Hunger Games – the movie

I am a huge fan of this series of books, so for my birthday I was excited to see the movie version.  As always after seeing the film, our family erupted into a long discussion of whether it was a good movie or not.  It was half and half (not as usual, boys against the girl), divided by those who had read the book and those who had not.  The readers felt the plot was true to the book with some minor issues, the non-readers found it vapid and predictable.

Even though I know it is the current style, I felt the first part was very jarring with the whip around, hand-held, type of  iPhone camera work. I find this style disorienting, even slightly nauseating.  I was left wondering why a major motion picture would have camera work as amateur as a You Tube video.  I think the director was trying to differentiate between the capital and the home town by this camera work, to signify that Katniss was caught up in a situation beyond her control, and show the world from her perspective.  This technique failed on all accounts with me.  I wear glasses and any kind of blurriness makes me think it’s me, then I take off my glasses and clean them.  After I figure out it is NOT me but the movie, the director has knocked me out of the imaginary film space.  Fortunately, after Katniss reaches the capital, this camera work ends and the film is more stable.  Much to my relief.

I loved the costumes of the film.  The people in Katniss’s district were dressed in a 1940’s style: somewhat ill-fitting washed out color which look homemade. This resonated with Walton’s mountain – playing into the idea that her district is set in a future Virginia. The style of their clothes also evokes the newsreels of Jewish transports to a concentration camp.  There were visual triggers to fascism throughout the film. Some examples of the fascist elements were  the expressions of the crowds and the personal cult of the players and media. Other strong visual elements lead us back to Roman decadence were the opulent food, overtly styled roman chariots ushering the contestants into the stadium and the weird sort of gladiator weapons of battle axes and swords. Katniss was already an expert archer which resonates more with the Grecian warrior. She is cast as future Artemis, and like the myth: she misses the deer in the forest, she is virginal – they try to get her to kiss without reluctance, and she finds protection and safety high in the trees. Katniss is a child of the earth, a very fair-of-face goddess, which the high society ravish when they dress her up in holographic fire.

The details that I missed in the film were not important to me as an informed viewer, but the two people who hadn’t read the book missed the short references, and were left with a flatter experience.  For example, on the train Katniss and Peeta were shown a dizzying array of fancy food, and food is mentioned several times.  In the book, we know that the Hunger Games are sustained by a false scarcity of food.  When the film doesn’t focus on this, the games are not as urgent.

The book is written from Katniss’ point of view. But the film’s point of view is multiple and it bounces around from various perspectives from Katniss at the beginning, to the audience within the film space who can view the action from the cameras hidden in the trees and bushes, to our overall view-point.  While Katniss can guess why things are happening the way the are in the arena and react to them, we as viewers see the actual manipulation. Unfortunately, these other view points create a disconnect with the viewer.  The literary Katniss did not know the machine behind the events in the stadium while she was there and the literary viewer only knew what she knew. For example, how do they turn holographic dogs into real dogs? If we just saw the dogs come out of no where as in the book, we would just accept them as part of the landscape. Instead we see them created in holographic form by a technician, then become actual running after Katniss and company.

All my criticism aside, I enjoyed the movie.  I love seeing a strong heroine and much of it played out as it did in my imagination.  I would recommend reading the book before seeing the movie to get the full experience.  My co-viewers would argue that the movie should stand on its own as a piece of art, but those of us who love reading can enjoy the partial visual fulfillment of our imagination. I look forward to the next one.

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