Quick Review: Hunger Games movie

Lots of action and some story and less commentary about oppressive regimes. As I noted in my review of the book series in September 2010, these books were ready-made to be movies. Here area  few thoughts about the movie itself and the experience of seeing it in a full theater.

1. I thought the movie was engaging. At the same time, the movie takes a book that is relatively sparse in terms of character development and explicit commentary and is even thinner in these areas. But there is a lot of action and some of the key relationships, Katniss and Prim, Katniss and Rue, and Katniss and Peeta, are given more time.

2. I thought the best actor in the movie was Stanley Tucci who was perfect as Caessr Flickerman.

3. With not as much time to work with in the movie, the opening parts of the first book are really compressed. What we miss in the movie then is a more complete understanding of the despair and desolation in District 12. I felt like the movie wanted us to think that the Capitol and President Snow were bad people but we didn’t have enough of the backstory to really feel it.

4. I wonder how many of the people in the theater tonight recognized any of the social commentary that is lurking in the books. The books could be taken in a couple of different directions. First, we could think about reality TV – how far away are we from a situation where people are killing each other for prizes on television? Second, the Capitol is supposed to represent tyranny and oppression and trying to stave off rebellion with a futuristic “bread and circuses.” But the movie seems to be more about the action itself and the audience members responded to this. I wonder how much the next two movies take up the social commentary and how they represent the growing rebellion against the Capitol.

4a. There were a couple of points during the Hunger Games themselves when a character was killed and people watching the movie laughed. This is an interesting reaction that sounded like it came from some teenagers or younger kids. While the action was violent (though a number of reviews said it was understated), I wonder how different it really was from what these kids have seen before. How many murders have they already seen in movies, on TV, and in video games? Plus, the kissing got a lot of reactions. Do both murders and kissing make teenagers nervous, thus the laughter?

5. I’m often amused by what “the future” looks like in movies. I was not impressed by the Capitol. Parts of the CGI were impressive (the people modeled in the large crowd scenes, for example) but it was clearly fake. The residents are shown in lively colors and interesting hair and makeup. The buildings are a little different but if you have seen a futuristic movie before, they look familiar. The special computer setup to control the Hunger Games is interesting but we’ve seen things like this before. They have 200 mph trains…which other parts of the world have now. So we’re supposed to be believe that the future includes some more avant garde style, a little better technology, and people are still glued to television screens? Not terribly futuristic.

6. The music during the closing credits was good. I’ve read some positive comments about the soundtrack and it may be worth checking out further.

7. I haven’t been in a full movie theater in quite a while. On one hand, there is a kind of buzz in the air and if the movie is good (and it apparently was tonight), people clap at the hand. On the other hand, you have lots of people going in and out and talking (and revealing key points of the plot to people next to them).

8. I was thinking earlier today that I have hopped on certain cultural bandwagons and not others. Why read all of the Hunger Games books and see the first movie or be an early adopter of Adele’s bestselling album from last year while waiting years to read Harry Potter and see all the movies? I don’t know. But if I do want to join the crowd, I can always say that I am engaging in cultural research…

In war, blurring the lines between video game and real life

It is common in video games to be able to play both sides, usually as a member of some sort of good vs. bad team. Where this might become problematic is in battle zones:

Military bases across the U.S. have banned the sale of a new video game that lets a player pretend to be a Taliban fighter and “shoot” U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

“Medal of Honor” by Electronic Arts, a major game developer based in Redwood City, Calif., hits stores Oct. 12. Gamers are scoffing at the decision, saying that advanced technology has made it commonplace in the gaming world to let players switch sides and play the bad guy.

After public protests, including by British Defense Secretary Liam Fox, U.S. military officials decided not to stock the game in any of the nearly 300 base exchange shops.

The game also won’t be sold at any of the 49 GameStop stores located on various military bases. Troops will be allowed to own copies, but they would have to buy them off-base.

While shooting Nazis may be acceptable, this situation is not palatable to the US military.

Note: although the game hasn’t yet hit the stores, might we saw protests in the broader American culture over the ability to play as the Taliban?

Another note: there are 49 GameStop stores on military bases? Do they do better business than typical GameStop locations?

Quick Review: The Hunger Games series

The Hunger Games trilogy by author Suzanne Collins is popular. Hollywood is currently searching for a starlet to play the main character, Katniss Everdeen. And I too have recently read these books and have some thoughts:

1. I like the premise of the Hunger Games. The story is set in a dystopian world where the Capitol controls all 13 surrounding districts. As part of the control, each year the districts submit two teenagers, one male and one female, to compete in a reality TV contest where the winner must be the last one alive. Katniss is selected to compete in the Hunger Games and that is where the fun begins.

2. If I had to sum up the tone of the books in one phrase: this is like the young adult fiction version of a Jerry Bruckheimer film. Lots of action, little else. The characters have little emotional depth and don’t spend much time dwelling on what is happening. The real story is the action which includes two sets of Hunger Games and a war. Reading scenes where Katniss is in pain or disoriented is like watching jittery hand-held movie scenes.

3. I did not find the main character, Katniss, to be likable. Granted, she has had a difficult life but she is often caustic and unpleasant. She has good reason to be irritated – she ends up being a pawn for more powerful people throughout much of the three books – but I would think it is difficult for readers to make a connection with her. If there any connection to be made, it would be with her action-hero side as she shows determination and courage.

4. While it isn’t really explored in the books, this could be a devastating critique of reality television. Throughout the three books, Katniss is on display, first for entertainment and then later for propaganda. She chafes at this role but in this future version of society, people seem to be easily manipulated by what they see on their television screens. The power struggle in the books is often about who gets to control the overall narrative in the land.

5. Who is on the side of good or evil is muddied in the final book. While much of the action is taken against the oppressive Capitol, Katniss struggles with the idea that the rebels may be just as bad. This is not a typical good vs. evil outcome – the main outcome centers on the consequences of Katniss’ final actions.

Overall, I rated this series 2.5 out of 5 stars. The premise was interesting but I wasn’t fond of the execution or the outcome. This trilogy fits in with the dystopian turn in young adult fiction and will likely be a movie hit in the near future.

Quick Review: The Harry Potter series

Over this past weekend, I finished reading the Harry Potter series for the first time. Somehow, I managed to know very little about the story coming in. I enjoyed the books and have some thoughts on the seven books:

1.These are books addressing fairly weighty topics. From love to death, friendship to evil, Harry and his friends encountered a lot. Some portions, particularly much of the last three books, were quite dark.

2. Even with weighty topics, the books had a wit about them. There were many small humorous moments that Rowling included. Perhaps it is just a dry British wit or perhaps it was the often funny interplay between the wizard and Muggle worlds.

3. I’m not quite sure what the main theme is that readers should take away from the books. It has a basic good vs. evil theme though it has more nuance since it is the love Harry’s mom has for him as a baby that eventually helps him meet his goals. But where this love comes from (and also where evil comes from) is left unexplored. This could be read as a coming-of-age story as Harry learns who he is and completes his task. It could be a hero’s journey tale as Harry overcomes obstacles to set the world right. Friendship is a major theme, particularly between Harry, Ron, and Hermione. There is a lot here in addition to the main action sequences and it might have been worthwhile for the characters to reflect more on the implications of their actions.

4. The characters are likable. Harry, Ron, and Hermione had a strong relationship and it was satisfying when Ron and Hermione finally came together. I was surprised by the number of school friends who were constant characters including the other Weasley kids, Neville, Luna, and others. The saddest part of the series for me was Dumbledore’s death – of course, it turns out it happened a little differently than it first appeared. Perhaps my only complaint: some of the teenage angst (among Harry, Ron, and Hermione) seemed like overkill. Another small complaint: two of the main female characters, Hermione and Ginny, could have been more fleshed out.

5. The ending seemed somewhat abrupt with the flash-forward sequence. I was left wanting to know more about life for all of them.

6. I’m not sure I want to see any of the movies. Of course, I have seen some images of the actors. But I feel that if I saw the movies, it would change my understanding and mental images of the books. (Looking back, I wish I had read all of the Lord of the Rings books before seeing the first movie.)

My conclusion according to my wife: I shouldn’t have waited so long to read such a great series.

My conclusion: even if I was behind, I still enjoyed reading the series this summer.