The Hunger Games (2012): Dystopia Versus Utopia

The Girl on Fire

I first read the novel this year in preparation for the world premier of the film that had been adapted from the book. I will not hedge nor will I guild the lily, I only read the book and preprepared myself for the film for one reason and one reason only. To hate them both.

Like a lot of people who have been intellectually blown off their feet by a concept so far beyond anything seen to date in a book and a film that took dystopia filled worlds to a different level, I felt that Suzanne Collins who wrote the original novels had taken a huge leaf out of  1996’s Battle Royale written by Koushun Takami .

I then further decided that the film made from Collins’s book would use as much of the film version of Battle Royale as possible to ensure it’s success.

I knew that this was a blatant rip-off of a Japanese  futuristic film about children killing children that had not even seen the light of day State side until December 2011

Furthermore, I knew all this without ever having read a single line from the book or watching a single trailer from the film.

How comfortably correct and outraged  we allow ourselves to feel, cocooned in the depths of our ignorance.

If you look in my archive you will find a review I did for all three of Suzanne Collins’ books in the Mockingjay Trilogy. So in the area of the novels, at least, I could hold my hand up with an embarrassed grin on my face as I did a 180 degree turnaround on the story, the author and the book’s themselves.

I then waited impatiently for the film adaptation to hit the big screen (which it did at roughly the same time as my review was posted). Unfortunately due to the flow and ebb behaviour of my finances this year, I had to pass on the big screen viewing. Last night, I watched the high-definition downloadable version via iTunes.

Effie

I was not disappointed.

Director Gary Ross (who co-wrote the film’s screenplay with author Suzanne Collins and Billy Ray) manages to catch the look and feel of the novel. He puts us right behind Katniss (katnip) Everdean (played by Jennifer Lawrence who brought Katniss to living breating life) from the very beginning of the film and keeps us there until the film’s dangling ending.

And before I go any further, a quick word about csting, it – was – perfect. Elizabeth Banks as Effie, Woody Harrelson as Haymitch. But the winners in the above and beyond category for simply sublime casting has to go to Donald Sutherland as the scary President Snow and to Josh Hutcherson as the lovelorn Peeta with honourable mention to the genius who talked Lenny Kravitz into appearing as Cinna in the film.

Honourable mention: Lenny Kravitz as Cinna.

As with many adaptations from favourite novels there were some things changed or added, but, they did not ruin the film in the least. The one added thing was the chance for readers of the books to see how the orchestrations of the ‘games’ were performed. A hugely modern television control system combined with CGI effects that could kill and you had the reality tv show from hell.

Of course in the books where we see everything from Katniss’s point of view, we don’t get to see the mechanizations behind the arena and it’s killing fields. We, like Katnip, can only wonder where the cameras are located and just how much the audience can see. With the film we can see it all. It really helps sell the film and it’s feel of a dystopia dictatorship that yearly punishes it’s unwilling denizens.

Like the book, this film has been aimed at the ‘young adult’ market and this is most obvious in the scenes of battle which are almost curiously bloodless. But the scene at the very beginning of the games where the ‘tributes’ arm themselves from weapons stored in the cornucopia, the lack of blood does not detract from the horror of what these children face as this is where half of them will die.

Do yourself a favour and get this film on blu-ray. If ever a film deserved to be viewed in high definition its The Hunger Games.

The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Mockingjay: The Three Stages

I have not gotten this excited about an author since I got sent a Stephen King book as a Book Club “Choice of the Month” in 1979. I had never heard of King before, but the book – The Stand (and can you think of a better introduction to Kings work, than The Stand?) was huge and had a cover with a dwarf dressed as some sort of knight who was engaged in battle with some big thing.  Despite this inauspicious start, I opened the book and started reading. I did not stop until I had finished the book, I then re-read it. I have in fact re-read the book many times since then. I became a huge King fan, and yes Stevie I would read your shopping list if you so chose to write it.

I have now found a new writer to fall in love with, well with her words and her stories, Suzanne Collins. After reading the first instalment  in her trilogy, The Hunger Games, I ran down and bought the other two books in the series. I read the last two in such a state of concentration that the house could have burned down and I would not have noticed. In fact I read all three books in three days. Just in case your math skills are a little rusty, that works out to a book a day friends and neighbours.

With each book weighing in at around five hundred pages per novel, that is some heavy duty reading. And before you ask, no I have never taken a speed reading course, I just read really fast. Ask my first wife, she knows. The point I am trying to make, by going the “the long way around the barn” is this. Suzanne Collins, to me anyway has joined the short list of authors that can take me fully into the world that she has created.

That’s right, I said short list of authors.

King, always; with the exception of Carrie, I had a hard time dealing with the last of the book, with it’s press clippings and interviews. John D. MacDonald, always, especially if it was a Travis McGee book. Elmore Leonard, Always, no exceptions, Ed McBain, no exceptions; I really miss the guys at the 87th precinct. I could probably make a list of writers that could fill a good sized paragraph, but it would still be short compared to the amount of published writers that currently exist.

In a time where the mass production of the Kindle has caused ebooks to start selling like hotcakes, thereby giving exposure to a host of mediocre writers, Collins shines like a beacon. Oh how brightly she shines. In my opinion, her books should be taught in school, not Stephanie Meyer’s dreadful Twilight series. Twilight with it’s lackadaisical heroine and the poor writing style. The female protagonist in her books is so wishy washy, so lacklustre and the books themselves so sophomorically written…Sorry, but I think you can catch my drift here.

These three books are brilliantly written. Collins has given us a positive role model for a female heroine. The stories themselves serve us a powerful message: “The new boss is the same as the old boss.” Or in layman’s terms, power corrupts and we really shouldn’t trust anyone who has absolute power.

I am not going to bother going over plot points. I won’t go into any discussions about characters and their arcs. I will say one thing about Suzanne Collins’ books.

Read them, all of them.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins Appetizing Fare

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is the story of sixteen year old  Katniss Everdeen, the sole provider for her family; a family of three since her father died in a mine accident. Set in the ruins of North America, is a country called Panem and it is made up of twelve Districts ruled by the  harsh dictatorship of the Capital. The Capital equals rich extravagant lifestyle and power. The Districts are the metaphorical workhorses of the country and they must follow the orders of Capital or face severe punishment.

There were originally thirteen Districts. They banded together to revolt against the Capital. District 13 was completely obliterated by the Capital. The remaining Districts now must participate in The Hunger Games. The Capital requires all young people in the Districts to register for a lottery. Two children, a male and a female are then chosen by a draw called ‘The Reaping.’ They are then transported to the Capital, wined, dined, trained and interviewed. The purpose of these Games is twofold, to constantly reinforce the dictatorship of the Capital and to provide entertainment to the citizens of the country.

The young people from each District attempt to impress the rich people of Capital to get sponsorship for themselves and also for their District. Some of the “richer” Districts train their young people for the games.When Katiniss Everdeen’s eleven year old sister Prim gets chosen to attend the games, Katniss volunteers to go in her place. Katniss comes from District 12. The Districts are separated into what they provide for the Capital, District 12 provides coal. It is a  poor  district that has had only one winner of the games since they started.

The rules of the game are simple, the children must kill each other until there is only one survivor. The survivor is that year’s winner and they and their District are rewarded. The entire game is televised and the Capital populace make bets on who will win. If they are lucky the participants will gain a sponsor who gives them things during the game to improve their chances of winning.

For four hundred and fifty-four pages I was Katniss Everdean. A sixteen year old girl who had been taught by her father to hunt and by her mother to gather herbs. Hunting illegally in the off-limits woodland surrounding her District she keeps her family fed. A girl who volunteers immediately when her younger sister’s name is called on the day of the Reaping.

Suzanne Collins has written a book that literally moves with so much speed that I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. From the moment I sat down, opened the book and read the first page, I was hooked. I finished the book in one reading and immediately wished I had purchased the other two books in the trilogy. Through her skilful writing, Collins has created a world so real that it seems to leap off the page alive and breathing.

The book has been made into a film and I am almost afraid to see it. The images that filled my mind while I read the book can never be captured fully. The scene where the two children enter the Capital on chariots was so moving that I got goose bumps while reading it. I can only say, “Welcome Suzanne Collins to the world of literature. May you be here for a long time.”