Tag Archives: Suzanne Collins

The Odds Are In Your Favor with the Final Hunger Games

Hunger-Games

Today, The Writing Well features a movie review of the final Hunger Games’ movie, Mockingjay – Part 2, which opened over the weekend with an estimated $101 million in North America and $146 million internationally.  The post, written by Chicago-based blogger and movie buff Spencer Blohm, is a must-read for anyone who is a fan of Suzanne Collins’ blockbuster books and the film adaptations.  I last wrote about this film after a Dragon*Con YA panel that explored whether the first film delivered the goods given the huge popularity of the books.

Spencer tells Spencer_HeadShotme he is a lifelong movie lover and wishes it were possible to time travel back to the golden era of Hollywood cinema and meet Judy Garland — though Jennifer Lawrence would be “pretty cool, too.” Take it away, Spencer!

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For the past three years, no dystopian film franchise has garnered more audience and critical praise than The Hunger Games series. It blends all the aspects of action, science fiction, political commentary and romance that young audiences crave while giving viewers a grim reminder of what a corrupt society can do to the world. Although the end of this film series is bittersweet, Katniss Everdeen’s saga goes out with a bang in Mockingjay – Part 2.

 

The eponymous first book, written by Suzanne Collins, has flown off shelves since its debut in 2008, and the sequels, Catching Fire and Mockingjay, were both instant bestsellers. The trilogy revolves around teenage Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and the Districts of Panem, which are under the tight rule of the vindictive President Snow (Donald Sutherland), and the vicious Hunger Games, which sacrifice innocent children supposedly in the name of unity. While the first two films put Katniss in the arena to fight for her and her sort-of love interest Peeta’s (Josh Hutcherson) lives, the final two installments focus on the downfall of the corrupt society and the ways Katniss must change and fight for a better world. Before you see the newest film, you can catch up on the three previous installments on cable TV and Hulu.

 

The films in the franchise have become progressively more intense with each installment, much like the books. As Katniss grows from an unlucky adolescent to a true revolutionary, she’s burdened with her own morality and grittier ethical decisions. Mockingjay – Part 2 doesn’t hold back from the heartbreaking events of the final novel, edging it away from teen flick to a political and thought-provoking action/adventure film. Although still a teenager in the final installment, Katniss has grown into a powerful symbol of courage and sacrifice — all while remaining flawed and inarguably human.

KatnissDespite Lawrence’s acting capabilities, it is apparent she’s worn Katniss for just about as long as she can. Lawrence has simply outgrown the role, which shows onscreen. She has evolved into an Oscar-winning actress since the first Hunger Games film, and the young adult novel series just isn’t her platform anymore. But just because the role is a bit stale doesn’t mean the movie is a dud. In fact, it’s an explosive send-off to a beloved film series. The emotional climax is performed perfectly, and fan favorite roles (including Elizabeth Banks‘ flamboyant Effie Trinket and Woody Harrelson‘s sardonic Haymitch Abernathy) get their chance to shine before the series ends. This film also showcases the talent of several generations of actresses. Julianne Moore stuns as the icy Alma Coin and Game of ThronesGwendoline Christie appears as one of the only new characters to come into the last film.

 

The influence of the Hunger Games films have reached far past theater screens, and they inhabit a vital place in YA and dystopian film history. The series did not necessarily need to be drawn out for four movies instead of three (a common Hollywood device), and the leading lady can definitely benefit from hanging up her bow and arrows, but luckily, this last film is sure to leave a lasting impact on fans and newcomers alike.

Hunger Games from Book to Screen – Did it Deliver?

 

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss in THE HUNGER GAMES. Photo credit: Murray Close
 
Watching “The Hunger Games” on DVD this weekend made me think where I was one week ago — attending DragonCon, the world’s largest fantasy/SF convention held every Labor Day in Atlanta.
 
One of the more interesting panels I attended was a spirited debate among Young Adult (YA) authors, including C.J. Redwine, M.B. Wilson, Leah Wilson, Diana Peterfreund and Mel Pichetto, who explored how well Suzanne Collins’ bestselling trilogy translated from book to screen. 
 
The movie was helped by Collins’ close collaboration with director Gary Ross on the screenplay. However, filmmakers always must make tough choices when condensing multi-layered stories rich with characters and back story into a two-hour movie. It’s a process that often brings angst to fans of well-loved books, and “The Hunger Games” was no exception.  
 
“Hunger Games” fans in costume at DragonCon YA panel.
The book and film open on the morning of the “Reaping” – when the story’s heroine, 16-year-old Katniss of District 12, prepares for the lottery that every teenager living in the 12 districts of Panem must enter.  The oppressive government, embodied as the “Capitol,” requires an adolescent boy and girl from each of the districts to serve as tributes for their districts in a televised gladiator battle where only one can emerge victor. The Capitol requires this sacrifice as a reminder of the districts’ rebellion 74 years earlier (the districts are actually remnants of the U.S.).
 
The story’s heroine comes from the poorest of the districts known for coal mining. After losing her father in a mine explosion, Katniss masters hunting with a bow and arrow to help keep her little sister Prim and her emotionally damaged mother from starving. Her hunting companion is her childhood friend Gale, who also lost his dad and must hunt to keep his family alive. Katniss becomes the first tribute to volunteer when she steps up to take her younger sister’s place at the games.
Most of the panelists agreed that the world building — from the impoverished districts to the glittery Capitol — was well done. The movie was filmed entirely in North Carolina, with settings that included both a dense forest and a town that stood in for District 12.
 
Collins said that she first imagined the book while channel-surfing one evening between a reality TV show and footage of the invasion of Iraq. The two “began to blur in this very unsettling way” and the idea for the book was formed, she recalled in a 2010 interview in Publisher’s Weekly.  
 
YA authors discuss “Hunger Games” during DragonCon.
“The Hunger Games” tackles a number of themes, from severe poverty and starvation, to oppression and the effects of war. The characters in the story face difficult moral questions in their quest for self-preservation.

“This was an oppressive society at the beginning of a revolution,” noted Redwine, who was particularly impressed with the 80s influence in the Capitol, from the clothing to the lavish furnishings inside the apartments that housed the tributes. “I thought it was a nice gesture to the excess of the 80s,” she said.

 
A few panelists indicated that they would have liked to seen more focus on food, given the undercurrent of hunger, especially in the poorer outlier districts.  During the Q and A, an audience member said her bakery (Amélie’s based in Charlotte) actually catered the food for the crew, and that they didn’t realize until the film was released that their pastries and other delicacies were used as “food shots” on both the train and in the Capitol.
I agreed with many of the points made by YA writers, including the cinematography and the behind-the-scenes shots of the technology-savvy gamekeepers. They at times showed an appalling lack of humanity toward the tributes as they introduced new obstacles for the teens to overcome in their fight for survival. Case in point: the gamekeepers’ introduction of a pack of vicious mutated dogs called muttations into the arena for the final battle. In the book, Collins describes how the eyes of the dead tributes are superimposed on the mutts’ eyes — a ghastly detail that adds to the psychological warfare of the story. This detail didn’t make it into the film, to the disappointment of the panelists.
 
“‘The Hunger Games’ offers a lot of lessons,” said Pichetto, assistant YA programming director for DragonCon. “The portrayal of post-traumatic stress disorder is incredibly accurate.”
 
Cato, male tribute from District 2.
That damage was evident in the last battle scene, when both Katniss and her District 12 counterpart, Peeta, find themselves facing the “alpha tribute” Cato. Born on the more prosperous District 2 and trained as a career tribute, Cato had spent his entire life training for this moment. During the games, he delivered as expected, killing other tributes without remorse. But, the audience gets a glimpse into his damaged psyche and his disillusionment in his final moments, when Katniss is pointing an arrow at him and he’s got Peeta in a death grip. Cato states that he only wanted to bring pride to his district, and that all he knew how to do was kill. Interestingly, his speech was not in the book, but was added to the screenplay.
 
The movie also didn’t explain to viewers the real meaning of the Mockingjay, a critical symbol of rebellion that plays out throughout the trilogy. (If you want to read why this mimicking bird is so symbolic, check out this explanation on Wiki Answers.)
 
As a work of literature, The Hunger Games offers a refreshing alternative to stories about dystopian societies that could be great fodder for English schoolteachers. Given the popularity of the book by both adult and teenage readers (it’s stayed on the NY Times bestseller list for more than three years since debuting in 2008), I am hopeful that it will find a place in my children’s literature class one day.
 
“I hope it takes the place of George Orwell’s1984. I’d love to see it become a classic because it is more relevant,” said panelist M.B. Weston.