Friday, April 6, 2012

THE HUNGER GAMES SURPRISES

I didn’t expect to like THE HUNGER GAMES much. There was nothing dramatically new in its premise of young “tributes” forced to compete in annual death match/survival contests in a post-apocalyptic North America. I’m not a huge fan of young adult themes in either books or movies.

But I tried to keep an open mind as I went into the theater to see this blockbuster that had everyone talking, and guess what? I was surprised. Writer Suzanne Collins (who wrote the novels and contributed to the screenplay), director Gary Ross (SEABISCUIT, BIG), and an impressive ensemble of actors managed to both entertain and engage me on a deeper level. In doing so, THE HUNGER GAMES rose above mere YA fare to become science fiction in the true sense of the word.

The difference was that the film, at least, was a story about a young protagonist, but it was not necessarily a story directed at a young audience. Yes, Katniss has some “adolescent” concerns—her confusion over the relationship with Peeta, for example, shows some immaturity—but for the most part she is someone who has been forced to grow up fast. The situation she is in is an adult one. This is not a story for kids, like Harry Potter, or even for “tweens” like Twilight, though it has kids in it. Much like Lord of the Flies, those kids aren’t doing nice things.

Someone told me after I’d seen the film that I would have liked it better had I read the books first. Fair enough, but I think that was just the enthusiasm of a fan who loved the author’s world-building. I didn’t feel there was anything missing in the film. I was able to follow the story just fine. Ross and his young actors captured the emotional tone of the story exceptionally well.

A key scene toward the beginning of the film illustrates this. The day of the “reaping”, when the tributes are selected, all the children (including Katniss and her sister, Primrose) make their way to the gathering place dressed in their Sunday best. Because this is Appalachia (and by some stroke of genius the costumer for the film chose to go back in time to the Thirties for inspiration), we see them decked out in plain cotton dresses, white shirts, dark pants, heavy shoes. It could be the first day of school—or a funeral. They’re thin, almost gaunt, like their parents, their faces shocky with fear. Their parents are stoic, like Appalachian people are in the face of disaster, sending them into the arms of death. It is a terrific scene, and tells us more than pages of dialogue what is happening here.

There are four or five other scenes I could mention throughout the film that hit similar emotional notes. That is so rare in a movie “aimed” at a young audience these days that you really have to give Ross and Collins some credit—and wonder if they didn’t aim higher.

If so, they were working with the right group of actors. Jennifer Lawrence, who stars as Katniss Everdeen, earned her chops in another role of Appalachian-girl-forced-to-save-her-family in 2010’s acclaimed WINTER’S BONE. She was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for that role. She’s supported by a stellar cast in Josh Hutcherson as Peeta, Stanley Tucci as the over-the-top Caesar Flickerman, Wes Bentley as the conflicted Seneca Crane, Woody Harrelson as the dissolute but ultimately honorable Haymitch, and Donald Sutherland as President Snow. We see very little of Liam Hemsworth as Katniss’s friend-back-home, Gale, in this first film, but I’m looking forward to more of him in the next installment.

Yes, I am looking forward to the next film, because Collins and Ross have done their job of drawing me in and hooking me properly. They’ve answered some questions by successfully resolving the dilemmas set up in this film, but they’ve asked new ones at the end of the film to be answered in the next one. It’s not a cliffhanger, exactly, but the emotional conflict is clear. And very nicely done.

(Oh, and how did our Snowbird property look on the big screen? Green and lush and beautiful! Look for our views of the mountains as Katniss escapes through the fence at the beginning of the film, as she talks with Gale on the hillside (see photo above) and as she remembers her home later in the film.)

Photo credit Murray Close. THE HUNGER GAMES.

Donna’s Journal

Action!

The pace of my writer’s life accelerated this week as I finally got in the swing of things post-GH. I had to get a new picture made, one that will appear on the RWA website, in the conference program brochure and ON THE JUMBOTRON DURING THE CEREMONY!! Picture-taking is never a fun thing for me. But I got some help from a photographically inclined friend and a tip sent me to a website called Fotofix.com to enhance the results. So now my publicity shot is at least tolerable--somewhere between a glamour pose that looks like someone else and what we euphemistically call “40 miles of bad road” here in Virginia. I sent it in to RWA with a couple of suggestions of media outlets that might like to hear my good news, and I have fulfilled my PR obligations for now.

Meanwhile, I’m joining various networks and forums (forae?) and trying to keep up with the messages. Luckily I have Laurie for backup in case I miss something, which I often do.

Before I got the news about GH, I had volunteered to judge entries in my Virginia chapter’s Fool For Love contest. So, of course, that’s happening now, too. I could just give the scores and no comments—I’ve had judges who do that—but it just doesn’t seem to be my style. My contestants will get their money’s worth with me, but it’s a little time-consuming!

Ping Pong

Thanks so much for all your congratulations (and sympathy!) over the last week! Yes, I’m fully recovered and ready to take on the challenges of the flight to Anaheim, with your help and support. Y’all are the best!

Cheers, Donna

3 comments:

  1. Glad you enjoyed Hunger Games and those oh-so-familiar views. (Beautiful countryside, Donna!)

    We also saw it and though I thought it was a very good movie, I didn't think it quite stacked up as a "great."

    There were a couple of moments where I couldn't suspend disbelief and a couple of characters that felt a little over-the-top (though most were excellent). All in all, it was still well worth the ticket price. Which is more than I can say about most movies these days.

    And I agree it definitely has a broader appeal than either the Harry Potter or Twilight franchises. Just because a film has a younger heroine/hero does not automatically make it YA (even though the books are considered YA SFR).

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  2. I've just finished reading all three books! Not seen the movie and wouldn't bother unless it was on a plane - I get through 3 or 4 films on a transatlantic flight - thank goodness for on demand streaming!
    l liked the books. I have to be careful in judgements when they are YA stories - so not really intended for adults though I agree the storyline is much more adult that the usual YA stuff.
    There were some major issues with the depth of the characters and the world building for me - such as on one hand this world is super sophisticated in their ability to produce elaborate settings for the games and elaborate predators and yet they still use primitive methods of industry and agriculture and yes - I get that they want the population subdued but then why don't they just kill them all?? Anyway - that aside, they were fun to read, kept me turning the page and I'd have loved them if I'd been a teenager.

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  3. I've yet to see this - hubs went to see it and wasn't sure that I'd like it. He also found a few gaps in the logic of the overall story, so I've no doubt I'll be questioning certain elements. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Donna - I'm thankful that we're getting SOME scifi this year, but I'd like to see more - and better.

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