So, I finally went to see The Hunger Games. Almost all the movies I see nowadays are on Netflix; I really hate going to movie theaters. Besides the fact that I can't hit "pause" when I want to take a bathroom break or get a snack, there is always, always some shitwaffle in the seat in front of me playing with her motherfucking smartphone during the movie Yes, I'm talking about you lady with the big hair and the ginormous handbag you kept digging around in during the movie when you weren't texting your boo! Jesus effing Christ unless you are a head of state, you can disconnect your self-important ass from Twitter and Facebook for 120 minutes GDI!
But, I really liked The Hunger Games books, even though they were quite lightweight and honestly, Suzanne Collins kind of punted on all the real hard choices for her main character. The movie made this really obvious, far more so than the book.
In trying to analyze why I did like The Hunger Games so much, I think it's related to that knot in my stomach I had the moment the Game began in earnest on-screen, even though I'd read the book so I already knew what was going to happen. When an author succeeds in getting me engaged with the characters, I may see how anvilicious and downright manipulative she can be at times, I may see the flaws in the story (from writing to worldbuilding), and I may be dissatisfied with the ending, but that author has still managed to hook me emotionally. I felt similarly about J.K. Rowling by the end of the Harry Potter series... yeah, yeah, plot holes galore in Deathly Hallows and there was much about the Epilogue that was wall-banging, but still, by the time the Battle of Hogwarts rolled around, I had shits to give about who lived and who died. An author who can make me turn pages like that is one I cannot help but give props to, as compared to authors who write objectively better books but on whose characters rocks could fall and no shits would be given by me.
So anyway, The Hunger Games movie is very faithful to the book. Everyone lives or dies pretty much exactly as in the book. As an adaptation that still must succeed as a movie in its own right, I think it's quite successful. The moments that were cut from the book were few, and the director managed to convey most of the essential details of the world and a few minor character backstories very succinctly. It's also full of enough action and spectacular moments that it's worth seeing on the big screen. A lot of people have complained about the jerky, constantly-in-motion camera work. There were some scenes where I did find this annoying, but overall, it wasn't nearly as bad as I'd been expecting from some of the reviews.
The violence was also pretty effectively rendered given the movie's PG-13 rating. You don't actually see the moments that sharp objects go through people, or smashed skulls or spilling guts or showers of blood, but it's still clear enough what's happening when people (children) die, and it evokes horror when it's supposed to.
I give it 4 stars.
How to survive a death match without killing anybody
Twenty-four teenagers go into the arena and only one comes out. That means anyone who survives pretty much has to kill at least one other person, right? (I suppose you could hide and wait for everyone else to kill each other off, and hope the last survivor dies of natural causes. It's implied in the book that some in previous games have tried a strategy like that, but it's unlikely to work.)
Katniss does kill a couple of people in The Hunger Games (both the book and the movie), but only when she has no choice, and only competitors who are clearly "bad." Her (kind-of) boyfriend Peeta survives to the end without killing anyone.
There are basically only a handful of "evil" competitors, the "Career" Tributes from the wealthy Districts who train and volunteer for the Games and obviously revel in killing. They form an alliance and run around picking everyone else off. They conveniently kill off all the schlubs so Katniss doesn't have to. The two times Katniss does actually kill someone, one is when she is trying to save Rue (and since the person she kills is the one who killed Rue, that makes the killing about as morally unambiguous as possible), and the other is in the finale, when she mercy-kills an already-dying Cato, who was one of the sadistic Career Tributes.
She is spared from having to make a decision about what to do with Rue, because someone else kills her. She is spared from having to make a decision about Thresh (who is one of the few other Tributes shown to have a moral streak, and who at one point saves her life) because he's killed by the Mutts. And of course, she pulls her berry stunt at the end so she doesn't have to kill Peeta.
It's all very convenient how she and Peeta make it to the end of a bloodbath with very little blood on their hands. In the book, Katniss is constantly thinking about survival, but it's all very moment-to-moment; not once, that I recall, did Collins show her actually pondering what to do if she and Rue somehow managed to be the last two survivors, or thinking about whether she would actually be willing to pick off a fellow Tribute just because she had the opportunity to do so. Her one preemptive attack is dropping a hive of Tracker-Jacker wasps on the Career Tributes (who happened to be all trying to kill her at the time). Even when she sneaks down to destroy the Careers' stockpile of supplies, the boy who is guarding it is conveniently lured away by Foxface, so Katniss doesn't have to decide if she's going to put an arrow into him, even though that would be the obvious, strategic, and necessary act.
I understand why Collins arranged things so neatly for her heroine. Showing Katniss killing someone in cold blood would make her, well, a killer. And that would play even more badly with movie audiences. Still, the entire premise of the book/movie is that these kids have no choice but to kill or be killed, and somehow all of the "good" Tributes get away without killing, or by killing only "evil" Tributes, and only in self-defense.
In fairness, Koushun Takami's Battle Royale also let the good guys mostly avoid killing, but there was a little more introspection on their part; they at least admitted that they might have to.
The Hunger Games is a YA book, and the movie is a PG-13 YA-friendly movie.
I have mixed feelings about what this signifies. On the one hand, it follows a long heroic tradition: good guys don't kill (or if they do, it's only when they have no choice). On the other, it feels like there was too much convenient authorial fiat to prevent Katniss from having to make any hard choices.
For those of you who read my Alexandra Quick series, I freely admit that I may be being a bit hypocritical here, since I've assigned a high moral weight to killing in my world. If Alexandra kills someone, it will be a Big Deal. And if she ever kills someone preemptively, out of anger or because it's strategically convenient, you can be sure it will mark the crossing of a Moral Event Horizon....