(Please note that this article contains spoilers about the entire Hunger Games series.)
It’s almost here! If critical mass on Rotten Tomatoes can be believed this early, and can be legitimately combined with box office figures, The Hunger Games is in for the rare double-whammy: profitability and credibility. A blockbuster with critical success!
A lot of people are trying to blame this on Suzanne Collins being one of the screenwriters. Without doubt, this has helped. But let’s be honest: The Hunger Games was built for film. That was one of the first thoughts many of us here at LeakyNews had while reading the books. The writing is sparse and tight, it’s plot-focused and always in forward motion. Every development is thrilling and horrifying. It’s bloody, and gory, and challenging. Every ending of a chapter is a cliffhanger into the next one. As much as I love, love, love, Harry Potter, I don’t think having J.K. Rowling as a writer on the films would have made it more of a life-and-death situation that Harry didn’t enjoy traveling via Floo Powder. It doesn’t make either better or worse, but it does help understand why this movie is primed for this result.
But the movie hasn’t met its real fans yet. That’s when the real critics take over. When we decide which nitpicks are important and which are just storytelling give-or-takes. When we start quoting mercilessly. Fighting about our least favorite parts. Vomiting animated gifs all over the Internet.
It’s going to be awesome.
But first! Let’s go over a couple of the things we fans (at at least THIS one!) most want to see about The Hunger Games:
1. Katniss is not spunky, plucky, or a badass.
The first two: no. The last, she isn’t a badass in conventional female movie ways. She is a badass in some others. For reference, see this quote by Jennifer Lawrence:
“The first time that Katniss has to go into the cylinder and she goes up into the arena and looks around and sees it for the first time,” says Lawrence. “Knowing that when that trumpet blows she could die. The thing that’s great about her is she’s not a murderer. She’s a hunter, but she’s not a killer. I told Gary, ‘I totally understand if you don’t hire me, but please remember that after Katniss shoots a bow and kills someone her face cannot be badass. It has to be broken.’ She has to be heartbroken because she just took another person’s life. It’s so tempting, especially with a cool, big budget franchise movie, but we have to remember that she’s a 16-year-old girl who’s being forced to do this. These kids are only killing each other because if they don’t, they’ll die. It’s needless, pointless, unjustified violence. So there’s nothing cool about her. It’s not like she looks around the arena and goes ‘Yeah, I got this, I’m going to do this.’ I think she looks around terrified and thinks, ‘Well there are all the million different ways that I can die.”
Yes! How well the film plays this particular interpretation of Katniss is going to be a barometer of its quality. How bravely will the director run toward the idea that this isn’t Lara Croft in a glass dome, but a scared kid forced into a life-or-death situation, fighting not only for her life but for her soul? For the concept that she does not have to become a killing machine, in the end, to survive? That’s a heroine. It’s not someone who wields a gun as easily as a hairdryer.
Also? Katniss is, at times, darkly funny. Her words to the Careers from the tree, some things she says to Peeta: this is desperately needed proof of her strength and ability to inspire.
2. Cato, too, is human!
It’s hard to remember that the other tributes aren’t enemies, but also scared kids forced into an impossible situation. Even the most bloodthirsty of them is to be pitied. Cato was an absolutely despicable human being, but it’s no handy bit of storytelling that gave his (terribly gruesome, nightmare-inducing) ending the human touch. It’s an important point about Katniss as a heroine, an important point about morality in the direst circumstances. It’s pity in a situation in which no one would blame Katniss for lacking. It’s an important show that a tiny spark of humanity can set a world ablaze.
I have no idea how they are going to make sure that Katniss’ opponents – even the brutal ones – retain their humanity. We had Katniss’s inner monologues to tell us about the Careers and their history, and give us insight into what makes them the way they are. We won’t have that this time. But if they can manage it, it will be a coup.
3. Don’t pull punches!
It will be an insult to this film and the story that Suzanne Collins is trying to tell if we get handy, clean cutaways at the important moments. Rue’s ending. Thresh’s pity. Cato’s miserable last moments. Peeta’s leg. Katniss’s burns.
The Capitol’s brutality shows in these physical moments. The more mutilated Cato, the more infected Peeta, the more heartbreaking Thresh’s mercy, the more violent Rue’s death: the more horrifying the Capitol becomes. That’s why they are so important. Don’t shy from them.
4. Glimpses outside the arena
If you’ve been following the news, this is not a surprise: The movie affords us a rare luxury not given to us in the books. We get to see life outside the arena. President Snow talking about the consequences of hope. District 11 reacting in heartbreak to Katniss’s kindness. Haymitch manipulating the gifts based on Katniss’s theatrical actions.
Part of the difficulty to a book reader is, I think, in understanding the scope of the war, the resistance, its implications, the eventual revolution. When Katniss and Peeta’s worlds expand beyond District 12 or the cloistered Capitol, it is a bit shocking and hard to process. The films can slowly introduce a wider world, as well as give us some of Katniss’s internal monologue expressed as outside-arena scenes. This is an excellent way the filmmakers seem to be taking their jobs as filmmakers-and-not-transcribers-of-books-to-image seriously.
5. The boy with the bread
There’s been one picture of Peeta as a baker. We need to see the flashback. We need to see a hungry, starved Katniss. We need to see his pity. We need to see the love he had for her even then, we need to see how willing he is to sacrifice himself for her before she barely even knew who he was. We need to know, already, that Katniss has “no idea…the effect she can have.”
6. Gale’s hard edge
It’s there from book one, and is a warning sign. Gale is embittered. He is not quietly struggling for his identity as Peeta is: he is actively looking for someone to blame and something to do to show the Capitol. He can’t be the hot guy who snares rabbits, OK? He is a pot about to boil over. He’s not the guy weeping in the weeds (as indicated in one trailer). He’s focused on survival, doing what he has to do to fulfill promises while Katniss is gone: but he is also full of rage. Even in the pressure cooker of District 12, with his limited ability to do anything about it, we need to know how anxious he is to strike back. It’s very important in book three.
7. The contradictory nature of the arena
You can’t trust anything, even your own eyes. You don’t know if the grass will grow and ensnare you, you don’t know what chemical is going to come along and kill you, you don’t know if the ground is solid and the air breathable. Katniss, and all of them, are made fully vulnerable, put back at square one: they have to feel out their surroundings, they have to start survival all over again.
8. Cinna IS a badass
Make no mistake. This guy rocks. Cool as a cucumber, confident in what he’s doing, says only what he needs to say and no more, makes his impact known with a light touch and the completely bombastic use of fabric and synthetic fire. But he is understated. Quiet. Who knows what has gone on in his privileged Capitol existence to make him see the light? And who wants to? His simple mystery makes him great.
9. You can’t really blame Effie Trinket…
…nor the stylists, but I have a feeling that we aren’t going to see much of Octavia and crew. Effie, however, does pretty terrible things – or, rather, embraces to the tip-top the reprehensible spirit the Capitol regime engenders for the games – but she’s just an avatar for the entire Capitol culture. Unseeing, unknowing, uncaring. Assigned a role, playing it, the end. Since it’s not a society where one can know whatever one wishes as one becomes an adult, well, you can’t really blame Effie for being a vapid puppet. She’s like a child. She’s doing what she has been taught to do. Her trilling awfulness, if done right, can be fun and important at once.
10. Do. Not. Make. This. Twilight.
Yes, it’s such a marevelous coincidence that the two people in love with Katniss are hotter than a coal mine in August. And we have joked on the subject just as much as anyone else: we have even published polls, because, what the heck, right? But when it comes down to it, we just hope, against hope, against all-ever-consuming hope that the filmmakers remembered that this is a movie about survival, about a revolution. It’s about a flash point of a person, an icon that becomes one unwittingly. It’s about the flourishing of one person into the hope of a country, about her rising to fill it through her genuine and unique ability, even though it’s the last thing she wants to do. The love element of The Hunger Games it not about who wins Katniss’s decimated heart. It’s about what we need to get through it all. It’s about how two destroyed people could, just possibly, come together to make a whole, and quietly help rebuild a world.
It is never, ever, about which one of them sparkles.
Please remember that as we go into the second and third film, and the success of the franchise starts to blow out of control.
When did this become an open letter to the filmmakers? I don’t know! But I am nervous! Will drastic success change the approach? Will public pressure become too much for the writers and producers to bear? Will “The Hunger Games Adventures” be as completely comically despicable as it seems? Tell us what you think in comments!