Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Media Musings Part 2: The Hunger Games

So here we are at post #2 in my Media Musings series.  If you'd like to see my first post about "The Avengers", click HERE.


I mentioned a couple of months ago that I went and saw this with my hubby, but I waited a while to share my thoughts on it.  For one thing, I wanted to give it some time before I just blurted things out on the blog.  I also wanted to take the time to read the trilogy so that I could get a better idea of where the author was coming from and where the next two movies might lead.

I have such mixed feelings about this movie and the books.  I know this may end up being a slightly controversial topic too, since The Hunger Games is loved by so many.  I will do my best to express my opinions honestly and respectfully, and would welcome contradicting comments that are expressed in the same way.

I'd like to start out by saying that I watched the movie before I read the book, so I'm not going to be as much of a purist as someone who read the books first.  My first impression of the story and the characters came from the movie, so I have no problem with the casting or anything like that, even if Peeta has brown eyes instead of blue, or Katniss has the wrong skin tone. ;)

I went into the movie with only a very vague idea of the plot.  I was curious to see what all the hype was about.  Honestly, it's not the type of movie that would normally attract me, but for some reason, it piqued my interest.  In fact, my husband even mentioned how odd it was to be seeing this particular movie with me.  It wasn't one he would have thought of as being "my type" of film.

I have to say, I enjoyed the movie much more than I thought I would.  I completely "fell in love" with the character of Peeta (okay, not literally...he's way too young for me, and I'm married, but I hope you know what I mean), which I was NOT expecting.  From the previews, I thought it would be the typical love triangle, where Gale was the boyfriend and then there was this other guy.  Not at all.  In fact, that really wasn't the main focus at all, as any of you have seen the film know already.

I really liked Katniss until the end of the movie (remember, I hadn't read the books, so I wasn't sure what exactly was going on with her), but I loved Peeta and Haymitch.  Peeta was such a sweet, caring person.  Sure, he wasn't the most skilled guy chosen to compete in the Hunger Games.  But what he lacked in skill, he made up for in heart.  I was constantly impressed with the way he treated Katniss and with his determination to keep his humanity through the horror of the ordeal they were forced into.

Haymitch started out rough around the edges, but I loved the way they showed how much he really cared about Katniss and Peeta, especially while the games were going, and the way you could tell that the whole concept of the games just sickened him.  (I was actually quite disappointed when I read the books.  He was not nearly so likable...I enjoyed his character much better in the movie!)

I also have to say, I really enjoyed the acting in this movie, especially from Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, and Woody Harrelson.  Really, everyone was great and convincing in their roles, from President Snow all the way down to little Rue.

There were other things I appreciated about the movie (most of which I didn't know I appreciated until I'd read the books).  For one thing, I liked the way they showed what was going on "behind the scenes" during the games.  It really reinforced the message of our nation's unhealthy obsession with reality TV and violence.

I also greatly appreciated the director's decisions to tone down the violence and other things in the book.  Honestly, it would be very possible to have an R-rated film if some of the scenes were interpreted literally and clearly from the book, especially the fight scenes.  While I'm not normally a fan of the "shaky camera" filming style, it helped tone down a lot of the gore in this film.

Even little things, like the decision to have Katniss in a sort of hospital gown while being "beautified" instead of naked, the way she was in the book, made me grateful for the director's vision of the movie.  Did he take into account the many teenagers and even younger kids in the audience that would be watching?  I hope so.

I don't know if I'll watch the other movies or not.  Honestly, I'm not sure if I can handle watching some of the things I know are coming in the next two stories SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER (especially things involving Cinna, Fennick, and Peeta). END OF SPOILER  I'm also wondering if the new director will feel the need to tone down the violence like the first director did.  If he doesn't, the movies could be pretty intense.

Movie Positives:  Two words:  Peeta Mellark. ;)  Okay, seriously, there are other positives too. ;)  I really enjoyed his character, though.  He's right up there with The Scarlet Pimpernel and Mr. Knightley for me...just younger and a different kind of hero.

Other positives:  several examples of characters making sacrifices to save others; characters refuse to embrace the evil and violence of the games; well-cast (in my humble opinon) and well-written overall

Movie Negatives:  violence, the thematic material, swearing, violent deaths of several young children portrayed, partially off-screen; one painful death involving genetically enhanced wasps; one painful death involving genetically enhanced dog/hyena like creatures; one mercy killing

Would I Recommend It?  I did enjoy the movie.  I thought it was gripping, well-written, and a sobering commentary on our society and its obsession with violence and reality TV.  It's also a picture of what our world could very easily become.  There were several examples of characters trying desperately to hold onto their humanity and decency in the midst of a society that didn't care anymore, and in the midst of the nightmare that was The Hunger Games.  I think that it could be a good discussion starter for families with older teens.  This is key, though.  Because honestly, the fact that this is a story about teens being forced to kill other teens that is marketed to teens concerns me.  What are the majority of the teenagers who read the books and see the movies really coming away with?  Some may cheer for Katniss and her sacrifice and  persistence, or sweet Peeta and his kindness.  But I've seen enough fan sites and responses from some teens online that seem to glorify the very violence that the movie is trying to warn against.  I know that several of you are teens who are Hunger Games fans, and I'm not saying that all of you are among those coming away with the wrong message.  I would urge you to be cautious, though.  It's amazing how immune we can get to violence when we subject ourselves to it over and over again.

I talked earlier about the way I appreciated the way the director chose to film this first installment.  If he was also at the helm for the second and third movie, I would feel a little more at ease.  Unfortunately, because of time constraints, we know that he will not be back to direct Catching Fire.  So my question is, what will the new director's vision be?  Will he decide that a more "faithful" depiction of the books is necessary?  If so, I shudder to think of some of the things that will be portrayed on the screen.

If I could just recommend this movie on its own merit, apart from the unknown of the next two films or the book series, I would be much more inclined to give it a positive review.  Because I can't disconnect the two, though, I would not recommend it for anyone under 18 unless you have your parents' permission and discuss it with them afterwards.  I know I'll probably get some flack for that, but I'd rather err on the side of caution.

I realize that this is primarily a review of the first movie, but since watching the first movie will make you want to read the books and see the next two movies (as I've already discussed), I feel it is wise to include some things about the books too.

Book Positives:  See movie positives, especially the first one. ;)  Story is told in first person narrative, giving a lot of detail that was missing in the movie; no swearing that I remember; well-written

Book Negatives:  Rather graphic descriptions of some of the violence; at one point in the book, Katniss cleans some pretty nasty wounds on Peeta...this involves stripping him down until he's naked (thankfully, they did not include this scene in the movie); Peeta and Katniss sleep in the same sleeping bag to keep warm; in the second book, they get in the habit of sleeping together (without doing anything inappropriate); Haymitch is usually drunk or vomiting as a result of drinking too much; the violence and darkness only increases with each book....I don't want to give out too many details, but I think you get enough of an idea from what I've shared so far.

Would I Recommend Them?  Once again, I'm torn.  The books were well-written, gripping stories.  I literally read through all three in about 5 days!  Many of the holes left in the movie were filled in by reading the first book (some within the first few pages...did anyone else who saw the movie first wonder about the "high voltage" sign?).  Yet I found some of the circumstances disturbing and difficult to read.

As far as the sleeping in the same sleeping bag scenario and stripping a wounded person down to his skin, I realize that these are both situations that might come up during a time when survival is key.  My problem is that this is a fictional story, so that stuff didn't have to be in there.  Was it really necessary?  Could Collins perhaps have conveyed what she needed to without adding these parts, especially considering her audience?  And as far as sleeping together for comfort, I'm sorry, but that's just asking for something to happen.  Not a wise decision.  Emotions can come sweeping in when you least expect them...no one is immune to sexual desire.  Guard your hearts, dear ones.  Don't allow yourself into a situation that has the potential for temptation.

Okay, off of my soap box...moving on. :)

While the books were gripping, I found them somewhat hard to read (emotionally, that is).  The two sequels got progressively sadder and darker.  As I read them, I thought of what it must be like to grow up during the Holocaust, or in Ancient Rome, or what it must be like to be involved in war and see your friends and acquaintances die as a direct result of your military decisions.  It made me thankful for the sacrifices that my father and others like him have made for our country through the years.  Sobering thoughts...important to remember, but not the types of things I'd want to read about on a daily basis.  Granted, this isn't the sort of genre I normally read.  I'm extremely sensitive and have a hard time reading about the harshness of our world.  But still, I think we need to be careful and strike a fine balance of what we fill our heads with.  If it's all darkness and despair, then where is hope?  Of course, not every story has a happy ending, and there were some important warnings and lessons that I could come away with from reading these books.  I just felt so emotionally battered by the end of the series.  I don't know how often I'd read them, and I definitely wouldn't feel comfortable recommending them to anyone under 18.

Once again, here's a direct link to Plugged In's review of The Hunger Games, so you can decide for yourself whether or not this is a movie you'd enjoy.

And just one more quick thing here:  I realize I've said a lot in this post about the violent content of The Hunger Games, which some of you might find slightly hypocritical after my overall positive review of The Avengers.  Even The Avengers had more violence than I care to watch on a regular basis.  But I have to say, there is something strikingly different for me between the action violence of a superhero movie, which you know is over-the-top and fictionalized, and the sight of teenagers being rounded up and forced to fight each other to the death.  I suppose part of it is the fact that The Hunger Games feels like something that actually could happen, and indeed, we've seen similar forced cruelties in our world in years past.  I would rather do without both kinds of violence, but for me at least, The Hunger Games hit me a lot harder than The Avengers.  And please note that I did not recommend either movie for kids.

I realize that not everyone will agree with my conclusions, and that to some of you, Katniss, Peeta and company are as dear to you as real friends.  Please understand that I'm not saying that I think you're a bad person if you are a HG fan.  I've had several people ask me what I thought about the films, and these are the conclusions I've come to for myself and what I feel comfortable recommending.  Like I said before, I am open to comments with opposing points of view.  I would ask that you would please remember to speak respectfully, even if you don't agree with my thoughts and opinions. :)


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beastsbelle said...

Hmm, I don't remember the syringe part...it's been a while now since I've read the books. That's one nice thing about seeing the movie first...I didn't even know to be disappointed until I read the books. :)

beastsbelle said...

I know there were a lot of little changes here and there that were disappointing to a lot of the hard-core fans, though.

Alexandra said...

I've actually heard the opposite...a lot of bad flak from bloggie friends who have seen/heard of/read it and are disturbed by the violence.

Personally...I think it's good once in a while to get a "wakeup call" as far as where our obsession with reality TV and violence can go...of course my dad and brothers are really into war movies and stuff and so I'm a bit more desensitized, for better or for worse, than a lot of my friends. Dad and Bros are big fans of the eighties film "Red Dawn", and from what I've heard, never seen/read it yet, I see this as something similar. At the same time, it is disturbing to see the amount of fanship centered around the games themself and not the characters...so I guess it's just depending on the person. I would like to see/read it for myself eventually before giving more of an opinion, of course. :)

Very interested in your review! Thanks for sharing!

beachbabydoll1 said...

I saw the film while on vacation in May. (I put myself on the very long waiting list for the e-book at my library.) Your review was great. I would agree on all points. Thank you for doing this. It's not easy to review movies or books written for teens. Violence/inappropriate sex seems to be increasing but the movie, like this one, may have an interesting and compelling plot. It will be on TV or DVD soon, no doubt; so we all need to discuss it as you did in your review with our brilliant teens if they are allowed to view it. Your review will be a valuable resource for that. Thanks, Sylvia

Anonymous said...

I am a fifty-year-old, Christian mom of nine children (ages 22 to 9). I could not, in good conscience, let my kids watch or read Harry Potter or the Twilight series. I would tell them, "When you're 18 you can watch or read them." And I would check out the reviews on Plugged in online and talk about it with them. When the Hunger Games came out three of my older kids went to the theatre to watch them and they've watched them online (so I've seen bits and pieces of them). Then my daughter bought the books. And I liked them, but I kept thinking about a twelve or thirteen year old reading them and I didn't like it. At that age someone being stripped naked or sleeping together is very suggestive. They don't understand what these things can lead to. I found series dark, and for some strange reason the last book got almost boring for me. I guess it just felt the same old thing was happening and I just wanted to get to the end. Maybe it just didn't have enough depth. I actually liked the ending although a 20-year-old niece told me she didn't like it.
(Sorry for rambling on). One more thing, I love The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings and have yet to find a fantasy/science fiction series that compares to these.
So I agree with your conclusion that someone should really be 18 or up to read this series. And thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with us on these important (especially for young people) topics.
Linda S. from Canada

All AG said...

I absolutely LOVE the HG! I agree about the syrige, I am even making a HG custom AG doll from D3! I agree with Peeta he is such a likable character! I am wondering, did you think the end of the series was not a tight ending? I thought so but that is my opinion! Happy Hunger Games! I will survive for both of them now. May the odds ever be in your favor! Stay alive! You love me real or not real? Real! I am the biggest HG fan ever!
PS Recommended website: petitetiaras all about princesses! Love it!

Liddy said...

I haven't seen the movie or the books for the same suggestive content you stated in your post. When the movie comes out on DVD, my family and I might rent it and run through our Clear Play filter( a DVD machine that cuts out, cursing, violence, innappropriate scenes, ect.). So we can then finally decide what we fully think about the books and movie. Thanks for posting this! I enjoyed hearing your opinions.


beastsbelle said...

Wow, thank you for all of the lovely comments. I was a little nervous publishing this, unsure of how it would be received, so it was great to hear from all of you.

I don't have time to answer these comments the way I'd like to right now, but I'll try to get back to it later. :) I'm off to Goodwill for their half off day! :D

Claire said...

As someone who has been a fan of the novels for almost two years - and I'm nowhere near 18 yet, mind you -, I'm not one of those fans who enjoys it for the violence, because I find it sadistic. The great thing about The Hunger Games is that it is an anti-totalitarian government series, and it seems like totalitarian governments need to be brought to our attention, what with America's current political state and its future.

It is not only for that reason that I encourage people to read the books, but I also enjoy them because of some of the characters (Katniss and Peeta especially) and their sacrificial displays towards the people they love. In an age of "Me, me me! What can I gain for myself? What's in it for me?" I think it is so important for characters with positive traits to be displayed in pop culture.

I will agree, the violence is most certainly there and can be more than people can handle. But this is a novel that shows the effects of war and poverty on people. These are real effects that happen to real people, but this is put in a fictional way that could very much be real.

All in all, I think that this was not coincidental that The Hunger Games came out in the time of the government being how it currently is. I think this will really open the eyes of many people about totalitarian governments and what they really do. I'm not really sure what age to recommend it to, though, since it really varies with each tween/teen.

(But I will certainly agree with your point about Peeta and Katniss sleeping together at night - even though nothing happens and they are sleeping together solely because they both have the same nightmares of the Games and there is no one else who can truly understand what they're going through, I don't believe that was a necessary element, either.)

Anonymous said...

Wow. I am a hunger games fan and so is my sister elliebob!I agree with a lot of what you said! And I am also a little freaked out about the new director thing! I wish so much it would still be Gary Ross! I am really excited though! My Mom saw it before I did because she wanted it to be good things for my eyes and ears to hear and see! So she will probably see Catching Fire and Mockingjay before me! But you have such a good veiw about all of this and I love how you were not afraid to speak your own thoughts! And Im glad that you werent afraid! I love your blog and I love your blogging skills! :)

Elliebob said...

Oh I love the hunger games so much!! I'm going to the midnight premire next November with my friends for catching fire. :) I LOVE PEETA TOO!! It's funny, almost all my favorite actors and actresses are in that movie. Jennifer Lawrence is my favorite actress and josh hutcherson is my favorite actor. He really does a great job. he's super awesome (and cute) :)

beastsbelle said...

Okay, I was planning on responding to everyone's comments, but now there are so many, I think I'll just thank you all for your thoughts. It's been interesting reading your views on the film, and I'm glad I was able to encourage some of you. :)

Claire, I just had to say something to you. I always enjoy your comments. :) I knew you were a big fan and I didn't want you to think that this post was directed at you.

I do agree that HG has some great points about corrupt government, the effects of war and poverty on the people, and the bravery and courage of self-sacrifice. My main concern is that not all the teens who are major fans seem to have their focus on these aspects of the story, like you do. Thank you for sharing your thoughts so intelligently and respectfully. :)

Each family will have different ideas of what is acceptable for their kids, and I respect that. What concerns me is the fact that so many parents are just letting their kids watch things without evaluating whether it is right for their teen or not, or at least discussing the movie with their kids afterwards. Parental involvement is key.

To everyone else, thanks again for leaving a comment. I enjoyed hearing what all of you had to say. If I had more time (and more of a brain) this morning, I'd sit and respond to everyone. But for now, this will just have to do. ;)

Claire said...

I never felt that you were directing this towards me specifically or in general at all. :) But I will certainly agree with you on many aspects - the point in Catching Fire where Peeta and Katniss spend multiple nights together is unnecessary, and I definitely think that it's a concerning point that so many parents are just letting their kids and teenagers read/watch this and other things without properly evaluating them to see if it's what's best to put in front of them.

I'll also agree that it's important to have parental involvement in general, especially in an age where society puts such a high price on what you watch, what you wear, what you read, and much of it just isn't appropriate for kids/teenagers or just in general. I do wish that more parents would really have a watchful eye of what their kids/teenagers are watching, reading, or wearing, because I don't think there is as much parental involvement going on as there should be.

All in all, I pretty much agree with your post, and I definitely think that this is certainly a post for people to read before they watch/read The Hunger Games because it really breaks down the negatives and the positives of the whole series. :)