Sunday, March 25, 2012

May the odds be ever in your favor.

Since everyone is talking about the film version of "The Hunger Games" these days, I figured I'd blog about my take on it. First off, for those of you who have not yet read it, DO IT ALREADY. I know, I know, you don't want to be yet another person jumping on the bandwagon, because you probably think these books are just another Twilight-esque craze. Well, you are wrong there. Okay, I didn't actually read Twilight, but I did see two of the movies and wanted to jump out of a window. And I was reluctant to read The Hunger Games at first, because it just didn't sound like my type of book, and I thought it might be a lame teenager thing. But so many of my friends and colleagues recommended it, and even my students insisted that I just HAD to read it--including some of my CP2 students who usually would rather have a root canal than read a book. So I decided that I needed to see what all the fuss was about, and boy was I hooked. It was so difficult to put it down, and soon enough I had read the entire trilogy.

I have been eagerly awaiting the release of the film version of the first book. One of my colleagues decided that a group of us English teachers should go to the midnight showing together, so a few of us agreed, despite it being a school night. We had a great time, and I enjoyed the movie. I thought that Jennifer Lawrence, though maybe not the appropriate physical type, made for a pretty good Katniss. Josh Hutcherson was great as Peeta, very believable. Elizabeth Banks was an unexpected choice for Effie, but it worked, though I'd like to see her character's growth to be shown in the next installment, as they left it out of this film. Woody Harrelson was a lousy Haymitch, failing to show the character's bitterness that is a result of being used by the Capitol and having to mentor tributes for so many years and watching them all die. Playing down his drunkenness may have been a result of this being a "family film," but it was still disappointing. One of the best parts of this film was probably Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman. It is a small role, but he did a fantastic job of using it to show the decadent attitudes of the Capitol's residents. I believe that he is truly one of the best actors in Hollywood. Though he plays mainly supporting characters, they are always memorable.

The film was overall very true to the book. It covered all the important points and tapped into a variety of emotions. The look of the film was spot-on, and I felt transported into the world of Panem. I also liked that they didn't play up the love triangle too much--it was touched upon, as it needed to be, but was not made the main focus in order to pander to the teenagers in the audience.  Despite these successes, however, some important elements were glossed over that perhaps a more daring director would have further expolored. First off, in order to really stir up anger in the audience, there could have been a couple details put in here an there (I understand that they have to be time-conscious, so I know that only so much of this can be done) that would have better illustrated the oppression of the Capitol. This would have made such moments as Peeta's speech about wanting to show the Capitol that he's "more than just a piece in their Games" more poignant. They also could have shown this oppression more through the scenes with the character Rue. The connection between her and Katniss was not portrayed as powerfully as it needed to be.

My other big criticism is the film's lack of attention to the book's commentary on the role of technology and media in our world. The book discusses the great enjoyment the residents of the Capitol find in watching the Hunger Games and their intense lust for blood. Even the people in the districts are glued to their screens, though it is a more painful experience for them. Katniss understands the how to play on the emotions of the audience, and thus makes her strategy in the game not only physical, but also an intelligent manipulation of her audience. The book serves as a really interesting commentary on our society's obsession with "reality" tv, how we enjoy watching real people suffer and become incredibly invested in what we watch. It's one of the more gruesome (and fascinating) aspects of our culture, but the film barely touched on this theme. I wish the filmmakers had been more gutsy and made the audience see themselves reflected in what was happening on-screen, but they missed that opportunity.

I was told that originally, a TV series of the trilogy had been proposed, and I hope that this will happen in the future (so long as it is put in the proper hands). I think that would be a really great opportunity to allow the audience to explore the psychology of the characters and the elements of the books that the film only touched upon.

Final verdict: "The Hunger Games" is nowhere near as fantastic as the book (as is usually the case), but still good in its own right. It is entertaining, exciting, emotional, and, despite some missed opportunities, thought-provoking. It could and should have taking all of this to greater heights, but I still recommend seeing it.

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