Movie Review: The Hunger Games! (As told from a non-reader’s perspective.)

Saturday night, my husband and I along with several members of the Litwits went to see The Hunger Games.  The movie is particularly special to my book club because The Hunger Games was the first book we ever read as a group.  Before watching the movie, I spoiled myself on all the book to screen changes so I wouldn’t spend the whole time moaning and groaning and instead could just enjoy the movie.  And enjoy it, I did – immensely.  Far more than I thought I would.  I think most of my enjoyment comes from having read the books though.  Together, book and movie are excellent companions and each medium enhances the experience of the other.  I loved the additions to the movie outside of the Katniss-only POV and didn’t miss the omissions as much because they live firmly in my imagination as supplied by the book.

That being said, halfway through I began to wonder what viewers who had never read the book were thinking.  And I had the perfect candidate for questioning – the HUBS!  Jimmy doesn’t read – or at least, not books – so he was going into the story almost completely unspoiled and virginal.  As soon as we got into the car, we immediately proceeded to have it out because he wasn’t a fan.  It was like someone calling your kid ugly.  I felt personally offended which may not be rational, but I’ve never claimed rationality as a strong suit.  I had sad panda face for a long time after our discussion.  So, what didn’t he like?

He never felt compelled by Katniss as a character/hero.  Nothing seemed super terrible about her upbringing.  He gets that her dad died, that her mom sucks, and that’s she’s been hunting for their food ever since.  He really does – but he thinks her hunting in the woods, joking around with her super buff BFF, and being obviously not starving doesn’t paint a particularly convincing overcoming the odds type of story.  The flashback with Peeta giving her the bread was also lost on him because he didn’t get that they were supposed to be younger and that she was on death’s doorstep.  And how could he?  It wasn’t portrayed well at all to non-readers.

As for the games themselves, he also found Katniss and her struggle for survival weak and watered down.  He felt that physically she didn’t struggle that much – just hid out, walked around, and waited a whole lot which, in his opinion, doesn’t make Katniss a particularly striking face of rebellion.  He wanted more action and a lot more violence/blood/visual grimness to truly believe she had beaten crazy oppressive odds to be the victor.  He wanted to see her struggle finding water and food, to have more injuries, to battle more with the Careers (he hated the Careers – didn’t see what was so fierce about them – all they seemed to do was talk).

Listening to his complaints, I can’t really argue with them – I tried, but he was never convinced.  My best argument was that many of his wishes were handled much more solidly in the book.  He countered that a movie should adequately subsist on its own merits outside the confounds of the book or it fails at visual storytelling.  He understands that readers will be part of the audience, but that the movie isn’t made specifically for readers – but for moviegoers regardless of their reading status.

I think another disconnect between our viewing experiences exists in what kind of stories we are drawn to.  He loves action, suspense, super obvious background story, and very little emotional drama.  I love a nuanced story, great character portrayals, emotional depth, and need very little flashy action.  Rue’s death scene made the whole movie worth my while because of how sad I was at her senseless slaughtering and how distraught Katniss was at her loss.  Jimmy was upset because Katniss didn’t kill Marvel more impressively out of revenge and then set off to seek further revenge on the other Careers.

For now, we’ve agreed to disagree and have found a certain level of peace.  He believes the movie was “fine”, but has no desire to see the next film.  Since he’ll be seeing it regardless, out of his undying devotion to me, he only hopes they ditch the shaky camera technique because it makes him sick.  In contrast, I can’t wait for Catching Fire next November! Finnick is one of my favorite characters and I’m anxiously awaiting his casting.

Anyone else not so impressed by the movie?  Or end up fighting over varying reactions afterwards?

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The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

I can honestly say that The Hunger Games was better the second time around.  I haven’t reread the final two novels in the trilogy, but the first was just so much more dynamic when I wasn’t focused on the major plot points – like who lives or dies.  I got to sit back, enjoy the characters, be amazed at the world Collins creates, and feel fully vindicated in my utter obsession with this series.  Yes, I am a total TwiHard for The Hunger Games.  I make no apologies.

After reading several YA duds, I really needed to revisit something I loved to reassure me that YA can be done beautifully and take its readership seriously.  In all the movie press junkets I’ve watched recently, I’ve been really struck by how much Donald Sutherland believes in the political and revolutionary atmosphere of Panem, especially in regards to young people.  In an election year and a world already obsessed with TERRIBLE, STUPID reality television programs, The Hunger Games could not be written or filmed at a better time.  And trust me, I’m not a bleeding heart liberal political activist by any means – or a conservative ready to take away women’s rights either – but I do believe in being aware of the world we live in and holding ourselves accountable for things we have the ability to affect or change.

Sorry for the PSA, back to the book!  When I initially read the trilogy in fall 2010, I thoroughly enjoyed the books, but didn’t LOVE them.  Honestly, I loved what they did for the Litwits book club more than what they did for me.  They were our first books and a smashing success – I’m not sure we’ve had a better discussion.  So what bothered me the first time ’round?  Easy – everyone’s obsession with the obvious to most (but not to me) love triangle.  I preferred Gale to Peeta as people, but wanted Katniss without either one.  Nothing about any romantic relationship with Gale or Peeta rang true to me and felt very forced.  I thought Peeta was lame, weak, and very manipulative.  Gale was strong, more an equal to Katniss, but firmly in a platonic way.

Now, I’m hardcore, full-on, TEAM PEETA.  Like in the completely disgusting, you’re-too-old-for-this, cougar-stalking, totally-up-for-robbing-Josh-Hutcherson’s-cradle kind of way.  Again, no apologies.  And I’ll be upfront and honest, the movie casting does play a slight role in this change.  Miley Cyrus ruins Liam Hemsworth for me (sorry, Liam – but that dress she wore to the premiere and her comments about being arm candy were puke inducing).  Josh Hutcherson, however, is just too cute to be true.  Even with his Vanessa Hudgens past.  He succeeds in encapsulating the vulnerability that I’ve come to love about Peeta.

Sorry…I digress.  That first time through, I thought Peeta was weak.  Here’s this physically sound boy with love as his motivation to survive and he lies down to die in a  mud puddle.  I believed Katniss, with her slightly blackened and shriveled heart, would eat this boy alive if they were to actually date.  Romantic love doesn’t register with Katniss – that kind of love is far too superfluous, indulgent, and silly – things she has no time for while keeping herself, her mother, and sister alive.

But Peeta is not weak.  His strengths are just softer (sorry for the lack of a better term).  They lie somewhat outside the traditional male role and masculine stereotypes and I’m ashamed for not noticing them.  Peeta’s strength is his ability to care, to empathize, to put others before himself, and to understand that to love is much stronger than to hate.  Katniss needs Peeta because Peeta’s the only person qualified to teach her about love – the one thing that wholeheartedly mystifies her.  Sure, she loves Prim, and perhaps her mother, but she’s a survivalist at heart.  And so now, when Peeta climbs into that mud hole, ready to die after sacrificing himself to save Katniss, I know what he’s really crawling into is the rather large hole or system of holes that reside inside Katniss – the loss of her father, her mother’s depression, her fear for Prim’s safety.  I’m obviously over-thinking things a bit, but my madness keeps me warm at night.

I still don’t know if I can see Katniss and Peeta ending up together in any real world scenario, but I do believe Peeta would be essential for Katniss to ever end up with anyone.  So, you Peeta lovers win.

I rambled on there, huh?  In other news, Cinna is awesome and I can’t wait for the movie!