Monday, March 26, 2012

Why The Hunger Games Gets a Bad Rap While Making a Billion Dollars

I'm not a Twilight fan. I don't pretend to be. I'm also not a Twilight hater. That would take energy and I'm often tired or busy. The fact is, I haven't read a single word of the Twilight saga nor seen a single second of the cinematic adaptation. I am a Twilight nothing-er. I don't care one way or another what people spend their money on for entertainment. I hear the books are written in simple fashion and aren't all that complex. That makes sense. You can't be as popular as those books unless you're wonderfully simple.

The only time I've found myself even contemplating the Twilight series is when I hear people compare the recent Hunger Games phenomenon to its vampiric brethren. On the surface, the comparisons seem apt enough. Both feature teenage female protagonists who are meant to appeal to teenage female readers. Both have a twist of the nether in them, whether it be the plague of the nosferatu or the plague of dystopia. Yet based on everything I've heard about Twilight and everything I read in the first book of the Hunger Games Trilogy (aptly named The Hunter Games), these comparisons seem, well, baseless, and mostly they come from men. So fellas, I'm directing this review at you and I want the ladies to nod and read along because, as usual, they already know all this. 1) This series is nothing like Twilight. Do not compare it to Twilight. 2) Men should dig this series a LOT more than Twilight. Again, at the end of the day I am relying on the trusted word of dedicated readers I know whose reactions have ranged from fanatic love (my youngest sister) to disgust and contempt (the less young sister). Fellas, if you take nothing else from this, take this much: Take your lady to go see the Hunger Games. You will not regret it.

First of all ladies, I need you to forgive your guy for hating Hunger Games without a second look. Again, this is the Twilight effect. You shoved what is, by all accounts, a completely guy-unfriendly movie down their throats. You insisted that there were "cool vampires and demons" when really it was just a horribly done love story. Let's kill the misconception while we're here: Guys don't hate love stories. No really, we don't. What we hate is contrivance. We hate the all-too-convenient idea of "love at first sight". It demeans a lot of effort on our part and your part. Love is work. It's easy to fall in love, sure, but if you want it to last you have to accept each other's deepest flaws as if they're qualities and you have to do it all with a smile. You have to sacrifice and you have to care about things you never thought you would care about. And you have to be lucky enough to meet someone who will reciprocate all of the above AND deal with the fact that you're not going to clean up after yourself. The work goes greatly underappreciated in these movies and ladies, I know you don't like being underappreciated.

Contrived love stories assume men are sheepish, perfectly groomed dogs waiting for that one woman to dote over and worship. Sure, in a way, I worship my girlfriend. I do pretty much whatever she wants because making her happy makes me happy. And she's the same way regarding me. But I also fart A LOT. Without restraint, without hesitation and without apology. I watch and care about sports to a level she will never understand. I am an aggressive driver and I get surly when I haven't written in a few days and I never express as much when I am in my surly moods. And she takes it all with a smile. But you know what? She does stuff that drives me crazy too. We deal.

None of this is captured in movies like Twilight so when a guy sees sparkly vampires hitting 1,000 foot home runs then whisking off breathless women without passing gas, we get skeptical. Once you introduce two shirtless guys and create a marketing campaign about choosing one or the other, well we feel a bit left out and decide that stuff's just not for us. We don't like phony dudes, not on the screen, not in person. We want the real deal.

The Hunger Games gives you the real deal without the romantic frills to lean on. In a fictional vision of post-apocalyptic America, Suzanne Collins gives us a world where 24 teens between the ages of 12 and 18 are annually chosen to fight to the death for public amusement. However, the real focus is unraveling how a society that promotes such a brutal ritual can thrive without constant rebellion? The stark contrast between the high tech government that sports hovercrafts and handheld devices that read one's DNA as quickly as a cashier scans a box of cereal and the living conditions of an impoverished mining colony like the one our protagonists hails from is one of the crowning achievements of this series. I suspect this was the director's goal, too. They wanted to make people feel HARD as the setting revealed itself to the viewer. It does all of this without an overriding love story that trumps everything else the characters are about.

The most powerful scene of the movie comes during the Reaping, the ritual where names of participants in the Hunger Games are picked from a large glass bowl. Teenagers are herded into a pen like farmstock while a bubbly Effie Trinket wishes them all the best of luck in the movie's token fashion and then reaches in for a name of someone who's likely going to be dead in a week and everyone knows it. When Katniss Everdeen steps up to take her little sister's place (trust me, I'm not spoiling anything with that revelation) I felt legitimate chills. That five minutes sold me on the entire trilogy as a cinematic expression of a really cool trilogy of books.

If you're a fan of the books, you'll love the movie because it's so faithful to the settings and characters. If you're new to the movie and you have an open mind, I think you'll enjoy it as well. The books are notoriously brutal, but the movie is PG-13 and it waters down the violence. For this long ass review, I'm simply calling on my homies. All the good guys who have finally taken a stand because you were drug to three Twilight movies already and you've simply had enough. Fellas, this is not worth taking a stand against. She'll love it and frankly you will probably love it too. There is a small dose of romance, but it's part of a greater plot and it isn't the focus of the story by any means. Instead, the focus is the raw reaction of people getting penned in and treated like cattle by a burgeoning government that jumps at its own shadow. Come for the hot, hot Katniss Everdeen and stay for an original storyline brought to life by excellent directing and costume design (seriously spot on with what I imagined the Capital was like).

In short, don't buy the hater hype that catches up with everything that's popular nowadays. Go with your gut and realize that movies about mega brawls in the wilderness are actually pretty fucking awesome. I look forward to first reading, then watching, the sequel unfold. I hope you don't let the mistakes of our lit-to-screen past hamper the possibilities for the future.

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