
Cinna- Lenny Kravitz
President Snow- Donald Sutherland
Gamemaker Seneca Crane- Wes Bentley
Host/Interviewer Casear Flickerman- Stanley Tucci

[cannot stress this enough... READ THE BOOK FIRST]

I listened to the Sci-Fi Super Friends cover this in a Podcast a couple months ago. I have to agree with some points and would recommend it to fans of the film just for another perspective.

All that aside, though, I vastly disagree with two key points: 
Firstly, they constantly referenced "Battle Royale" (supposedly a 1999 novel taking on a similar idea) and directly compared the movie to it, even saying it was a rip-off or not as a great a version. I cannot say enough how that type of disregard annoys me, especially when I'm only hearing of previously released material for the first time. (Luckily, Suzanne Collins had addressed this and said she never heard of the book until her manuscript was published).

Secondly, except for maybe one or two people, none of the participants read the book before seeing the movie. Therefore they were left to judge the movie via its genre and how it's presented and that's as far as It can go.

Whether it's Harry Potter, Twilight, etc, etc, movie critics tend to shy away from reviewing or they flat-out destroy adaptations of YA sci-fi/fantasy book series.
They make their opinions strictly based on previous movie-going experiences... and that's the one area where the greatest disparity occurs between my thoughts and theirs.

Personally, I make it a priority (whenever possible) to read the source material before seeing its movie adaptation. That way, I know what I'm getting into beforehand and the material's all the more easy to follow. 
The lone exception, as I'd mentioned previously, is the Tolkien serieses. Never read the books, but I didn't need to to enjoy the movies. 


I'd seen the book series by Suzanne Collins on the shelves for a number of years. I knew they were popular, but I couldn't bring to consider reading them.
As was the case with Percy Jackson, my interest wasn't captured until I heard they were being adapted into films. So technically, you could say I do tend to jump on the band-wagon when it comes to these things. (But at least I make a point to READ the book FIRST so I'm not going in blind).

But unlike Percy Jackson (which had me at "Greek mythology"), I needed a little more persuasion before I picked up a copy of The Hunger Games for myself. It took the increasing amount of trailers on TV and the behind-the-scenes special on Reelz Channel to pull my leg. 
I think I got through it within 3-4 days, maybe a week at most. It took a little while, I forget which page it happened at (Harry Potter, it was page 12-13), but I just got hooked at one point. Suzanne Collins knows how to write a good page-turner. I literally found myself at the end of a number of chapters and was literally unable to put the book down. 
Plus, I'd always been kind of a fan of the utopia/dystopia model in sci-fi (ala Lois Lowry, Ray Bradbury, etc.). This was probably the first take of this genre that hit it big with such a vast audience.

Supposedly Suzanne Collins came up with the idea through a combination of being an army brat and channel surfing between a reality show and footage of the Iraq war.
When it comes to reality TV, I'm not a huge fan of the "Survivor" series (you'd think they'd run out of deserted islands at some point) and the idea of kids killing kids in this annual event doesn't sound like the most enticing idea from a moral standpoint. But I swear, by the end of it, I could not get enough of it.

Our private community has a book club that meets once a month, but the only time my mom and I had gone was when they were covering this book. It was quite the interesting discussion.

I was worried going into "Catching Fire" that it wouldn't be nearly as excited without there being another "Games"... and Katniss wouldn't be a part of the next one if there was one... but as it turns out, that's exactly what happened. Needless to say, I look forward to seeing the next movie in November. The trailer looks AMAZING.


Spoilers ahead... 
...but seriously, read the book before seeing the movie. 
Trust me on that.

With the actors playing the younger roles, most of them are relative unknowns. I'd only seen Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique in the X-Men prequel, but heard of her accolades in "Winter's Bone" where she received her first Oscar nomination. 
I have yet to see her Oscar winning performance in "Silver Linings Playbook," but when the price comes down, I am there. (I read the book because nobody wanted to see it with me and thoroughly enjoyed it).

Of course it goes without saying that after this, I'm game to follow her career just about anywhere. She IS Katniss: incredibly strong, self-reliant, but all the while relatable to all kinds of girls and women reading the books. I relate to her in that I'm not good with outwardly expressing emotion, which proves to be a problem in the beginning when it comes to getting sponsors for the Games. 

Josh Hutcherson, I'd only seen as the younger brother in "The Kids are All Right" and Liam Hemsworth... well, I'd only seen his brother Chris as Thor, so he was a first.
On the basis that he was the better looking of the actors, I was on Team Gale rather than Team Peeta. I won't give anything away about Mockingjay, the final book in the series, but it was really hard for me to like Peeta in the final book. Not that his lack of likability was entirely his fault.

As for the rest of the cast, it's a mixed bag of responses.
Elizabeth Banks disappeared into the role of Effie Trinket so deeply that I didn't recognize her at all. Lenny Kravitz and Woody Harrelson weren't who I pictured to play Cinna and Haymitch, but they were the biggest surprises in the best possible way.

Reading the books, oddly enough, I thought Haymitch had the physique of a Sumo wrestler. He read to me like an overweight middle-aged Japanese man, beginning with his first appearance where he's so drunk that he misses his seat and falls off the stage at The Reaping.
But I cannot say enough how pleasant a surprise Woody Harrelson was. Granted, I'd seen him around a couple times recently in movies like "Zombieland" and "A Scanner Darkly," but after this film, I'm always eager to check into his previous work whenever I can.

The basic premise runs as follows:
The setting is a dystopian post-apocalyptic version of North America known as Panem. It's broken down into 12 districts and ruled by the wealthy Capitol. In penance of a failed uprising of the districts in the past, each has to send one boy and one girl, age 12-18, to compete in The Hunger Games where they must fight to the death until a winner is declared. This winner gets enough riches to be set for life and moves to a wealthier part of their district.

Katniss and Peeta are from District 12, one of the poorer districts, known for coal-mining. Gale is a friend of hers whom she goes hunting with to find game either to eat or sell for money. After her father died in a coal mining accident, her mother emotionally shut down so Katniss had to rise to the occasion to provide for her family. This also includes her younger sister Prim, who is 12. This happens to be the first year she's eligible for the Games.

Although the odds of being chosen are more in favor of the older children, Prim is chosen at random to compete. Katniss automatically volunteers to take her place, something that has happened in previous Games, but never in District 12... with the exception of Haymitch, it has never won.

Under the guidance of Effie and Haymitch, they are whisked away to the Capitol where they are prepped for the Games.

On this note, I gotta say that the contrast between District 12 and the Capitol was done so jaw-droppingly well. The Capitol is so vast and beautiful visually, you'd think it couldn't truly exist in reality (I'm sure a lot of it was CGI, though). The fashion of the people in the Capitol is pretty outrageous, ranging from extremely gorgeous to extremely overdone.

Before going into the arena, all of the tributes train in everything from weapons, fighting to making fires, camouflage and so on. They are beautified for the interview portions to order to gain sponsors, people from the Capitol and within the districts who pay to have supplies sent to you in times of need.
Thanks to stylist Cinna, Katniss becomes "the girl on fire". Over the years, District 12 tributes have been dressed in black to resemble the coal their district is known for. Cinna kicked up a notch by designing outfits that produce very real looking fake fire.

(by the way, would it be overkill if they played the song by Alicia Keys in the sequel film? lol)

One big twist that brought me further into the book was what Peeta said in his interview, ultimately painting the pair of them as star-crossed lovers. But in truth, Katniss was his school-boy crush and until now, he didn't believe she noticed him.
Any girl would be flattered, but Katniss took the opposite approach. She was FURIOUS at Peeta's admission, believing it made her look weak. Even more impressive was Haymitch's response: "he made you look desirable," which will help gain sponsors.

We're only introduced to a couple tributes by name within the film. There is a book about all of the tributes, but I never bothered to pick it up. 
Predominantly, the ones that stand out the most are from Districts 1 and 2, kids that actually train for the competition and often come out as the winners... as if the politics of high class vs. low class didn't suck enough as it was, that was an aspect I loathed the moment I heard of it.

Cato and Clove were from District 2 and both served as villains in the arena towards the end of the Games.
Glimmer, the girl from District 1, was the only other actress I'd heard of. Leven Rambin played the autistic Lily Montgomery on "All My Children" and next month, she's playing Clarisse, daughter of Ares in "Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters."
One girl, Katniss dubs "Fox-face", because she's a red-head and she moves really fast and agilely when she sees her around.
Then there's Rue and Thresh from District 11, which is known for their bread and bakeries.

In addition to the training and interview portions, there's one final preliminaries where the tributes each demonstrate their greatest skill to the gamemakers, who assign points accordingly... again helping gain sponsers and setting the odds.
Another great scene is what Katniss does with her bad-ass archery skills. The gamemakers aren't paying much attention at this point, too busy with their conversations, feast and so on. So Katniss uses her last arrow to shoot the apple out of the pig's mouth.

The one negative I heard about the movie before seeing it was the way it was shot. 
This lead to Gary Ross not being invited back to direct the sequels and I can't agree more with the decision.
Even when we weren't in the arena, the camera shook around A LOT. Think "The Blair Witch Project" and "Cloverfield." It takes a little getting used to and I did eventually get used to it, but it was a tad overkill.

About as common as it is for tributes from District 1 and 2 to win the Games, the first day is always a bloodbath, resulting in the most causalities. Everyone is released into the arena where various supplies are scattered around a cornucopia. The advice Haymitch gives to Katniss and Peeta is to forget the supplies and find water asap.

Katniss, of course, ignores this, picking up a backpack first, but is forced to abandon the notion of her beloved bow and arrows.
(And by the way, I was interested in archery before 2012 when "The Hunger Games" and "Brave" made it cool... it's the weapon of choice of Kikyo and her reincarnation Kagome in the animé series InuYasha. I still have yet to get to a range to try it out, though).

For the first part of the Games, she uses the rope in her bag to stay in the high branches of trees in the forest. 
Peeta, meanwhile, is traveling with the Careers of Districts 1 and 2 in what appears (to Katniss, anyway) to be an alliance.

Throughout the games, cannons are fired when tributes are killed and we'll break away from the action when Caesar gives more background information on something.
For example, when the Careers make camp below Katniss, she spots Rue in another tree who points her towards the wasp nest above her.

Not just any wasps, though... tracker-jackers are NASTY... not only are they vicious and persistent, but multiple stings cause LSD-like hallucinations and even lead to death (as was the case with Glimmer, the only person killed in this fury of tracker-jackers).

After this event, Katniss and Rue form their own alliance. This takes a large portion of the book than it does in the movie and it's one of the best parts of it too. Rue reminds her a lot of Prim, so Katniss feels close to her. 
Unfortunately, with the nature of the Games and the story, she doesn't last long. It's probably the saddest part of the book. Although it's not likely to be rebroadcast, she picks flowers to lay over Rue and holds up three fingers as a sign of respect to the cameras.

In the book, this leads to District 11 coming together to send her a loaf of bread as thanks.
But in the movie, this leads to an uprising in the district... to me, it seemed a little out of place, but then again, judging by where the books go next, it's good for foreshadowing purposes.

Later on, an announcement is made by Seneca Crane that if the remaining tributes are from the same district, they both will be crowned as winners. 
Katniss and Peeta find each other again and the rest of the tributes start to kill each other one by one. By the end of it, it's down to the two of them and Cato, and they drawn back to the cornucopia by another "obstacle" placed into the system. This time, instead of a fire or a fallen tree, it's a group of beasts.

Add in the fact that this part of the movie is shot at night and this was borderline terrifying. I'd categorize their debut appearance on screen as a "jump scare"... where something comes out of nowhere and scares you to a point where you jump out of your seat...

The way they wrote it in the book, it sounded even worse than it looked. When Katniss got a good look at one, she described it having flowing blonde hair, green eyes and number #1 being on its collar. She also described one to have similarities to Fox-Face and Rue... so either these "muttations" as she called them, were designed to look like the tributes or they were chimeras formed OF the dead tributes.
They didn't take that leap in the movie, but I'm not sure if the disclosure of information would have made it any more comforting.

By the end of the assault, Katniss and Peeta are left alive, but Seneca announces the rules have been changed again, so only one will be declared as a winner.
This leads to something even more drastic. Katniss and Peeta consider aloud the notion of eating poisonous nightlock berries that they found so there'll be NO winner, but the game is called before they do so. 

This does not sit well with Haymitch, who STRONGLY advises Katniss to play up the star-crossed lovers angle to cover up the fact it was possibly an act of rebellion.
Unfortunately, President Snow is not fooled... and that is where the story leaves off.

[Final Thoughts]

It's kinda demented to say so, but if the Hunger Games really existed, I'd be game for watching it every year. But when you consider that kids and teenagers are the ones competing, it's nothing to really be celebrated. It's just so unlike anything I'd seen before.

As for Katniss as a protagonist, I know she'll go down as one of the most beloved and admired throughout the genre. I'm sure a lot of the people signing on for this were Twi-haters who categorized Bella Swan as one of the weakest characters in the history of literature.
At the end of the day, though, my alliances are solid as a Twi-Hard and part of the appeal is that I personally find Bella a relatable character. 

The reasons for that, that's an entry all on its own, but I'll come out and say none of the Twilight films are on my countdown.
...not because I'm one of those people who nominate them for Razzies every year (and I still haven't gotten over the fact that the final film swept the awards... it was clearly the best film out of all of them and Bella was never stronger)... 
it's because I don't entirely agree with how the books (especially the first one) were adapted to film... I'd be nit-picking so much that one would wonder why I enjoy them in the first place :-P

And finally, I don't necessarily jump on board with ALL YA sci-fi/fantasy book series when they get adapted into movies. 
"Beautiful Creatures" doesn't really pique my interest and unless it's on cable, I have no plans on seeing the movie anytime soon.
Coming up soon is the adaptation of "Mortal Instruments: City of Bones"... I'll read the book jacket a couple times when I come by it, and I just don't think it's something I'd be interested in. The trailers haven't convinced me either.

After the rest of the Hunger Games films come out, I can only hope that the next Percy Jackson film will be a success and the rest of the books will be picked up for film adaptations... because after part 2 of Mockingjay comes out, I don't see anything else ready to fill the void.

A possible glimmer of hope is "Divergent" by Veronica Roth. I'd read the book jacket a couple times and the idea intrigues me a lot. I'm just not ready to fork over $8 to read it. But when the movie comes out (I believe it's within the year or so), that'll at least give me some incentive.

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