Category Archives: The Hunger Games

Movie Muses: Catching Fire Does The Love Triangle… Well?

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and I hope that all of you fabulous readers have plans to eat, drink, and be merry with your loved ones and friends.  I currently have pumpkin bread in the oven and am about to face a very blustery, rainy, cold drive on my way to my family’s house where we shall eat far too much of everything and enjoy each other’s company in the process.

And now for the last of my movie reviews for this month.  I’ve enjoyed focusing on film for a bit; it’s been a great month for movie watching.  I will preface this review with two important comments.  First of all, I will not be spoiling anything from the film in my commentary.  I feel very strongly about avoiding that if at all possible, so you should feel at ease to read if you haven’t yet seen the film.  Secondly, I have read all the books and seen the first film, so this is my perspective on it as someone who knows the series decently well, although I am not a die hard fan.

hunger games catching fire katniss peeta posterI enjoyed the first film more than I expected, especially after some of the reviews that I read and the complaints I saw.  I do make a habit of going into films (especially those based on books) without any expectations so that the film can prove itself or not.  Preparing to watch the second film, Catching Fire, I really didn’t have expectations one way or the other.  I had heard it was good, perhaps better than the first, but I wasn’t excited.  I wasn’t skeptical either.  I was just ready for whatever it had to offer.

Somewhat to my surprise, I thoroughly loved Catching Fire.  I loved it more than the first film.  I loved it more than its novel counterpart.  I really, really liked it.  Several things about it caught my attention.  It was emotional, exciting, and engaging.  The characters were strong and interesting.  The story was even more compelling than I remember.  It was a great movie!

So with that ringing endorsement (and you can now blame me for raising your expectations if you end up disliking it), I will focus my commentary on one element of the storytelling since that’s what I’ve been trying to do this month.

katniss gale peetaOne storytelling cliché that has become frankly tiresome and particularly overused in young adult fiction is the “love triangle.”  This could go under my “Instant Plot” series as well because it seems like authors think that as soon as they add romantic tension with a complicating third member, they can create all sorts of additional (often unnecessary) drama in which the central character who is being fought over drifts from one to the other (oh, but she’s so beautiful! oh but she’s so nice!  oh but he’s so rich! oh but he’s so noble!)  And on and on it goes.

We are probably all thinking of a particular young adult series that had a pretty major love triangle going on.  But I’m not going to talk about that.  I’m going to talk about Catching Fire and the fact that a love triangle can actually be done well, something that I wasn’t entirely sure was possible.

Again, I don’t want to provide spoilers so I’m going to keep this general, but I don’t think anything I’m going to say is going to destroy the plot for anyone.  The last movie set up the love triangle pretty clearly, anyway.

catching fire chariot costume

Literally catching fire… how splendid of them

We have Katniss in the middle, our eminently desirable female lead.  She has a long-standing unboyfriend Gale and a new fake boyfriend Peeta.  The drama comes in when we realize that Katniss isn’t necessarily drawn toward either of them while they both like her.  In the second movie, the romantic tension builds as Katniss actually comes to realize that these two boys are interested and that she has feelings (ever so complicated feelings!) in return.

So how was it any different from any other love triangle ever?  The difference is in the fact that all three members of this romance treat the situation with maturity.  Instead of snarling and marking territory (which, let’s face it, would have been kind of weird, anyway), Gale and Peeta recognize that they’re really on the same side in the grand scheme of things and that there are more important things going on (le gasp!) than their romantic feelings.

This is where love triangles become so ridiculous: when the members of the dramatic little group start being petty, unreasonable, and overly possessive (which an author often believes makes for a more exciting story), they cease to be particularly admirable for a lot of their audience as well.  Are we really impressed when our heroine makes out with one hero and then realizes that no, no, she actually would rather make out with the other one…but wait, no… never mind… maybe… uh….

gale katniss catching fireWhat makes the movie perhaps stronger than the book in a way is that we get to see things from outside of Katniss’s admittedly limited perspective.  We see facial expressions and emotions that she is sometimes unaware of.  We also see her responses as third-party viewers.

I’ll be honest, this is a love triangle in the sense that Katniss is drawn to both boys in different ways, but she doesn’t play back and forth with them.  She is honest; they are honest; and the story plays out in a way that makes sense and doesn’t cause a lot of nausea for those of us who are frankly tired of love triangles in young adult fiction.

This only goes to show that even the most feared and hated clichés can, in fact, be used well.  If we let our characters be real and act in a way that makes sense to who they are rather than in a way that simply drives the plot or heightens the drama at the expense of reason, we might make use of something that seems completely overdone and we might do it well.

catching fire katniss peeta galeIt’s nice to conclude the month with a positive review of a good movie.  Hopefully some of the upcoming films here at the end of the year will be equally enjoyable.  What did you think of this year’s movies so far?  Are there any you are looking forward to?

And, to everyone, a very happy Thanksgiving!

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Mocking the Mocking Jay

So I finished Catching Fire in less than a week.  I was pretty much hooked the whole time.  I was loving the new twists and everything that was happening.  I got to the end and I immediately sought out Mockingjay. I had to know what happened.

Mockingjay bookWithin the first couple of pages, I was seething with disappointment. Characters that had been developed and where growing and changing and had dimensions were suddenly flat or worse, acting out of character.  I know that I dislike Katniss but this was different.

This is the tension between author and narration. The question I keep asking myself is, does a particular section in the story bother me because Katniss is a flawed narrator or is the blame on bad writing?  And I am not sure I had an answer for the first two books.  Perhaps that is why those books intrigued me.  But as I read Mockingjay, all I could see was bad writing and regression in character development.

I know Katniss is a flawed narrator.  It has been argued that this is sort of the point. We get the world from her limited perspective and we feel how she views events.  She is an emotional, traumatized young woman, whose emotions and affections are being manipulated by nearly everyone around her.  Being stuck in her mind is a reflection on how she feels about it all – stuck, with no escape.  I get this, however, I think I just want a little be more.  At first it was I wanted more of the world that Collins had created.  She gave it to me in Catching Fire. But as I started reading Mockingjay, everything that I was looking forward to – the continued development of Katniss, Haymitch and Finnick, the details of District 13 – were lacking in something…Mockingjay_poster

Collins has a fantastic world, the political intrigue, the spying, the spectacular that veils the truth about the Capitol and its relationship with the Districts, all of it is a network of complicated plots that we only get glimpses of from Katniss’s flawed point of view. But I find Katniss’s lack of introspection disturbing. (A problem I have with first person present tense…see my rant on the Hunger Games)  This is also a flaw within Katniss’s character.  She is not one to think things through…she is a reactionary.  She does what she needs to do to survive.  Again, this is not necessarily a bad thing.  But every time Katniss has the time to think about things the story skips ahead.  Katniss never lets the characters around her explain events nor does she ask any questions to get the answers she demands.

Two of the most intreguing characters are Haymitch and Finnick.  Their roles in making the diversion to rescue Katniss in Catching Fire was the highlight of that second book.  But what I saw in Mockingjay were two characters who didn’t know how to cope or survive. Haymitch was always a little cryptic and selfish, became even more so, which makes his rescue and everything that we hear about him doing to save Katniss and even Peeta seem unreal and contrary to his nature.  He was apparently friends with the other champions but he is not friendly nor supporting in anyway.  Granted this is partially because we are getting the story from Katniss’s perspective but I cannot help be feel like there is something lacking in Haymitch as a whole character that is lacking and this has nothing to do with Katniss’s perspective.  Haymitch’s development is not consistent with his behavior or his expereinces.

Finnick – smart, suave, and immutable Finnick – becomes an emotional wreck.  He has been for years living lies, preying on emotions and letting nothing phase him.  Nothing happened in the arena that he hadn’t thought could happen.  He is one of the conspirators.  He was in on it from the beginning.  He knew the cost.  He knew what he was risking and yet, his response to salvation is not what I’d expected from him.  He turned into a mess – worse than Katniss. And believe me that is saying something. Finnick spends more time in a drugged stupor or moping about the lose of his love than it took for Peeta recover from his drugged torture and emotional manipulation.  Finnick should have been a strong character.  I say this not because that is the sort of character I wanted, but because that is the character that Collins created in Catching Fire. The character we see in Mockingjay is weak and damaged.  Ok, anyone who goes through the arena and survives is damaged, but this is different.  He has lived, survived in the world and made something of himself, District 13 should have been a place where he’d continue his noble goal of saving those he loved.  Instead he quivers in a corner, drugged and emotional. Once again this has nothing to do with Katniss telling the story, it has everything to do with the author and how she is portraying her characters.

Another interesting complaint that I personally did not have but many of the fans did, was the death of Prim.  They all thought that it was out of place and they were disappointed by the lack of time spent on that scene.  Collins doesn’t spend a lot of time on the many deaths that take place in her books.  There is only one that stands out to me and that is Rue.  Little Rue was/is the only character that Katniss actually is seen mourning in a real way.  That scene is heart-wrenching.  Prim is another character that Katniss should mourn and do so in a real, tangible way.  Instead we see her drugged, in a stupor, and angry.  But there is no memorial, no show from Katniss of her grief.  Once again the readers are left disappointed not by Katniss’s limited perspective but by Collins who did not articulate the events.  She left us wanting more, more out of Katniss, more out of the world.

I will say this, I was surprised by the ending.  I did not expect Katniss to shoot a particular character in the end.  I found that poetic. 

I really could go on…but I don’t have the time.  Needless to say I was disappointed. Everything I was looking forward to were less than stellar and I was left wanting more.   Collins left me wanting more, more out of Katniss, more out of the world.

Do I still recommend the books?  Yes…but be warned…you’ll be disappointed with Mockingjay.

Back to the Arena: Reading Catching Fire

Hello all, I hope you are enjoying your summer.  My summer reading list has taken a turn.  I haven’t read a single book on my list.  But I am still pleased with the selection of books I’ve been reading.  This month I plan to dedicate my posts to the books I have been reading.  I’d love to hear from you about the books you are all reading.

Catching-fire-movie-posterFirst book – Catching Fire, Suzanne Collins

Last year when the Hunger Games film was released, I expressed my opinion about the book and the movie.  I ranted about how I did not like first person present tense or Katniss, which hasn’t changed.  However, curiosity got the better of me.  Watching the trailers and seeing the many pics on pinterest (I have a dear friend who may or may not  be a serious fan-girl of the Hunger Games series) of Catching Fire, I couldn’t resist the temptation to find out what was going on.

Fortunately, I had my previous experiences with Katniss and that dreaded first person present tense to guide me in my expectations.  Reading Catching Fire was surprisingly enjoyable. I got over my distaste for Katniss and tense and just let the story be told, because I knew the characters differently. I remembered them from the movie, which had given them a depth that Katniss’s perspective could not have known. President Snow in particular was a character that seemed more real to me because  I had seen him in the movie, I had seen conversations and decisions that he made that Katniss could not and would not know about.  His sudden appearance and his challenge to Katniss had context outside of her perspective of the world.  The movie actually helped frame this world for me that Katniss could not through her narration in the book.president-snow-hunger-games-catching-fire-yahoo-smaller

I found Catching Fire engaging, as I had not found Hunger Games, because I knew what to expect that is out of Katniss and the writing style.  (A testament to Collins’ writing that despite my dislike for certain aspects of the story – main character and style – I was able to enjoy her story)  Collins continued to create a world full of stark contrasts, manipulation, glamour and horror. I was not expecting the twist at the end.  I was thinking something wasn’t right, after all we were given a glimpse of the Mocking Jay on the Gamemaker’s watch.  Katniss did not understand it and I think we as the reader were meant to see it, making a connection that Katniss in her flawed state couldn’t process.  Hints but nothing concrete, take the reader on an intense ride with Katniss as she goes back to the arena and faces old fears – death and sacrifice.

We see Katniss express emotions she does not understand herself.  We as the reader know that her feelings for Peeta are deeper than the masquerade they put on for the Capitol.  Yet, she never actually articulates them.  They just cloud her judgement just a little bit more. True to herself, emotions drive her to action but she doesn’t understand them.  She is willing to sacrifice herself for Peeta in a way that I don’t think she is willing to do for Gale.  Yes, she stopped the whipping but I have a feeling that she’d have done something more drastic if it had been Peeta.  This feeling is in fact clouded by my knowledge of the third book however, it is something that Collins hints at all throughout.   Peeta is the only one who can comfort her.  Why? He was there, he knows the pain of the Games unlike anyone else.Catching-Fire-catching-fire-movie-33836550-1280-673

Another aspect of Catching Fire that I truly enjoyed, was the introduction of the other Victors.  The Games suddenly had history and a connection to the vaster world that Collins had created, because Katniss was finally making the connections. An interesting thing that was never mentioned in the book but what fandom brought to light was that one of the Victors who volunteered was nearly 80 years old.  She was there, there for the Dark Days and the beginning of the Hunger Games.  It is little things like that that made the second book in the series so much more than I could have expected.

And of course the twist…the last few pages of the book just took me by surprise.  (I won’t say what the twist is for anyone who hasn’t read the books yet…it is too good to ruin). I had to get my hands on the last book, which I did in less then 24 hours.

Next week my reaction to Mocking Jay and my overall thoughts on the series.

Review: HUNGER GAMES (Spoiler Alert)

Review: HUNGER GAMES (Spoiler Alert)

I have not read the books, so this is only about the movie.  When I saw the trailers, I thought, “Why would anyone want to expose himself to two straight hours of ‘reality TV?’  I can’t even stand thirty minutes of it.”  But then I noticed that people I respect were crazy about the books, so I decided to give it a shot.

It was a good decision.

Every single element in Hunger Games is derivative, but the combination manages to be original.  It is Survivor meets The Fifth Element meets “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” meets a medieval morality play meets 1984.  Surprisingly, it works.

Some Christian reviewers have complained about the violence or about the inherently compromising morality of the premise: our heroine is in a game where the only way to survive is to murder other people.  But the violence is not glorified and the immoral premise is not praised; rather a society that accepts the murder of children as (A) entertainment and (B) the price of peace is held up to critique.  You get a nice opportunity to ponder the shallow manipulations of media while you’re at it.

Ironically, the moral ambiguity of the ending is the very thing that makes the story disturbing (in a potentially productive way) and profound.  Katniss and her friend from District 12 are the last two combatants left.  They have managed to do their necessary killing in self defense, and they have wanted  somehow to make it through the games with their integrity intact—not to be turned into someone else by the experience.  Now one of them must kill the other, but this they refuse to do.  So they make a mutual suicide pact: they will eat poisoned berries and both die rather than give the media circus they have been part of the winner (on its own terms) that it desperately wants.  It would have been a striking act of protest against the immorality of the whole affair.  But at the last minute, the judges decide to accept two winners: they both get to live!  Stunned, they accept this offer before they realize what it means.  And that is what makes the story more than just another violent action flick.

Here’s the problem: they have been given life, but by accepting it, they have put themselves in the position of having to live it on the game’s terms.  Words are put in their mouths by the slick announcer who interviews them afterwards.  Instead of making the suicide pact because they refused to murder a friend, they are portrayed as having made it because they were in love and could not face life without each other.  They are confused and dazzled by what has happened to them.  They hardly realize that they are probably going to live to wish they had eaten those berries.  They are just kids who were offered life in a moment of sudden choice.  Who could blame them for taking it?  Yet by doing so they have suffered the very fate they had wanted to avoid:  loss of identity.  Their lives will now be scripted according to the roles created for them by the media.  When they smile at the crowd and raised their hands together, I suffered a chill I have not felt since Winston realizes at last that he loves Big Brother.

This is a story, not a sermon.  It raises questions to which it may not have answers.  But they are questions that desperately need to be asked, and especially by contemporary Americans.  What do you do when you dwell in a society that lives by the murder of innocents?  How do you maintain your integrity in a society whose major mode of operation is the manipulation of images?  If Hunger Games just makes you less comfortable with living without the answers, it will have performed a very useful service.

Donald T. Williams, PhD

Order Dr. Williams’ books Stars through the Clouds ($15.00) or Reflections from Plato’s Cave ($15.00) at https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/.

Hunger Games: Don’t hate me but I liked the movie better

Ok, I know everyone is buzzing about the Hunger Games. It is the new thing…just like Harry Potter, or Twilight. It is the new teen sensation and somehow or other it is effecting more than just young adults, as the twenty-something-crowd hover in the isles of the books stores and hungrily devour these books. (Maybe this craving and sensationalizing books by the twenty-to-thirty-somethings really is a side effect of all those years of reading HP, waiting with baited breath for each new novel and then the movies.  We are to blame; we created the monsters!)

Warning!!!  If you haven’t read the book or seen the movie: Spoiler Alert!! 

Now, I am going to say it…and everyone who knows me is cringing (even I am cringing a little).  I liked the movie more than the book*…

What?!

Why!?

How could an English major be so cruel to a book?  How could I, the proponent that books are always better than the movie, say such a thing!?

Well, let me explain.  Here are my issues with the book

  • First Person Present Tense!  For some of you, I don’t need to say more but for those of you who are not convinced continue to read my other issues and you’ll begin to understand how limiting and annoying the perspective is.
  • Katniss. (Yup, I said it, and many of you are going to hate me, but please hear me out).  I love Katniss…she is as they say “badass!”  She is everything a powerful, young, confident, woman could and would hope to be. But she is a terrible narrator. She is so limited, oblivious and self-absorbed that I find her version of events distracting, which is sad because the world is so fascinating and there is so much going on that Katniss does not know about or even comprehend.  Hence, why the first person perspective in this book is, well, disappointing.  All my complaints stem from this aspect of Katniss’s personality.  She is in my mind the worst person to tell the story.
  • The Capital: My problem with the Capital is not the Capital itself…it is how narrowly it is depicted and how shallowly it is described.  Katniss knows hardly anything about her world.  She barely even understands her own District 12.  I constantly felt like I wanted or needed more of the world and Katniss could not deliver it.  Her scope is focused on Prim, hunting, and survival.  She does not comprehend her world outside of that, for which you cannot fault her.  I understand those things are part of what makes Katniss, well, Katniss.  I just wanted more of the world.  I wanted to know how the markets and Peacekeepers work.  What about trade with the other Districts? They have television and technology but how did it translate into the day-to-day lives of the Districts?  So many questions and no answers. The Capital is this giant ostentatious thing that is never fully explained not because the Suzanne Collins doesn’t understand the workings of the world, but because Katniss doesn’t understand.
  • Lack of introspection:  Everything is told as the events happen.  Everything is like watching a live broadcast of a game, which I have no doubt is part of Collins’ overall intent on using first person present tense.  But this live play by play leaves very little room for understanding characters particularly when they do things that are not typical to their personality.  Katniss does not spend a lot of time thinking about what she has done or why she has done it, which makes since with her survival instincts and skills.  Her behavior once she gets to the Capital does not make sense for a character who is  in essence has spent her life hunting in the woods, surviving.  All of a sudden Katniss, who is described as being rather introverted, starts waving and smiling and acting like she might actually enjoy the attention.  But she doesn’t reflect on her behavior.  You only get what she sees and feels in the moment but not the thought process of introspection. Don’t get me wrong, there are times that she does think about what she is doing and that little glimpse we see of her then is invaluable.  Katniss’s treatment of Rue is so beautiful.  It is an elegant expression of human compassion in a world that is dark and barbaric with no sense of the true value of life.  And Collins’ gives time for Katniss to reflect and give purpose to her actions.

Now that I have complained about the book, let me share my joy over how the movie corrected these problems.

First of all…I was not stuck in Katniss’s head!  The story no doubt follows Katniss, but you get to see other characters and how they react to things that are happening to Katniss.  I loved seeing Katniss’s mom and sister watching the Hunger Games and even seeing Gale sitting alone in the woods, knowing that they were each grieving in their own way.  District 11’s reaction to Rue’s death was a brilliant add in.  And I loved how the movie used the game show/athletic competition commentary to explain things and give depth to the world.  Oh, and all the underhanded politics that went on with the President and the Game Master. It was all truly great insight into the world that I would have loved to have read in the book.  It added such depth to the story, to the world, and all of the events. 

Yup, the book was good, but the movie had so much more…well, more elements and a fuller perspective on Panam that I have to say I will definitely watch the movie again, but I doubt I’ll pick up the book again.  So sad but true…maybe I am just too demanding, or maybe I just have issues.  But for all of you who read the book and loved it – Love on!  For those of you who understand my pain – come and commiserate with me.  Let me know what you thought of the book or movie.

 

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*Disclaimer:  I have not read any of the other books in the series.  So my assessment of the world and writing of the books are solely based on Hunger Games.