‘The Hunger Games’ Missed the Mark

I finally gave into the hype over the weekend and redeemed a free movie pass I got with an order of pizza (which was delicious by the way) to watch The Hunger Games.  It wasn’t so much that I hated the movie, but felt like the disappointed, guilt-inducing parent because the filmmakers missed an opportunity to tell a rich story full of contemporary parallels and instead produced a movie with the drama of Twilight, combined with the thematic depth, and character dimensions of a Mighty Ducks movie (I love The Mighty Ducks, by the way).

With the increasing dissatisfaction with political rhetoric seen around the world, and the growing voices of dissent that are beginning to rise up, as we saw in 2011’s Occupy movements, and various protests in the Middle East, it seems the writer of The Hunger Games was imagining a world where the one percent rose up against the ruling classes and lost.  As a result the new country which has been divided into districts hosts an event that is a cross between the gladiators of ancient Rome, and American Idol.  Each district is required to select (read: sacrifice) one male and one female competitor to compete in a televised fight to the death.

Sounds like a rich story full of conflict, right?  Where surely the competitors will be forced to make tough decisions that will challenge their beliefs, morality and ethics, right?  What about a story where, like any good science fiction story, the current state of our culture is reflected to us allegorically through this fictional world, and our own obsession with reality TV is called into question?

No such luck.

There is no conflict, no drama, no characters are forced to make tough decisions, and even the love triangle between Katniss Everdeen, and the blonde kid and the brunette guy (sorry, I am terrible with names) is weak and not very well established.

When the names of the “tributes” – the children selected to compete in the games, are read in a public gathering, they react, not as if they have likely been selected to die, but as if the teacher just called them to solve a math question on the chalk board.  They shrug their shoulders and accept their fate without a whimper. Perhaps a more dramatic reaction would have been too much for the kids to whom this film is marketed, but there seems to be no awareness as to what being selected really means.

The brave Katniss volunteers her own life, to spare her sister who had been originally selected for the competition.  This decision propels the young lady into a world that is foreign to her, where she is paraded around as if it were a beauty pageant, forced to prepare and sharpen her skills to try and kill the 23 other competitors and be the lone winner and survivor.  Once in the competition, Katniss never even considers killing another, there is no struggle, there is no attempt to reconcile the “kill or be killed” inevitability.  There is no progression in her character, she is never challenged internally.  The result is a movie that is more like Predator, she is ever being hunted, and never once takes life other than in self-defence.  She never has to deal with the fact that her only ally in the game was killed when she evades an arrow that was meant for her.  When the rules of the game changed and allowed for two winners from the same district, she immediately assumes the blonde kid who betrayed her earlier would now suddenly be her best friend.

Not only do they become best friends, but literally one scene later, they have become involved lovers.

Not only is Katniss so benevolent that she never once considers killing another to return home to win the competition and return to her family, but most of the other competitors are so evil and full of blood lust that they never consider not killing another and question the morality of the games themselves.

The biggest issue I had with this movie was thematic depth.  The world of The Hunger Games is built around obvious historical parallels, but does not venture to address any of the questions those references suggest. The Capitol, home of the ruling class and host of the games, is an urban metropolis, part concrete jungle like New York City, and part place of guilty pleasures (except without the guilt) like Las Vegas.  The characters of the ruling class are dressed in late 18th century European attire; an obvious reference to the bourgeoisie of Marxist philosophy, while the other districts are represented by early 20th century industrial revolution era attire, what Marxists would call the proletariat.

The post-revolution country is called “Panem,” which is a reference to Roman poet Juvenal, who described the Empire’s technique for maintaining power and control over the lower class by giving them panem et circenses, or “bread and circuses”.  The idea being that you can maintain dominion over the proletariat as long as you give them the bare necessities (bread) and distract them with circuses (games or circuses).

Despite the depth Suzanne Collins went into creating this world where everyone is mesmerized by this reality TV show, it is only alluded to in the film.  As a result, opportunities are missed to make a comment about where we are as a culture – what reality TV is doing to our collective mindset, how we are desensitized to the misfortune of those on the screen, disconnected from their struggle and pain despite being obsessed with them.

The characters do not progress, or mature, their beliefs and morality are not tested in any way, and everyone seems perfectly satisfied with their lives, whether they’re the ruling bourgeoisie with their elaborate and colourful costumes, or the proletariat who live in the districts never questioning their oppressors, or even acknowledging the war their class once waged against them.

Director Gary Ross reduced the story to a movie that was far too long, and balked at every chance to ask a serious question or make a bold statement. Having not read the books, I don’t know if these sorts of things were present in the original story.  Perhaps the filmmakers were more concerned with pleasing the teenagers who have made literature so popular.  Instead of providing their viewers with something rich and full of character and thematic depth, they only provided more “bread and circuses”, but maybe that was the point all along.

Will Ramirez

@WillRamirez; SporttoNetwork.com; Sportto on Facebook

Will Ramirez is a Burrito enthusiast, and self-proclaimed Pizza connoisseur. He wears Chuck Taylor shoes, and enjoys Chuck Jones cartoons. Since graduating with a diploma in Digital Media in 2007, he has worked as an editor on animated and live action television programs for Teletoon, YTV, Disney and Nickelodeon. He is also co-founder and editor of www.sporttonetwork.com where he offers a refreshing and comedic voice to the world of sports.

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4 comments

  1. interesting. I certainly have mixed feelings about the movie myself, to one extent i fell i love with the movie because director Gary Ross focused on certain important moments from the first book and gave not only those important moments, but also a different perspective that the book did not include but all those who have read the book would have imagined (the perspective as a capitol citizen) on the other hand i tried to imagine seeing the movie as if i never had never read the books and i was quite dissatisfied as you were, there could have been more clarification on things such as, Peeta’s strategy to have Katniss win the audience with televised love, or things like what pressing three fingers to your lips and air meant (cause it was pretty deep in the book) or how those wolves at the end are actual game-making mutations of the previous tributes….things I myself had to explain to my husband while watching the movie in theatre’s. Needless to say if the movie cannot stand alone without the book that means it wasn’t a great movie, on the other hand Gary Ross stayed trued to the book and that I appreciate! unfortunately, I am finding more that those who have read the book (obviously love the book more)but are much more satisfied with the movie then those that didn’t. which in the end is cliche for a movie based on a book.

  2. I didn’t read the book, and found the movie to be boring, and not challenging in the least. I found myself continually wondering why neither Katniss, nor Peeta seemed to challenge the authoritarianism of The Capitol. They just got right into “game strategy”, not really taking the time to contemplate their very-possible death and mourn the fact that they will probably never see their families again. Even the good-bye scene with Katniss and her family wasn’t very convincing. Apparently, people who read the book say that they wish Katniss’ thoughts had been depicted in the movie to the extent that they were outlined in the book, maybe that would have given us more insight into her fears, hopes, etc.

  3. First off a bit of spoiler alert (which Will forgot ;P)

    Will…I must agree with you. The fact of the matter is that I give this movie a 6 out of 10. This movie is not a proper movie… In fact, this movie ought to be given with the book and not shown in theatres other than special interest group nights. That would be a proper addition to a book, but as a movie… what a stinker.

    It wasn’t that it was too long, it’s that the time was filled with nothing productive to the story. Too much was missing. Looking into the future, there are things that need to be explained and some things that can carry over, but the fact is Ross did exactly what Hollywood’s issue is… get the story out as fast as possible – into the action – first climax – a calm – then the final climax – a fake twist – and the ultimate predictable ending. Sad. A proper example of a great movie is Hugo. +1 = 1

    Now as for the political stands and the internal anguish? She showed that she hated the process and the idea. She showed the anger a number of times which is one of the main reasons this movie got more than a 3. That wasn’t the issue, nor was the “cold” goodbye to her family; That simple shows how hardened she had been and the maturity she gained. I get it. When her dad died, her mom shut down, and she had to step up and be the parent that her mom wasn’t. That is seen everywhere nowadays in reality. +2… that’s a 3.

    The idea of this world being so advanced and yet so barbarian is cool with me. It’s the world they live in. But honestly, that’s a credit to Collin’s creativity not Ross so… +0.5 = 3.5

    The simple idea of the human condition,in this case the manipulation of minds (the first 5 districts), the rebellion in order to save life (the latter districts), and the mushy middle (somewhere in between). I enjoyed that it showed the metropolis and the fact that the suburban districts were more similar to them, than the districts further away. Again, credit to Collins… +0.5 = 4

    The special effects were pretty cool. Now this is kind of a given, I get it… but taking a book into a movie is the hardest thing to do. IN A BOOK : “the long slender yellow auto, carrying dreams and hopes of the future”… IN A MOVIE: A yellow school bus drives by. The fact is there needs to be the creativity and special effects to fill the MASSIVE gap that is left without words and the imagination of the reader… + 1 = 5

    Now this is the reality. IT IS A MOVIE. As a movie, you have to keep in mind that most people are not going to have read the book and as a movie it needs to make up for that. Most book-to-screen movies have made up for this. The usual downfall is straying far from the book and the interpretation of “important events” (IE Spider-man… and most comic book movies). Ross didn’t stray too far from the book apparently (from those who have read it) and that I respect. The wardrobe is according to the book… as with most of the out of the box ideas. So as for that… Collins for the win, because Ross would’ve dropped that ball on that one. +0.5 = 5.5

    Now the last mark I give is the final reality check. Although this is a semi-post-apocoliptic society, enough of the movie can be translated from the screen to reality. This is plausible. As one studies history we see time after time that this idea of barbarinism repeats itself over and over… and Collins used that idea and, to me at least, made it a plausible idea. The idea that the future would use the past to teach the people why they are where they are (that semi-post-apocoliptic society) and use these Hunger games as the representation of why it happened is cool. Instead of teaching it, they implement it into a terrifying experience to teach a leason. Thanks to Collins the final… + 0.5 = 6 out of 10

    Long much? Much. I know, but I feel that I need to get it off my chest, because… man that was an utter disappointment. Any less and I would have rather watched Skyline… *barf*

  4. Totally agree that the movie “missed the mark” in many ways. I went to see it because, I too, gave into the hype- believing what so many were saying about it. Was I ever DISAPPOINTED & disgusted. I couldn’t even watch most of what was going on.

    Not only were there no redemptive factors in the movie {which make for a great story! hahaha} but it was simply about blood lust & caving to culture. The fact that it was basically children as young as twelve killing & being killed was disturbing.

    Nothing good came from that movie. Nothing.

    How’s that for an honest comment? hahaha

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