Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Hunger Games Release Rant

Well it's that time again.

The Hunger Games has had its impact at the box office and made a mint for everyone attached to it.  And just when you thought it was safe to go back out into public without seeing preteens running around pretending to kill each other, and then make a three fingered salute over the corpse of their once friend, now mortal enemy, it's time to return to the dystopian land of Panem and their bloodlust.

I saw the fliers up at Walmart (don't judge) for the Midnight Release Party, and I had to ask the gentleman who helped me pick out a printer (Wifi enabled with reasonably priced replacement ink) if they were planning blood sports to see who would get the first copy.  Straight faced, he looked at me and said "Just about."

To date I still have not read the book.  I know I should, and maybe, just maybe, I'll hunker down with it.  For now though, I'm quite content to continue my Sturm und Drang over the whole affair by focusing on the movies.

Now in the past I've already expressed my frustration at the fact that the story is presented as one for children.  As I said then, the idea is "hey, who cares what they read as long as they read" and I find that entire line of logic hopelessly devoid of rational thought.  But I've already beat that horse.

To add to what's been said before, and taking as truth the "conventional wisdom" that the average American reads at the 8th grade reading level, I wonder how much of this is that novels written at the YA reading level are simply accessible to a wider audience and thus find themselves with a more mature collection of themes.  We have what would have been YA-level prose coupled with Non-YA themes, but it's still labeled YA because we don't categorize on content, only on writing level.

To categorize by content ("Oh that's too mature for kids to read") would sound too much like a form of censorship and we don't like that.  And speaking of children I've also commented on the "reaction" to Jennifer Lawrence being sexualized in the media materials.

I've also laid in a little to the over the top heart string pulling moments and completely transparent emotional manipulation of the audience in the movie.  We know what's going to happen in the movie long before it happens because we can see the film makers setting us up.  Oh, and of course, I reviewed the movie too.

But here's my latest rant:

The more I've talked about the movie (the movie, not the book; I saw the movie so I get to talk about it), the more I see people trying to tell me that the plot holes are all closed up in the book.  Things make more sense in the book.  Periodically I get the reminder that I'm not even supposed to like (or understand) the story because I'm not a teen-aged girl.  I usually ignore that last comment.

But getting back to the plot holes, I'm left with a running frustration about what is becoming the new media juggernaut:  The Hyper-Popular Book to Movie and Franchise.

And you know, I've got nothing against taking a popular novel and making it a film.  I'm anxiously hoping for Peter Jackson to do just that with His Majesty's Dragon, which I heard a rumor he had optioned.

But what bugs me is that more and more people are pushing out these movies that are really not movies but visual mockups of key book scenes and the audience loves it because they're not going to see a movie, they just want to visualize the book better.  It's not relevant that key plot points are left out because the intended audience already knows all of them.

For example:

They completely mismatch the ages of Tributes to garuntee that some are going to executions, not games.

Now this is explained in the books, in a way I don't find overly appealing but I understand.  As children get older they can ask for food and supplies to live on, and each time they do their name goes in the bucket, making it mathematically more likely that they'll get picked for the games.  It's a system that mostly favors taking older kids as they've had more time to ask for help surviving and thus have more tickets in there.

The problem is that NONE of this is communicated well in the movie, and instead we see children, starting with Primrose and ending with Rue, lined up for the slaughter in some kind of odd show of force and punishment following the civil war.

Now why does it matter?  Because I can see a society being more okay with Katniss and Peeta and the nearly adult tributes going at it.  I see the curly haired boy who was cut in half at the Cornucopia as being the hallmark of the ritual sacrifice rather than blood sport.  I see that if too many kids were so slaughtered that the events of the later books would have happened long before.

The failed revolt in Rue and Thresh's home district.

From what I saw there was full scale revolt happening.  Mobs were pulling down the barricades. The "Peacekeepers" were getting overrun.  They were going to take control of their district.  And then.... they stopped.

Now I understand that this was better explained in the book.  I can understand that they brought out the gunships or other big weapons.  But here's the fundamental problem based just on the movie:

If this district provides so much food and has such valuable land as to grow food, why would you risk your ability to eat by threatening to slaughter the people who provide it?  If they're in full scale revolt, how many of them do you kill off knowing that you need their hands to work the feels to feed you?  At what point do you risk losing your comfortable way of life by cutting off your own food supply?

In short if any district has the most power to revolt and still have bargaining rights, it's the ones that feed the rich.

That is unless they don't know that they're just feeding the rich.

No one knows how rich the rich are.

Again, seeing the starvation at District 12, then coupled with the opulence of The Capital, I just was stunned that everyone seemed to know how great it was but was all very okay with it.  I'm told that in the books there are threats of death for revealing just how nice the Capital is, and that one of the great victors, Haymitch, can't say anything because they'll kill him if he ever lots on about it.

That's the real reason he's a drunk.

For all the hype and hoohaa about the Hunger Games, I can see the appeal in the story.  As an adult I find the concepts interesting and really not that offensive.  But seeing it promoted as the girl power story of the year, I have to wonder what kind of power we're encouraging.

Is it that we have a story where the girls get to murder and kill and rend as much as the boys have until now? That gender equity is at hand in that we allow girls to be callous machines of death and therefore we should celebrate them moving from sex object to executioner?

In many ways it's a shame that the movie did not have characters 5 years older, and had done a better job of telling it's own story without required reading ahead of time.  That would have been a sci fi/ dystopian classic I could get behind.


Okay, I realize that the last few paragraphs had me waxing in a rant I've used before and could best be described in the classic "asked and answered" of courtroom drama shows.  I've beat the "a world that bad is unbelievable" drum quite a bit and I've been called out on it as well.  Fair enough.

The real goal of this rant, however, was a very strong frustration that the movie came with "Required Reading".  I wasn't seeing a movie, I was paying $8 plus popcorn plus babysitter wages to see a commercial for a book that was already wildly successful.  It didn't need  me to pony up cash for a poor adaptation.

Now a dear and beloved friend challenged me today on this:  "How would you feel if someone were ripping up your works based on a streamlined retelling of them?"

I feel comfortable answering that.  If, say, FantasiCon made it to the big screen as a RomComThriller, I'd be tickled pink regardless of the script.  And if someone were to rip up the book based on the movie, I'd be hurt, sure, and I'd feel the attack on the book was unfair given that the book was not the movie.

And that's more or less my point.

I've purposefully avoided ranting about the book here.  I've tried, and failed a little, to avoid talking about what I consider elements of the book that are too disheartening to see as entertainment.  The real purpose of this post was to get at this trend of doing a poor job adapting books to film.

The movie had plot holes.  It had weak spots in the narrative.  It had places that did not make sense to me.  And 9 times of 10 the answer to my lamentations was:  Read the book, it'll make more sense.

To me that's bad movie making.  I was able to walk out of War Horse feeling like I understood the entire story.  I walked out Avengers feeling like I knew the entire story.  I walked out of Batman:  Dark Knight Rises feeling like I knew the whole story.  I remember watching Star Wars and I knew the whole story.

While I cannot argue with the success of the Hunger Games Franchise, and I do agree I'd hate to see my book under attack for a poor film adaptation, I feel perfectly justified in making comments about the movie's ability to stand on it's own merits.

Oh.. Harry Potter?  Didn't read the book till after the movie.  I still was able to follow the movie just fine.

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