FINALLY, after a year-long media campaign that the New York Times calls one of the most innovative social-networking efforts in Hollywood history:
Hunger Games is here!
Originally aimed at Young Adults, this series has crossed over to millions of adult fans who are buzzing about the central themes and the high adventure. ReadTheSpirit is publishing several viewpoints on this important cultural milestone.
Want to spark a discussion about Hunger Games?
Read faith-and-film author Edward McNulty’s detailed analysis.
AND: Rodney Curtis, a.k.a. Spiritual Wanderer, on Why Your Mom May Hate This Movie.
Here is Twilight expert Jane Wells’ review …
Glimpsing Startling New Aspects in Hunger Games
By JANE WELLS
Where to start? The amazing costumes? The violence you didn’t quite see, but shocked none-the-less? The superb cast and nuanced acting? The breathtaking special effects?
Let’s start here: The Hunger Games movie is not Twilight the movie.
Last week I explained why these two best-selling series of novels can’t be compared apples to apples. Turns out, the movies are also different animals. I’ve often described the Twilight movies as a form of shorthand for people who were already fans of the novels. Several times in the Twilight movies, a major theme on which an entire future plot point hangs is summed up in one sentence, which the fans catch, mentally acknowledge and move on. People who are introduced to Twilight in a movie theater sometimes miss those key little details from the novels as throw-away moments then find themselves broadsided later because the cues had been too subtle.
The Hunger Games, on the other hand, benefited from author Suzanne Collins background in scriptwriting and hands-on approach to converting her books to the big screen. Collins ruthlessly culled her own material, distilling it down to the most important elements so they could be fully developed.
For example, the Mockingjay pin, is an important symbol in the series. In the books it is given to heroine Katniss Everdeen by the mayor’s daughter, whose mother’s twin had worn it when she died in the Hunger Games 25 years earlier. Rather than try to preserve this minor plot line that weaves through all three novels, Collins cuts out the whole family but preserves the importance of the pin that symbolizes her hardscrabble coal-mining district, Katniss’s independence, and the love she and her sister have for each other.
What isn’t lost is the horror of violence. The Hunger Games is set in a dystopian future where the Capitol city of Panem rules the nation with an iron fist. The opening screens are a quote from the nation’s “constitution,” which states each of the 12 districts must provide an annual “tribute” of one teenage boy and one teenage girl, between the ages of 12 and 18, to be sent to the capitol where they will be put into an arena and will fight to the death. Only one can survive.
‘HOPE IS THE ONLY THING MORE POWERFUL THAN FEAR’
It is, as President Snow explains to the Head Gamekeeper, a carrot and stick method of governing. That 23 of the 24 children must die reminds the outlying districts that their survival rests on the grace of the Powers that Be. But…
“Do you know why there is a survivor?” Snow asks the Gamekeeper.
The Gamekeeper is puzzled by the question.
“Hope,” Snow says. “Hope is the only thing more powerful than fear.”
That spark of hope, Snow explains, is what keeps the districts motivated. But this spark must be tightly controlled. If it ever gets out of control, the resulting fire could destroy everything. Unfortunately for Snow, and without any conscious intent on her part, Katniss comes to define hope for the entire nation.
‘CAREERS’: TURNING TEENS INTO KILLING MACHINES
Costumes define the stark differences between the lives enjoyed by the residents of the Capitol—and those suffered by residents in the outlying districts. When Katniss and her 12-year-old sister Primrose are preparing for the Reaping ceremony they scrub up and wear their very best clothes. The town square is filled with young women with braided hair and cotton dresses taken directly from Dorthea Lange’s Great Depression photos. In the Capitol, on the other hand, are people with brightly colored hair, impractical clothes and paint-like makeup—the most outrageous high fashion runway show on the sidewalk every day.
As one would expect in any gladiator movie, and that’s exactly what this is, the violence is unavoidable. Several of the districts actually train their children for the arena. Called “Careers”, they are taught from an early age that it is a privilege to be chosen and to bring honor to their district by winning. These teens are killing machines. The worst of this is kept off camera, but a lot of blood still spills across the screen. Even the survivors are bloody and injured most of the time. In the theater where I saw a midnight debut, one of the “Tributes” snaps the neck of a younger boy—and even those who had read the books and knew it was coming gasped in shock. I realize these books are read in Middle Schools across the country, but seeing it in full-color, larger than life, is a different thing. I don’t think the PG-13 rating is too harsh.
The casting is spot on. My only quibble is with Donald Sutherland as President Snow. I imagined someone smaller, oilier somehow. Yet, Sutherland brings to the role a layered personality that is at once warm, open and welcoming, yet deeply disturbing in his ruthless pursuit of control.
PLEASANT SURPRISES: THINGS WE’VE NEVER SEEN BEFORE
One of the coolest things brought into the film that wasn’t in the novel was the Gamekeeper’s control room. While in the novels we knew the gamekeepers had control of every aspect of the arena, even the weather, we didn’t get to see them make those decisions. Here we do and it is fascinating. We see how the Tributes are manipulated by the gamekeepers to force conflict and keep the Game “exciting.” Forest fires are set and extinguished, night falls and dawn comes in rapid sequence, and manufactured monsters are set loose to speed things up.
All in all, The Hunger Games movie opens our eyes to aspects of this terrific and deeply troubling saga that even long-time fans of the novels will admit: There are things here that we’ve never seen before.
Care to read Jane Wells’ book on spiritual themes in Twilight?
It’s called Glitter in the Sun and is guaranteed to spark lively discussion in small groups, especially since a new Twilight movie debuts later this year. Plan ahead for a spring, summer or fall series in your congregation with Jane, Twilight and Glitter.
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Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.