23 March 2012

Let's Talk About...The Hunger Games.

    While I wouldn't necessarily self-identify as a cynic, I'm certainly not overly optimistic when it comes to book-to-movie adaptions. Years of movies like Prince Caspian, Alice in Wonderland, and Eragon have hardened me against the prospect of a good book becoming a good movie. So I was really, really prepared for The Hunger Games to disappoint.
    It didn't. Miracle of miracles, it turned out to be one of the best adaptions I've ever seen. Disclaimer: It's been two years since I last read the book cover-to-cover, so my recollection of minor details may not have been spot on. However, HG managed to stay true both to the spirit of the book I remember reading, and to all of the major details. That's not to say they didn't leave things out; of course, an adaption can't remain 100% the same from page to screen, but nothing necessary was ignored, nothing was changed to the point of serious deviance from the source material, and the small changes that they did make, for the most part, led to a stronger film.
Especially this guy. Every extra scene with him in it was like a gift from the gamemakers.
     I do want to address briefly something I've talked about ad nauseum previously, which is, of course, the subject matter of the story itself. The reactions to it from Christians have been across the board, from  those who wholeheartedly accept it to those who reject it without consideration-- I don't think either of these is the correct response. There is an argument that the entire setup is a false dilemma and displays situational ethics at their worst. (Doug Wilson wrote this article to coincide with the release of the movie, expanding it from a brief review he wrote while reading the book: http://www.credenda.org/index.php/Reviews/christians-and-the-hunger-games.html). It's definitely a legitimate concern, especially when it comes to the book, in which Katniss is willing to do whatever it takes to survive.
    And that, incidentally, is one of the best things that comes from its silver screen debut: a drastic change in the character of Katniss herself. I don't know if this was intentional or not, but Jennifer Lawrence's Katniss was a lot softer than the Katniss of the book. (Of course-- she'd have to be-- we can't read her thoughts, so she has to be expressive and not completely stoic). We, as the audience, never get the impression that she would be willing to kill Rue, or Peeta, or any of the other "innocent" tributes if it came down to that. (In the book, it's a lot more iffy, and she's a lot more pragmatic). In the movie, she retains a moral high ground of a sort by only seriously fighting with those tributes from the first and second districts who are there for their own glory of their own free choice.
This is what a "strong female protagonist" looks like. Take notes, world. 
     The downside of the movie is the visual aspect. While it's one thing to read an account of a death, it's entirely different to see it played out in front of you. It was actually less violent than the hype made it sound, but still-- pretty uncomfortable, to say the least. I was impressed, however, with how non-glamorous they made the violence and how much was kept off-screen rather than shown. It definitely seemed as if the filmmakers were saying, "What is the minimum amount of actual violence we can show that will still establish the seriousness of the situation without glorifying in it?", an effort I appreciated.
  That was obviously a very brief and incomplete attempt to show both sides of some of the Hunger Games issues. You can check out the archives if you're interested in more worldview stuff relating to them. But now, on to the movie itself!!! Caution: Somewhat spoilery, but I'm pretty sure most of you who are going to see the movie have already seen it.
"I don't always not drink. But when I do, I'm pretty awesome."
    Things the movie got absolutely, spot on, perfectly right:
    Katniss. Katniss, Katniss, Katniss. Oh, my goodness, was Jennifer Lawrence perfect. She brought a great balance between softness and stoicism. She was far more likeable than the book's Katniss, and she has pretty much the best speaking voice ever. (As for singing, well, that's another story.)
    Haymitch was amazing, too-- even though I still wish in the dark recesses of my heart that he was played by Hugh Laurie. Woody Harrelson did a tremendous job of making his character believable and developed without a huge amount of actual on-screen time. (Seriously, did anyone else completely lose it when it showed him watching Katniss struggle with her burnt leg, and then going out to try and get her sponsors?? :')
     All of the secondary characters were amazing-- all the tributes, all the people in the Capitol, etc. The movie had a unique feel, some seriously awesome costumes and sets, and , as I said, a near-perfect capture of the spirit of the book. (It was, by the way, an even nearer-to-perfect adaptation than the Harry Potter movies, which had their work cut out for them trying to condense 600+ page books into two hours).
    My number one favorite thing: They totally, totally, completely downplayed the love story/love triangle as much as they possibly could. I was certain they would try to make a bigger deal out of it than even the book does. But, if possible, they focused on it even less, and they really only showed the "love" angle in the context of the Games and how it saves Katniss and Peeta. I was thankful for that one, because it would have been hard to take the movie seriously if it had focused too much on cave smoochies in contrast to the backdrop of children killing other children.
In other words, these disturbingly cult-like promo images were misleading. 
      Things it got...somewhat wrong: (And let me clarify: I'm not addressing moral/ethical flaws since I've done that above and in earlier blog posts. Also, I'm nitpicking here. The movie was, over all, really good. But like anything, if you look close enough you can find some flaws.  So, here they are.)
   Gale fell into the trap I was afraid he would. (Hahahaha, get it? 'Cuz Gale makes traps?? I didn't even mean to do that!)  He just sort of came across as sensitive and meh, but he was hardly in the movie anyway.  (I will say, his reaction shots during the Katniss/Peeta scenes might be the most heartbreaking thing I've ever seen, though.)
    Lack of development-- the movie did a really good job overall, but there were a couple of things it just failed to explain: Cinna was awesome, but they never really show why he is so personally invested in Katniss or develop his character. They also didn't explain a lot of the backstory of the rebellion, so if you hadn't read the book you would have been confused by the three-finger salute, mockingjays, etc. Also, whatever they were trying to do with Cato's storyline didn't really work. It just came across as confusing.
     And, of course... Peeta. Peeta... was... not... that... impressive. I love Peeta in the books. But in the movie, he just comes across as ... wimpy. And helpless. Rather than being Katniss' moral compass, as he is in the book, he just ... doesn't really do anything.  Their chemistry was awkward, and the cave scene was one of the most uncomfortable things I've ever seen.  But, again, the movie didn't focus on that overly much, so it wasn't distracting.)
     Oh, and his camouflage tactics were downright silly, if I do say so myself.
That is a face that only a mother could love. Because it is the face of a baby. 
      All right, and the one thing that almost ruined it for me was when the tributes from 1 and 2 (and Peeta)corner Katniss and chase her up a tree. In the book, the tree is 80 feet high, and there is no way they can climb that high or shoot her. In the movie, it's about 16 feet high; they take two half-hearted shots at her and then say, "Hey, dudes, let's wait until she starves or something.".Know something, guys? I'm pretty sure if you shot at her a couple more times, or tried alternate angles, you'd get her eventually. But, no, just let her sit up there and potentially find a way to kill your whole group. That's cool, too.
      But these were honestly my only beefs with the movie. I apologize for the incoherence of a lot of these thoughts; I'm operating on like 4 hours of sleep here, gosh!! Long story short: if you liked the book, you should like the movie. And it was really nice not to have an adaptation disappoint for once.

06 March 2012

5 Ways the Hunger Games Movie Could Get It Wrong

    The new Hunger Games movie comes out in less than a month, and man, is the world a-buzz. I feel pretty proud of myself, both for having boarded this bandwagon early (usually, I'm the last one to catch on to these things; I have only seen one Star Wars movie in theaters and two Harry Potters.), and for not fully boarding the bandwagon of craziness that is rocketing towards the stratosphere of teen fandom at a speed that puts TwiHards to shame (kind of like how the speed at which that metaphor got away from me puts me to shame). Although, yeah, I liked the books, I'm going to see the movie, and yes, I'm dressing up for the midnight premiere, I like to flatter myself that I can also see the numerous flaws in the books and maybe even predict some that will be in the movie. Here are a few things the filmmakers could do that would completely ruin the story:
     1) Glamorizing the violence. I'm almost certain this will be the case because, after all, this is supposed to be an edgy teen movie about people kicking butt and looking good doing it. While the main characters will probably dialogue endlessly about how pointless and horrible the violence is, I suspect that the footage we see will contradict everything they are saying. We will be encouraged to look at the violence, to cheer when Katniss kills someone, and to get excited over the battle scenes. That contradicts the very message of the book, and, in an ironic twist, transforms us into clones of the detached viewers from the Capital and the districts who watch the Hunger Games for entertainment. While the book showed that these people were desensitized to violence and took voyeuristic pleasure in watching horrible acts of brutality, the movie, I suspect, will encourage us to enjoy the same kind of thing. This is closely related to number two:
   2) Changing the entire mood of the books. Obviously, a movie can't really be done in 1st person present-- not well, at least. The movie is sure to give us a wider vision of Panem, since we will not always be confined to Katniss' viewpoint, but will be able to see what others are doing and thinking as well. While it could be a wonderful thing to see a fuller version of the Hunger Games universe, it could also wind up altering the feel and uniqueness of the book. For instance, the filmmakers might decide to spend a lot of time on the other tributes and the "bad guys" at the Capital during the games, a focus which might distract from the story and needlessly confuse people (like we saw in the second Narnia movie, or Prince Caspian and the Over-Exposition of Miraz and Everyone in His Army Who Speak With Thick, Inaudible Accents, as I like to call it). It also runs the risk of making Katniss mega unlikeable because, well, be honest, the only reason you even sort of liked her is because you could see what she was thinking. If you judged her by actions alone, you'd conclude she was a jerk.
    3) Messing up the relationship between Peeta and Katniss. Seriously, because the way this unfolds in the book, through flashback and then slowly throughout the games, is just perfect-- it's not supposed to be a rushed, love-at-first sight, giddy kind of love, but more of a slow and steady growth. It's going to be hard for the filmmakers to portray all the layers of wrong assumptions and deceptions that go on throughout their relationship, also (think: Peeta really loves Katniss; Katniss thinks he is only pretending to for the games; Katniss goes along; Katniss eventually loves him; she doesn't know if he truly loves her, etc. Exhausting, no? And it's hard enough when you can read thoughts; imagine the challenge of portraying that visually).
    4) Making it too modern. By this, I mean too much a product of the present day alone. I've been concerned about this ever since Taylor Swift's single, Safe and Sound,  for the soundtrack came out. It's a pretty song, and it's on my iPod, don't get me wrong, but it seems like such a teen-beckoning, 2012-y step that I'm legitimately afraid of just how dated this might already be. These fears have been further confirmed by some of the images in the trailer-- what is described in the book as a mysterious, structurally complex gown that can light on fire is pretty clearly just a strapless prom dress that can, presumably catch on fire. And the promo shots of Katniss, Gale, and Peeta, are very, very Twilight (that's not a good thing, kiddos, btw). Which brings me to my last point
     5) Ruining the characters. I know this is a really, really broad statement, so I'll try to focus just on the ways the filmmakers could ruin the characters of Katniss, Gale, and Peeta. With Katniss, my biggest fear is actually that she'll come across as a cardboard jerk. Without her first-person view, without knowing the inner workings of her mind, it would be very easy for her to appear cold, unfeeling, and pretty rude.  I think the  cardboard thing is also the biggest threat to Peeta; he's just a downright good guy, and filmmakers tend to deal with that sort of character either by making him boring and flat, or giving him all kinds of flaws to compensate, either of which would ruin the character. Gale could be too soft and Peeta-like, judging from the trailer; he seems like he's very much the sensitive type, which isn't really how he is in the book-- he's a good friend and it's easy for Katniss to talk to him because they're so similar, but he's not a big cuddly bare-your-feelings teddy bear (that dates Miley Cyrus :/). I guess what I'm saying is, it's going to be hard for these characters not to be influenced by Twilight, and we might just end up with a cardboard girl, otherworldly guy, and sensitive best friend.

    So those are some of my fears about the new movie. Gotta stay positive, right? If you want to read more about the Hunger Games and you're not sick of me yet, you can see my thoughts and incoherent babbline about the worldview of the books here: http://leahrabe.blogspot.com/2010/04/hunger-games.html 
    And heck, if you want to see how the movie might have gone if Disney had made it, check this out: http://leahrabe.blogspot.com/2010/05/derangeder-and-derangeder.html