Open Thread for March 23, 2012

It’s no use pretending there’s anything else going on. Let the The Hunger Games games Begin!

The raves for Jennifer Lawrence seem near universal. Here’s Andrew O’Hehir, writing in Salon:

She commands the screen with effortless magnetism, a noble innocent who is gorgeous but not quite sexy, simultaneously a tomboy and a princess. As I saw clearly for the first time, the character is clearly meant to invoke Artemis, the Greek goddess of the hunt.

The movie itself? Generally good—respectable scores on Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic—but not nearly so glowing. O’Hehir calls it “A lightweight twi-pocalypse”, citing the decision to soft-pedal the brutality (violent and political) that permeated the book—probably both for a PG-13 rating and so that the adaptation could amp up the love twi-angle (forgive me) between Katniss, Gale, and Peeta. We’ll have more to say about this on the site next week.

There’s another, subtler, charge being leveled at the movie: The books amount to a critique of manipulation, whether fueled by politics or the media, as well as of the kind of panem et circenses spectacle from which the Suzanne Collins’s fictional, post-apocalyptic country takes its name. And now here they are, rendered in a bombastic, manipulative spectacle. Ironic, unfortunate, or strangely apropos?

Make sure to notify everyone of spoilers, but otherwise the only rule is not to eat your fellow tributes when you kill them. Let the Comment Games begin in this, your… Open Thread.

12 Comments on “Open Thread for March 23, 2012”

  1. Gab #

    I think the assertion that Lawrence’s performance was better than the overall film is sound. I think some of that has to do with the difference in media because while the book is written in first-person, it never feels like we’re truly inside her head, and it may as well just be third. Sure, there are flashbacks, but those happen in third-person books all the time. While watching the movie, there were more indicators of what Katniss was feeling and even thinking from which I could feed. Also, I think some of what was in the book that made me think she was rather annoying by the end was cut from the film, so I still thought she was awesome when the credits started rolling.

    The scene I expected to get me bawling did nothing, didn’t even make me flinch- which says a lot, because I’ve cried watching car insurance commercials before. In fact, the people I was with noticed and commented as we were leaving the theater, having anticipated needing to pat my arm or something. I chock this up to poor development of some important elements that made the scene more cutting in the book. In itself, yes, it was a rocky moment, but I felt more disconnected this time.

    I know I’ll probably get flack for this, but I think there’s a difference between showing blood and showing violence. A car crash that knocks into a building and you know six people die in it, but there’s no blood- that’s violent, right? So okay, there wasn’t blood spurting everywhere, but there were lots of shots of the kids attacking each other with lethal weapons, of them giving what you know is a death blow, of one tossing the dead body of another aside. So I hesitate to say the violence was scaled back excessively. To have done that, they would have had to make more of the deaths completely off-screen somehow. And I think the amounts of blood shown did enough to convey what just happened (i.e. throat slit) without turning into excess and buckets of blood.

    I suppose yes, if we define spectacle broadly, there are some meta levels going on- a bunch of people, eyes glued to the screen, as kids are shown killing each other on a huge screen. Does the fact that the film is fiction make it less “bad” or more “okay,” though? But could a good, truly moving critique of that sort of manipulation succeed without manipulation of its own? And are you not entertained, are you not entertained?????

    Perhaps I’m stretching it, but I think the reason violent spectacle succeeds in real life comes from the same place inside us that makes us stare when we pass a violent accident scene, hold our hands with our fingers wide open over our eyes when we witness something unpleasant. There’s a fascination in there, perhaps out of a desire to understand the horrors of a world also capable of so much beauty. And I think that gets caught on the screen a few times by the movie via a (somewhat cheesy) moment with a butterfly, some of the cinematography, etc.

     
    • KateGonzo #

      I agree with a lot of your points, Gab. First, Lawrence’s performance definitely carried the film, but I think in trying to translate to the filmic language, Ross and Collins really underplayed or even eliminated some of the most dramatic elements and scenes from the book. I know it’s difficult to translate a book that’s 100% internal monologue into film without cheesy voiceovers, and I think they got the right cast to portray most of those things without always saying it, but for a lot of other things I don’t think they gave the cast enough of a chance. For (hopefully my least spoiler-y) example, the relationship between Katniss and Haymitch was grossly oversimplified, made too explicit with the paper messages and the cuts to Haymitch during the Games. There’s less mystery, and less opportunity to really show how clever Katniss becomes in figuring people out. And cuts to Gale during the games definitely made it feel like the romance aspect was veering into Twilight territory.

      Also, everyone in my theater laughed every time they cut to the gamemakers. Those bits really cut tension, but in all the wrong ways.Though I concede the addition of the conversation between Snow and Crane was helpful.

      As for violence, I also agree. Theoretically, the filmmakers made the deaths less gory than they could have in order to secure a PG-13 rating instead of R, but when you show kids killing kids so brutally, quickly, and almost thoughtlessly, is it not actually darker and more violent in nature? To that end, add some shots of the Capitol viewers cheering on deaths, a la Gladiator, and you can really drive home the notion of the wonderful-violent-spectacle. (Did anybody else watch Celebrity Deathmatch?)

      In the end, the portrayals of the relationships and plotlines of this film definitely have me interested in how they’re going to play out in the next film, based on my reading of the second book.

       
  2. Rob Northrup #

    Not to say it’s a rip-off, but is Hunger Games more like Stephen King’s novella The Long Walk, or Running Man? With a dash of Shirley Jackson’s short story The Lottery?

     
    • CrazyLikeAFox #

      I’m about half-way through the first book of the series right now, hoping to finish before going to see the movie. So far, it’s seemed like it has a lot of close paralels to Ender’s Game, at least in the initial set up.

       
    • Patchwork Poltergeist #

      Well, if I were going to compare “Hunger Games” with anything, yes I’d certainly put my money on “The Long Walk” with a nice helping of the premise of “Rollerball”. It’s a much fairer comparison than with, say, “Battle Royale”, which is related only by the basic setup of the Games and ending there. As for “The Lottery”, perhaps similar in tone, but not much else.

      All of that said, I’d be intensely happy if I could look at a comment section involving Hunger Games and not see fifteen comments about how this book is a rip off of another one. I’m at least happy commenters here approach the subject thoughtfully, with out a knee-jerk “Battle Royale did it”.

       
  3. KateGonzo #

    Also, does this mean no Hunger Games podcast? At least a fake battle to the death for all of us to listen to and take bets on?

     
  4. Weevilbits #

    It’s interesting to me how much discussion goes on around the brutality (or lack thereof) shown or hidden in both versions of the Hunger Games. The standard critique is the “Twilight meets Battle Royale” assertion; that the violent bloodsporty aspects of the gladiator genre have been toned down in order to market the book to the broad mass of teenage girls. And while on a surface level, this is so true as to be basically obvious, I wonder if it sort of doesn’t miss the point.

    While I haven’t yet seen the movie, one of the interesting aspects of the book is that the audience for the Hunger Games (I mean the actual competition in the story rather than the story itself) never comes across as particularly bloodthirsty. There’s the people in the districts, who by and large hate the games for obvious reasons and only watch because they’re forced to. There’s President Snow and the people running the games, who see them as a means to an ends other than their own personal amusement. And then there’s the broad mass of capitol citizens for whose enjoyment the games are ostensibly being staged. And what’s the big hook that draws all of them in and commands their attention and sponsorship? The staged romance between Peeta and Katniss.

    Whenever we encounter capitol citizens (at least, those citizens not directly employed by the governing regime) they’re not cruel, or even really particularly callous. Flighty, shallow, self-absorbed? Sure. But they’re not the type of people you’d imagine choosing to watch (real or even staged) bloodsport as a form of entertainment. If Effie Trinket existed in our world and wanted to read a book, it probably wouldn’t be Battle Royale. It would be, well, Twilight.

     
    • An Inside Joke #

      Interesting point – when I had my own personal reactions to the violence/lack of violence issue of the Hunger Games, I was thinking strictly from the meta standpoint of “Why did the author write it this way?” rather than “why do the Games function like this within the world of the book.”

      I haven’t seen the movie yet, so I can only weigh in on the books, but I remember falling into the “lack of brutality” camp, as I thought it was a bit dissapointing that Katniss managed to win the games while still maintaining a sense of innocence and whatever-the-opposite-of-bloodthirsty-is. I don’t want to get too in-depth on this board, with the risk of spoilers and all, but I did start a thread in the “books” forum on this exact topic, if you’d like to discuss further.

       
  5. teresa #

    The author of Hunger Games obviously got her idea from Rollerball. Of course she has updated to a feminist version with a female being the hero.

    As we have seen in the last several years of so many Macho female roles, the clueless masses have become conditioned to be more accepting of a strong female figure instead of the traditional (and much more realistic) male figure. Case in point, “John Carter,” Not that bad of a movie but evidently not as believable as the girl in Hunger Games.

    Just another indicator how feminized this society has become.

    Men you need to stop drinking out of those plastic water bottles! (BPA feminizing xeno estrogen hormones).

     
  6. Leigh #

    I went to the theater today, but not to see The Hunger Games. Every showing was damn near SRO, even the matinees. And I despise sharing theaters with teenagers. I’m going to wait until Monday to see it.

    Today I saw Casa de Mi Padre, the Mexican soap opera starring Will Ferrell. It’s disappointing that this movie has mostly been a critical and box office disappointment, because it’s one of the most unique movies I’ve seen in a very long time. Sure, it’s ridiculous, but it’s ridiculous in a very clever way. Don’t let the Spanish subtitles scare you off, this movie is a great show.

     
  7. Gab #

    Alright, I’m not sure what the problem is, but it’s not letting me post my reply to An Inside Joke’s reply to me.

    Funny that, the scenes where the gamemakers were being shown caused tense silence in my crowd, not laughter. What got the people in my auditorium laughing were those shots of gale- which, I agree whole-heartedly, were stepping dangerously close to sparkly vamp territory. Ugh. I actually read a really great piece about how THG Is the new Star Wars the other day, though, and not the new Twilight. It makes some interesting observations, and I especially agree with their assertion that Cinna is Obi Wan- the scenes between him and Katniss got me more choked up than the ones between her and Rue, and certainly more so than the scene I mentioned above (and I’m sure you can guess what scene I mean). Anyhoo, since I suspect maybe having the link is why I’ve been encountering problems, if you’re interested, Google “The hunger games is the new star wars” and it should be the first hit. It’s by Mike Ryan.

    I actually think the gamemakers and the bits between Snow and Crane were my favorite “changes” in the film. They gave the audience much, much more insight into that manipulation (of the entire Panem population, as well as the arena of the Game itself), as well as the motivations of the people pulling the strings- and in a awy the book, being in Katniss’s head (although I reiterate, I never felt like I was truly in her head when reading- it felt like she was observing herself, not explaining every feeling or thought as a really in-depth first-person account would), would never be able to do.

    On my way home, my roommate and I talked about the dogs. Without knowing their origin from the book, they have a different kid of horror in how they show up, and I personally think not giving that information made for an intense scene. In the movie, it was the sheer terror of a pack of huge dog things jumping out of nowhere (literally, given how they also showed them pop up from the ground because of the gamemakers) dead set on mauling the characters to death. What it loses, of course, is that human tragedy-type element, and the horror that those used to be kids, compounding the pre-existing horror that they had already killed each other as humans by being Tributes and were now being forced to do it again as dogs. It shifted the film moment away from being sad about the dogs, but still, the situation, in the end, wound up being sad. I haven’t read the book in a while, so I can’t remember if Cato says anything there like what he does in the film, how “killing was all he knew” and whatnot, and his shouting at the audience. And I don’t have my copy with me, so I apologize, I can’t fact-check it. But anyway, if that WAS in the book, okay, there was indeed a layer of sadness lost. But even if not, the blind terror element was still pretty good, and again, adding those gamemakers and watching them insert more dogs provides a different layer not in the book. So I guess it’s a trade-off for that scene. (Sorry, I realize that was particularly circumlocutious.)

    As per the relationship between Katniss and Haymitch, the way it developed in the book while she was in the games was too difficult to portray visually without the whole thing seeming incredibly corny, I think. The film would have needed constant narration or something as we were told her thought process, and that is always very, very difficult to pull off. I also think this is why they got rid of the ships collecting the bodies, but that’s just a minor thing I don’t care about all that much, in the grand scheme of things.

     
  8. Gab #

    THERE ARE SPOLIERS IN THERE, SORRY!! AAGH! :( Fail.

    Also, not only did I watch Celebrity Deathmatch, I had the Playstation game.