Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Hunger Movie Book Review

I tried reading "The Hunger Games" some weeks back, and after about three chapters, got distracted.  I do this sometimes with books... I remember re-reading "The Firm" after about 15 years since the first time, getting 40 pages into it, and laying it by my bedside.  And there the novel remained for about eight months.  Then, randomly, one day I picked it up and read it in 3 days. 

Same with this book... of course, I did see the movie between the first and second reading attempts... and in full disclosure, I must tell you that by "reading", I mean "audiobook".  That's how I roll.  Er, read.  Er, listen.  You feel me.

Anyway, when I started the audiobook, I just didn't get into it.  I tried, but I ended up putting it down.  But lo and behold, the movie came out like a juggernaut, broke all sorts of box office records and made terms like "Tribute" and "The Reaping" and "Katniss" pop culture ingredients.  I even read an article recently that discussed 2012 baby names... and both heroines "Katniss" and "Rue" and even villainous "Cato" are making waves... of course, when I think "Cato", I think of either the discount clothing store, or the unwanted live-in resident involved in the OJ trial.

Naturally, after The Lovely Steph Leann and I made plans to see the film, I grabbed the audiobook again, and got 1/3 of the way through it before show time, then finished the book after the movie. 

And here are my thoughts on such things:

Here's the plotline of both the movie and book, so I can just talk about each adaptation when I get there... The United States, possibly North American, has been recreated as a country called Panem.  Apparently, there is some war or revolution that happened a long time before the events of this story that led to this country's shift, but its that revolution/war that is key to the events.

Panem, like most towns and cities, and on a bigger scale, even our modern day country, has areas that are hugely successful and prosperous and others that barely make ends meet.  These are called "Districts" in Panem, with each district specializing in a specific crop or textile that makes Panem run.

District 12 is where our heroine, Katniss Everdeen, lives, surviving mostly by illegally hunting and selling wild game to shop owners and business people.  She regularly meets with her friend Gale, a dude, but says in the story that there is no romantic interest there... or is there?

Due to the revolution, the government created The Hunger Games as a punishment for each of the districts.  In a process called "The Reaping", one boy and one girl, ages 12 through 18, are selected from each of the 12 districts to participate... they are brought to The Capitol, trained and then put into a large arena... where they will spend the next few weeks killing each other.  The last surviving "tribute", as they are called, will be declared the champion and sent back to their district with lavish gifts, money and spoils.

More than just a game, its a national pastime, where Tributes compete for sponsorships prior to the Games, earning supplies and medicines in the arena.  The Games are broadcast in every district, some of which only get electricity part of the day, or even the week, and is mandatory for everyone to watch.  The gambling circuit makes a killing, and the "Opening Ceremonies" set it all up, where first impressions of the Tributes mean a ton. 

It is when Katniss' younger sister, Prim, age 12, is chosen that things take off--Katniss volunteers in her place, and alongside Peeta, the boy Tribute chosen from district 12, a boy that she doesn't really know, but only knows of, they are whisked away to The Capitol to compete.

Along the way, we meet several characters like Effie, the District 12 hostess who presides over The Reaping and its announcements... Haymitch, a former Hunger Games champion from District 12 (there are few champions that don't come from somewhere other than Districts 1, 2 and 4, the most prosperous districts in Panem), but also a part time drunk who is given the task of mentoring Katniss and Peeta... Cinna, a stylist who helps them look great for the "opening ceremonies"... Caesar Flickerman, the eccentric talk show host who interviews all the tributes and commentates over the games for the viewers (more on him at the end)... and Seneca, the orchestrator of the games.

And the story continues through the games until its conclusion, showcasing the violence of kids killing other kids, and the dynamic between Katniss and Peeta, two teenagers who end up being friends, yet know they have to kill the other to win and be free. 

Loved it.

Funnily enough, after getting past the first few chapters, past the point that I actually stopped, I wondered to myself why I actually stopped reading it.  It was an extremely quick and easy read, and truly, not as graphic as I've heard it made out to be. 

There is violence, though, don't think there isn't... its kids killing kids.  That's the part you have to push through... its teenage kids finding ways to end the life of other teenage kids. 

Seriously, y'all remember when this kid got
that rock dropped on his head?  Man, that
was some cold, messed up stuff.  Gives me
the heebs.
It sort of reminds me of the 1990 film adaptation of "Lord of the Flies", with Balthazar Getty, where the island society has descended into such chaos--that scene where Jack and the bad kids drop that rock on Piggy's head... the way it was filmed, making Piggy's head slant to the side from the rock's impact before he falls dead... the worst example of "kids killing kids" in any film. In fact, on a recent episode of The Deucecast podcast, I listed that scene as the #1 most uncomfortable movie scene, ever.

Anyway, this book is not that graphic. Don't get me wrong... Tributes die. They have to. This is the nature of The Hunger Games.  In fact, the purpose of the brutal punishment is spelled out during The Reaping passage... its a reminder to the Districts of Panem to never try and uprise again.  The plucking of two of their kids per district for certain death is a slapdown to the citizens showing who is in charge--The Capitol.

The movie kind of glosses over this... Effie reminds the kids present in The Reaping of the revolution decades earlier, and admits while the Games began as a punishment, its now a wonderful annual event and its an honor to be chosen as a Tribute.

This brings us to the movie...

Loved it. 

The movie leaps right in, introducing Katniss and Gale in the first few minutes, and showing us how hard it is to survive in District 12.  The Reaping happens within a few more minutes, and we're off... the casting is also stellar.  Jennifer Lawrence being announced as Katniss over a year ago had many Hunger Games fans questioning, wondering if she was right for the part, especially after her sexy turn as Mystique in "X-Men: First Class" last summer.  Katniss, though unassuming pretty, is not considered a "sexy" character... however, J-Law brought just enough good-lookedness with a mixture of rugged un-made-upness that you believed Katniss. 

I only knew of Josh Hutcherson from that gawd-awful "The Kids are Alright" film and at first, he seemed in this one to be a little nerdy, a little dorky, a slight contrast to who I felt Peeta was in the book.   But the guy kinda grows on me.  And love him or not, Gale is but a sub-character in this film... and even in the book, he makes a brief but important appearance at the beginning, though he is referenced much more throughout the novel--the movie does give him a glance here and there.

I think if The Tuch doesn't get a Supporting Actor Oscar nod, at least his
choppers should.  They had their own credit.
With Josh Hutcherson working, the rest of the cast really succeeds.  Wes Bentley rocks this awesome beardy gotee-ey 'stachey facial hair as Seneca, Liz Banks is almost unrecognizable as the purple haired Effie, Woody Harrelson is in his wheelhouse as the drunken Haymitch, and Stanley Tucci as flamboyant host Caesar Flickerman is number one, baby, number one.  Love me some The Tuch. 

Of course, Jennifer Laurence is great as Katniss, and Miley Cyrus' boo Liam Helmsworth is fine as Gale, the effects are good, and there is virtually no gore in this film.  You know the kids die, and you see some blood splatter and in one cringe-worthy moment, one kid gets his neck broken, but the book is much more descriptive in its violence than the movie shows. 

The film is fast-paced, goes quickly and unlike some movies (I'm looking at you, Harry Potter movies 4 through 7), you don't need to read the novel to have a solid understanding of what's going on.

I'd let Campbell read "The Hunger Games" when he's 12 or 13, and I'd probably let him watch the movie around the same age.

Your thoughts?  Have you seen the movie or read the book?

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