Alex Stephenson Katniss Everdeen, Abstractly Hopeful Futurist

I saw The Hunger Games. I never read the book, and I had nothing vested in the success of the movie, as I am not one of those people who has a vested interest in the acting career of Lenny Kravitz. It just sort of seemed like a movie I should see, if only because I see everything. And I can’t say I was disappointed with what I saw, because I had no expectations, but I can’t say I loved it either, because the movie is pretty mediocre.

Now, when I say mediocre, I mean that as an average of the whole movie… because there were some elements in The Hunger Games that were exceptionally shitty. I don’t know who edited the movie, but I suspect that person learned how to edit using Windows Movie Maker. The cutting was so awful and jarring at times that it was often impossible to care about anything other than whether or not I had Gravol in my bag.

I’m a fan of the handheld aesthetic the movie employed, but I’m also a much bigger fan of editing choices that make sense. The reason the handheld style works so well in movies like those directed by Paul Greengrass is because of how seamless the editing is, and Gary Ross does not appear to be the second coming of Paul Greengrass. And for a movie with a reported budget of $78 million, I struggle to see where that money went, other than to craft Wes Bentley’s priceless facial hair. The money certainly didn’t go to paying a top shelf actor to play Peeta, because god damn Josh Hutcherson is a terrible actor. Every time he was on screen, I wanted to vomit. (It turned out that I did not have any Gravol.) When he confessed his love for Katniss to Stanley Tucci, I reflexively booed out loud. I don’t know if it’s because Hutcherson was so whiney in any moderately serious scene, or if it was his overly goofy haircut, or I’m still dealing with residual rage because I once paid actual money to see Zathura, but I just couldn’t deal with this guy.

Every time he was on screen, I wanted to vomit.

Now, that is not to say there is nothing the movie does well; there were parts I thoroughly enjoyed, particularly the way the film used music sparingly, and always well. Director Gary Ross and composer James Newton Howard clearly have at least one Nick Cave & Warren Ellis score in their iTunes library, and that’s never a bad thing. I also enjoyed how The Hunger Games was an action movie that never seemed to think the action was the most important aspect of the film (although I recognize that could just be because the action was almost uniformly bad). Plus, an actress from Deadwood had a small role in the movie, which apparently means something to me. But, of course, the actress this movie revolved around was significantly more important than the woman who played Trixie.

Our introduction to Katniss Everdeen was incredibly economical and enjoyable, as she cares for her sister Primrose before leaving to go hunting in a good, wordless scene that remains so until Thor’s brother shows up. Katniss is our lady hero, and the only legitimately engaging character in the movie, and here she’s played by Jennifer Lawrence, who is always a likeable actress despite the fact that her small eyes make her seem perpetually tired (or perhaps just sly). I’ve been pro-Lawrence since Winter’s Bone, and while I still have my reservations about her actual acting ability, I do not doubt her ability to be a charming female superstar. Her resistance to lose weight for her role as Mystique in X-Men: Babies was more than slightly endearing, even if she probably would have relented if she didn’t naturally have a body that can only be described as ‘unreasonable.’ But if The Hunger Games had to have only one engaging character in it, they chose the right one. And some people seem to love them some Katniss.

Kids take the things they care about far more seriously than I ever could. I have things to do, so I can’t be reading or thinking about my favourite media products as much as I did when I was fifteen. I’m sure I’m smarter than the majority of teenagers, but I’m just as sure that I don’t have the same emotional attachment to Young Adult that the young adult in front of me in the theatre had for Katniss. That kind of feeling is kind of why I don’t often watch college sports: as I write this, Kentucky is about to win the national championship, which also means Kansas is about to lose it. And I’m going to have to see kids fall to their knees in tears. I never cared about Adam Morrison, but I still kind of feel bad for him and that ‘Heartbreak City’ Gus Johnson call. But the flip side of this is that these Kentucky kids are about to be happier than most people will ever be able to fathom, a kind of delusional happiness that even NBA players will feel when reaching the pinnacle of their sport (exception: Kevin Garnett). This moment will always be hugely important to them, if only because it was a notable thing that happened relatively early in their life.

The most interesting thing about The Hunger Games is how it has been discussed since its release. While in production, it was copiously referred to as the next Twilight, because it was a popular young adult novel that was soon to be a movie marketable to those same young adults. People that had read the books were clearly excited about the film, and the people who hadn’t weren’t immediately against the film’s existence, due to the fact that it wasn’t marketed in an annoying fashion. But now that The Hunger Games exists as a movie, it seems like everybody that cares about these things needs to have an opinion on what it’s really about. It’s easy to make comparisons to reality television, as many have, similarly to how easy it is to say The Hunger Games is about professional sport. Gossip Girl star Penn Badgely thinks it’s about Occupy Wall Street, which isn’t entirely misguided, albeit technically impossible.

I’m sure people called Rocky racist back in the 1970s

The science fiction genre will always allow more options for these readings, because science fiction films are typically movies that take place in an exaggerated version of modern society, where anything can be exaggerated for added meaning. But, despite Twilight being a science fiction movie, opinions on it were mostly stuck on things like “ohmagawd vampires shouldn’t be sparkly!” or “R-Pattz’ perma-sex hair is glorious,” and the most intelligent breakdowns of the film were always predicated on original author Stephanie Meyer’s Mormonism, because Americans love things that are silly. But what the difference between Twilight and The Hunger Games shows is a raising of a kind of cultural literacy. We might generally be dumbing down, but we’re reading up on our favourite pieces of culture in a way that allows for more intelligent conversations about ridiculous things. While being able to have an actual intellectual discussion about the ideas behind Occupy Wall Street might be more important in the long run, the ability to see small elements of that thinking in cultural products like The Hunger Games is growing.

That is not to say this is anything new. Movies and television shows that succeed on such a mass scale will be similarly analyzed. I’m sure people called Rocky racist back in the 1970s, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Braveheart was once broken down in a similar fashion to The Hunger Games. But it’s simply not as difficult to find these things anymore; now they just pop up on my Twitter feed, and I click the link to read more if I like. And the people that use Twitter the most, and the people that have grown up with an advanced level of social media literacy, are the kids sitting in screenings of The Hunger Games.

The Hunger Games isn’t a great movie, but it’s good enough to be interesting

I have, over the last year or so, begun souring a bit on the blockbuster culture I grew up loving so much, but maybe I shouldn’t. We might still talk about the worst blockbusters with a kind of anger that few media products require, or we might use Twitter to express similar rage about something as simple as changing the name of a media product that was always kind of ridiculous in the first place. I probably loved the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as much as anybody, but turning them into aliens and cutting their name in half does not offend me. Michael Bay and Jonathan Liebesman aren’t changing anything that was ever interesting; I only liked the product in the first place because when you’re a kid in the 1990s mutants, ninjas, and pizza are your three favourite things in the universe. Now that I’m older, I don’t care.

I’ll always know I probably used to like them more than I’ll ever like anything else, but now that I’m smarter than a four year old, I see nothing interesting in them. I recognize my nostalgic attachment, and I appreciate that, but I’m never going to pretend Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird created some sort of untouchable holy text. They just made a thing that caught on with kids, is all, not unlike Stephanie Meyer created something for people who like swooning. At least when fans of The Hunger Games get older, they’ll still see something interesting in what they liked as a kid. Once the level of quality in these mass media products reaches at least ‘mediocre,’ then there is plenty of analysis to be done from young adult fiction readers to actors on the CW. The Hunger Games isn’t a great movie, but it’s good enough to be interesting, which is fine for now.

 But what matters most is that the movies these kids care about are getting more interesting, more worth talking about.

And now CBS has cut to a blonde Kansas fan with tears in her eyes, and then back to a teary, bent over Travis Releford. I have never cried over a basketball game, and I can’t imagine a situation that could ever get me to do so, but I think I get it. A Kentucky bench player seems to be exhibiting the exact opposite emotion, hugging his teammates, all the while with leaky oculars. And while I don’t feel this blonde Jayhawk’s pain, I think I understand it. It’s the opposite of when I semi-delusionally squeezed a friend’s arm during a particularly engaging Moscow car chase, or that eight-second period in the summer of 2005 where I actually felt like I could take up a career as a masked vigilante. That girl’s tears will go away, and she’ll continue to live a life of learning things, including why it’s ludicrous to cry over a game of basketball. She might forget how to be as passionate about this stuff, but she won’t forget the moments that caused her to feel such passion.

Young fans of The Hunger Games are no different: a fourteen year old fan might grow up and wonder how they ever cared so much for such a mediocre movie, but they’ll never forget The Hunger Games itself. It’s been burned into their brains. And one day down the road, they might realize something completely different about the movie they loved so much. They might realize it’s about reality shows hosted by Jeff Probst, or it might be about that team they cried over when their alma mater lost in the Final Four. Or maybe it is about that movement with all those tents, and the other Tucker was right all along. But what matters most is that the movies these kids care about are getting more interesting, more worth talking about.

The young fans might not know how to find these analyses of their favourite movie yet, and they might even be too young to really care. But when they do get older and smarter, that analysis will still be there, and they’ll likely be better at finding it than anybody who came before them. If Katniss and Prim start a revolution in the sequel, then who knows what will happen online and in high school classrooms. Things will get real out of hand on screen, I’m sure, but they might get out of mind outside the theatre.

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