Saturday, March 24, 2012

this is what a spoiler post looks like

Hubby and I were having a conversation the other day about my tendency to form stronger opinions on matters than lots of other folks. I have been labeled "passionate" by many people, some with more negativity in their tones than others. I can see how some people may be surprised by the strength of my convictions-- on matters both big and small-- if that's not how they roll. But, it's just the way it works for me. I think about things, all things, deeply, especially the things that I love the most.

You know where I'm going with this, right?

Yes, I'm ready to talk about The Hunger Games movie. And yes, I'm not entirely pleased.

There's a level of disappointment, that even when couched with my understanding of the necessity for cinematic changes, is still quite palpable. I will be the first to say that I get it. A book cannot be transformed in its whole into a movie. I am likely one of the only people on the planet who would be willing to sit for eight hours to watch a completely accurate adaptation. I know this.

But. I can't help but acknowledge this film's areas of disappointment. I wouldn't be me if I didn't share my opinions, regardless of the number of people who think I'm crazy or just putting too much thought into it.

After we got home from the movie at almost 2 am this morning, I couldn't stop thinking about it. Mind you, this is after at least 30 minutes of standing around with my friends after the movie chatting about our reactions. A friend came down from her home about an hour away to see the flick with us, and I think she was hugely relieved when I finally left her alone to crash on our couch, but I couldn't sleep even after I jotted down a bunch of thoughts that were floating around my head. I lay in bed in the dark, continuing to scribble tidbits down that I hoped would be legible in the morning.

Now, I hope to put those thoughts (and the ones that I still keep generating) into some sort of order. If you don't want spoilers for the movie or the general plot of the story, you're going to want to mosey on out of here. And, as crazy long as this post as going to be, I know it will only be a fraction of what I could share from my thoughts. I heard a phrase today that cracked me up and is totally fitting: my stream of consciousness isn't even close to running dry.

  • It appears to be a general consensus that Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen is an incredibly natural fit. She kicked that part's ass, truly. The image she projected so closely matched the one I had in my head from reading the books that I had no trouble whatsoever integrating them.
  • Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman was a casting decision made of pure brilliance. His gigantic, perfectly straight teeth made his over-the-top smile match his personality. He embodied that role to a tee.
  • Josh Hutcherson was a perfect Peeta Mellark to me. Physically, emotionally, just exactly right. 
  • Effie Trinket and President Snow were the ones that surprised me by how much I enjoyed the performances.
  • And then there were Haymitch, Cinna, and Gale. Sigh. Woody Harrelson's got acting chops, and I liked his performance... but, that wasn't Haymitch Abernathy. He was a  muted character who wasn't nearly as troubled, nearly as offensive and gross, nearly as drunk. Haymitch has been purposefully forcing his mind into a constant state of oblivion for 24 years as he's marched pairs of kids to their deaths again and again. This character appeared mildly amused by the presence of Katniss and Peeta, and didn't have the depth of despair and disgust with his life that Haymitch does in the book. It's not Harrelson's fault, for he played the role that he was given, and that's a common theme here, to me. Poor Lenny Kravitz, who I think could have played the subtle role of Cinna quite well had he been given a chance. Instead, he's relegated to the status of a minor character whose stylistic creations left little impression on me as a viewer. I mean, really. They had a few flames coming off their backs as they rode in on the chariot. Really? As far as Gale goes, well, there's not much to say. Rather than being a character to help Katniss reflect on the meaning of her existence back in District 12, he's demoted to a teeny-bopper magazine cover photo-- the lovesick boy at home, only appearing on-screen a few times to simply stare in longing. Lost opportunities one, two, and three.
  • From the opening shots, I was lauding the filmmakers for the imagery. The Seam? Perfect in its desperation, even if the Peacekeepers were way too serious looking for that District, even on Reaping Day. The Hob? Eerie and dark and spot on. The Capitol? Oh my crap, that was incredible.
  • The jerky camera shots may have made my stomach hurt in the beginning, but so did the book, so that was only fitting. That helped to establish a feeling of seeing things through Katniss' eyes in the first few scenes, which I think was lost as the movie went on. At times the filming style and presentation helped to create an appropriate sense of disorientation, and I honestly clapped a tiny bit.
  • I wish they did some more close shots of the food spreads to really play up the decadence that was completely unfamiliar to Katniss and shocked her on multiple levels. It might sound odd, but I have more thoughts to share about the role of food in the story, and lack of role in the movie, below.
Positive additions:
  • The greater role of President Snow was interesting to me, especially as it proved wrong my initial worry about Donald Sutherland playing the role. I understood what that did for the movie as he helped to fill in some back story and propel the plot along for people unfamiliar with the book. He was quietly terrifying.
  • Even with what I said before about my disappointment with the movie's portrayal of Haymitch, I did appreciate the one short scene that helped to show a tiny bit of the agony that he feels at his life when he witnessed the Capitol child being given a weapon as a gift and the way he instantly used it. Though not in the book, this felt right to me.
  • And finally, the best part that was created solely for the movie was the Gamemakers' headquarters. The way that they portrayed the technology and the production side of the Games as entertainment was brilliant. It was disgusting and completely inhumane, and wholly consistent with the feeling of the book even though it was never explicitly described in the text.

Missed opportunities, or where I get extremely nitpicky and most likely off-putting to the average viewer who just wanted to enjoy the movie: 
  • Where to begin? The pin. Sigh. The whole beginning part of the movie, while trying to establish the relationship between Katniss and Prim just didn't do it for me. The fact that the mayor's daughter literally pins the hopes of a different future on Katniss without her even realizing is so important later on down the road. The symbolism of that pin is at the heart of what is to come, and it was instead demoted to a cute decoration that was simply happened upon.
  • The next logical misstep to me was the fact that nothing was ever explained about the mockingjay itself. The fact that the mockingbird, a survivor of nature mated with the jabberjay, a creation of the Capitol made to subvert a rebellion, is important. Even more important is that the result was this bird who in turn was embraced by the rebellion as a symbol of their strength and ability to rise again. There is a true role for the mockingjay that was completely left out of the film.
  • The role of food and the ability to have or provide sustanence to oneself and one's loved ones is a recurring theme. When I reread the first book shortly after reading (yes, I actually read this) The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook, I was frustrated with myself that I had previously given little attention to passages about the food that Katniss is suddenly surrounded with in the Capitol. Or even the descriptions that the food she ate at home. That was a bad reader move on my part, because the role of food is so integral to her life. And in the movie it was glossed over for sure. And, little to no attention was given to her struggle to find food or water during the Games. Near starvation is an experience she's familiar with at more than one point in her life, and this wasn't shown during the Games at all, sadly.
  • The redhaired Avox girl had no role in the film, and I guess I can submit that this was one of the things that could have been left out for the sake of shortening the plot. But, I was kinda ticked when Katniss says something to Gale about being punished by the Capitol if they tried to run off and mentions "they might cut out our tongues." In the book, she is horrified when she finds out that this is a true punishment, and this opens her eyes to the realities of the terror meted out by the Capitol. Sure, leave out the Avox, but don't casually equip Katniss with this knowledge in passing. More sighing.
  • Peeta and Katniss had the chat on the night before the Games, and my heart was pounding as Peeta struggled to express his desire to retain his humanity once they got in the arena. Loved it. But why in the world were they still in their apartment? Why not put them on the roof like they're supposed to be. You know? Where they first discover the idea of a force field? You know? That little detail that is at the heart of how they survive the coming Quarter Quell? Would that have been so hard to film? Gah.
  • Oh Rue. How is it that I haven't mentioned you and your face of innocence yet? You were lovely, and even though the connection you made with Katniss was rushed through for the sake of time in the movie, I was still brought to tears when you died. Katniss looked up at that camera and made her feelings clear after decorating your body to give it one final moment of beauty after a life of hardship. Then she was rewarded with a basket of bread from your district, a huge sacrifice on their part. It had been unheard of for one district to send a gift to a tribute from another district. Ah, yes, the beginnings of the districts working together, what an important piece of the foundation to lay down. Oh. Wait. There was no bread. There was no moment when Thresh looked at Katniss, preparing to kill her, pausing only to ask her if she did that for Rue and her begging him to just make her death quick and stating something to the effect of, "Your district sent me bread." (My book is out on loan, so forgive me my approximation of a quote.) Where was the bread?
  • Sure, the movie was intense overall, but many key aspects were simplified and the effect was a loss of the desperation and near-death states of both Katniss and Peeta. In the movie, there was the ringing and muted sounds that we heard right after the explosion at the Cornucopia, but apparently her hearing was restored immediately. Peeta's leg looked bad, but there was no tourniquet, no fear on Katniss's part that he was on the brink of death. And, no replacement leg after the Games. Katniss' forehead wound was ugly, but never extreme, never knocking her out. Did it ever feel like any of the tributes, especially Katniss and Peeta were about to die of starvation? At the end, they hopped off that Cornucopia as if they were ready to do cartwheels of joy with their mostly-intact bodies. Um. Peeta was barely hanging on to life, so much so that after they're taken away, Katniss has no idea if he even survived. 
  • Let's talk Cato's death. Remember how painful it was for Katniss and Peeta to listen to him suffering? That he had on that protective suit that kept the muttations from killing him completely? That it became an act of mercy on Katniss' part to finally release him from that horror? It felt so quick and insignificant in the movie to me.
  • But wait a minute, let's back up to those muttations. Or, if you've only seen the movie, let's just call them the wild dogs that suddenly materialized to chase them and tear them to shreds as wild animals would do. Remember when Seneca Crane asked the person to pull up the muttation and it appeared as a hologram. Picture this: right after it appears, the tribute picture of Glimmer appears, and Seneca says, "The audience is going to love this. Who could miss those green eyes?" Would that have been difficult? The horror that these additional genetically modified creations of the Capitol's represent even more solidified the evilness of the Capitol for Katniss. It made it more personal than ever before. Would that have been too harsh for the film? Would that have made it so that 10 year olds couldn't have gone to see the movie? Was it all about the pursuit of a PG-13 rating?
  • I saved the biggest one for last. Since there's no reasonable expectation for brevity at this point, I could go on and on on this part more than any other. But, I'll try to be as concise as possible. In the book, Katniss spends the entire time during training under the impression that she and Peeta are being counseled to act that they are in love. In the arena, she is dismayed to discover that Peeta has betrayed her when she sees him in an alliance with the Careers. Then she questions that when she finds him again, near death. She has to be reminded by Peeta to play up the relationship. "You can kiss me any time now." (Again, approximated quote.) All the way to the end, she thinks this is an act, and her confusion only increases as time goes on. When she finally speaks to this after the Games, Peeta is shocked, and Katniss faces a sudden coldness from him that she wasn't prepared for. In the movie, well, this is all seriously simplified into a simple budding young love, semi-complicated by the maybe feelings that she has for Gale back at home. But really, we're not privy to many of Katniss' feelings or inner thoughts in the movie, which is so drastically different than the character-driven nature of the inner dialogue that makes up the book. Sadly, in the movie, she kisses Peeta of her own accord, out of her growing feelings, not from a motivation of survival. 
  • Overall, simplified is the word that loomed large in my head throughout the movie. We were spoon-fed some details, since we didn't have Katniss to narrate for us as in the book. With the level of intensity that the music and the imagery provided, the entirety of the film never scratched the surface for the level of desperation the book conveyed. Again? Just so a younger audience could pony up the cash to see it? Cue cynical eyebrow raise.
Here's where I leave it. My husband gave his opinion in a succinct twelve word assessment: "Not bad, but not the book. Just go in with realistic expectations." I however, blogged on and on for the last several hours. 

As I went to bed, an analogy came to me. The Hunger Games movie is fast food, a chicken nugget if you will. It's tasty and enjoyable to eat, if left uncompared to anything else. It doesn't take much effort to attain, it doesn't cost much, and it's easy to consume. But, if you take a while to prepare a whole chicken, baked to deliciousness over time, it's a real meal. A true eating experience, one to remember long after the baking dish is cleaned. That's the book, a real meal.

I'm fairly certain there is not one single person still reading this, and I am not even the least bit ashamed to say that I am utterly exhausted from writing this assessment. I acknowledge my insanity at caring enough about a book to go to these lengths, but like I said before, this is how I roll. 

So please, if you have no experience with this story and you're curious, please get the book. Read it. Ponder it, savor it. Think about the excesses of the Capitol and think if there are any parallels in our own reality. Sadly, I think this piece of fiction is terrifying and entirely relevant to serious conversations about socio-political themes in the world today.

Three words: read the book.

Not surprised in the least that I'm leaving it at that,