so i can’t tell if my title is punny or not, but the point is that i got more shit to say that didn’t seem to fit with the content of first post… so….take two:
Full disclosure: i devoured the books – read all three last summer (loved the first two, meh on the third), and i had super low expectations going to see the movie last week. but then i came out… surprisingly impressed. [**assumed familiarity with the story/spoiler alerts still stand**]
i wasn’t particularly impressed with the whitewashing of katniss and district 12, as i discussed earlier, though i was quite fond of some of the casting choices. Kravitz as cinna worked really well for me — as did Donald Southerland as the understated president snow — and i’m excited to see more interaction between them and katniss in the upcoming films. in fact, the acting was pretty solid all around. (well, peeta was a bit wooden but his character was consistently overshadowed by lawrence and Woody Harrelson, so it didn’t matter much.) in fact, harrelson’s haymitch ended up being another highlight. though he wasn’t as overtly cruel to katniss as he was in the book, their banter was still heated and engaging, and harrelson — even as a sexist, condescending alcoholic — remained entertaining and strangely likeable (much like the haymitch of the books).
as for my qualms with the movie visa vi the book, they are mostly relegated to the portrayal of district 12, hunger, and the day to day of living under military (police?) occupation. life in district 12, like most of the others, is fucking hard. you’re under constant electronic and human surveillance. a (sporadically working) electric fence keeps you in the district, and you are forbidden from entering the woods beyond the fence, especially for hunting. it even carries a potentially lethal sentence. and still katniss and gale must do this regularly, knowing it’s the only way to keep their families fed. and yet, none of this sense of pressure is communicated through the film. that sense of all encompassing oppression (especially within the walls of district 12) that was so present in the books was lost — unnecessarily, i think — in its translation to film.
additionally, for taking place in a society built around the idea of food scarcity (or at least, manufactured scarcity), there was very little in the film for us to actually see the need or the hunger of the citizens of district 12. no constant talk of where the next meal will come from, or how it will be payed for, or how to sell the illegally caught game at the Hob without alerting the peacekeepers. many of the people in 12 appeared dirty, but not particularly skinny or malnourished. and after their lifetime of hunger, when katniss and peeta finally arrive at the capitol, there is maybe one (brief) scene of them eating the lavish food put before them — not the exciting, wide-eyed feasts of lamb stew (where was that lamb stew?!) and the other delicacies that katniss and peeta wolf down greedily in the book. (a concise analysis of the major differences between the book and the film can be found here.)
one of the biggest alterations comes in what we see in the aftermath of rue’s death. katniss mourns the same way in print and film — wreathing rue in flowers, though in the book she knows there’s no chance in hell it will be nationally broadcast; it’s a personal gesture to rue and a personal “fuck you” to the gamemakers and snow. district 11 did, however, learn of rue and katniss’ partnership –friendship, even, and sent katniss a loaf of bread in the arena as thanks. later, we learn that rue’s death and katniss’ actions do lead to a revolt in D11, but we’re never shown it. in the film, the gamemakers actually do broadcast katniss adorning rue with flowers, and this immediately leads to a violent uprising in district 11, pitting the majority-black district citizens against the peacekeepers.
and here’s where i’m conflicted. i thought it was a well done, potentially even moving scene of the marginalized suddenly rising up against state oppression. on the other hand, it was the *only* riot scene in the film, and all i kept thinking was do we really need to further popularize images of black people rioting?? especially when it’s one of the only — and certainly the longest — scene where we even see more than a handful of black folks in the same shot. i can’t help but wonder how the longstanding white fear of black gatherings and collective anger affected the creation of this sequence…or the decision to show this district uprising rather than another (like 8, for instance, which i believe also rebels around the same time)… In and of itself i’m not sure this would have stood out, but given how few faces of color we see anywhere else in the film, i find it interesting to note which aspects of Collin’s fantasy world were whitewashed and which were allowed to retain their melanin.
anyway, the camera work had its own problems, though it at least kept things moving along at a brisk enough pace (sometimes too much so) and seemed to include more shots of blurred light and trees than the blair witch project. because this is what has to happen when you make a fucking family film about 24 children murdering each other on reality tv to keep an oppressed population docile. You get lots of screams and quick shots of forest and sky. IF you want that pg-13 rating, IF you want to get the whole family in for that slaughter-fest, then you can’t actually show the brutality of it, even if its in the books. even if the visibility of the brutality serves a significant thematic purpose, raising questions around culture-wide voyeurism, consumption, and sadism. well, i guess those things could stand to be lost in order to get that kid dollar, that family dollar. after all, as david edelstein says in vulture, “The murders onscreen are quick… The cutting is so fast that you can hardly see what’s happening, which has already won Ross praise for his restraint, his tastefulness. Tasteful child-killing!”
Tasteful child killing.
lets just sit with that for a minute, shall we? sit with it in the context of the social critique Collins provides through the hunger games. sit with it in the context of our world, of our media. of us watching this movie.
at base, the hunger games is a social critique of our voyeuristic, schadenfreude-driven, borderline sadistic culture, obsessed with “reality” tv, celebrity status, and sensationalistic news, steadily being desensitized to human tragedy through visual media. and now we can actually consume the visual representation of this written critique of our own love of voyeuristic violence –which is itself, by virtue of its source material and hollywoodization, violent and sensationalized. and we’re praising it for its portrayal of “tasteful child killing.” tasteful child killing – what kind of oxymoronic joke is that? with the movie, we are encouraged to visually consume this tasteful barbarity wrapped in a narrative ostensibly intended to indict what itself seeks to provide — visual entertainment through violence and human suffering.
there’s definitely some super meta, fucked up levels of irony operating here, but i can’t quite wrap my mind around them right now. goddamn, i’ll have to come back to this… postmodern irony-loving film students, have at it! oh, where’s abed when you need him…