I didn’t read THE HUNGER GAMES before going to see the movie. The kids commandeered one Kindle, while Brian started it on the other Kindle, which left me last on the list.
For me, that was okay. This is a movie I wanted to see, but went into with little in the way of preconceived ideas. Although we had a discussion last night about differences between the book and movie, this review will take the movie on its own merits.
With all the hype, I was curious about THE HUNGER GAMES. As a writer, I wondered how a YA novel that has kids killing each other in order to be the sole survivor of this televised spectacle could become so popular, particularly with a female protagonist. Whenever anyone talks about the concept of the games, I wonder why on earth parents let their kids read these books.
And yet it was obvious that nine-year-olds were devouring them at school, and teachers were talking about them to students in grade 4. At least, at our local school. Appropriate or not, whatever my initial reaction to the concept of the games and potential for violence, this was becoming one of those situations where we were going to have to dive in to be available for parental guidance (if needed) instead of trying to prevent the kids from reading the books or seeing the movie. Parents trying to divert their kids from this series will find it almost as challenging as side-stepping Harry Potter, as fans dress in costumes, and the books move to the movies-and-merchandizing stage.
The movie was nowhere near as violent as I’d expected. Most of the violence is glossed over in the movie. I actually found it challenging to keep track of how many competitors were left, as a solid handful of the deaths occurred off-screen. This actually demonstrates the competing strength and potential weakness of the movie.
I’m a sap at movies, and have been known to cry over commercials. The more melodramatic, the more tissues I need, and this is probably part of the reason I gravitate towards police procedurals and crime fiction: I can care about the subject without being bogged down with emotional manipulation. I don’t particularly enjoy crying at the movies, which is probably also part of the reason why I’m the reluctant movie-goer in the house.
For me, the balance of the movie worked very well. Although I did tear up a bit in one particular scene (which anyone who has seen the movie could almost certainly figure out first guess) I didn’t cry. The movie could have gone after more manipulation of the audience by setting up more conflict between the competitors or, worse still, spending a bit more time with a wider number of competitors and their families to make us care about them and mourn their demise.
Instead, the movie keeps most of the competitors at arms length. Overall, it’s a movie that doesn’t emphasize most characters’ names, beyond the key few. You know people more by their roles or outlandish costumes. This dehumanizes them to some degree, which minimizes how disturbing the movie could be, and was probably the perfect approach to take for a movie that has a YA appeal, with several kids I personal know as young as 9 already reading the books.
The movie could have afforded to take just a bit more time to set up some of the key relationships and develop those aspects, particularly in the first half of the movie, when the competitors are being taught to compete and fighting for sponsors.
As it is, the movie didn’t exactly follow a pattern I was expecting. It’s solidly divided into two halves, and the first part of the movie builds anticipation for the second part of the movie.
I found the way that the main character, Katniss Everdeen, was handled was admirable. She does not embrace her need to become a great warrior and set aside her morals or identity when forced into the games to save her sister. Despite her own likely death, she plays a largely defensive game. If you’re looking for a warrior woman who puts aside her objections and slaughters anyone she has to in order to win, you’ll be disappointed in the movie. She focuses on her own survival, instead of pursuing the slaughter of others, and through the deaths in the movie actually becomes more human and vulnerable. Katniss is a tough, controlled young woman who’s been forced to grow up too fast and care for her young sister and her emotionally fragile mother, and although she acts to protect her sister, she maintains a tougher exterior as the strong one in the family.
When Katniss experiences loss through the course of the games, it shows just how much she’s affected by what’s happening to her, and the others forced to compete.
The movie is far less violent than most video games kids play, and for a story often described as being about competing to the death for the entertainment of others, it’s really a story that emphasizes the value of life.
I wouldn’t recommend it to just anyone. If you have kids you’re thinking about taking, that’s not my call to make. However, there were no bad dreams last night, and instead, there’s been a lot of reading since returning home. (We also had a discussion about which of the kids’ teachers would last longest if they were competing.) The kids are reading, thinking about fitness and athleticism, and talking about how awful the idea of the games is, and in our video game, shoot-em-up, high-action kill-for-entertainment culture, none of that is a bad thing. The movie proved to be what I hoped it would be – an interesting starting point for some important discussions.
If you’re not sure about your kids, see the movie first and then decide. Beyond the violence, which was far less graphic than I expected, there are a lot of compelling themes. Humanity, self-sacrifice, entertainment, freedom, the value of life. In this have vs have-not world, in the end it’s clear the have-nots have something the haves may never enjoy – a sense of the value of life, for it’s the have-nots in the district who have real heart, while those who enjoy the abundance of life in the Capitol are little more than characters in fancy costumes, who never stop to question sending 24 young people to fight to the death.
It isn’t a perfect movie, but the minor niggles about taking more time to develop some of the character relationships are just that, and this movie gets a solid A. Well worth the price of admission.
View the trailer here