Monday, April 9, 2012

Starving in the land of plenty.

There's this movie out. You may have heard of it.

That's the one! I watched the first Hunger Games movie last week. Since its release, Hunger Games has unleashed a veritable tsunami of Internet chatter.

Which we'll get to. But first! I managed to offend a bunch of people in the theater before the movie even started, which is a first for me. Usually nobody gets annoyed with me until at least after the opening credits. See, I knew it was highly likely that the trailer for whatever Twilight movie is up next would be played before Hunger Games, and I was right, and the sight of Bella menacing a deer, who is all durp durp durping through the forest provoked gales of merriment, which I tried to suppress, only to end up snorting loudly through my nose for a few minutes. Seriously, the deer was emoting more in that scene than Kristin "Stoneface" Stewart.

ANYWAY. So. Hunger Games. I'm not necessarily going to say that you should dash out and watch this movie unless you've already read and enjoyed the books.

However. This is a pretty faithful adaptation of the book, and although I had trepidation when Jennifer Lawrence was cast as Katniss (Katniss is described as rather scrawny, Lawrence has a Playboy-centerfold figure and it's a stretch to imagine her as fourteen), but anyone who has seen Winter's Bone should know that Lawrence is a talented actress. Her Katniss is reserved, stoic, and determined, although if they intend to make the next two movies, they need to get on it before she ages out of the role.

Hunger Games doesn't provide the over-the-top pageantry described in the books (the costumes in particular are disappointing), but upon further reflection, maybe that was a wise choice. Except for scenes in the Capital, the cinematography is shaky cam, usually peering over Katniss' shoulder or bouncing along behind her, which makes the violence seem like less of a spectacle. I don't know if that was the filmmakers' intention, and although I hate shaky cam because I get motion sickness reeeealllllly easily (seriously, the three-D version of Avatar made me dry-heave, and not just because it's an incredibly expensive reworking of Fern Gully), I think it works.

The always-excellent Stanley Tucci does a glittery, avaricious Caesar, Woody Harrellson is snarky and weirdly endearing as the drunken Haymitch, and Josh Hutcherson's Peeta looks like a lost Backstreet Boy. (Which, while I may purport to be Team Gale, we all know I'd go for the chubby guy who makes cookies.)

Now. CULTURAL CRITIQUE time, y'all. Hunger Games has prompted a wave of Internet Stupid, Racism Edition, with a side of Reading Comprehension Fail.

Okay. So. In the book, Katniss and Gale are described as olive-skinned and dark-haired. Understandably, the casting of Lawrence caused a bit of a furor, since she needed some Clairol and a coat of spray tan, and she's still not any darker than I am. Since District 12 sort of corresponds to West Virginia coal country/Appalachia, I had imagined Katniss as a Melungeon.

Collins is pretty vague in her descriptions of many of the characters, leaving a lot of it up to the readers' imagination, but she does mention that Rue and Thresh, two tributes from the same District, as being dark-skinned.

But OH MY GOD, the Internet disgorged a wave of dumb at the shock! awe! that two black actors (the talented Dayo Okeniyi and Amandia Stenburg, who absolutely nailed the gentle, fawn-like Rue, and brought most of the audience to tears when Rue dies) were cast as Rue and Thresh.

Which, wow. And ugh. Which brings to another thing about the Internet - is the Internet, in some twisted way, a form of good in that it provides enough digital rope for idiots like the Twitterers featured in the Jezebel article to hang themselves? I mean, you've just outed yourself to the world as a big ol' racist, and the Internet has a long memory.

Anyway. See the movie, or don't. I think it's pretty great that a movie with a Strong Female Lead (SFL) who does not end the movie by toppling into the nearest dude's arms has been such a smash. The popularity of the Hunger Games series spawned a wave of similar books (dystopian future, adolescent female lead, big Defining Coming of Age thing, Fight the Power), which I'll take any day over Dating a Controlling, Borderline-Abusive Guy And Getting Married Right Out of High School is Wooooomantic.

I also ended up rewatching 300 last night, while guzzling a bottle of rose and eating chocolates, which was a very interesting contrast vis a vis the whole violence-as-spectacle thing.

Which, first of all, let me just say that I do not know what kind of alchemy took the ultimate dudebro movie and turned it into something that allll of the girls I know absolutely love. Rippling abs, homoeroticism, and Fassbender?? Plus a lead who is all I FEEL VERY DEEPLY ABOUT OUR EMPOWERING, MONOGAMOUS RELATIONSHIP, MY QUEEN, YOU ROCK. I argue that 300 is the ultimate chick flick.

But, my point being, 300 was all about style. The violence is so incredibly stylized that it's cartoonish (which, durr, was the point). Hunger Games takes the opposite tack. Although the Games themselves are the ultimate entertainment, the movie stays well away from making it anything but disturbing and revolting.


  1. I ultimately had a good enough time with the movie, but I wouldn't consider it particularly noteworthy except to say that it threw some of my issues with the book into specific relief.

    I'm a SF nut, so I had some issues with the worldbuilding in the books, and one of the major issues I had was emphasized in the movie. SPOILER! When a certain character dies, we see a sorta mini-uprising in her district. Personally, I don't understand why that wouldn't happen in every district, any time one of their kids dies. I never bought the whole rationale behind the hunger games, and the movie made that even more confusing to me. It just smacks of overly convenient storytelling. Things happen in this story because the writer requires it, not because it's a natural outgrowth of characters or plot or setting.

    But still, very nice to see a female focused series with a strong character at the lead (i.e. the anti-Twilight) And very disappointing about the whole racism thing, though I think you make a good point. The power of free speech is that it allows people to make asses of themselves, and the internet is speeding that along nicely.

    And I enjoy 300 too, if only because I can actually tell what's going on during the action sequences. I mean, I get the whole shaky cam thing and I guess I can enjoy the occasional Greengrass movie, but most directors can't pull it off that well (Gary Ross included) and I'd much rather see things happen in a clear visual fashion (and I thought we were getting away from quick cut shaky cam action, but I guess not)...

    Ok, I'm rambling now. Good post:)

    1. I have issues with the shaky cam, because it legit makes me nauseous - I'm SUPER prone to motion sickness. 0_o

  2. I thought those Twilight Teens were going to beat us down!