Sunday, April 29, 2012

I Liked The Hunger Games. Wanna Fight About It?

According to the rules, there can only be one winner, but that doesn't mean we can't have multiple pieces of film and literature following sadistic reality television programs that pit civilian against civilian in hand-to-hand combat to the death. As The Hunger Games feasts its way through box office records, I'm noticing an irksome fanboy retaliation against a franchise-in-the-making, as if Suzanne Collins were Stephanie Meyers' pedicure buddy. I found Gary Ross's film to be thoroughly enjoyable and when placed in the larger context of its audience, extremely refreshing.

Stop looking at me like that! I saw The Running Man in the theaters when I was FIVE YEARS OLD! I was hyping Series 7: The Contenders before Jeff Probst hosted VH1’s Music Jeopardy. I have watched, read, written about, and invented games for my current ninth favorite film of all time, Battle Royale. In no way does The Hunger Games come close to nipping at its schoolgirl kneesocks.

But for those of you who don't know, I'm something of a cockeyed optimist when it comes to movies. I don't like hating things, and not just because I was raised to not use the word 'hate' at home (we replaced it with loath, which is actually stronger but sounds more elegant). I want to believe in the future of cinema, I want to know that there are original artists out there with brilliance in their path, and heck, even that the occasional unnecessary remake can be handled with cleverness, originality, and understanding. 

Wait, what does that have to do with The Hunger Games again?
Right, genre fanboy snobbery. It’s so negative.
Look folks, The Hunger Games ain’t Battle Royale. It’s a PG-13 rated (but harsh one at that) adaptation of a juggernaut young adult novel primarily aimed at females in the eighth grade. 

And you know what? I think that’s awesome. I think it’s positively spectacular that the most popular teen literature of the day is a dark ride into a terrifying, morbidly fascinating future featuring a powerful female lead. The movie isn’t without its flaws (hey Woody, hope you have enough minutes left on your bill to phone that performance in), but I can think of at least 7 reasons why I rather dug it:
1. Further evidence that one should never eff with Isabelle Fuhrman

Don’t you wonder how Jodelle Ferland feels about that OTHER brunette child actress-turned-teen who specializes in playing sociopaths...and playing them better. I dare anyone to pit the blander than rice cakes Case 39 against the trashtacular Orphan. Come now, that’s like betting on the wimpy curly haired kid over the brute from District 1! Or, I don’t know, Ferland’s supporting vampire in Twilight 3 to Fuhrman’s KNIFE THROWING BADASS Clove in The Hunger Games

And before you say it, yes, I was happy to see the young Ferland get some decent work in Cabin In the Woods. But it’s rare that I could watch a 15-year-old girl HURL KNIVES and believe it. You can be my cat’s laser pointer that I will never piss off Isabelle Fuhrman. 

2. Not the genetically manipulated bees!

True, The Hunger Games has nothing on Battle Royale’s machetes, axes, crossbows, uzis, or pocket knife deaths but you know what it DOES have? Killer bee thingies. That's groovy, right?

3. Slaughter in 17 seconds

Let me explain something to you: I find the idea of hand-to-hand combat-to-the-death incredibly disturbing. Part of it is my own lack of coordinative abilities, and the rest stems from the simple truth that stabbing or choking a person a person two inches from my own face is simply horrifying on the very most primal of levels. That in itself is probably why these kinds of desperation murder stories make me so uncomfortable. As those pedestal pods rise up for the arena’s opening ceremonies, the threat becomes real: these children are going to have to kill each other with whatever tools are at hand, most of which are muscles or knives. Sure, we don’t SEE much in the PG-13 rating, but implied horror is there, particularly when we get quick glances at scrawny 12-year-olds before never seeing them again...

Because Orphan has knifed them to death.

4. It will forever make Project Runway Innovation Challenges way more intense

Sure, Heidi Klum's fashion-obsessed, quip-forcing slaves have been forced to create beautiful clothing out of garbage, candy, and car parts, but even setting aside the recent all-star blacklight challenge, none of the Project Runway contestants have come close to putting live fire on their scrawny model cutlets. Now that Katniss and Peeta blazed that trail (hehe, pun!), how can future contestants with artificial names and distracting jewelry DARE to play it safe?

5. The Future 1% In Fluorescent

I’m not about to fumble through a political interpretation of the universe created by author Suzanne Collins. I’ll leave that to high school English teachers who should be excited to get their students’ hands on a decently written book that they’ll actually WANT to read. 
Collins and Ross’ universe isn’t the most imaginative place created in literature. It’s a 1984 inspired society that bares a reference to The Lottery, Survivor, The Long Walk, and plenty other sources. But hey: it’s well-crafted and relevant, no matter how simple it is. More importantly, it means we get fashion like this:

So quitcher complaining

6. Best. Facial Hair. Ever.

‘Nuff said

7. It’s not Twilight

What, was that a low blow? Please. Any parent who's been wondering why their daughter has taken to wearing a permanent flannel and fartface should consider the odds forever in their favor if said teen is now braiding her hair and taking up archery. As I've explained before and again, Twilight isn't just bad cinema: it's dangerous. In no way do I believe in the burning of books, but if a local brushfire just so happened to wander into Little, Brown and Company’s warehouse, the future of feminism might be grateful.

See, Katniss, as played exactly like Ree Dolly in the magnificent Winter's Bone by Jennifer Lawrence again, is an admirable heroine. She fights. She thinks. She takes care of herself and actually cares about others. Remember my favorite scene in Twilight 2, where Bella and Edward sauntered past a line of tourists about to be unknowingly devoured by Italian vampires? Bella looked mildlly concerned, but Edward's simple "Move on" had her seeing the sunlight while the audience caught a sample of screaming civilians. Yeah, that's someone to look up to.

One of the main reasons The Hunger Games has (forgive the pun) caught fire with a young audience is, I hope, because Katniss Everdeen is the kind of literary narrator young women want to be, like Nancy Drew, Scout Finch, Cathy Dollanger, Elphaba or a founding member of The Babysitter’s Club (with the exception of Mary Anne; grow a pair girl). In Collins' writing, Katniss is even funny and sarcastic, something that doesn't quite translate on film. I forgive that because, you know, girlfriend is fighting for her life from the likes of these people:

Look: The Hunger Games isn't perfect. It's not necessarily ground-breaking. And yes, it's now become as mainstream as Bella Swan moaning about not being understood. But just because something is popular does not mean that it's not good, or entertaining, or simply much smarter and scarier than legions of pessimists want you to believe. 

Now if you'll excuse me, I have this Pavlovian condition that requires I pop in my Running Man Blu Ray anytime the title comes up in conversation. I'll be back.


  1. "But just because something is popular does not mean that it's not good, entertaining, or simply much smarter and scarier than legions of pessimists want you to believe." Amen, sister :) I couldn't have said it any better! I am also a fan of The Hunger Games (the books and the film) as well as Battle Royale (the book and film). I think that the people that are hating on HG (most of which haven't even read the books or seen the movie I imagine) are miffed that someone dared to do a YA take on some of the same themes as BR. Which is stupid, 'cause guess what folks? BR isn't entirely original either because there have been other books, stories and films that came before it that probably inspired it including The Lottery, Lord of the Flies, The Running Man, Escape 2000, etc. as you mentioned.

    Anyway I'm with you when it comes to seeing Katniss as a strong, capable female lead character who although headstrong is also smart, caring and sympathetic. She's lead a tough life for a sixteen year old, but that hardship is ultimately what helps her in the Games.

    And yes you have also reminded me that it's been an awfully long time since I've watched my old VHS copy of Series 7: the Contenders another earlier (and underrated) counterpart to The Hunger Games. I know what I'm watching this weekend :)

  2. Preach on!

    And man, now I want to rewatch Series 7 too! Still contains one of my favorite opening scenes of all time:

    (Catherine Martin walks into a convenience store and guns down fellow contestant)
    (Store clerk, holding hands up as she waves a gun)
    "Just what's on the shelves ma'am."


  3. Emily, once again "The Phantom Of Pulp" gave this movie a hearty trashing, i think he knows best.

  4. I agree Emily. I actually enjoyed the film myself.

    Anything juggling a great load of popularity is gonna have an even bigger load of backlash from a few angles. And most of it has been on my radar because I am an observer.

    It's probably part and parcel to the millennial generation wars going on in pop culture. Probably.

    The only thing I could do without (which almost ruined the film for me) was some forced romance bullshit which I'm guessing played a role in the whole nature of "reality" television thing. And to give the kiddies a dose of heteronormativity.

    I guess...

  5. Well, I See the romance as being 90%part of the game, with Katniss playing into the tv drama of it while Peeta takes it seriously. That interpretation in confirmed in the book (which I read after). Yes, it's the least interesting thing onscreen, but I think it works because of the game's politics.