The Hunger Games Movie

I finally made it out to see The Hunger Games movie. Finally. After a great morning writing, I ate lunch quickly, let the doggies out, and headed to the theater.

I wasn’t sure how I was going to react. My students were split: some loved it, others hated it. There didn’t seem to be too much middle ground. The reviews online were similar. I know in the past, I’m usually not very happy with movies based on books because directors take too many liberties with the raw material (the book) and they tend to change things that didn’t need to be changed and they cheapen relationships between the characters. Instead of the deep threads that form between characters in a book, movies tend to show these superficially, or not at all. This was the case with the Harry Potter and Twilight films. However, I recognize that the more distance between the last reading of the book and the watching of the film, the less frustrating the changes are.

So, excited and nervous, I paid for my ticket and made my way into a mostly empty theater (only three of us), right as the film started. I warn you, there will be spoilers, so, if you haven’t read the books, or seen the movie, and don’t want it spoiled, then stop reading NOW.

Let me start with what I didn’t like.

  1. I had a problem with some of the casting before I ever watched the movie, but watching it brought it front and center. I didn’t like Haymitch, Cinna, Peeta, and Effie. They just didn’t mesh with what I envisioned and they didn’t exactly act like the characters in the book, either, especially Haymitch and Cinna.
  2. We didn’t get into Katniss’ head, so, those who didn’t read the books would have no idea what she was thinking. It wasn’t immediately obvious by her actions/expressions.
  3. The shaking of the camera in the beginning drove me nuts. It made me dizzy. I hate it when they do that in films.
  4. They cut so much out of the train ride, and changed others. I kept shaking my head. What happened to Haymitch being surprised with “Did I actually get a pair of fighters this year”? Only Katniss wields a knife. Peeta doesn’t do anything. The relationship between the three is different, and not good different.
  5. In the chariot rides (in the book), Katniss and Peeta were instructed to hold hands. In the movie, Peeta initiates this. I had a problem with this because it places more weight on Peeta’s role in snubbing the Capitol.
  6. Speaking of, Haymitch does NOT like Katniss in the books (though he tries to keep her alive). But in the movie, he likes her and cares for her (with the occasional slip back into his book-part). I didn’t care for it.
  7. The tracker-jacker scene–no, no, no! That many tracker-jackers buzzing about would’ve killed her. They’re TRACKER-jackers. They track those who harm them. They were buzzing outside and saw her. They’d have swarmed her. (And yes, that’s not how it happened in the book).
  8. The detonation of the careers’ food pack: another no, no, no! First of all, they all should’ve gone. Second of all, the explosion hurt Katniss’ ear! This is something that makes its way into book 2. It’s important! But no, the explosion does nothing to her except disorient her a little. Argh!
  9. No sleep syrup when they were in the cave! What’s up with that?! I was really looking forward to their time in the cave, the stories (like Prim’s goat), and her tricking him. There was a huge connection in the cave (in the book) and it was glazed over.
  10. The final scene with the mutts and Cato didn’t work for me, either. One, it gave Cato more importance than needed. Two, Peeta didn’t get hurt (hello, he’s supposed to almost lose his life, and he loses his leg!). Incidentally, the actor that played Cato is who I thought should’ve played Peeta. That’s how I imagined Peeta.
  11. Since Peeta wasn’t near his death-bed when they “won,” there was no Katniss frantically pounding on the glass doors while doctors tried to save Peeta’s life. It’s a shame; that would’ve been a great shot.
  12. The ending was rushed and the depth of Peeta’s hurt isn’t explored. He just asks, “What now?” and she just replies, “I don’t know.” Really? REALLY? Sigh. Peeta was devastated. Hurt. Not so in the movie.

But I did like the movie overall. Here’s what worked for me:

  1. I liked the beginning. I think the image of the Seam, the Hob, and District 12 was very nicely done.
  2. I also liked how Gale and Katniss’ relationship was established. Though I was initially annoyed that she knew things that early on, like about Avoxes, and that a hovercraft appeared, I thought it was good because it set up the story. We’ll need to know this later.
  3. The start is a little different from the book, but I think it was well done, even with the changes. The relationship between mom, Katniss and Prim is established and they got it.
  4. I didn’t mind too much about the pin and that there was no Madge. I think it was tastefully incorporated, and it took on a different meaning as it became a token between sisters.
  5. The sign-in procedure isn’t in the book, but it adds another layer to the story, a good layer. It reinforces the horror of the Games.
  6. The reaping was beautifully done. The lining up, the music, the solemn mood–it built up the tension so that when Prim’s name is called and Katniss volunteers, it’s heart-breaking.
  7. The stark contrast of the Capitol versus the Districts was also captured nicely. The eccentric, colorful Capitol comes alive and we’re left with a visible, tangible difference that Collins shows us.
  8. I really liked that we’re given an outside look into the other Districts (e.g. the uprising in 11), into President Snow, into Seneca Crane’s role as Gamemaker, and into the entertainment value of Caesar Flickerman. One of the downfalls of 1st person narration is that we’re only privy to the narrator’s thoughts and actions. The film moved past that and gave us a more omniscient narration. It worked well.
  9. I loved the costumes, Girl on Fire.
  10. I liked how the training room was portrayed, how we were introduced into the characters, even the nameless ones.
  11. Rue–I loved Rue! She was one of the best castings in the movie.
  12. Some other good castings: Katniss, Prim, President Snow, Gale.
  13. I didn’t mind that they didn’t show Katniss trying to find water (it was too easy, but that was minor in the scope of it all), and I think they did the fire scene nicely.
  14. Peeta’s “camouflage” into the side of the river was spectacular! They did a really good job with that.
  15. I liked the scene in the cave (with the exceptions noted above). It was more direct than the book, and there was less ambiguity from Katniss.
  16. The berries scene was also nicely done.

I know I missed things. There was only so many notes I could tap into my phone. Overall, I liked the movie. It’s one of the better adaptations, though it could have been better on several counts. I’m looking forward to see what “they” come up with for Catching Fire.

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Random Monday

1. I received Veronica Roth’s book Insurgent wirelessly into my phone on May 1st. I was going to wait, really, I was, but I couldn’t. I started reading at 5ish in the morning and, by the evening, I had finished the book. I had read the first book in her trilogy, Divergent, last year and was hooked on her story. It is similar to The Hunger Games in several ways, but, as much as I hate to admit it because I loved The Hunger GamesDivergent was better I think. So when I received Insurgent, I was hooked. Much of what I liked in the first book was there (the characters, the plot line, the world, the factions, and of course, the love story), but there was more action, the characters were developed further, and secrets were revealed. Now I have to wait until she finishes book 3, which I think is rumored to come out some time at the end of next year. *gasp* I have to wait a whole year! I’ve never gotten hooked on a book so early on. The HP series was almost all out when I started reading them, and The Hunger Games trilogy was also all out when I first read book 1. This will be very interesting indeed.

2. I submitted my writing sample and application for the Novel Writing IV course at UCLA Writer’s Extension Program with Lynn Hightower. I am super excited and psyched about taking that class as I’m hoping it will get me closer to my end goal: completing a polished draft of my novel by the end of the summer. Now I wait (have I mentioned how much I dislike waiting…?) and cross my fingers. I should hear back some time around June 14 whether or not I got in.

3. I also submitted the first chapter of my novel for a manuscript consultation at the SCBWI Florida Summer Workshop 2012 this June. I’m scheduled for the Novel workshops and have requested a manuscript consultation. I’m hoping to take away as much, if not more, as I did this past January at the Miami Conference. I’m nervous and excited about this. I’ve had manuscript consultations before (twice on my memoir and twice with great feedback), but this will be the first YA manuscript consultation.

4. I’m listening to an audio book: Sarah Dessen’s Along for the Ride, a contemporary YA novel. I know audio books aren’t knew, but it’s the first time I’ve ever listened to one! It was weird at first. I didn’t like listening to the book. But after a while, I got into it. I’m in chapter 5, I think. I’ve downloaded it to my iPhone so I can take it with me to waiting rooms and such.

5. Next Monday, I’m having my gallbladder removed. I’m a little nervous but more anxious to start feeling better. I’m tired of the nausea and pain and the inability to freaking eat. It’s gotten to the point where even the bland stuff I don’t tolerate. So while I’m not keen on losing yet another body part (lost my appendix when I was 9), I am looking forward to feeling better. It should be a quick and easy surgery and I hear the recovery time is minimal (barring any complications, of course). I’m also looking forward to some R&R and being pampered.

The Hunger Games in Class

Today marked the start of discussing The Hunger Games in one of my classes. It’s the first time I do so (but certainly not the last!) and I was as excited as most of my students. I think we’ve all been eagerly counting down until we could indulge in (academic) conversations about the book.

I started them off reading Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery,” which I think is appropriate on many levels for The Hunger Games. If you haven’t read “The Lottery,” you totally should. You can find it here. The mood, the piling into a square, the selection of names (lottery), the gruesome results. There’s even mention of coal mining and it’s a gorgeous day, the day the story takes place. Some of my students had already read it; others were completely surprised by the outcome.

Then we started talking about the first few chapters: the characters, the setting, the plot, and the themes that were starting to unravel. And we saw a couple short interviews with Suzanne Collins.

There’s a great line in chapter three when Gale goes to visit Katniss before she’s taken to the train. He’s giving her tips on how to survive; she’s a great hunter and it should be no different in the arena. Except instead of killing animals, she’ll be killing people, other kids like herself. She says she doesn’t know how to kill people, to which Gale replies, “How different can it be, really?” And then Katniss follows with this:  “The awful thing is that if I can forget they’re people, it will be no different at all.” Bam.

This is what allows all the atrocities in the world to happen. In real life. It’s people forgetting that those they’re hunting or hurting or persecuting are also people. It’s why genocide exists. Why slavery existed. Why all the horrors we learn about in history, many of which are still occurring, existed.

Throughout the term, we’ve used a thematic reader in my class: Remix: Reading + Composing Culture. It’s divided into seven themes: identity, community, competition, romance, entertainment, nature, and technology. In one of the essays for competition, the idea that fraternity hazings and other college tribes/rituals might not be so far off from other aspects like race, creed, religion, etc. They create an us versus them situation. The moment we have an us, and there’s a them, and we can forget that “them” are just as human as we are, then we’re in danger of violating the basic humanity of “them.” The Hunger Games, like the Harry Potter series, really tap into that idea.

I know the last few weeks of the term are going to be a mix of fun and seriousness. I’m excited about the final papers. They’re analyzing the book using one of the seven themes we’ve discussed throughout the term. These are some of the ideas I gave them:

  • How does Katniss’ identity change throughout the book? Is it molded by her experiences or is she born with certain traits that just flourish with the challenges? How do the assumptions we hold of identity play out in the book?
  • What role does community play in The Hunger Games? Does her community have her best interest in mind? Does it accept her just as she is, or does she have to change to fit in? How are the assumptions upheld or challenged? Is it any different from any current world-wide communities?
  • Are the Games reflective of our natural urge to compete? Is competition linked to a deep-rooted need to survive? Will the same be true for games that are not life-or-death?
  • How is Katniss and Peeta’s staged romance any different than real-world high-profile romances? Does their romance challenge or uphold any of the assumptions? Does love conquer all? Are they soul mates?
  • Think about the way the Games are televised. What role does entertainment play in The Hunger Games? How is such a cruel and vicious “game” used for the gratification of the select, privileged few? What, if any, criticism do you think Suzanne Collins is making of our current obsession with reality TV?
  • Nature in the Games is both beautiful and lethal. It’s also manipulated by the game-makers to ensure someone dies. What assumptions of nature are at play here? Are they challenged or upheld? Does Katniss’ understanding of the natural world aid her in surviving? How have those in power manipulated nature to create alternative, more destructive versions of animals (mutants) and how is that any different to the way we are fixated in fixing or altering what occurs naturally?
  • The world of Panem is limited in some technologies, but it is advanced in others. What role does technology play in helping the characters survive? What tools (think weapons) are used for this purpose?

Yep. I am definitely excited to see how the next couple weeks play out. I am looking forward to talking about the book and I’m enjoying seeing them get excited. I will also be looking forward to these essays. If I have to grade essays, I might as well make them interesting!

Five Random Thoughts…Because I’m feeling random today

1. I absolutely, positively, no questions asked love the 2004 film The Phantom of the Opera. It is one of the most beautiful adaptations with exquisite detail to set and costume. And of course, there’s the music: it’s hauntingly beautiful. It’s the kind of music that reaches deep into your core and moves you. Andrew Lloyd Weber is a genius. I have to admit that I saw the movie before I ever saw the Broadway production, and that the production I saw was a traveling one, when they came many years ago to South Florida. Though I liked that version, it simply didn’t live up to the art that was the movie (and I love live theater!)

It had been a couple of years since I’d last seen it, and a few weekends ago, my husband and I had a date night in. We pulled out the movie and watched it, marveling again at each part, each song. And I keep replaying the songs –I can’t get enough of them.

2. I am definitely an English teacher and my son is definitely an English teacher’s son. Today, as we were getting ready for bed and I was reading him some bible stories, I went into a short lesson on what a metaphor was. And he listened to everything I had to say, repeating the word back to me and trying out an example with it. He’s four. Yep. Definitely an English teacher’s kid.

3. I want to see The Hunger Games so badly. Like, really, really, really badly. It’s like when Harry Potter came out and every inch of me itched to go see it. That’s me now. Waiting. (Im)patiently. Tapping my toes, strumming my fingers, flipping through the pages, again. Just waiting. I don’t know when I’ll be able to go, which makes the waiting that much more unbearable.

4. I’m eagerly awaiting Veronica Roth’s book Insurgent to come out. I think it’s May; I pre-ordered it on my phone. Sometime before it comes out, I’ll have to re-read Divergent so that it’s fresh in my mind. It’s one of several books that I want to read this summer.

5. I want summer to get here. Now. I’m not a very patient person (though I can be). Four more weeks until this term is over and grades are due. After that, though I’m teaching online courses in the summer, the hours during the day are mine for a glorious month while my son is in school. That means I will have four days, for five weeks, to just write. Of course, I have to factor in some gym time, my gallbladder surgery, and some grading, but I will have more uninterrupted writing time than I do during the regular terms. And I just can’t wait! My goal of finishing the first draft by the end of summer is very much within my grasp…I can almost feel it. And I’m anxious to finish it now. So I can begin really revising it and whipping it into shape; though I tend to write and revise as I go along (I can’t just write from start to finish–I do a lot of back and forth), I won’t feel as if I’m truly revising until the whole damn thing is done. I already have agents I want to query and other stories floating up there in my mind, so I just need to finish writing this thing. Now. 😉