Let’s Watch The Hunger Games pt. 1

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I’m going to make a confident guess here and assume that everyone reading this knows the basic setup of the plot, so I don’t need to explain it.

vlcsnap-2015-06-11-22h49m36s50 Sci-fi stories always seem to have trouble giving things non-goofy names.

vlcsnap-2015-06-11-22h50m37s143 And then we’ll make them murder each other on live TV, which will ensure the Districts never rebel again!

This setup never made sense to me. The Hunger Games can’t be seen as a punishment because they keep happening regardless of how docile and obedient the Districts are, so the people have absolutely no incentive not to cause a ruckus and rebel. It would make far more sense if the games were enacted only in response to rebellion, so the people of the Districts would blame themselves for the child-murdering instead of the Capital. Clearly, I should be in charge of this dystopian society.

I should point out that this opening sequence is actually very well done- the text smash-cuts onto two TV personalities talking about the Hunger Games in a low-key, realistic manner with no background music. It’s a really great bit of direction. vlcsnap-2015-06-11-22h54m18s79 Unfortunately the TV presenters look like this.

One of the book’s conceits is that the Capital is all uber-decadent and into frivolous things like wacky high fashion. The film’s portrayal of this is… interesting, to say the least.

vlcsnap-2015-06-11-22h57m37s25 Then it’s over to District 12, where our heroine Katniss “insert joke about her name here” Everdeen is comforting her sister, who just woke from a dream where she was chosen for the Hunger Games. It’s the first year she’ll be eligible for selection, and it’s understandably weighing on her mind a bit.

GOOD THING SHE TOTALLY WON’T GET PICKED AM I RIGHT

Whatever else you can say about these movies, at least the acting is good.

vlcsnap-2015-06-11-23h01m02s8 The Capital is all futuristic multi-coloured Willy Wonka land, whereas the Districts are basically America during the Great Depression… but IN THE FUTURE. I think. I’m assuming this is the future, I’m not sure if that’s ever stated.

I’m having trouble taking in District 12’s folksy down-home poverty due to all the FUCKING SHAKY CAM. This is yet another one of those movies where the camera is constantly swaying all over the place for no god damn reason.

vlcsnap-2015-06-11-23h05m49s76 Katniss goes off to hunt outside the district boundaries. Why are there district boundaries? Does all of the (apparently wild) forest beyond belong to someone? Why not let the people of District 12 put it to good use, and then they wouldn’t be living in poverty and would be able to work more effectively?

I might be jumping the gun a bit here, but one of my problems with this series is that it always seemed as if the Capital is keeping the Districts poor and oppressed just for the hell of it.

Katniss is about to shoot a CG deer, but then a Hot Dude comes along to have whimsical banter. Actually I take back what I said about the acting, this guy isn’t very good.

vlcsnap-2015-06-11-23h27m01s253 “We may live in a bleak poverty-stricken hellhole, but I can still keep my hair perfectly styled and maintained.”

This sequence basically serves to setup the fact that Katniss is totally baller with a bow, but before she can catch more food a big scary airship thing passes overheard and her and Hot Dude have to flee. vlcsnap-2015-06-11-23h30m29s225 This is a person from the Capital sent to gather Tributes for the Games. Her name is Effie Trinket. Are you feeling this grim dystopian society yet?

Meanwhile back in the forest Katniss and Mr.Gormless have a pie in the sky conversation about running away. He put his name in for the Games a ton of times (it’s not explained here, but you can increase your odds of getting picked in return for food), so he’s kind of on edge.

vlcsnap-2015-06-11-23h34m06s148 Then we see the tense, sad build-up to the selection. This is what gets me about this story, in whatever format you care to name: parts of it are genuinely well done and affecting, while others are stupid as shit.

vlcsnap-2015-06-11-23h37m36s203 I’m not sure how much the movie will go into this, but in the book we find out that Katniss’s mother was traumatized by her husband’s death in an accident and fell into a depressed stupor, basically leaving Katniss to raise herself and her sister.

For some reason this became one of the recurring plot points in the wave of post-Hunger Games dystopian fiction, with a succession of heroines who idolize a (often dead) male figure and who have useless mothers. For all that it otherwise adheres to the dystopian trope conga-line, Divergent didn’t do this- Tris’s mother is totally awesome and her dad is a piece of inert fluff.

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The murder-candidate kids all have to watch an obviously-bullshit propaganda film before the selection commences. This is another well-done part; we see cut-aways to the kids looking terrified or skeptical while the narrator talks, and then there’s a shot of Effie mouthing along nervously to the words, as if she’s got a mild case of stage fright and really wants to make sure she doesn’t miss her cue to start speaking again (we later see that people involved in the Games can be executed for fucking up, so she has good reason to be scared).

Incidentally the first movie at the very least drastically improves this character, who in the books is portrayed as a childlike airhead. Here she’s actually mildly creepy, and you get the feeling the wacky makeup and simpering is all an elaborate act hiding someone who’s actually fairly insecure. All of this is communicated with very little as well, just some subtle acting and a few scenes like the one above.

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Yeah so Katinss’ sister gets picked.

You know, the fairly wide age range they pick from doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, since a scrawny twelve year old is probably not going to be much of a match for someone who’s basically started adulthood already. It would be understandable if the Capital were like “we’re going to murder 24 of your kids and I guess one of them will randomly survive”, but this is theoretically supposed to be a competition.

Katniss volunteers to go in her sister’s place. I like how this isn’t portrayed as TEH UBER NOBLE AND HEROIC but rather an off the cuff act of obvious desperation, and immediately afterward she looks like she’s about to pass out from fear. The scene is actually pretty harrowing- her sister starts screaming hysterically and Hot Dude has to come and drag her away as Katniss is led to the stage. it helps that this entire sequence plays out with no music at all. I remember the first time I saw this I was like “hot damn this is some intense shit.”

That feeling did not last.

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Instead of applauding, the audience members do this hand signal that’s supposed to signify solidarity or resistance or something. For some reason the totally ruthless authorities who have no problem forcing children to murder each on live TV or nuking an entire district into oblivion just stand there and put up with this.

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The boy who gets selected is an Other Hot Dude who Katniss had a brief encounter with in the past when he gave her some bread. He looks just as gormless as Hot Dude #1.

(By the way yes, this is going to be a love triangle, because every YA novel needs a fucking love triangle)

The Tributes have a few minutes to say goodbye to their families and Katniss is like HEY USELESS MOM DON’T BE USELESS AGAIN WHEN I GET KILLED GOD WOMEN AND THEIR FEELINGS AM I RIGHT anyway off to go get murdered on TV tootles. Then Hot Dude comes and he’s like IF YOU GET A BOW YOU COULD WIN OR WHATEVER MAN I CAN’T EMOTE EVEN WHEN I’M SAYING GOODBYE TO MY SORT-OF GIRLFRIEND.

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Then Katniss and Other Hot Dude get on a Train.

The Train is all super duper luxurious and has fancy food. We are now officially entering the stupid parts of the story, where… well, you’ll see.

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Then they meet Woody Harrelson In A Wig, who won the Hunger Games in the past and is supposed to act as their mentor. Unfortunately he’s constantly drunk off his ass and wants nothing to do with them due to a combination of trauma from the games and the fact that he’s unwilling to get emotionally invested in people he expects to die soon. Yes, Katniss and Other Hot Dude manage to bring him around.

This whole mentor thing strikes me as kind of nonsensical- the guy was only in the Games once and for all they know he could have won due to sheer luck (I’d expect a lot of past victors would be people who just hid and let the other Tributes kill each other). He’s not necessarily going to be any more of an expert than anyone else.

He introduces the idea of sponsors- there’s a reality show aspect to the Games, where people in the Capital can send supplies and stuff to Tributes they like. Therefore, the run up to the Games involves putting on a good act and winning over the crowd. BEEP BEEP WE’RE HEADING FOR STUPIDVILLE.

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EXPERIENCE THE WONDER OF OUR COMPUTER GENERATED CAPITAL

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EXPERIENCE THE WONDER OF OUR PINK DOG AND GOOFY WILLY WONKA OUTFITS

The Tributes get brought to a scary medical wing/fetish club to get prettified for the cameras.

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Okay so here’s a thing that baffles me: Katniss actually gets friendly with this guy because he isn’t outwardly an asshole. Except HE’S PART OF THE SYSTEM THAT’S TRYING TO MURDER HER AND 23 OTHER KIDS. No, I don’t give a shit that he’s nice and expresses sympathy with her. He’s still participating. We’re given no sign that he’s being forced or threatened into it, and that means he’s doing it willingly, which makes him one of the bad guys. End of story.

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Then there’s a big parade thing where the Tributes get their first shot at making an impression on the audience. And this is really where the story loses me. I understand the point of this- it’s in there as satire of the media and reality TV- but a) the points its making aren’t in the least bit original or fresh and b) the story focuses way too heavily on this shit.

At least it’s not nearly as bad here as it is in the book.

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Colonel Sanders over there is President Snow, the head honcho of Evilville. We’ll be seeing a lot of him in the sequels.

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Katniss and Other Hot Dude have outfits that are on fire (“fake fire”, whatever that means). Everyone, up to and including President Snow, is just absolutely flabbergasted by this.This whole section of the story is just here to make Katniss seem like more of a special snowflake instead of focusing on the actually interesting parts, eg the fact that she’s involved in this fucked up dystopian nightmare.

(It doesn’t help that the CG fire here looks incredibly fake)

Other Hot Dude takes Katniss’s hand and for some reason everyone loses their fucking shit. This is the beginning of the deeply tiresome “Katniss and OHD have to pretend to be in love” storyline.

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One thing that always bothers me about this world: there isn’t just a wealth disparity between the Capital and the Districts; instead the Capital is this huge, mega-opulent sci-fi wonderland whereas the Districts are basically outposts of the 1930s American dustbowl. How would such tiny, poverty-stricken regions support that? Either the Capital would have so much advanced tech that they wouldn’t need to rely on the Districts for resources, or the Districts would quickly be bled dry and the whole system would collapse. It really does just seem like the Districts are kept poor and impoverished for the lulz.

President Snow gives a speech (dude has an awesome speech-giving voice) and the crowd goes wild again. Does literally everyone in the Capital agree with this? Is there no dissent, no one protesting? Even if they were raised on a diet of this stuff surely some people would be repulsed by it. This isn’t violent TV we’re talking about, it’s children being forced to murder each other. I can only assume everyone is being duped into thinking the Tributes volunteer willingly for the Games or something.

Continued in part 2!

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12 thoughts on “Let’s Watch The Hunger Games pt. 1

  1. braak

    Anyway, I also agree that the premise of “districts have to compete for food in order to distract them from their crushing poverty” makes so much sense and “everyone agrees to this as punishment for a war that they loss” makes so little sense as to be completely baffling.

    Reply
  2. Ian

    I get your POV that Cinna is a de facto bad guy due to simply being part of the system, but in my mind he came across as a good guy not just because he was a blatantly sympathetic character but because I took him as working within the bad guy system in order to achieve a good guy goal (i.e. saving kids from death by making them popular and thus getting more packages or w/e in the arena).

    This may just be mine hindsight speaking though, as later on he’s shown to be actively working against the system.

    Reply
    1. Hal

      Trying to help out Katniss win support in the game isn’t really saving lives though. Katniss winning means every other kid has to die. I wouldn’t exactly call that a good guy goal.

      Reply
      1. Ian

        Well, literally speaking it is working to save a life…and in a much more peaceful fashion than “train her to kill kids”. There are many examples of people working within abusive systems to achieve good ends. Taking the mindset of “anyone part of the Society is bad” kind of limits what options the good guys have, which isn’t really helpful to a rebellion.

        Reply
        1. ronanwills Post author

          My problem is that (at least in the first book/movie) I’m not actually sure that Cinna is trying to achieve any sort of good outcome beyond advancing his career. He clearly does care legitimately about Katniss, but we never see him go so far as to condemn the Capital or even voice opposition to the Games.

          The impression I get (whether or not it was intended) is that he feels bad about Katniss personally being caught up in the system but hasn’t made the necessary leap to realising that the system itself is the problem.

          Reply
  3. Hal

    There’s a weird thing in the book where Katniss can’t decide whether she’s into the whole competition thing or not. At some points, like with the dress and parade, she’s 100% jazzed about it and wants to show up everyone else. Half the time, she’s thinking about shooting everyone with a bow the second she gets her hands on one. But then, she has all of this narration about how evil THE SYSTEM is and how rebellious she is. It came off as very jarring.

    Reply
  4. Signatus

    My biggest issue was with the moving camera. That completely put me off, and was the main reason I didn’t bother to see the other movies. I haven’t read the books, though I know what they’re about. Are they really as good/bad as people claim?

    Reply
    1. ronanwills Post author

      They’re bad, but a lot of the negative criticism I’ve seen is hyperbolic, similar to what gets thrown at Twilight. They’re far from being OMG THE WORST BOOKS EVER.

      Reply
  5. reveen

    I feel like these movies were really good in a lot of ways, casting, acting ,cinematography, set and costume design. Just about everything except for the central story it’s built upon. Which is kind of tragic if you consider the amount of work involved in a movie like this.

    Also, don’t talk shit about the pink Afghan hound. That is dope as fuck.

    Reply
  6. Kitts

    The thing where Katniss kind of latches on to Cinna makes sense to me. She’s a teenager surrounded by hostile people, and even when objectively you know that someone doesn’t have your best interest at heart, when they’re the only nice person around, it’s easy to fall into a place where you want to please that person. There’s a reason good cop/bad cop still works. I’ve had it used on me before, and I was really angry to realize it was working.

    Reply

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