Hunger Games the Movie

School is out for the summer, which means I have a little bit of breathing room and can resume these columns (at least until I enroll in summer school or go back in the fall.) I might post a paper I wrote for school about food trucks, depending on how busy I am.

I'm hosting a book launch for Jackie Dolamore's new novel Magic Under Glass Memorial Day weekend at Balticon on Saturday so if you are the Baltimore area please drop by. We're having a book signing, reading, refreshments and door prizes.

I have a confession to make. I went to see Hunger Games and then spent twenty minutes throwing up in the parking lot. I know; that's disgusting. And I know that it sounds like I loathed the movie, to the point of extreme nausea. But in a way, isn't it really an appropriate reaction to seeing a film where two dozen children are forced to slaughter each other or die?

I loved the book so much I was a little nervous about the movie adaptation. Could it live up to my imagination? In the previews I saw someone introduce Katniss as Katniss Everdeen, the girl on fire, and she was wearing a nice red dress. But that's all it was – a nice red dress. Why did it look so boring when Katniss needs to be the girl on fire, the girl who captivates the hearts and minds of the Capital? But I didn't need to worry. The art, makeup, costumes and set design were all as amazing, intricate and over the top as I imagined.

As you know doubt already know, Hunger Games is a YA dystopian set in a world where the Capital rules the country. There are twelve districts and they were quashed after a civil war. The Capital makes each district give a tribute of two children between the age of 12 and 18 every year. In exchange the district is given enough food to (barely) survive until the following year. The tributes are put into an arena and fight to the death. The winner is showered with riches and their families never have to worry about starving again.

Each year that a child enters they are entered an additional time. So if you are 14 you have 6 entries in the drawing. You can trade extra grain and oil for more entries. So Gale, one of the love interests, has 42 entries as he has been supporting his family for a long time.

Katniss Everdeen is 15 and entirely supports her family. Her father died in the mines (district 12 mines coal) and her mother went into a deep depression. She poaches in the woods with Gale to supplement their allotments and she trades her kills to get black market items. She lives for her little sister Prim, who has just turned 12.

At the reaping Prim is chosen causing Katniss to panic and volunteer in her stead. The other tribute is Peeta, the son of the baker, and they are both sent to the capital to begin their training for the games. Katniss doesn't want to associate with him because to win she will have to kill him, but he has a plan that can help them both. Can she trust him? She doesn't know.

I was blown away by the film. The contrast between the people of district 12, who look straight out of depression era photos of desperately poor people, with the over-privileged, pampered people of the Capital was spot on. I especially loved the eyelashes of the Capital residents. They were outrageous and an interesting variety of colors. The hair was also awesome and came in all colors.
Costumes were fantastic. Katniss' in particular did not disappoint. Her fire, and Peeta's fire, was well done and looked authentic. The set design was gorgeous, at least in the Capital. In the Seam it was depressing, as it should have been. But oh my goodness, the sumptuous furnishings in the Capital and the feasts were beautiful. If I saw a commercial for a cruise that looked like this film I would beg, borrow and steal to get on that boat. If we don't see Academy nominations for art, costume, hair and makeup there is something very wrong with the world.

The acting was also top notch. I was particularly impressed with Lenny Kravitz as Cinna, who was warm and charismatic. When he walked onto the set my assistant leaned over and whispered “My favorite character.” (My assistant was on his second time seeing the movie.) Mr. Kravitz shines as Cinna, who is in charge of Katniss' image but also gives her much needed emotional support. His role in Precious was also very supportive, which makes me wonder if the actor/musician is just naturally empathetic and caring. (If so and you see this Mr. Kravitz, give me a call. I can definitely use another friend with those qualities!)

Elizabeth Banks was fantastic as Effie Trinket, the giddy and silly representative of the Capital who runs the reaping and is in charge of Peeta and Katniss until the Games start. Effie is frivolous and seems ridiculous as she chastises the tributes for their manners and constantly offers them treats like chocolate covered strawberries. But to me she is a caring person who has very little power. By giving the tributes what little she can, she is doing her best in a terrible situation. She's also pretty obviously terrified of repercussions of she says or does the wrong thing.

I also loved, loved, loved Amandla Stenberg as Rue, the young girl from the agricultural district who reminds Katniss of her little sister Prim. Ms. Stenberg is adorable and has a charisma that shines out of the screen. She was so good as Rue it's hard to imagine anyone else playing the part. She should do well in the awards season, as a supporting actress.

There has been quite a bit written about Jennifer Lawrence, including a lot of nonsense about her build. She's been photoshopped to the point where the new body made for her couldn't stand up to gravity and she's been called way too fat for someone who lives in an area where everyone is hungry. (Maybe this is why I ended up throwing up in the parking lot – from rage over this ridiculousness.) Mrs. Lawrence is beautiful and looks strong, which is important for the role. Her character is an expert with a bow and she's got the muscles to back that up. She can run all day long and she is fit, not uber thin. Her character supplements the food from the government with extra shares of grain and oil (in exchange for putting her name into the hat more times), game she hunts in the woods, and milk and cheese from Prim's goat. It's her job to be healthy and strong. Her entire family depends on her. All of this body-shaming is terrible.

But putting that aside I wasn't sure how well Hunger Games would work as a film because much of the conflict is internal. Of course there is plenty of action and stress due to the nature of the games, but Katniss is not a killer of people and she has to weigh her promise to come back to Prim against her innate horror at the idea of taking the lives of her peers. And then there is her attraction/avoidance conflict with Peeta as well as her confusion over her feelings for Gale. She has a lot going on inside and without a voiceover we as viewers might not be able to access those feelings. Ms. Lawrence did an excellent job showing us a lot of this inner monologue. This was my first time watching her act but I will be seeking out more of her work.

The next book in the series, Catching Fire, is due to be made into a film soon. But it won't have the same director as Hunger Games. Last I heard a new director had not yet been picked. Whoever it is will have a hard row to hoe matching the excellence of the first film.

Bonus Treat:
This week's bonus treat is from Kate Beaton who has written a lovely Mother’s Day comic. http://harkavagrant.com/mothersdaycomic.png Kate says on her Tumblr that she often presents her mother as timid, but in this comic she shows her mother's tough side. And as always, her father is great and succinct. I loved this comic.