I Don't Get the Big Deal About "The Hunger Games"

>> Saturday, August 18, 2012

I don't do reviews, as a general rule (manga/anime is an exception but that's on a different blog). Several reasons for this, not the least of which is that my tastes are eclectic (VERY eclectic) and I'm generally focused on one aspect of the story to the exclusion (and forgiveness) of all others. And, let's not forget, I'm weird.

But, I do bring things up if they make me pause, especially if they have the potential to entice me to write again. There are two things that do that - a story/character I adore that makes me want to do something better with my writing or inspires me on a hitherto unforeseen writing path...and a story that is quite successful commercially that makes me roll my eyes and wonder what the heck is going on. 

My daughter is a fan of The Hunger Games, and she's one of many many others. People love the book (disclaimer, I haven't read it) and gush about the movie, too. My daughter loved them both when she was quite critical of the movie Twilight despite her delight in the books (which she no longer has). I liked the Twilight books myself (and the movies, I might add) though not in the everyone-should-love-this sort of way but more in the this-is-an-intriguing-character sort of way. And, for those of you who know me, one character I really enjoy is all I need to forgive plenty of other things (including some "science" that still makes me cringe if I think about it).

She's got a decent batting average, actually, on introducing me to stuff I really like and hit a homerun with the anime Bleach I've spent the summer addicted to. Loved a number of characters, the premise, etc. But other stuff she wants me to try, well, it's hit or miss.

Now, if you love the books and haven't seen the movie or haven't delved into either but want to and don't want spoilers STOP READING NOW. 'Cause I can't tell you what bothered me without telling you about the story, so there are spoilers galore out there. And I'm not saying you can't like it for whatever reason you liked it. I, however, did not.

First off, it's depressing. I know that's in with YA literature right now, but I don't like being depressed unless there's a good reason for it, so you get a pass from me with an oppressive air talking about the holocaust (which was depressing and gruesome but a good lesson to remember) and not one on a notional fictional future that, as far as I could see, made no damn sense at all. Not that there isn't plenty of SF that doesn't make sense, but often the characters made sense or there was a point, or, at least, it was funny (think Demolition Man).

We start off with our oppressed people, tormented for 74 years due to uprising against what was, apparently, Big Brother, direct from 1984 (I guess he showed up late). The punishment for this effrontery was to take people at random from the areas that rebelled and make 'em fight it out to the death, Gladiator meets Survivor style and the winner gets glory and riches and stuff. Now, first off, that's a stupid punishment. What government's gonna care, even a local one? The whole dingy shanty-town area (replete with coal miners in the enlightened future) is surrounded by lush landscape which no one is farming or making of use of in any way, while the shanty-town inhabitants stave off starvation by working for Big Brother and killing small game.

Old concept, which, as a die-hard historian and SF reader, I've read versions of at least a dozen times. A handful of cliches, obvious (and, truth told, effective) emotional manipulations (like kill the twelve year old friend so, when we take out the "bad guys" at the end because we had no choice (kill or be killed), the reader/viewer will nod their head and say, "Serves 'em right." Same tactic has been used in at least half the James Bond movies). In the end, they "outsmart" Big Brother and she doesn't have to kill everyone, but even that doesn't make sense. (It's all about giving hope while reminded the people who's in charge WHILE still getting great ratings. Letting the two commit suicide fits way better (and is far more eye-catching) than letting potentially dangerous renegades get off scott free.)

But I'd likely forgive all this if I just liked somebody. I like strong female protagonists, so you'd think I'd like this one, but she's not particularly savvy, she's willing to use people and, in fact, has only the fact she's willing to go in her sister's place to recommend her. Nice gesture but not enough to make her a likeable character.

Or, if there was a point. I know, lessons are not supposed to be in stuff today, but I gotta say, when I spend a couple hours watching something, I either want to be entertained or intrigued. I need a point or an interesting character to be intrigued, or at least something original. I seriously didn't see the point. I'm glad it was just a couple of hours wasted rather than taking the time to read it.

Or maybe I just missed it. In any case, whatever makes this the delight of thousands if not millions, I don't get it.

Note - I might be oversensitive. I have a survival type story, in fact, two novels. No cameras but survival is still the name of the game with some internal hostility. Ah, but in mine, people have to work together. Maybe that's what I'm doing wrong. 


  • soubriquet

    I was persuaded to read the book. More recently I saw the movie.
    Having spent some of my teenage years reading lots of classic science-fiction, I perceived the book as something the great editors would have sent back full of margin scribbles saying "explain this", and "contradicts that", and "why", and..."you have some good ideas, but now you need to re-write it, dammit, you have a brain, now use it".

    Oh. Yes, well I'm probably quoting one of my old college tutors on my work thrown together between a night of student beer-drinking and the deadline. You know, you've sketched out an outline, and all of a sudden, at two in the morning you realise you have to hand it in before ten.

    Ant that's the hunger games. Ideas not expanded, explanations not challenged. Sloppy work. C-.

    And the movie? even sloppier. The movie fails completely in explaining the 'why?'. Yes, there's a survivalist theme, one semi 'empowered' character.
    At least the book hints at an undercurrent of resistance, of revolution, the movie is just... limp.

  • soubriquet

    I missed out a few relevant points. In the book, we get to hear her thoughts, In the book she makes some intelligent choices for a reason, but in the movie, all we see is her reacting to events, no proactiveness, she survives more by luck than judgement.

    I'd recommend you read the book. mind you, I have books 2 and 3 yet to read on the kindle (no, it was a gift), and I'm not really motivated to bother reading them, if there's anything better, like the back of a cereal packet, to peruse.

  • Stephanie Barr

    Soubriquet, I'm willing to believe the book is better than the movie. Internal dialogue is frequently lost or mangled unbelievably in movie form (see ANY Dune adaptation), but, in my old age I don't have time to put up with books that don't compel me. I have read novels and books due to derivative movies that intrigued me, like Twilight and Catch Me If You Can.

    Unfortunately, that's not the case here. If I had seen a shred of potential in the movie of a point or character that would make it worth my time, or any entertainment value, I'd give it a shot.

    I didn't. And if I change my mind, my daughter has the book(s). And, as soon as I slap postage on it, this movie.

  • Shakespeare

    I have not seen the film, though I read all three books last Christmas. And I lent them to my MIL, who devoured them even more quickly.

    I'm plot driven, but I think I liked the tone of the books even more than the plot. That I have not seen the film, though, speaks to how little pull the books have on me. After all, I saw all but the first Harry Potter film at midnight.

    I wish I had read something truly good lately. The only thing I can say I've loved recently is BEAUTIFUL CREATURES... but even it wasn't perfect. It was pretty good, though. I want to get it and its sequels on my Kindle... if I can ever figure out how.

  • Relax Max

    Read the book. The first book of the series. Be mindful it is a book for young adults. The story is the thing. The author is imaginative and her book is well worth the money and the effort to read it. Even reading Amazon's first few free chapters got me interested. And I don't read fiction much at all anymore.

  • Relax Max

    Note: I didn't see the popular movie. I have never see a movie from a good book that didn't disappoint me.

  • Stephanie Barr

    So, I'm trying to be open-minded about this. After all, I couldn't bring myself to watch the end of the movie.

    I respect my sister's literary ability (even if she hasn't likely been exposed to as many SF stories as I have and so doesn't automatically understand how derivative this was to me).

    AND, in all fairness, if my only exposure to Dune was the movie, I might have thought it was pointless drivel with lifeless characters, too. And it's not.

    So I downloaded the Kindle sample on my tablet.

    Yikes! First person present, arguably my least favorite POV since I have yet to see anyone pull of second person in a novel.

    Two paragraphs in and I'm tearing the grammar apart. How did some of this get past the editor?

    Now, in all fairness, I've been known to use fragments instead of just sentences, especially when writing stream of consciousness. Sometimes. For emphasis, when it makes a difference. Not for no discernable reason. Everywhere. Just 'cause.

    Sigh. The sample is, what, 265 pages long? I think you all are far more patient than I am.

  • Stephanie Barr

    Turns out it's not 265 pages of sample (whew!), just the first chapter and a bit.

    I think I liked the movie better.

    I HAVE said before that something that touches thousands of people must have something going for it, even if I don't see it.

    But I gotta tell you, I don't see it.

    Meh, to each their own. I have any number of books by people of minimal success that I adored. No one says we all have to like the same thing.

  • Relax Max

    That's cool. As for me, I look only for a good story and interesting characters. If there aren't too many words misspelled to where I can't read it, the framework doesn't bother me. You, being a pro, are more concerned with teaching how to write, and critique from a standpoint of grammar and English Literature. That's also cool. As for me, if I find the story lame and the characters dull, it can be written by Shakespeare and I wouldn't finish it. So we just have different specifications for what it takes to be a good book. At least you made the effort. :)

  • Stephanie Barr

    Oh, I have things I forgive, too. I've got favorite books that are probably as ill-written as this, possibly including my own.

    But what makes me forgiving is likely different than what makes you forgiving and that's just fine.

    A book that reaches me and grips me makes me forget to worry about grammar and the rest, makes me forgive ill-conceived motivations or plot holes, etc. Or, if I haven't forgotten, I just don't care because I'm having such a good time or feel so compelled. I suspect that is true for you, too.

    And it's perfectly reasonable for whatever it is that grips people to vary from person to person.

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