With the Hunger Games sequel Catching Fire due in theaters Nov. 22, I thought this would be a great time to finish up the post I started after watching Hunger Games in March before getting distracted by other things and then, apparently, falling off the face of the world. So, that’s what I did.
And I have to say, after watching the movie, now I understand all the fuss over Katniss Everdeen. She’s pretty awesome, and I don’t even think that’s based on residual love of Jennifer Lawrence’s Oscar and post-Oscar speeches for Silver Linings Playbook. Katniss just a great female character with a personality and outlook that even in 2013 is absolutely refreshing to see. While not without its flaws, I enjoyed the movie enough that I’ll definitely watch its sequels when they hit and will probably at least try the first book in the series. But on with the much-delayed show!
I thought the movie started very strong, with great introductions for Katniss, Gale, Prim and the looming threat of the year’s Reaping, the day when two names are drawn from each of 12 districts and a boy and girl must leave to participate in a 24-kid televised fight to the death. Through the strength of their performances, I felt like I didn’t have to spend an hour getting to know everybody to really feel the punch of Prim being selected and Katniss volunteering to go in her place and saying her goodbyes. Other characters felt really strong to me, too. Cinna, Rue and Haymitch, especially, are three more for whom I would read books and watch movies based on them alone, they were that interesting.
I also thought it was a very pretty movie, from the drab poorness of District 12 to the brightly colored opulence of The Capital and the lush green forest where the battle takes place, and I appreciated its critique on the 24-hour, in-your-face reality TV machine mixed with the pure politics of using an event like The Hunger Games to quash dissent among the populace. Unfortunately, this is also where the movie starts to fall prey to the pitfalls of being adapted from a 374-page novel that isn’t being made into a 9-hour trilogy ala The Hobbit.
While the intended purpose of the Games was in full display, there were elements that I only really knew existed through cultural osmosis.
I don’t remember it being explicitly stated anywhere that the winner of the Hunger Games gets food for their district for a full year. That would have been helpful to know — if for no other reason than to give weight to the abject poverty District 12 is living in. Because that’s not always clear in the film. One minute, guys are living on squirrels and the next Peeta works at a bakery and is a master cake decorator, presumably from the Marie Antoinette School of Baking.
But to give credit where it’s due, the difference was still stark between the Capital and the outlying districts, and the magnitude of District 11’s food-destroying revolt was not lost. I’m just left to assume that when the tributes were picked, the district got a Capital-sponsored tailgate party. (And that taking that food means more chances in the lottery the next year?)
So, if that were my only problem, I’d really have no problem. Unfortunately, there are also parts of the movie that just really don’t feel earned to me. The first is Peeta’s love for Katniss. Because from the moment they rolled into the Capital, nothing about Peeta felt genuine. He’s a game-player, like Haymitch (though, Haymitch managed to seem sincere so I’m entirely sure where the disconnect is), so when he goes from putting on a show to allegedly having real feelings Katniss, it still feels fake.
Also unearned for me was the ringleader who goes from mercilessly and in fact almost gleefully killing other tributes to crying about all the violence and blood on his hands. And don’t get me wrong, I love a good complex villain for our heroes. I love the idea of a conflicted character thrust into this world knowing it’s wrong but accepting the role anyway, giving up his humanity bit by bit for his district. But that’s not this kid. This kid is a generic bad guy cardboard cutout painted by numbers for 90 percent of the movie until his tortured soul sprouts up out of absolutely nowhere. And I get that it’s not a movie about that guy. I get that maybe the book had more about him (though, being first-person present tense for Katniss, I’m guessing not), and that there just may not have been time or money to do even a little better of a job here. But I kind of feel like if you can’t do the slightest bit of justice on portraying a conflicted, complex villain, then you just ought not go there at all.
So you see, I have some issues with The Hunger Games. But for all that, I still finished the movie feeling like it was an overwhelmingly positive experience. I thought the story was great, most of the characters were compelling. The effects, fire-clothes notwithstanding, were good, and the action was exciting while still be tasteful, which I found pretty amazing given that its a PG-13 movie full of kids killing kids. And if you want to dig deeper (though you certainly don’t have to) I found the universe that’s been created fascinating. I feel like this movie just gave us a taste of this heavily weighted power-structure that’s been in place for decades and is destined to come crashing down around the people who have been abusing it. How exciting!
Here’s the first preview for Catching Fire.
The farther I got away from Hunger Games, the more my interest started to fade, but this trailer brought it all back. I love Katniss as a symbol for hope, the Capital desperate to discredit and eliminate her, and the implication that Prim has been getting a little rebellious against the man.
Here’s trailer 2:
Well, this added an element I was not expecting. Having not read the books, I was expecting Catching Fire to really just be about the districts, how the political games weren’t over even though The Hunger Games were for the year and then get the ball rolling on that revolution. I was not expecting another round of Hunger Games. I think I like it.
And just for the fun of it:
Hunger Games – A Bad Lip Reading