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March 29, 2012

The Hunger Games: A Pun-Based Subtitle with "Odds" in It

I saw The Hunger Games with my brother yesterday.  It’s funny; you don’t know how close we were to seeing 21 Jump Street.  He woke up early asking me if I wanted to see the latter, but I brought up that -- from my perspective -- we’d decided to watch the former instead.  “Given the choice, I think I’d rather see The Hunger Games,” I said yesterday morning.  And so it was written. 

I broke my rule of not seeing movies based on books; I’d heard of the story before, but I’d never gotten around to reading it.  I HAVE, however, read the purportedly-similar Battle Royale (and after seeing THG’s movie, I can see a lot of similarities).  Regardless, I was willing to give THG a try.  An 85% on Rotten Tomatoes; high marks from a few sites and word of mouth; the fact that I perceived everyone was seeing it -- a good movie, not one of Michael Bay’s onscreen travesties -- meant that to avoid it was akin to skipping out on a masterpiece.  Like refusing to observe the Mona Lisa in exchange for staring at some half-cooked lasagna. 

Besides, I have a certain…experience with movies.  See, I once went about four years without going to a theater to see a movie.  There was good stuff on, I’d wager, but I just never got around to it.  It’s a trait I’ve inherited from my mom, I think; my head snaps toward her whenever (if-ever) she says she’s going to the cinema with her pals.  The point being that, while I’m reluctant to go to movies sometimes -- I have a habit of getting antsy and restless in the middle of them -- it’s pretty often where I’ll say “Eh, all right, I guess I’ll go…” and then when I walk out of the theater I’ll say “Wow, that greatly exceeded my expectations!”  Such was the case with Super 8, V for Vendetta, and Kick-Ass.  So I went in to see THG in good faith.  I needed to see what other purveyors of stories were doing and thinking.  I needed to see if I could intuit and dissect a tale, regardless of medium.  I needed a reason to type out, oh, some 3500 words and post them onto the internet for some piddling sense of self-satisfaction.

And now I do.  The Hunger Games is…not as good as I thought it would be.

Now don’t get me wrong.  It’s not a bad movie; if asked to give my recommendation, I would.  You should go see it.  You’ll probably like it.  If your expectations are high, they’ll probably be met.  I just want to say that my expectations weren’t.  Maybe I’ve just gotten more critical of things, or maybe I was just looking for a reason to dump all over this movie (look how important I am, I don’t like what everyone else likes!).  But there were issues that I just can’t overlook -- just as there are issues that I actually approve of.  So here’s how I’m going to do it: I’m going to put together a list.  It’s not an organized list at all; just thoughts that pop up as I’m writing.  Some are things I like, others are things I dislike.  So with that said, let’s get to it, yeah?

I’m about to spoil this whole damn movie, so if you don’t want to know what happens, you should leave now.  Maybe read about four dudes that go to hell?

·         The one thing that consistently irritated me about the movie?  The shaky-cam.  By the lost eye of Odin, the shaky-cam.  It’s like…you know how some people complain about shaky-cam in other movies, and how it’s pretty obnoxious?  You know how sometimes people will parody shaky-cam by having the cameraman in their spoof move the camera around like it’s in a dryer?  That’s what this movie was like at times -- consistently.  It’s a means to obscure the violence and create an effect, I know, but…cripes, this has to be the first movie that gave me a headache from the visuals alone.  (Other movies have given me headaches based on the stupidity of their plots…but more on that another time.)

·         Oh my stars the president has some ASTONISHING facial hair.  And he’s not the only one; did you see that guy during the tribute-styling sequence with the curly mustache?

·         I like how everybody of wealth -- i.e. not in the districts -- looks like an unholy cross between a clown, Lady Gaga and some cotton candy.  It’s a nice, straightforward juxtaposition; simple but effective.  Perhaps this is indeed the dark future that awaits us?  Who knows what fashion will be like a hundred, or even a dozen years from now?

·         One of the issues I took with the movie was actually a lot earlier than I would have expected.  When Katniss volunteers to be a tribute in place of her little sister, it’s stated that it was the first time anyone’s ever volunteered to be a tribute.  I call bullshit.  You’re telling me that in the history of the games -- seventy-four of them -- that there’s never been a single volunteer?  There’s never been an older sibling, 12-18, who’s offered to go in the place of a younger sibling?  Especially since they’re in the same holding area and know immediately when they’re selected?  Katniss is the only one, ever, to make the sacrifice?  No.  No. 

·         It’s not only the suggestion that Katniss is the only volunteer that bugs me, but the implications therein.  Katniss volunteered to save her sister.  Fine.  I get that.  But what if someone else got picked?  Would she have taken her place?  Would she have sacrificed herself for a stranger?  If she had, that would’ve meant a lot more to me than just taking one for her sister.  Just think about that scene from Captain America: The First Avenger where a wimpy Steve Rogers throws his body over a grenade he thought was active, as a means to protect not only the other recruits that he didn’t know, but also ridiculed him. While I accept that Katniss doesn’t have to reach such lofty heights, can we at least not pretend that there’s anything legendary about her actions?

·         Am I the only one that thought Peeta was doing some fourth-wall engagement early in the movie?  Katniss is our heroine, so it’s likely that one way or another she’ll win the game; Peeta on the other hand is…not the hero.  He doesn’t stand nearly as much of a chance, and he knows it; he knows that Katniss does because she’s a hunter by nature and is very tough -- tougher than him.  How can he top that?  Answer: he can’t.  It’s interesting, to say the least.

·         A part of me wishes that the game actually took place in that futuristic city (or at least a subsection) instead of a forest.  But then again, maybe that’s just the urban fantasy fan in me spilling over.

·         Drunken swagger by Woody Harrellson?  I approve.

·         You know, I actually like how there’s sort of a “motley crew” thing going on with the District 12 group.  Katniss, Peeta, Haymitch, Cinna (sinner?), and Effie have this strange but intriguing relationship as they’re preparing for the Hunger Games.  Especially Haymitch; those scenes where he’s watching and moving about during the games in silence are a nice contrast to the cynical nihilism he’d expressed earlier.

·         I also like how the districts are split up according to (as I understand it) the job/resource they work.  Twelve is the coal district, and I think there was some mention of one of the other districts being a power plant area; makes me wish I’d read the book.

·         Cinna certainly was an unsung hero throughout the movie.  If it wasn’t for his pyrotechnic costumes, would Katniss have gotten the attention and publicity she needed?  Think carefully; was it Katniss alone who wowed the crowd during the parade, or was it the spectacle of seeing a girl on fire?  Was it her words during her talk show appearance, or was it her flaming dress?  True, she managed to make her mark later on, but I feel as if Cinna was a little…well, under-appreciated.

·         And on that note, when Katniss had to prove herself to the sponsors in that test, couldn’t’ she have just shot an arrow at them in the first place rather than waste time shooting at targets?  If the goal’s to make an impression quickly, why faff about with cardboard cutouts?

·         Contributing to the meta-level “Peeta’s not the main character” ploy, Cinna doesn’t give him a suit that bursts into flames.  Why?  Wasn’t he “the boy on fire”?  I guess the plan was to have Peeta win acclaim on his merits alone, but…if that’s the case, why give Katniss a flaming dress?  Shouldn’t she have been able to do the same?  Was it a subtle, satirical suggestion that women are judged based on looks alone?  I guess there’s some defensible reason behind it, but it feels like there’s room for...let's call it disapproval.

·         So Katniss’ first response to Peeta’s proclamation of love is to press a forearm to his neck in the middle of a hallway?  Huh.  Well, I guess that’s a better alternative than just talking things out in a rational manner.

·         Which begs the question: why aren’t Katniss and Peeta forming an alliance from the get-go?  Not with other districts, obviously, but with each other?  Peeta’s already accepted that he’s probably not going to make it out, and Katniss has to make it out alive and see her sister again.  While they’ll eventually have to do the deed later, they’ll at least have a better chance if they stick together -- and we can at least assume they can trust each other, as Katniss is a generally good person and Peeta’s in love with her.  If they don’t partner up, they’d be more likely to bite it -- well, barring their status as main characters.

·         I can’t believe I made it this far in without making comparisons to Battle Royale, but I guess that stops here.  See, in BR the contestants -- 42 teens, compared to THG’s 24 -- were selected all from one class and dropped on an island.  Each one, rather than being forced to find weapons, are given a pack with things like food and water and a random weapon.  Some people get good items, like a baseball bat or body armor or a helmet or a machine gun, while others get dud items like a boomerang or a plastic fork.  It forced an element of adaption upon the contestants; even if you had a great weapon, you could still get killed, and that weapon could be used by your murderer.  In THG, Katniss makes a bow fairly quickly, and trades up to a metal one eventually.  What would she have done if she didn’t have access to a bow?  She’s a great shot no question, and it’s cool to see things played up to her strengths -- a weapon of choice, if you will -- but acquiring enemy weapons was an integral part of the strategy in BR that I missed here.  Well, it’s not to the movie’s detriment; there’s more of an emphasis on surviving the elements, and adapting to whatever the guys controlling the area subject you to.  That I like.  But on that note…

·         Am I the only one who kept thinking “Hadouken!  Hadouken!  Shakunetsu!” whenever the guys at mission control shot fireballs at Katniss?  I am?  Oh.  Well, never mind then.

·         I hope the movie didn’t entertain the thought that Peeta actually allied with the other tributes to survive.  If it wasn’t, I’ve no objections.  If it did…come on, seriously?

·         “Crap, Katniss is in a tree, and she keeps dodging our arrow shots!  Let’s wait her out, she has to come down eventually!  Or…we could just wait for her to go to sleep and THEN shoot her.  Oh, what’s that admitted love interest of Katniss?  Yeah, waiting her out is a better idea.”

·         Where did that hornet’s nest come from?  Did the administrators summon it for use by Katniss?  If not, then couldn’t the tribute alliance have used it just as easily as her?

·         Rue is…problematic, in my eyes.  We know Katniss (and to a lesser extent, Peeta) is the main character, so everyone else is screwed.  It’s obvious, given the nature of the game; in order to make the other tributes meaningful, we need more evidential material, something to latch onto and time to develop a relationship.  The movie -- again, in my opinion -- didn’t offer that.  I’d wager there’s more in the book, but from what I saw there’s no reason to remember Rue than a symbolic stand-in for Katniss’ little sister.  She helps Katniss.  Then she patches her up after Katniss’ tracker-hacker venom trip.  Then they talk for a while.  Then they split up (no no no no NO, why would you do that that’s never a good idea), Rue’s caught in a trap, Katniss saves her, but Rue takes a hit, gives her some parting words and dies.  Katniss cries, gives a proper burial, and moves on.  The relationship and the opportunities therein are over before it even starts.  And speaking of relationships…

·         Katniss and Peeta.  Remember when the movie started, and Katniss wanted nothing to do with Peeta?  Remember how she slammed him in the hall by the neck?  Remember the scenes where Katniss is in the rain looking at Peeta as he throws her some food?  How did we go from that to Katniss going in for a kiss on a rock-ridden Peeta, or breaking down in tears when she thinks something bad’s happened to Peeta?  Was it necessary to get some romance in there?  Also, I like how (what I assume is) her first kiss gets broadcast all over the world, including to her pal Gale.  Whoops!

·         One of the things that stuck out in THG is how the tributes are dolled up and paraded in fancy suits -- even going through extensive beautification early on -- so they can look pretty for audiences in spite of knowing how dirty they’d get in the actual contest.  I took note, because I expected Katniss to be utterly filthy by game’s end.  Imagine my surprise when, once she reunites with Peeta, he’s utterly filthy and she -- barring a light mist of sweat -- is mostly clean.  Bear in mind that this is a girl who outran a burning forest.  And no, Rue cleaning her up doesn’t count; think of all the stuff she had to do afterward.  Practicing what you preach, eh movie?

·         I didn’t learn this until later, but apparently the book version of THG is told through Katniss’ perspective -- which would explain a lot about the movie’s choices and developments.  Now for another BR comparison: while there was a main character, you got to experience the thoughts, backstories, and actions of the other students and the alliances formed/choices made therein.  While there were some cannon fodder students, at least it created the illusion that the other characters mattered and had a palpable effect on the story.  In this movie -- which in spite of my complaints I still recommend -- I don’t get the same sense.  Everyone besides Katniss and Peeta is cannon fodder.  Which leads me to…

·         One of BR’s greatest strengths was that it had a definite, fearsome protagonist.  Yes, you could argue that it’s the government and not the children that are the real villains, but on the ground level of the competitions, there has to be a more definite force.  BR has it in spades with Kazuo Kiriyama, a whirling engine of death and source of dread throughout the story.  Smart, ruthless, and incapable of empathy, he has the highest body count amongst any other character.  He asserts the fact that there is no hope (and that if you break down and decide to kill someone, you’re the next to die -- an interesting thematic device).  He is, without question, a threat.  THG has…Cato, I think is his name?  And what does he do in the end, cry upon realizing what a messed-up kid he’s been bred to be?  That’s our final enemy?  Not to mention by that point it was two determined contestants running at full tilt against one.  He’s not a threat; I didn’t believe it for a second the moment the game started.  In BR Kazuo makes his mark by killing the toughest, smartest students that cross him (including another high-kill count character); you know that he’s going to lose in the end, but he’ll give the heroes a run for their money.  That immediate antagonistic element is something that I missed here in the movie.  I assume that the book did a better job of establishing that, but for what it’s worth the movie paled in comparison.  An unfair judgment?  You be the judge.

·         In spite of my complaints, I still want to assert that THG did one thing better than BR: the world-building.  Maybe it’s just a consequence of being a movie with visuals to go by, but THG has a more thorough focus on what’s going on outside, while BR focuses on what’s going on inside.  It’s to neither story’s detriment, of course, but I still feel like -- if you asked me to describe their worlds on the spot -- I have a better memory of THG’s world.  Maybe I’m just getting old and forgetful, but I guess there’s more of an impact and more threads to follow.

·         The District 11 riot…is that the first time something like that has happened, too?  I don’t think the movie made it all that clear (unless I missed a line) but I sure hope it isn’t.  I’d sure hate to think that the only impetus the district needed to rebel was the kindness from a single white girl…

·         “May the odds be ever in your favor” is gonna become a meme, isn’t it?

·         For talk of the movie’s incredibly long run-time, I hardly noticed.  I got a little antsy as usual, but I barely noticed the time pass.  And I suppose that has to count for something; it had its faults, but it kept me engaged for the most part from start to finish.

·         My biggest question at movie’s end is one that Katniss and Peeta ask: what happens now?  “We try to forget” is Peeta’s answer, but we all know that’s not happening.  It’s sequel time!

·         I take issue with stories that act in defiance of logic and pander to certain tropes just because they exist and that’s what people expect.  At times, THG breached my logical barriers and set me off.  At other times, I was more than willing to enjoy the ride.  And by other times, I mean pretty frequently.  No story -- video game, novel, movie, show, what have you -- is perfect, as you dedicated moviegoers are no doubt aware.  It’s the ability of a story to succeed in spite of its flaws, however large or small, numerous or few, that makes it a marvelous tale.  So as I said, I don’t HATE the movie as I do, say, the Percy Jackson movie.  Do I love THG? No.  Do I respect it?  Yes.  Would I see it again?  Maybe if it came on TV.  Would I enjoy it even more?  Doubtful, since I’d probably be on the lookout for more inconsistencies.  For what it’s worth, it’s still a good movie.  Not ZOMGamazing, but still very competent.

·         That said, if (when) they make the movie sequels, I don’t think I’ll go see them -- or at the very least, won’t be in a rush to see them like I was with this movie.  HOWEVER, I’m more than willing to give the books a chance.  It’s the original, and doubtless superior medium, giving details and insights that the writer had to convey but the movie couldn’t.  So I may end up breaking another one of my rules and buy the book solely because of the movie.  And in that regard…well played, Hollywood.

·         Seriously, the president’s hair is ASTONISHING.  A ‘stache, a beard, mutton chops…it’s the total package!


  1. ok so first of all, katniss is the only person to volunteer in district 12, no everywhere. Infact, in district 1,2 and 4, winning the hunger games is an honour and lots of tributes volunteer. Katniss loves her sister and that is why she volunteered, she probably would not have volunteered for a stranger, if she was going too then she would have done it in previous years.
    secondly, every year the arena is in a different, unknow place, from grass, to woods, to desert, to snow. It would not happen in the capitol.
    Thirdly, Peeta is doomed to win - that is the point.
    Fourthly, oyu really need to read the books because you are missing a lot. Katniss actually admits that without Cinna, she would be nothing, he put her on the map.
    Katniss did not shoot at the game makers straight away because she only did it because she was angry at them for not paying attention when she hit the target.

    1. also, katniss and peeta do not team up because katniss does not want an ally because she knows that only one person can come out. she the partners up with peeta after the announcement that district partners can both win. She does not like him because when he says he loves her, she was unprepared, and did not love him back. she was, however, grateful for him giving her the bread. She plays along with the love story later on, as an act along, and herself does not believe it. She simply does it to please the audience.

    2. Hmmm, fair enough. I'll admit that the book is probably the definitive version of the story instead of the movie, and that your points are all quite valid. Most of my criticisms and thoughts are more directed at the movie than anything; it's details like these that I'd have preferred they made clear, because (as you can guess) if they don't, they leave the door open for different interpretations. If the movie took time out for Katniss to admit that Cinna helped her out, I'd be much happier -- and would it have been that difficult for them to add a even a slight nod to that?

      That said, I still stand by my point about Katniss shooting at the game makers first, regardless of whether or not it was in the book. If the objective is to impress them as quickly and thoroughly as possible, why not make a statement immediately by shooting at them first? Would it be so far-fetched for her to shoot at them not because they make her angry for not paying attention, but because they've put her and countless other children into such a brutal situation and wants to take at least a little revenge on them?

      Anyway, don't think less of me for misinterpreting things because I didn't read the book; like I said, the book is the superior medium, and if I take issue with the movie it's because the vital elements that were in the book weren't represented as well on-screen. The movie needed to establish certain points better WITHOUT banking on an intimate understanding of the novel, but it didn't. That's about all I can say, really.

  2. I know this post is old, but meh. The sequel's coming out soon and I gotta refresh my memory, just in case anyone drags me to see it in theaters.

    It's been a while, but I remember I thought 'The Hunger Games' was very competent in many ways... except in characterization, taken straight out of the Young Adult cliches pot. No one was memorable to me. Katniss' action heroine schtick wasn't very memorable or interesting, and Peeta pissed me off whenever he pined for her on the basis that they're the main characters. Not even Haymitch was great because Kakashi and Jiraiya from Naruto were better likable incompetent mentors. Rue's "development" was too short and too late to not fall under the emotional manipulation. Everyone else (save for Cinna because of his stupid name) was forgettable as crap. Not even 'Vampire Academy', as adolescent it may be with its premise and universe regarding vampires, butches up their cast like this.

    The costumes were over-the-top to mock our modern-day entertainment industry on how we glamorize appearances, wealth, and violence. Ironic, though, since you caught Katniss being pristine despite fighting through hell itself.

    Not sure what your opinion is now, but this film did not convince me to give the books a chance. The concept and world-building of the distopia was easy to digest and was fun, but the Young Adult cliches piss me off too much. I just can't bring myself to care. I really don't buy Peeta and Katniss. Even Romeo and Juliet would gag at their forced romance. ... At least that's what it looks like from this walking tank of estrogen.