Monday, March 26, 2012

Is This A Thriller I See Before Me?

I went to see Hunger Games on Friday. I went into it with a lot of worry. I was nervous about what I would see, which images would be stuck in my head forever. I predicted that I'd need a bunch of tissues.

Well, I shouldn't have worried.

***MILD SPOILER WARNING*** If you haven't read the book / seen the movie, and don't want to know details, stop reading now.
Fire is very thrilling, no?
First, let me say that the movie was overall very, very good. The acting was spot-on and I have absolutely no gripes about any of the talented actors. Katniss was awesome: a tight portrayal of the tough-as-nails heroine I remember from the book. Hard to relate to, perhaps, but honed by living in a world I'd never, ever, EVER want to experience myself. Rue was sooo cool. Their brief camaraderie was fun to watch. Peeta was just as he should have been: charming the crowds while wishing he could be above it all. Brave and vulnerable. Willing to sacrifice for the girl he loved. The supporting cast was just as good, and I loved getting the insider view of the "backstage" portion of the games, and the people who run the kill-fest. Especially Haymitch's dealings-and-wheelings. Fun, fun, fun.

I loved the spectacle of it all, too. The set and costume design was amazing, especially with the Capital's technology contrasted with the primitive atmosphere of District 12. The over-the-top fashions of the Capital citizens contrasted with the homespun garb of the tributes (before the designers got a hold of them).

The plot was faithful, the dialogue was authentic, and the emotions were just as they should have been.

So why didn't I cry more? I teared up a couple times at the beginning, but that was it. I didn't even cry when Rue died. What's up with that?

Hubby went with me, too (under protest, but with lots of friends to keep him company), and his main--mostly valid--gripe was that it d  r  a  g  g  e  d. Soo much more than you'd expect a movie to drag when the main plot is about children being forced to kill each other.

Now, I can easily see the justification for this. The point of this franchise, after all, is that we, as a society, wrongly glorify violence, voyeurism, and the uneven distribution of assets. If such a movie were to, say, provide a swell of music to prod the emotions of those watching a violent scene (while munching expensive popcorn), it might be accused of promoting the exact behavior it condemns, yes?

Or no. Emotionally connecting with characters normally serves to drive home the message--not interfere with it. If we love someone, we are more inclined to love what they love, to hate what they hate, and to desperately yearn for what they want most. Katniss and Peeta are the perfect heroes for this. Why handicap my ability to emotionally connect with them?

The main difference between a book and a movie is that a book can provide you insight into what the character is feeling by describing those emotions. A movie can't do that, but it can show those emotions through effective acting, cinematography, and use of music.

So why was the main sound in the background of Hunger Games the twittering of birds and insects? Well, when it wasn't the roaring of crowds, anyway. Where was the music? I'm a bit embarrassed to admit that I need a soundtrack to tell me what to feel, but, seriously: Where was it? Why didn't they pull out all the stops to help their audience feel the tragedy of Katniss's situation? The one thing music has on words is its ability to easily evoke emotion. A few chords can do what what a page of text cannot. Why didn't the music show up to help me feel what Katniss was feeling?

Another thing I noticed that slowed things down was the cinematography. Now, I'm the first to admit that I know just enough about films to be dangerous. A few classes in college does not an expert make... but isn't it pretty basic that shorter shots make for a more exciting viewing experience? Why was so much of the movie edited using long shots? That's the sort of thing you use when you want to give your audience time to consider and ponder during the scene. (Same concept in writing, by the way: short sentences move the action along, while long sentences drag it out.) The message here was important, but why do I have to ponder it during the film? If you evoke my emotions, I'll ponder it long after. If it is exciting enough, I'll come back and watch it again and again, absorbing more of your message each time.

Few people re-watch documentaries.

In the end, I didn't hate it. They kept the graphic violence to an admirable minimum, considering the plot, and I don't have any images in my head that I need to try to hide from. (That might also be because the emotion was detached from a lot of the violence by virtue of the sparse soundtrack.)

To sum it up, though, this is not a thriller. It's a thoughtful piece about children dealing with violence in a world that thrives on their poverty, thrills in their tragedies, and capitalizes on their deaths. It spurs much thought, but little (not NO) change in heart-rate. It is important, but not entirely exciting. Which, again, is a strange thing to say about a movie where over a score of children are murdered.

Have you seen it? What did you think?


  1. Saw it last night. Husband went along with no foreknowledge of anything. When the movie ended I leaned over and said well that was a little less disturbing than the book, not near as graphic. He looked at me and said; "I found everything about it completely disturbing."

    Daughter (adult, who has read the trilogy) saw it last Thursday and said she was most disturbed by the reaction of the audience. Her take was that people viewed it more as pure entertainment than any form of political commentary.

    Reality TV at it's best or worst?

    Later husband asked; "Do you believe Ms.Collins is making a political statement or has she merely found an effective formula in YA literature to make a lot of money?"

    Interesting that you would remark about the lack of emotion. I too expected to be more 'moved' by the visual effect of this story. I would have to think it was the author (Ms.Collins) intent to some extent, as she was a screenwriter prior to writing these books and is also partially responsible for the screenwriting of this movie.

    Personally it felt more like something Hollywood is getting us ready us for than warning us about.

    I freely admit, I didn't like the story, even though the writing was excellent. I read the trilogy, hoping for redemption and didn't find it. Saw the movie more out of curiosity than extreme desire.

    Bottom line for me; everything about this franchise scares me.

  2. Totally blogged about this today! I agree that it dragged a little bit. I wanted so much more inner conflict and tension from Katniss that I just didn't get that I did when I read the book.

    1. This is certainly a popular blog topic today! :)

  3. I haven't seen this yet. I was so miserably disappointed in the third book that I was worried about falling in love with the characters again.

    "I didn't hate it." Hardly an endorsement. lol I think hubby and I will go (he in protest because he loathes the premise) in a couple of weeks when things have settled down.

    I have no idea how they'll bring the last book in as a PG13. A friend of mine said it's the most violent books she's ever read.

    1. I was surprised how well they toned HG down for the rating, frankly. The violence largely happened just outside the frame--or we'd see the strike start to fall and then the camera would cut away, then show us the bloody weapons.

      Really, it seems like the movie is less about the main characters than the books were. The movie is about the society and the social message. The characters are just tools to tell the story.

  4. I am doing a similar post later this week. My hubby didn't read the books and he thought it was great. He thought the way they portrayed the violence held to the what the book wanted to convey. I felt some of the cinematography left me feeling detached. The super close shots of Cina and Katniss made me not feel their connection as much.

    Overall I think they did a good job and I think the next movie they will spend a little more time on the emotional relationship and how the HG affected Katniss and Peeta.

    1. I hope so. In the books, I was horrified for Katniss, which helped me feel the horror of the society so much better. The movie left me with an intellectual appreciation for the horror of the society, but few related emotions about it.

  5. I am still digesting how I truly feel about the details. But overall, I am a fan. I cried my eyes out! Maybe I was PMS-ing ;)

    1. I totally expected to cry. I teared up a time or two, but didn't even need the tissues I brought. You must be less dependent on the soundtrack than I am. :) I'm glad someone was able to connect to it--it really deserves that!

  6. Hey Robin,

    I noticed the dearth of music, too. The lack of music when Prim is chosen in the reaping made it feel Real and scary, like a news report. But did you also notice how the music ramped up in the second half? (Think of the crackling score with the bears in the end.)Also, did you notice the shaky-cam in the beginning vs the steady camerawork and longshots in the second half?

    I think these were purposeful choices to emphasize the sensationalized, "show" aspect of the games. District 12 was gritty and genuine -- spare music, verite-style camera - whereas the Capitol was glossy and slick.

    1. I actually missed the shaky-vs-steady camerawork, but I've only seen it once. Others have mentioned that, too, so I'm sure you're right.

      I can't help but think that it would have enhanced the experience even at the reaping to have some sort of music playing underneath. If they wanted to keep the "real" feeling, they could have had a soundtrack playing at the reaping, with a drumroll or whatever. The emotions of the music would have been wrong, of course, but even that would have helped me to notice the contrast between the pomp of the event and the horror of the reality. I am NOT a citizen of Panem, and pretending I am doesn't mean I can feel what a real citizen would feel. Music would have helped me connect to that.

      I did notice some music during the ultra-exciting parts: usually when the gamemakers were pulling the violence strings (the fire and the bear-dogs). During a lot of the actual game, though, even when Katniss was running from /fighting the careers, there was no music. I missed it.

  7. The better question is who didn't see it, lol. My daughter and I loved it! I thought they fudged the ending a little from the last battle on, but overall an A+ movie for me:)

    1. Oh, the ending. I didn't mention that. Would it have killed them to add 30 extra seconds so they could include the Katniss-points-arrow-at-Peeta-and-they-fight-about-who-will-live-with-it moment?