The Hunger Games . . . It’s Everywhere . . . Make It Stop!

There’s been so much hoopla surrounding The Hunger Games lately. My parents went to Hawaii last week, including during the opening of the movie “the world will be watching.” Neither of my parents are into fiction. Neither of them watch a lot of movies, or really get into current trends. Yet when I talked to them last night, both of them kept saying how everyone over in Hawaii was talking about the film! “The Hunger Games this and The Hunger Games that,” they kept saying.

I went to see the film this past weekend with four friends. I commented on multiple posts by several good blogging friends who saw the film and put in their two cents about it on the blogosphere. I talked to friends at work who want to see it. I noticed that my ten-year-old piano student had started reading the book yesterday. I walked into my old high school a couple weeks ago and talked to a couple students, one of which was reading the third book in the series. When I walked into the gymnasium of my previous church, there was a Hunger Games book sitting on one of the bleachers. I go on Facebook and read that one of my friends is asking for book recommendations . . . except for The Hunger Games (which made me laugh).

Last summer, I walked into a Borders bookstore that would soon be going out of business. One of the first book stands held several copies of the first Hunger Games book. I picked up a copy, never having heard anything about the series except for possibly the name in passing. I noticed that it was only $4 and figured, why not? If I hate the book, I’ve wasted only $4. So I bought it on a whim, never expecting to enjoy it. A month later, I had finished it (I’m not THAT slow of a reader–it just took me a while to get into it.). So I bought the second and then the third book, and by the time I had finished the third (which took me a grand total of 2 days), I was passing the series on to my sister and my friends, who mentioned it to their friends. This past January, I met with five other friends who had read the series and we discussed the themes, asked questions, and came up with “if this had happened, what would you do” type scenarios.

And now it’s all this “the odds will be ever in your favor” and “the world is watching” stuff. And I don’t want to complain about that–it’s marketing, and I think they hit the bullseye when they really pushed it through social media, namely Facebook. It seemed like there was a Hunger Games campaign everywhere, with no escape of it.

I’ll happily admit it–I thoroughly enjoyed the books. Whether I compare the series to other series or not, I can honestly say I enjoyed them. They’re interesting, there is a level of depth to them and to the characters, and I considered the books to be well-written. And despite a few minor quips, I thoroughly enjoyed the film. So much so, that I’ll probably see it again in theaters one more time.

All of this leads me to asking a few questions–when something is so highly marketed, when something is trending so much, gaining so much popularity at the time, do you enjoy riding the popularity wave with it, or would you rather wait it out and then get into it? Or how do you react when you “got” into something far earlier than the rest of the world? Does it frustrate you when people hop the bandwagon because it’s cool or popular, when you actually devoted time to a series way back when few had even heard of it? Is there a different sense of appreciation there?

I had a friend who enjoyed reading the Twilight series, but after it became this HUGE deal that was more about Kristen Stewart and Rob Pattinson, the idea of liking Twilight almost became embarrassing because of the crazy trend that it became. It was no longer some light story Stephanie Meyer composed–it was this tween love triangle that primarily attracted flocks of junior high girls rushing to the theater on opening night.

It seems nearly impossible for a film to take a popular book series (or original source material) and not change the status of the story, and particularly the way its viewed, these days. Would more adults be attracted to The Hunger Games if the series was in the Adult section and not the Young Adult section of a store? Film is a powerful, powerful (so powerful, I had to say it twice three times) medium to tell stories today.

How does marketing play such a huge role today in “who goes to see what” today? Does a popular film make you want to go see it, or does its mass popularity detract you from getting involved? Would you prefer to get into something when it isn’t trending, or do you enjoy being a part of something popular at the time?

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AEOS Review: The Hunger Games

The phrase, “The Truman Show Meets Gladiator,” was dubbed by Chicago film critic, Richard Roeper, in his review of the vastly marketed picture The Hunger Games, which opened this past weekend.

I make a regular habit of reading/watching film reviews by my two favorite Chicago film critics, the internationally acclaimed critic, Roger Ebert, and one of the guys Ebert used to rate films with–the above mentioned Richard Roeper. Although I have to hand it to Ebert for staying on top of more film and pop culture than any other critic I’m aware of, I’ve got to hand the torch for The Hunger Games to Roeper in this case, because unlike Ebert, Roeper read The Hunger Games series and was able to better review the film as a viewer, critic, and fan of the books. Do check out Roeper’s review below.

There’s a lot I can say about the film, so let me break it up into parts. Keep in mind that there will be SPOILERS. First, let’s get out of the way what I didn’t like.

What Didn’t Work

  • Poor Visual Quality for The Capitol – Unfortunately, the special effects did nothing for me in the middle section of the film. Gary Ross’s vision of The Capitol hardly lived up to Collins’s description. From the fake screens passing through the windows of the train, to the far-off screen shot of the tributes riding in on chariots to the ceremony, to Katniss’s Capitol quarters, the film lacked visual prowess, color, and quality overall. I was hoping Ross would have pulled out all the stops for the film, but the setting of The Capitol fell short.
  • Madge and Plutarch MIA – Madge– This complaint comes from someone who read the book. The introduction of the Mockingjay pin is given by District 12’s mayor’s daughter, Madge, who befriends Katniss in the series. In the first book, she gives this to Katniss. Instead the film attempts to make up for this poor revision by having Greasy Sae hand Katniss the pin in the Hob. Plutarch– My sister brought up this point to me. Although I wouldn’t regard this as a dealbreaker or major fault on Ross’s end, I have to wonder why Mr. Plutarch wasn’t present within the film given that his role becomes more pertinent to the plot in the following sequels. My conclusion is that they’ll bring him along in the later films, and they didn’t regard him as necessary in the first.
  • Low Katniss/Peeta Screen Time – While many fans are overjoyed to not have another one of their beloved series taken over by a tween love triangle, the two leads of The Hunger Games shared fewer scenes together than what I had hoped for. Although film is a rather limited channel for time in telling a story (well, Peter Jackson defied that problem with LOTR. I digress.), Katniss and Peeta’s relationship–or should I say the relationship put on for show–wasn’t built well enough to convince us that the love displayed between Katniss and Peeta wasn’t entirely false. Katniss is confused, and we grasp that a little at the end; but watching the film, we don’t see enough of a relationship or friendship built between Katniss and Peeta to know that Katniss isn’t entirely genuine. Her actions are questionable, and rightfully so, but they’re questionable for the wrong reason. Instead of wondering whether she really has genuine feelings for Peeta or not, we’re questioning how she could be having feelings for him having not shared many scenes with him on screen.
  • 50% Finale – Did anyone else take notice that the third part of Suzanne Collins’s novel ate up over half of the film’s running time? Put in perspective – Each of The Hunger Games novels are built like a play, each having three acts. “The Games” acts as the third and final act of the first book. The games took up half the film. Many little moments were lost within the first half of the film, most likely the plan being – let’s really make the “the games” the movie. I hope they don’t botch up the second film like this.

What Did Work

I was more than content with everything else in the film. Clocking in at a little over 140 minutes, The Hunger Games still felt short to me in comparison to reading the book. The adaptation of the story from book to film, however, along with its flaws, was still crafted with sharp attention to detail and articulated in a way not to bring justice to the book, but more so to the story and its characters. Going into The Hunger Games, I expected to experience more low points than high. Happily proven wrong, here are the points I consider high in the film.

  • The Entire Supporting Cast – Perhaps one of the strongest supporting casts to graze the screen of a teen series turned major film–Lenny Kravitz, Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci, Willow Shields, Wes Bentley, Donald Sutherland–these were the people who really made The Hunger Games a hit aside from the incredible Jennifer Lawrence heading them.
  • Every Scene with Caesar Flickerman – Every scene with the blue-haired Stanley Tucci on screen was met with laughter. Since The Hunger Games is told entirely from Katniss’s perspective, we miss out on everyone else’s personal thoughts. Not so in the film. Flickerman serves not only as host and questioner of the tributes, but also as something of a news anchor who worked as narrator, offering updates every now and then. This was well-placed in the script, aiding to the pacing of the film and answering questions of those who haven’t read the book.

  • Casting – I’ll say it once, I’ll say it a million times. The casting worked really well in The Hunger Games, despite the highly questioned Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson. Winter’s Bone is enough to support the widely-ranged actress, and her performance in The Hunger Games speaks only more of her talent to capture the necessary emotions as well as play out the action scenes. Josh Hutcherson has an innocent presence on screen. Perhaps because he’s a little shorter and has the cutest face ever, but he looks the part of Peeta enough. His acting backed the casting choice.
  • The Games – The Games section of the film was the focus of the film, and easily the best part. Full of intensity and grit, viewers sense the dire situation Katniss and Peeta are in. It’s life and death, and it’s kids we’re dealing with here. Ross really placed the heart of the film into this section, unmasking the rage of the characters, dotting the film with more attention and detail here than anywhere else.
  • Movie Additions – Watching Seneca Crane administrate actions behind the scenes or seeing Haymitch snatch a deal from sponsors on behalf of Katniss and Peeta were treats for those who read the books. We were able to appreciate the element of surprise, too, in the crafty, creative way President Snow killed off Seneca Crane in the end. It’s rare to admit that a movie scene added to the story rather than take away from it.
  • Rue’s Death Scene – Perhaps the most heart-wrenching scene in the film, the raw emotion Katniss emitted, the flowers decorating Rue’s body, the signal Katniss gave toward the camera, the uproar in District 11 following the death–a powerful scene in a seemingly depressing story–followed the book pat, refusing to give a PG version of what happened.
  • Attention to Detail  While some parts could have been stronger, I must admit there were little details only readers would especially appreciate. Notice how Katniss always tied herself in a tree to sleep so she wouldn’t fall out? Appreciate that Katniss decorated Rue’s body with flowers? See that white rose on President Snow? Katniss’s orange backpack? Cinna’s gold eyelids?

Favorite Moments

  • The powerful scene featuring the uproar in District 11
  • A rock that turned out to be . . . Peeta?!?! (The name Peter is translated in the Greek, meaning “rock.” Ironic much?)
  • The theater erupting in laughter when the camera panned on Gale watching Katniss kiss Peeta.
  • Rue in the tree signaling the trackerjacker hive to Katniss.
  • “I’m not allowed to bet, but if I could, I’d bet on you.” –Cinna
  • “That is mahogany!” –Effie
  • Peeta: “You’re our mentor. Don’t you have any advice?” Haymitch: “Yes. Embrace the probability of your imminent death.”

Final Thoughts/Queries

  • MPAA Rating – My biggest question and thought following my first viewing of The Hunger Games regards its MPAA rating. Yes, it was rated PG-13, so some parts had to be cut back to take away from the grisly violence of kids ultimately killing each other. I have to wonder what the film would have been like had it been rated R in terms of violence. Roger Ebert mentions in his review how it’s actually silent in the opening part of the games, with kids dropping like flies. While the scene is powerful, I tend to wonder if the sound was taken out in order to keep the PG-13 rating. It only makes sense to keep the rating no higher than PG-13 in order to not cut out the target audience of the film. But if there were an extended or R-rated version of the film, I wonder which scenes would be different. Would Clove actually cut Katniss’s lip when she has her pinned down? Would Peeta actually have a far more severe leg injury? Would we hear the effects of an arrow piercing a child, or a knife cutting flesh?
  • The Bar Is Set for Sequels – With the growing success of the film, how will the sequels play out? Will they pale in comparison, or will they rise above? Compared with other series such as Harry Potter, whose finale rated high, will The Hunger Games be able to top itself in its sequels, or go down in popularity?
  • Will Gary Ross Continue? – Unless I have misheard (a high possibility in itself), no director is set for Catching Fire, although a release date of November 22, 2013 has already been announced! Should Ross direct the sequels? I certainly think so. Other series have proven that a consistent continuity strengthens–not diminishes–from film series.

OK, folks. Lots of questions for you now. First, what did you think of the film? Second, what did you like, and what disappointed you? Have any favorite moments? Consider the final thoughts and add your opinion.

Lenny Kravitz and The Hunger Games

Lenny Kravitz is known far more for his music than his acting, and rightfully so. At least, that’s how he sees it.

According to his interview with Rolling Stone, he sees himself first as a musician, and than an actor. When asked about his return to acting, Kravitz responds, “I always figured it would come back into my life. I was an actor when I was a kid. When I realized music was my thing, I just gave it up. I put blinders on, just focused on music. It’s come back now and I really am enjoying it.”

Perhaps it was Kravitz’s role in Precious that attracted director Gary Ross to him. Kravitz will be playing a character named Cinna, a quiet but talented designer who works for the Capitol. Cinna meets Katniss, portrayed by Jennifer Lawrence, the story’s central character, and is given instructions to design outfits for her.

If you’ve read the books (or even just the first one), then you know that Cinna’s role goes beyond a simple designer, and that his actions will mean more as the story goes on.

Kravitz describes Cinna as a guy who “knows what he’s doing. He’s confident. He’s got a big heart. I just liked the way he moved – very smooth.”

Check out the new still above from Rolling Stone, and then take a look at some of the other photos already released below.* The above photo definitely excites me for this film, given that Cinna became my favorite character as I read the series.

Read the full interview with Rolling Stone here. The Hunger Games hits theaters on March 23, 2012.

Just in – new trailer released for The Hunger Games. Check it out at Yahoo! (WordPress doesn’t allow Yahoo video embedding. Sigh.) The Hunger Games Trailer 2

*Photo on the right is a screenshot from the film’s trailer.

The Hunger Games Official Trailer Released!

As of early this morning (on Good Morning America) and now on iTunes movie trailers, the first full trailer for The Hunger Games has finally been released. This is extremely exciting news for all the fans (like me!) left wanting after the extremely short and unrevealing teaser from the VMAs.

Enjoy!

The really cool news is that it looks like Gary Ross is striving to follow the book as much as possible. We get a glimpse of the Gale and Katniss hunting, the reaping, and then Katniss and Peeta’s journey to and training at the Capitol. I also think it has an interesting soundtrack that didn’t pick a Muse or Radiohead or popular song for the background. I’m beginning to think Jennifer Lawrence might even be able to be believable as a teenager with the makeup (lack of) on her character. From the trailer, it looks like Lenny Kravitz is going to make an awesome Cinna, and Elizabeth Banks looks like an eery, spot-on casting for Effie Trinket. I’m hoping they give the Haymitch character (played by Woody Harrelson) the screen time he deserves. He plays such an important part, and we got only a very small snippet of him on screen. It looks like President Snow and Seneca Crane are going to have their characters explored more on screen than they were in the book.

I hope the wait isn’t too bad. Because the wait for the second film in the series is going to be even longer–not coming out until November of 2013!?!

2012: A Peak for Film Series?

The year 2012 holds possibly some of the greatest film conclusions and beginnings of series (and then a few more . . . ) that have not only your typical fanboy jumping with excitement, but your average theater attender as well. Now, I will not be including Scary Movie 5 or Men in Black 3 (sorry Anna Faris and Will Smith) in this post, but that doesn’t mean I’m heartless. If anything, I shouldn’t be including the Twilight movie, but I think it’s too anticipated for me to leave it out.

Let’s start with the epic conclusions:

1) The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises

Perhaps the most anticipated film of 2012, Christopher Nolan plans to wrap up his Batman trilogy in July of next summer. Already photos, videos, a teaser trailer, and various rumors have leaked from all the proper channels, just fueling the fire of what Nolan fans expect to be better than The Dark Knight, a film considered one of the most remarkable and best of this generation. He has the same crew and a few new faces. The big question is . . . will The Dark Knight Rises live up to the impossible expectations of viewers, or will it *just* miss the mark and be considered the film that couldn’t? Being a Nolan fan myself, I have high hopes, but I’m afraid all this pre-excitement feels dazzling for now, but will continue to build until there is no momentum left. Let’s hope the pressure doesn’t get to him and he delivers an even more epic film than the previous Dark Knight.

2) The Hobbit

If I were to get technical, The Hobbit would actually be a pre-sequel, opening a slot for it in the “beginning series,” but since Peter Jackson has already given everyone three fantastic Lord of the Rings films, The Hobbit actually places fourth in that line, making it the last. Tearing out a page from the X-Men series playbook, and following suite via J.R.R. Tolkein’s intended order for the series (he first wrote Lord of the Rings, and then later penned The Hobbit), Jackson expectedly unexpectedly is directing this epic beginning end film. He’s been posting production videos to his Facebook page, only egging on the film geeks that will watch anything LOTR they can click their mouses on.

3) The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part II (can this title be any longer?)

Stop with the Twilight!

Unfortunately for any Twilight fans reading this (are there any . . . ?), I don’t have much to say about this film because the only one in the series I ever saw was the first one, which was a big disappointment for me with all the uproar of how fantastic the series supposedly was. I agree – it’s just my opinion, but even a fan would have to admit that the overexposure of Bella, Edward, and Jacob marketing is driving even proud fans into dark corners to hide their embarrassment over liking the series. Perhaps Stephanie Meyers really had something special, but what could have been something worthwhile got destroyed when it went viral. The nation’s critics never gave any one of the films in the series an overall positive rating. And don’t even get me started with the Harry Potter comparisons (you should know where my allegiances lie, anyway!). Anyways, I know I should include some kind of information about this film, but the only knowledge I really have to offer is that this is the final film in the series. After mimicking Harry Potter‘s successful technique of dividing the final book of the series into two films, the second installment of Breaking Dawn will be hitting theaters mid-November next year. Personally, I look forward to the end of it so I can finally stop hearing about it (I can imagine Taylor Lautner has similar sentiments). I digress.

OK, let’s hit up the beginnings now:

1) The Avengers

If you saw Captain America and then waited through the end credits, you were probably one of the first to see the teaser for the upcoming Avengers flick, due to be released in May of next year. Since then, posters and a fuller trailer mainly focusing on Robert Downy Jr.’s humor, have been released online. This year we got to see Thor and Captain America, and last year we got to see the second installment of Iron Man. Now we get to see all three grace the screen with an additional Mark Ruffalo taking a swing at playing The Hulk (not that we’re going to miss Edward Norton . . . ), along with Jeremy Renner playing Hawkeye, Scarlett Johansson playing Black Widow (remember her from Iron Man?), and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury. This should be a pretty epic cast lead by none other than Mr. Joss Whedon, who has a big enough fanbase of his own to bring in viewers.

2) The Revamped (“Amazing”)  Spiderman

The Amazing Spiderman

This decision to already redesign Spiderman has divided fans . . . loyalists cling to Kirsten Dunst and Tobey Maguire while the newer, younger generation who worship Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield and were blown away by The Social Network are opening their minds to this new possibility. Especially since fanboys claimed the previous unfinished trilogy messed up the “true” story of Peter Parker’s love life (Spiderman wasn’t always in love with the slutty version of Mary-Jane Watson from the previous series?!), they believe Marc Webb, the ironically named director, will be able to make things right this time around.

3) The Hunger Games

I personally have a lot wearing on this first movie. I read the trilogy this summer and fell in love with Katniss, Peeta, and the world of Panem. But after the out-of-control marketing that spawned from the dreaded Twilight series, I feel a sense of nervousness that The Hunger Games might try to follow in Bella and Edward’s shoes. Between Winter’s Bone, the X-Men prequel, and a few other small roles, I believe in Jennifer Lawrence’s acting ability, but this new taste for over-marketing, tween obsession with fictional book trilogies turned film series has even me concerned for the overall appearance and direction that Ross might take the series. He’s made some gems in the past (Dave, Big), but I hope that in the end that the green isn’t the only reason this film series may become successful. Plus, Lawrence seems capable of taking a photo that doesn’t make her appear angry at the world or high or both simultaneously (Kristen Stewart, anyone?). So that’s a good start, right?

4) Superman: Man of Steel

Not much information has been floating around regarding this film, more than likely because of all the epic film conclusions/beginnings preceding it (just re-read this post if you’re confused). But the information we do have access to is that Jonathan Nolan, Christopher’s brother, will be directing, and that Henry Cavill and Amy Adams will be starring. I’m trying as hard as possible to not have some kind of vendetta against JNolan for casting Adams, a redhead, as Lois Lane (PLEASE DYE HER HAIR!?), but I’m finding it difficult. Since her role in The Fighter, Adams has proven that she can effectively play an edgy character. But that doesn’t mean she’s a great fit for Lois Lane. Personally, I find it difficult to imagine the Enchanted princess to properly fill the sassy character’s shoes without looking completely out of place, but any hope lies in that a Nolan is directing the film.