06 September 2012


Twelve Things about The Hunger Games

12. Last March, when The Hunger Games came out in the Philippines one day before it premiered in the US, my American cousins coaxed me to watch it and publish a review as soon as possible. It would have been nice to have been one of the first bloggers in the whole world to put up a Hunger Games review, but my muse isn't about "nice." Instead, she's all about weird timing. That is why I had no idea what to write about this movie until I caught it again last month.

There was something so disconcerting about seeing this after the Olympics, you know? =S

11. For me, it was the third viewing, but for the friend watching with me, it was the first. I do appreciate the way the screenplay sets up the world of Panem and the tradition of its Circenses Hunger Games so that those who haven't read the book or heard the story can easily follow along . . .

10. . . . while those who have read the book can ponder the satire more deeply. The Hunger Games was definitely inspired by modern entertainment. It is easy to see our own Big Brother and X-Factor as the seedlings of what has grown, by the time the story opens, into the national spectacle that is the Hunger Games. Everything is there: contestants plucked out of obscurity, short-term celebrity based on entertainment value, the propaganda of clever styling, the emotional manipulation of the audience, the desperation of those who need to win, for the prize and not for the glory . . . The visual medium of the movies actually let me see that much more clearly than the novel did.

9. On the other hand, what was always clear was the connection to the seven youths and seven virgins of Ancient Athens who had to be sacrificed to the Minotaur of Crete every nine years. The more things change, the more they stay the same, aye?

What the distant future has that the ancient past did not is a means that lets you watch every development as it happens. Even King Minos, who would have been guaranteed a spectacle like no other, wasn't as voyeuristic as the average Pop Idol viewer. I wonder what he would have thought of us.

8. My favourite professor once said about Anthony Burgess's Clockwork Orange, another violent dystopian satire:

"Every good book is about its own writing."

In that particular case, a novel about brainwashing doubles as a tool of brainwashing. And in this case, a big-screen spectacle in which teenagers kill each other for the public's amusement doubles as . . . well, as a big-screen spectacle in which teenagers kill each other for the public's amusement. We may be able to pat ourselves on the backs because "No teenagers were harmed during the making of this movie," but that doesn't change the fact that we paid good money to see them simulate death on screen. Even if it was for a good cause. (What's "a good cause," anyway?)

Well done, filmmakers. Well done.

7. I was initially surprised by the casting of Woody Harrelson as District 12 mentor Haymitch Abernathy. Haymitch is kind of scummy and nobody really likes him, while Harrelson's picture could be next to the word "likeable" in the dictionary. The script also makes him more sympathetic than he ever is in the novel.

All this makes more sense in the light of the next two books in the trilogy, but for now, we can also say that the movie is being about its own making again--and that Haymitch, who tells his two newest tributes that the best way to stay alive in the arena is to seem likeable to the audience at home (Sounds familiar? LOL!), is modeling by example. And that he's doing it at the deliberate design of his own savvy image handlers, the filmmakers. (I'd give them another pat on the back for this, but I have a feeling it's mostly a happy accident.)

6. "What if people stop watching?" . . . "They won't." Katniss's friend Gale puts his money where his mouth is for at least one whole day. But although he boycotts the bloody opening of the Hunger Games, we later see him watching it anyway--because the Game Maker has found an angle that even Gale can't resist.

He may not care to watch as one of his best friends in the world fights for her life and kills other people, but you'll bet he'll tune in every day as the girl he must have always thought he'd end up with seems to fall in love with another boy.

5. Every time Katniss and Peeta have a tender moment together, we get a few seconds of Gale's reaction. I have yet to watch this with people who don't chuckle at poor Gale's expense.

Since the novel is told only from Katniss's point of view, it doesn't give us any such jumps in perspective. But the movie couldn't be a proper satire of modern entertainment if it didn't remind us that we no longer just watch spectacles these days; we also watch ourselves watching spectacles. So Gale watches the Games, we watch Gale, I watch everyone else watching Gale, and now you get to watch me watch you watch Gale watch the Games. (I know, right?)

4. You know what else viewers seem to find hysterical? Peeta's camouflage.

Perhaps it shouldn't have been this good. =P

I'm sure the filmmakers did not at all intend that the audience find this so comical. (Hey, they're entitled to a fumble.) My friend and I tried analysing this some more, and she said that it's only as funny as it is because the actor playing Peeta is so good looking. But I think that even an average-looking actor would get unintentional laughs in this scene. What's hilarious is that the "artwork" is so dang flawless.

If you have any other theories, I'd love to hear them in the combox!

3. But there is one creative change by the filmmakers that I will probably always think is a mistake: the response from District 11 after the death of its girl tribute, Rue. In the arena, Katniss covers the younger girl's body with wildflowers before it is taken away--both to honour Rue's life and to defy the Capitol's estimation of it as dispensible. What happens next depends on your medium.

Book Version: Katniss receives a small loaf of bread that she recognises as the District 11 loaf. And she thinks about what it must have cost the people of District 11 to sponsor her--how many families would have been willing to go hungry, possibly for several days, in order to give her those few small mouthfuls. In one sense, their gift is too small to be meaningful--but that's the same sense that Rue's death is too small to be meaningful.

Movie Version: We cut to District 11's public square, where an angry middle-aged man, presumably Rue's father, starts a riot. Many others join him, and they shatter the containers full of the grain that they worked hard for but that are reserved for the breadhungry, bloodthirsty elites in the Capitol. It is a foreshadowing of the unrest that is soon to come.

It's certainly possible for both to have happened, and I don't really mind the rioting, but it was wrong to cut out the bread--to take back, in effect, District 11's generous gift that they could barely afford, for a girl they didn't have to care about. The Games' makers left out both Katniss's gesture and District 11's response from the "official" 74th Hunger Games story, going one better (or one worse?) than this movie, the "official" Hunger Games adaptation.

2. I suppose a good rule of thumb, when your source material is entitled The Hunger Games, is to leave in absolutely everything that has to do with food.

As it stands, the movie paid more attention to clothes. But who can blame the filmmakers' priorities, when there is an Oscar for Best Costume Design and no Oscar for Best Food Direction? Now it must be said, however, that the costumes were quite the letdown.

1. There's just one thing I missed in this future. Shouldn't they have an equivalent of our Vote for the Worst? A Sponsor the Worst, perhaps? You know I'd be all over that in a heartbeat.

Image Sources: a) The Hunger Games poster, b) Athenians Being Delivered to the Minotaur in the Cretan Laby by Gustave Moreau, c) The Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, d) Peeta camouflaged


marellus said...

I'll watch it ... someday.

marellus said...

... oh btw, was the soundtrack any good ?

Enbrethiliel said...


I know Taylor Swift contributed a song and a friend whose musical taste I respect loved the take on what Appalachian music might sound like in a dystopian future; but I personally wasn't struck by the music in this movie either way.

Thanks for your comments, Marellus! =)

mrsdarwin said...

The Taylor Swift song I liked wasn't on the soundtrack album, but the "Inspired By" disc. However, having listened to it on its own, I think it's more compelling in conjunction with the video than heard on its own -- Miss Swift's voice is breathy and a bit unsupported for my tastes.

Enbrethiliel said...


In that case, I really have no comment on the soundtrack or score! =P Even Katniss's lullaby and Rue's four note melody didn't really move me. The Hunger Games wasn't the best movie for "sounds."

I really liked Taylor when I first discovered her, but she has lost me since then. I'm not sure why yet, but I may have an in-depth analysis one of these days. (LOL!)

christopher said...

Wait... you are the one who got me to like Taylor Swift and now you're backing off on her?!!! (last time I fall for that...) LOL!

Enbrethiliel said...


LOL!!! I actually didn't intend for people to like her. The most I hoped for was to get people to stop making fun of me for liking her. =P

I just didn't connect with the Speak Now album, even if it is the one with Back to December.

cyurkanin said...


Pennyyak Harper said...

I liked your review much better than the book, as it was bouncy, entertaining, and had unexpected tie-ins I haven't thought about. But, I haven't given any thought to the Hunger Games at all, I must admit. I am still undecided as to whether I want to see the movie. I think I will see it eventually, if only because it will spawn references on social sites that will puzzle me if I don't.

I guess that's an up-to-date reason to see a movie these days.

Enbrethiliel said...


Christopher -- On the other hand, I seem to pretend I'm Tay-tay when I cover everyone else's songs. =P

Penny -- Thanks! =D So far, I haven't seen very many references that have purely to do with the movie, so I think you can get away with having read only the book. (Is Effie's "That's mahogany!" in the book, too, though? I can't recall.)