My wife and I went to see The Hunger Games this weekend. We had seen a trailer for the movie a while back and thought that it might be something that we would enjoy. I usually don't like to see movies that are going to be popular on their opening weekend because I don't find sitting in a crowded theater enjoyable. But we went anyway.
I didn't know much about the story going in. I knew that it was a book and I suspected that it was a series of books. I knew that there was some bad things going on in the book where people were involved in some sort of battle to the death. But I really didn't know anything beyond that. Just as a spoiler alert about how well our movie viewing experience went–I have since read the book.
I started to get skeptical of the movie during the first fifteen to twenty minutes because the director decided to use shaky camera work. Very shaky camera work. I started to feel pretty nauseous and wondered how I was going to make it through two hours. I even leaned over and whispered my concern to my wife. (I really don't know why movie makers overuse this effect. It is one thing to add the effect in action scenes but the first bit of this film isn't filled with actions scenes. It just isn't fun to watch people sitting on a chair with the camera shaking as if it were rolling down a hill.) But the story was compelling right from the start and it just built from there.
One of the most captivating things about this story (for both the film but especially the book) is that the subject matter is so dark but done in a very engaging way. The premise of the story is that the Capitol of Panem (the result of a post apocalyptic United States) faced a rebellion from it's 13 districts. As a punishment for that rebellion the Capitol held the "Hunger Games" every year. The 12 remaining districts (District 13 was wiped out in the civil war) have to sent one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 to participate in the "Hunger Games." The contestants fight to the death until there is just one victor. Then that person is sent back to their district and lavished with great riches. Most of the districts are extremely poor and the more a person relies on the Capitol for food the more times their name is entered into the lottery. The story is compelling and you are sucked in to the point where it is very easy to forget that the story is really about kids forced to kill other kids for the entertainment of the people of the Capitol.
Everyone in Panem is forced to watch but what is a punishment for the districts is a gala event for the Capitol.
The parallels to the games in the Roman Coliseum are unmistakable. However the parallels to modern reality shows are frightening. While reality shows are not about people killing one another they are filled with character assassination. Viewers might want to object by saying that these shows are more scripted than reality or that the actors know that being involved in conflict will get them more face time. But the fact of the matter is that the entertainment industry has made billions of dollars showing people trying to destroy one another under the pretense of being reality. We have become consumers of the destruction of human beings. When you also consider the popularity of the ultra-violent fighting of the MMA it just begs the question of how long until we find ourselves back in the Roman Coliseum?
Both the film and the book are worth watching and reading. The shaky camera work lessens and the film stays very true to the spirit of the book. But like most film adaptations the book is far better. Film just has too many limitations that make it impossible to capture everything. The book is obviously written towards young adults but I found the book to be nearly impossible to put down. The film is aimed equally at young adults and older adults but because of the subject matter and violence it would be very questionable for those younger than junior high age.
Get the book and read it. Then go and see the film. You won't be sorry.
Photo courtesy of scholastic.com