Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Hunger Games

I guess I'll have to eat some crow here, as I had blogged previously about how I'd not seen The Hunger Games movie, and the premise of it didn't seem all that novel or fresh to me, and that I wasn't that excited to watch it (which that part is true).  However, I saw it over the past weekend, and have to admit, I enjoyed it a great deal.  There was somewhat a controversy at the time it came out as to whether or not the author, Suzanne Collins, had gotten the idea from the novel, Battle Royale, which was later turned into a manga, and then the live action movie.  She claimed she'd never heard of it.  Battle Royale has a very similar premise about young children being picked lottery style, to participate in a gladiator-type game to be shown to an post apocalypse audience.  Personally, I couldn't say one way or the other, however, I do think the story plots are amazingly similar, and yet, I won't say it's not impossible either.

Short story:  Back around '87 or so my brother and I was going on a trip to Austin.  Personal home computing was just getting started and he'd given me one of his used computers.  He was getting his computer science degree at the time, and home computers and all that stuff was in its infancy more or less.  I remarked during our trip that wouldn't it be cool if  they made something like an Etch A Sketch, and you could plug it into your home computer or had a chip like a digital camera, and you could upload books and stuff and read them on some sort of portable device.  Think how it might change the industry/society.  It would be great for people on the move, and all the books people have to use like in a  lawyer office or where a personal  library is needed.  He said, wow, that's a great idea, and it died on the vine of my thinking because I know nil about computer science, electrical engineering, patents, and whatnot, but now we have the iPad, and other such reading devices.

So whether or not Collins knew about Battle Royale, who knows?  The main thing is, it's not exactly an original concept, but the storytelling is where it gets its power.  I remember reading Shirley Jackson's short story, The Lottery, back in high school. Other similarly themed movies have also come along, which have a game show theme, but vary with their plots.  The ones that come to mind are:  Death Race 2000, taken from the short story, The Racer by Ib Melchior,  Roller Ball, taken from the short story, Roller Ball Murder, by William Harrison, The Running Man based on a Stephen King novel, and also Battle Royale.  They all differ here and there, some don't deal with a lottery type system, but they have a similar vibe--to me anyway. Most of them are worth watching too if you haven't seen them before, and enjoy SF genre.

But Battle Royale and The Hunger Games are the two that share the most common similarities.  It's been a while since I've seen Battle Royale, but if I recall correctly they both deal with totalitarian states that have this lottery, and if chosen from the lottery  young school age children are stuck on an isolated world for a combat-style sport game where they are supposed to kill the other contestants or tributes.  There's only suppose to be one victor.   I didn't think either film brought out very well why these games were fought or how they kept the populace lulled into servitude.  Perhaps if you read the books that would be more spelled out, but I think it's one of the plot devices or suspension of disbelief hurdles you just have to accept and move on to get involved with the story.  Also between the two films, for me anyway, I preferred watching The Hunger Games.  I thought there was more a back story to the characters and their lives, which helps the viewer to empathize more with their plight.  Also there were smaller details to the story that kept me engaged like the SF elements of the space craft, the futuristic look of the gaming operation, which gave some insight on how the games were constructed and manipulated, the costuming and set designs, and some other details.

What I liked about The Hunger Games was the way Jennifer Lawrence portrayed Katniss Everdeen.  She was a strong character, who sacrificed herself as a substitute for her sister.  She willingly takes on the mantel for District 12's tribute (along with a male that is also picked from her region).  I think the anguish portrayed by the male lead upon getting selected was done well.  His facial expression is one of dismay and shock, knowing that this is more than likely a horrible and brutal death sentence.  Katniss goes into the game not knowing what to expect other than trying to survive.  At the same time, you feel she doesn't want to participate and hurt or kill someone, but how is she supposed to accomplish this and win?

When they are sent to the city aboard the bullet train, (I enjoyed the way the train looked).  They meet their mentor, played by Woody Harrelson.  At first Katniss is so opposed to her fate and repulsed the way society has gone she rebels, but slowly realizes she'll have to acquiesce just to survive.  Once the train arrives we get to view a bit more of this totalitarian society and how it works.  There are orders of hierarchy, we also get to see the game show host, and each contestant is prepped and interviewed, before the actual game begins.

I'll let you see the movie to see how the rest plays out.  So what is the subtext to this book and movie?  I'd guess Collins is saying something about the violent times we live in, how we are desensitized to violence in our daily lives with violent video games, music, and the evening news.  Perhaps she is saying something about the nature of humans--why can't we just get along?  Are we that much different from the Romans and their gladiator games?  It offers up food for thought.

 There is one violent scene when the game begins, but it is cut in a way so that it is not a full on gore fest, which I can appreciate and not needed.  But at the same time you might want to consider this and whether or not it's age appropriate for your family and younger children.  Although The Hunger Games comes from a Young Adult book, some of the scenes are fairly graphic, so you might want to consider that.  I enjoyed it more than I thought I would.  I watched it a couple of times while I had the DVD at home, and was curious how this was going to play out.  I might just have to go to the cinema for the next chapter.


At 8:01 AM, Blogger SFF said...

I enjoyed reading your reflections on this film.

In many ways you captured my own sense of caution toward the film. I was indeed skeptical about it, but people I know, like yourself, have given me pause and I think I will eventually see this film.

Your recommendation does not come lightly. Glad to hear you enjoyed this El Vox.

Also, I enjoyed your personal reflections and your contrast/ comparisons.

Shirly Jackson's The Lottery is fantastic as many of her stories are. Great analogy.

Finally, Jennifer Lawrence continnues to gradually display her talent. She continues to impress.

At 8:16 AM, Blogger Roman J. Martel said...

I'm with you on this one too. The movie really surprised me. I'd read the book about six months before seeing the movie. The book is actually a really good read, moving at a solid pace and yet building the character of Katniss perfectly. I was really worried that the film would ruin the character.

But I was wrong, they did a great job with it. And while the book offered even more depth into her character and the world around her (as well as a better explanation for the games) the movie did a fine job.

At 9:27 AM, Blogger El Vox said...

SFF and Roman--glad you enjoyed the review. I guess it's like they say, you can't judge a book by its cover, and to further that line of thinking, prejudge a film without having seen it. I can easily see why at the time The Hunger Games was such a smash hit in the book world and why so many fans were glad that it was being made into a movie.

I'm now anticipating the release of the second installment, and after seeing THG thought, maybe I ought to go down to the library and seek out the second book. I still have time to read it before the movie comes out. :) We'll see. But yes, I enjoyed it quite a bit.

At 4:12 PM, Blogger SFF said...

Enjoyed the string of comments guys and to add to your point El Vox, it is true - you can't pre-judge.

Case in point, I actually considered not seeing Pacific Rim after all of the marketing. It turned me off and I really had considered passing on it. It was my son who got me there.

As you know, I was VERY wrong about it. So, looks like two strong examples of that point.

At 8:21 PM, Blogger El Vox said...

SFF--I can see where a young boy would have loved Pacific Rim, and a girl too, with the young girl protagonist. That is probably lending itself to his formative years in loving SF.

I remember once in a SF club that I used to belong to we got into a discussion whether we'd rather read the book based on a movie first or after seeing the movie. For me, I don't think it matters. I'll read the book if I think it might appeal to me (beforehand) or if I want to get a bit more from the movie experience (afterwards). Everyone has their own idea on that.

I remember when the Lord of the Rings came out, it made me want to read the books before I'd seen the films. I'd already read The Hobbit, so I got the books out and just read them before the films came out. But I can go either way. Like Roman said, I'm sure by reading the books it explains the Hunger Games world so much more in depth.


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