I mean, duh. Of course I do. I can’t even sort out, actually, if they are good feelings or bad feelings, or positive or negative, mostly I just feel….strongly. I feel strongly about the Hunger Games movie.
As I was trying to parse out how I feel I’m afraid that too much of it is just a sort of, hurr, hurr, the book is better, they did that wrong, they didn’t do it right, durr. So I’m going to try to write this all in very I-statements, all about how I personally felt, my own process through the process of processing the movie. You can stop reading now!
I mean, first off, it was a pretty fun movie! Right? The story is just so damn crackerjack, I know I keep using that word but like, how else do you describe it? Suzanne Collins’ plot just has everything – teenagers with feelings about love, but also fighting to the death, and also sociopolitics and righteous indignation. How could you not make a kick ass movie out of that?
And so, I think, that’s why I was slightly disappointed that it wasn’t…better? Because like, the story is so good! When I read it I was thinking of how incredible and cinematic it would be! And yet I spent most of the movie thinking about the process of making the movie, about the decisions they made on characters and actors and sequence and pacing, about how carefully PG-13 all the violence was (you can see the brick and you can see the head, but never the brick hitting the head). Maybe, of course, this is because I am a huge nerd, or maybe that is what happens when you see adaptations anyway – you know how the story is going to turn out so you can focus on the mechanics. But I just kept thinking that it wasn’t all it could have been, and I wasn’t even that into the books in the first place (was I?)
Let’s talk about what was awesome – Jennifer Lawrence. Aw man. I just, I love her. She was on GMA and she was so cute and real and spunky and cool and just like, herself-seeming. It was fantastic. I will follow her anywhere. And she was, well, I think she was perfect as Katniss. Bring it.
Woody Harrelson was also fantastic and Woody Harrelson-y. Josh Hutcherson continues to grow and grow on me, little baby. He just seems like he is trying so hard, yknow? He just seems so…young. Child-like. They didn’t give Peeta a lot to do but I thought he was quite convincingly besotted. And of course, Stanley Tucci with blue hair was maybe my absolute favorite thing. How come we don’t have a Stanley Tucci talk show like that? Who’s really living in a dystopia here?
Which brings us onto what didn’t work…I’ve been wrestling with this over the past few days, trying to pinpoint what didn’t work for me. Let’s take something very exact: Haymitch. It’s as if when they decided to spend the extra money on Woody Harrelson, they figured they could make up for it by cutting a few pages of dialogue with him, or about him. After the movie Jim was like “Wait, was he from District 12? Why was he helping them? Does he have a job? Why did he stop drinking and just start being nice?” Why indeed. His real, full backstory doesn’t come out til the later books, true, but the first book is spent hating him, because Katniss does, while also feeling like you should trust him, as she does. He is smart and right but awful and useless. And then you find out why and he becomes more human, but also more of a reflection of how much this world they live in ruins people – smart, caring, human people become useless alcoholics, grouchy and cynical. Woody Harrelson can do that! We all know he can. He just…was not asked to.
And of course, I understand, you don’t have room for everyone’s total backstories and their whole history, and maybe there wasn’t room for Rue’s district and her job in the fields and her family, but it meant that she was just a cute girl, and then she was a dead girl. And yeah, it was sad – the 12 year old sitting to me was sobbing, like, wracking, heaving sobs – but it was just sad. Not wrenching, not heartbreaking, not riot-provoking. Without a connection to Rue, without a reason to root for her and her place in the world, then it’s just…dead pretty girl. It’s as if they put these characters in front of us and assumed we would care about them, without giving us a reason why. And it almost works – that’s how fantastic the cast is. And yet.
And I get it, the books are all first person, we hang out with Katniss for days and days, we know her story and her mom and her dad, we see her fierceness and her strength from the inside. It’s part of why she’s sympathetic, for me at least; she’s what I imagine I could be like if I shut down all my extraneous emotions, if I was operating from the core of me. There’s no way to do that in the movie. Jennifer Lawrence is practically enough.
The story, as a whole, has a sort of funny push-pull. It’s all action and excitement – I mean, all. Battle Royale is like, the greatest set up of all time. And then it just becomes explosions and wars like, forever. It’s fantastic, its suspenseful, it’s action. And yet Collins seems like she never wants it to be too fun, yknow? It’s not a shoot em up, or a Tom Clancy novel. So whenever there’s a bloodthirsty moment, there’s also something heartwrenching and sad. The climax is the mutts, but really its that moment when they both stand there with the berries and Katniss thinks “if he dies, I’ll never go home, not really. I’ll spend the rest of my life in this arena, trying to think my way out.” It’s the quiet moments that punch you in the gut, that make the fast actiony death excitement more poignant, that make you feel both fascinated and sick watching the kids die.
I think this movie was actually fairly good at the quiet moments – the moment when Rue died and the leaves went out of focus, the Reaping (I cried, but I also thought the pacing was like, totally off? Not even sure what to do there). The action was…jolty, but also just like, paced funny? We spent days watching Katniss watch the game makers before she, duh, shot the pig. And I know they had to tone it down for the PG-13, I get it, but did they have to make it so toothless? I tensed up in my seat when the mutts came out, remembering how horrible that scene was, how long it lasted and broke every last heart we had left and then…it was over.
Look, I’m just grouching, clearly. It was just….this could have been such a great movie and instead it was an Ok movie.
I’ll stop there. I’m over the Hunger Games anyway – let’s talk about Mad Men! It’s back!