The Hunger Games (2012)
Better than the book. There, I said it.
For the five of you out there who haven’t read up, The Hunger Games takes place in a dystopian future where society is ruled by a government that makes Syria look like Vermont. So after an uprising fails to gain its citizens’ independence, the powers that be decide to take them down a notch by divvying everyone up into 12 Districts and seeing to it that life sucks for them all the damn time. As if that weren’t enough, they decide to hold a reality TV special each year where 24 kids from each of the Districts are forced to fight to the death. Bad times all around, really. And so our story begins on one such year when a young lass from District 12 (far and away the shittiest District) volunteers to compete alongside a young lad who sat behind her in Algebra II. Though initially placed at the bottom of everyone’s office bracket, the two youngsters start surprising the pants off people and make lemonade out of the situation amidst a whole lot of “maybe they’re into each other, maybe they’re not” teenage innuendo.
If you haven’t heard, folks have been going a tad ape over this book lately. Understandably, it’s a mighty quick read, it’s an awfully intriguing premise, and let’s face it, the world needs something to cling to now that that Twilight noise is coming to a close. But even after doing my homework, I still wasn’t totally sold on this movie.
As far as books go, The Hunger Games is fine. The gettin’s good when the kids start offing each other, but that’s just one-third of the whole shebang. Can’t say I was all too invested in the whole Team Peeta/Team Gale stuff either, and that right there is the other two-thirds of the book. Granted, it’s not the hardest stuff to overlook and enjoy for what it is, but the hardest thing for me to get past was that it seemed like a whitewashed rip-off of Battle Royale. Now before I get verbally dropkicked for that last sentence, go read or watch Battle Royale, compare plot points, and get back to me. Not to say that Battle Royale‘s a masterpiece by any means or that it’s even better than The Hunger Games per se, but the story’s been told and it’s weird that the connection isn’t much of a detractor for (seemingly) anyone but myself. Chalk that one up to cultural divides, I guess.
Anywho, there’s my two cents on the book. Now onto the movie that I thought America would never have the balls to make.
When you buy a ticket for opening night, you know what you’re getting into: reactions from the crowd that keep messing with the tone, everyone forgets how to whisper, and that damn assembly line of people coming and going to empty their bladders/re-up on Cookie Dough Bites. The Hunger Games was no exception, and the fangirls were out in force. With the exception of the last Harry Potter movie, this is no way to experience anything in life and it’s usually enough to ruin a movie entirely. But the unusual thing about The Hunger Games was that it didn’t really matter ’cause it was easier to focus on what the movie was doing right than what the crowd was doing wrong.
In fact, the only time I really noticed the masses around me was when one of the side-characters ate it and about half the theater started openly bawling for five minutes, despite knowing full well that this individual was on borrowed time. Not an exaggeration, it was as if they all found out Santa wasn’t real at the exact same time. Although as bizarre as that was, I guess that’s more of a complement to the connections people have formed with this story and these characters than it is an observation on the emotional H-bombs that declared this “THE BEST DAY OF MY LIFE” when we were waiting on line. I might not have both feet in the bandwagon, but this story carries weight and I can appreciate why so many out there are in it for the long haul.
For me, the big difference between reading The Hunger Games and watching The Hunger Games is that the latter left me wanting more, and I mean that in a good way. Once the end credits started rolling, I actually wanted to pick up Catching Fire and see how things play out for The Girl on Fire, whereas before I was mighty content with reading any one of the 500 other books on my shelf instead. As I watched Katniss and Peeta go from peasants to Tributes, I cared for them this time, I cared about everyone they met along the way, and I cared for their cause instead of just their survival. With the book, I felt like I was just trudging through everything that wasn’t The Hunger Games, but with the movie, everything just gelled.
No, the transition from book-to-film isn’t verbatim, but then again, when does that ever happen? If you’re flat-out nuts about the book, you might be disappointed by what gets left out and what aspects get more attention than others. Although given my passing interest in the book, I was pleasantly surprised by the liberties that were taken. The solid cast certainly helped with standout performances from (of course) Stanley Tucci, Woody Harrelson, and my man Lenny Kravitz, but I also really appreciate how it didn’t get too hung-up on the puppy love stuff and did get a lot more hung-up on the societal repercussions of The Hunger Games themselves. That’s the stuff that’s gonna keep me coming back, not whether Katniss ends up with the tall guy or the short guy.
Nevertheless, when I consider that much of the crowd I saw this movie with will probably be seeing Breaking Dawn: Part 2 at midnight (on a school night no less,) I can’t help but feel happy. This is a well-written, well-acted, mature movie whose central themes of life, death, and revolution make the existence of Twihards that much harder for me to comprehend. That series is the Wonder Bread of storytelling, whereas this is more like 100% whole grain. Kids, boyfriends aren’t that important in the larger scheme of things, and this is the kind of validation that young adult fiction needs.
But as far as complaints go, the pickin’s are slim. I wish the 1% didn’t all look like extras from the set of Brazil, I still wish the writers had thought of something other than mutant dogs to hurry up the climax, and the importance of survival skills needed to win The Hunger Games was seriously downplayed. I seem to recall these kids having a bitch of a time finding water, and only a dumbass with a death wish would start yelling out for people in the woods. But that’s all I’ve got really, nothing egregious with the exception of one nagging issue. For everything it improves upon and as well as the subject matter is handled, there is still something fundamentally warped about a story that throws kids in a Thunderdome and tells ’em to go nuts. In its defense, it’s not out to glorify or celebrate the idea of a teenage deathmatch, and it’s not like some whacked-out kindergartners are gonna re-enact this shit at recess, but even with its implied violence and implications that are more of a reflection on our present-day society, it’s hard to justify the PG-13 rating. Very strange hearing an audience erupt when one kid saves Katniss by killing another kid in the nick of time, ’cause at the end of the day, you did just kind of cheer for that kid’s death. Something to think about is all.
While The Hunger Games probably isn’t something that I’ll still be thinking about by the end of the week, there is something to be said for how much more invested I was in the adaptation than in the source material. There’s nothing particularly exceptional about it, but it works where it counts and that goes a long way. Sure it helps that I read the book almost a year ago and didn’t tweak out over it either, but I enjoyed this story a lot more when Gary Ross was telling it. Also great to see Donald Sutherland in something that doesn’t suck for a change.