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June 26, 2014

So How Good is The Hunger Games, Really?

Oh, this is gonna make me popular.

Not too long ago, there was an episode of The Simpsons that took a few jabs at The Hunger Games -- in typical fashion, highlighting some of the franchise’s…shall we say, conceits while simultaneously being eerily honest.  For a guy like me with no real attachment to the tales of Katniss Everdeen and the rest of the Monster Buster Club (that’s what they’re called, right?), it was just the sort of thing I could laugh at and shrug off.  For others?  I wonder if it was something like an affront to all of the deities.

It came at just about the right time, though.  I’ve been thinking about The Hunger Games more than I should, for one reason or another.  It probably has something to do with web series like CinemaSins and Honest Trailers laying into them in their own distinct yet biting (but always hilarious) ways.  Sure, those two manage to succeed precisely because they play up faults and nitpicking, but sometimes the line between joke and complaint starts to blur.  And there’s no doubt that even more jokes will flare up, given that the last book is not only getting split into two movies, but the first of them, Mockingjay: Part 1 is due out fairly soon.  Ergo, this post.

So I think it’s time I open the floor for some input.  Though preferably, not arrows to the skull.

I should probably mention up-front that my only real experience with the franchise is with the first movie.  My thoughts?  It was…okay, I guess.  I named it fifth out of the seven movies I saw that year (above Prometheus, with Cloud Atlas taking bottom honors), which is strange, because I would have thought it would do a lot better in the end.  But as time passed -- especially present-day me -- I couldn’t shake the feeling that the original movie didn’t offer up much else besides being “a thing to watch.” 

It didn’t tick me off as other movies could -- o hai Oblivion -- but it didn’t turn me into a fan of Katniss, her story, or the franchise at large.  That’s a problem for what should be the “hook”, of sorts.  It felt like I got everything I needed to from that one movie -- like I had my fill, and didn’t want (or wouldn’t take) any more.  Little wonder, then, that both my brother and I agreed to skip out on the second movie.  Second verse, same as the first…and the first wasn’t anything special in the first place.

I suspect that -- as usual -- my problems with the franchise, or at least that one movie, started and ended with its leading lady.  Speaking solely from memory, Katniss didn’t strike me as a remarkable character, and at times she was actually kind of bad.  At her basest she was bland -- or “generically tough”, if that makes any sense -- but dipped even lower when she would lash out at others (like Peeta, to the point where she’d ram him into a wall by the neck) or just kind of be…there when she could have been cool. 

But what really got to me about her in the movie was that the universe kind of bent itself to make her come out looking good.  She’s the famous “Girl on Fire” because she lucked out and got the best fashion designer ever.  She got out of killing most of the Tributes based on technicalities and their precipitous drop in IQ points.  She struggles, but throughout the whole movie it felt like she had guardian angels keeping her from struggling too much.  And I called bullshit when it was declared that she was the first tribute in 74 years of Games to offer herself up as Tribute -- and continued calling bullshit when the movie started painting her as the symbol of rebellion, or some sort of champion.  You don’t get to be a savior by holding up your fingers for the camera or camping out in a tree.

I guess I wasn’t the only one that felt that way, though.  One denizen of the net after another has taken their shot at THG and made some legitimate complaints -- some of them being the same, or more biting, than mine.  Is Katniss really the icon that some would think she is, or is she just liked because a (seemingly) tough customer who can shoot a bow pretty well?  Is her world of Panem a brutal, fully-realized dystopia that’s either our future or our present, or is it a bunch of contradictory fluff set to funnel an audience toward drama, angst, and hunky boys?  Is the franchise at large legitimate, or merely succeeded by stumbling into an untapped niche and mashing that Pander button?

I’m not about to give the franchise my blessings, but I am willing to give it the benefit of the doubt.  It’s very possible -- probable, even -- that the heat THG has gotten comes from its popularity, much like Twilight.  But even if the former has its problems, I would think that its world and its plot and its leading lady are roughly infinity times more preferable to Bella Swan and crew.  I want to believe that THG is the force that it is for a reason.  Even if it does have faults, I’m more willing to accept it because it at least tries to be something more.  And it’s become something more for a lot of people.  Is it deserved?  Is it honest?  Is it justifiable?  I can’t say for sure, but I want to believe that the franchise has done something right.  If not for me, then for droves of girls eager to take archery lessons.

But that’s enough out of me.  Once again, it’s time for me to step aside and let you guys weigh in.  The question’s simple: how good is The Hunger Games, really?  Do you like it?  Does it deserve praise, or scorn?  Why is it so popular?  What’s it secret -- its strengths, or its weaknesses?

You know what to do.  Ready?  Set?  Comment…while I go do other stuff, I guess.  Should probably get around to doing that Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze post one of these days.  So yeah, be prepared to read like a million billion more words.

Voltech is a dick to your eyeballs.  *ding*


  1. I refuse to stomach this movie. I'd rather watch Battle Royale again.

  2. This would normally be the part where I'd say "Aw, come on. Give it a chance!" But...well, I can't say I blame you. The question that comes to mind is "Will The Hunger Games enrich your life with its quality storytelling?" And while I want to believe that there's some potential there, I don't feel it. It doesn't feel like the kind of movie -- or book, or whatever -- that'll reward everyone's time. Someone's, sure. But it could still do more.

    Or, to put it a different way: I made the choice to watch the first THG movie instead of 21 Jump Street. And now I feel like I made the wrong choice.

  3. *raises eyebrows*

    ...You know, if I didn't know any better, I'd say that you've been holding onto this one for a loooooooooooooooooooooooooooong time. Just a hunch, though. I could be wrong.

    Also, one of my key takeaways was that you mentioned Splice, a movie that my brother was obsessed about for an inordinate amount of time. I'll let you draw your own conclusions as to why.

    But let's get back on topic. If you'll let me play MovieBob sycophant again (though I'd argue that everyone on the internet should be watching his stuff as soon as they're able), I'm reminded of some of his opinions on THG. Katniss may come off as a capable and "inspirational" leading lady, but he noted that she's the character that she is by taking on masculine traits. Which is to say that in order to be a "strong female character", she ends up chucking the "female" part of the equation -- and ends up becoming just like the brown-haired action movie ciphers you mentioned earlier...but she's different because she's still female. It's seedy territory, I know, but you get the idea; the visual shorthand suggests that anyone in THG who's down-to-earth and strong and masculine and such is good, while those who care about their appearance and fashion and just love being dandies are bad guys.

    That's kind of messed-up if you think about it. I've mentioned a version of this before, but I'll go ahead and say it again here. Part of the reason I like Makoto from Devil Survivor 2 is because she may be one of the toughest characters in the game (quite literally, given that my version of her had her effectively bench-pressing dragon heads), BUT she's allowed to be more than just a tough soldier. She's allowed to care about others. She's allowed to struggle internally. She's allowed to be embarrassed. She's allowed to act polite. She's allowed to smile. It's not a question of her ability to kick ass, and it's not about stripping her of important qualities to fill a legit demand in the WORST way possible; it sure as shit isn't about whether she's a woman or not. It's about her being free to show a range of emotions and mental states. In order for her (or anyone) to be TRULY strong, the audience has to see her (or anyone) be more than just strong. Why so few creators fail to understand that is beyond me. Like...have we not learned our lesson yet? Still?

    As for the Games themselves? Yes. Absolutely agree with you. The CinemaSins video for Catching Fire flat-out said that the Games don't start until the 83-minute mark. -- and most of the cool new combatants get killed off-screen. How do you even accomplish something like that? Seriously, what needs 83 minutes so direly that it's worth stealing time from the main attraction?

    Maybe that's why they split the next book into 2 movies. Part 1's got all the talking. Part 2's all action.

    If that's true, then I guess we can all just skip Part 1, yes?

  4. As someone who has read the books, I'm going to have to defend it. Katniss isn't the messiah lady character the writing world needs but she's a step in the right direction. I cannot say with a clear conscience she is a bad character, however she is an extremely flawed one.

    I don't usually do this, but part of my response is influenced by Melanie's response. It troubles me that her response is a common one.

    When it comes to movies you can't really judge characters without reading the source material, as it is cliff notes for a book disguised a artistic visual expression. If you want to enjoy what makes Hunger Games stand out, you need to read the book.

    What the MOVIE does and does well is capture the horror of a nation under the claw of a military regime. Katniss is a cog in this machine that falls out of place and threatens to make the machine fall apart. Part of the appeal of Katniss is how she doesn't put any focus on relationships, it is forced on her as a lie. Anyone that stamps Peeta as a love interest, missed the point. Katniss views Peeta's devotion to her as horrific and troubling, she don't return any of his emotions until book 3. He's naive and a dreamer, he saw his selection for the Hunger Games as a sign from above, he was supposed to protect Katniss as he did when he gave her burnt bread. He's also a tough kid, hardly a damsel by any means. He just doesn't favor fighting, which makes sense. Katniss was a hunter, he was a damned baker.

    The movie is decent but don't expect it to do the book justice, key scenes were left out and some were added so it worked as a movie. You can enjoy it so much more if you focus on the message rather than the execution. The music and visuals are done well, but not amazing. If the book didn't exist I'd probably have thought this movie pretty bad. But like many book movies it immerses those that have read it in the grim nature of the scenario.

    And humor? Best believe there would be humor in a grim world. People need escape. Removing Katniss' spunk would push her farther into worthless action hero territory.

    As I said before, Hunger Games is a step in the right direction, but falls flat in things like basic logic and scientific approach (baby-steps). There needs to be more heroines like Katniss who are brave and forward thinking without coming across as a man-hating killing machine. It is Katniss herself and the 'act' she's forced into that seperates HG from Battle Royale. I would be rather upset if someone dismissed 'Two Destroyers' as a rip off of 'Groundhog Day' because the main character dies and comes back.

    As Melanie mentioned from her friend, the original is written in first person, the movie is presented as third person limited, a change that doesn't do any favors in bringing you close to Katniss or Peeta. The moment of realization who Peeta is really shines in the book and she battles with the idea of 'obligation' for owed debts. The movie corrects some of the plot issues at the cost of personal connection.

    TLDR; The movie is good for different reasons than the book and seems to be tweaked to make the conclusion have more impact. (Which the third books ending is arguably terrible, so I think it's a good call.)

  5. "Katniss was a hunter, he was a damned baker."

    That made me laugh a lot harder than it should have. Man, sometimes the strangest things set me off.

    You know, you wouldn't be the first to bring up the "books are first-person, movies are third" difference, and I doubt you'll be the last. I've heard the same thing plenty of times before, which suggests that -- as is probably the case a lot more often than I care to admit -- the original/source material will usually be better than the adaption. I guess in a sense I could respect Katniss, but I couldn't really enjoy her. It's like you said; the movie didn't do much to help me connect with her. It goes without saying, but that's a serious problem. Even though I said it anyway, but whatever.

    It's weird, though. I'd like to think that on some level, the movies exists to make people get interested in the books -- like they're supposed to push me and others toward a sale, so that we can get the full story (the way it was meant to be told). So I guess the question that needs to be asked is, "Are the movies good enough to push book sales besides name recognition?" And even now -- with your opinions and others -- I'm still on the fence. I like the concepts and ideas. I like the general plot, foibles aside. But I'm not sure if that's enough.

    Well, whatever. My personal issues (ambivalence, ho!) aside, I still have to show some respect for the franchise. It's not without its faults, but it could've been a hell of a lot worse. So maybe it's the start of something good. Maybe someone will take the IDEA of Katniss and her world, and go on to make an even better story. I wouldn't mind a future like that one bit.

    That's the way it should be, after all. In my humblest of humble opinions, of course. <3

  6. You mean the cult original that Hunger Games ripped off? Yeah, I did the same thing.

  7. I remember watching Catching fire with friends and I distinctly recall the parts where I predicted exactly what was going to happen in the movie, becuase it was such a by-th-numbers YA-targeted piece of work. I remember watching it with clinical interest, just thinking the entire time 'maybe I can find out what I am doing wrong with my writing'.

    Watch the movie in this manner and a lot of things become clear. Personally, I don't like the actress portraying Katniss because she can barely emote and the dude playing Peeta makes me want to bully him for his lunch money, but then again that's just me.