The movie version of The Hunger Games has been in theaters for a week now, after a blockbusting opening weekend and generally positive reception from critics (85% freshness rating at Rotten Tomatoes) and fans of the book alike. It's also sparked a vibrant, multifaceted conversation, in and out of fandom.
- Two interesting looks at Hunger Games marketing: Salon discusses the book's initial release, and how enthusiasm on the part of librarians and teachers helped to make it an instant bestseller. The New York Times looks at the film's marketing, and the way that it used the internet to create enormous buzz for relatively little money. (Especially interesting in comparison to the significantly more expensive—and possibly disastrous—marketing of John Carter).
- Though the general tone of reviews has been positive, some—especially in the mainstream press—have take the film to task for reveling in child-on-child violence even as it claims to decry it. David Edelstein's review at The Vulture sums up these concerns:
The audience at Monday’s packed preview of The Hunger Games came out juiced and happy, ready to spread the good word, while all I could think was, They’ve just seen a movie in which twenty-plus kids are murdered. Why aren’t they devastated? If the filmmakers had done their job with any courage, the audience would have been both juiced and devastated.
- More reviews, by Alisa Krasnostein, Richard Larson, SelenaK, and myself.
- Rebecca Rabinowitz discusses the effect of the film's fashion choices for the Capitol's citizens, and wonders whether, in contrast to the traditional gender presentation in the districts, the Capitol's citizens aren't coded as queer.
- At Tiger Beatdown, s.e. smith considers the film's handling of disability, or rather its non-handling of it.
the decision to alter the storyline with Peeta’s leg really troubles me because of what it symbolises. Peeta becomes a prominently disabled character in the series, and his disability becomes part of his experiences. At the same time though, he’s not defined by the disability, consumed by it, and placed in the narrative for the sole purpose of constantly reminding everyone that he’s disabled. Peeta, like other characters, is scarred by the world he lives in, and he bears a visible mark of the cruelty and brutality of Panem, but more importantly, he’s another person trying to survive and build a better world. By neatly cutting that entire plotline away, the filmmakers avoided some tangled and thorny issues.
- As has been widely reported, some fans of the books have responded negatively to characters like Rue (a young contestant whom Katniss adopts as a surrogate sister) and Cinna (Katniss's stylist) being portrayed by black actors (despite the fact that Rue, at least, is described as brown-skinned in the book). The tumblr Hunger Games Tweets aims to collect, expose, and debunk these attitudes. Encouragingly, the attention paid to this issue over the last few days may have shamed the people who hold these opinions into silence.
- A topic of much controversy has been the film's shaky-cam photography, with detractors arguing that the jittery camerawork neuters the film's action scenes. Richard Brody at the New Yorker blog The Front Row makes the best defense I've seen of this style and the way it enables the film to convey the games' horror without becoming steeped in it:
when Ross depicts a child killing a child—a horror that, filmed with cool distance, would be unbearable to watch—as a series of blurs with the flash of a knife blade and a few drops of blood, there’s no discernible change of style to hint at bowdlerization or mitigation. Much of the film is seen as whirs and jolts, as a kind of metaphorical (if vague) representation of Katniss’s inner life. It’s hardly an honest representation of violence—except to the extent that the movie makes clear that what results from such vaguely-viewed violence is injury and death. At the very least, Ross’s fragmented camera work doesn’t seem cynical; it comes off as a sincere attempt to create an experience that’s distinctively cinematic, distinctively visual.
On the other hand, when one considers that The Hunger Games's shaky-cam was aimed at securing the film a desirable PG-13 rating, at the same time that the anti-bullying documentary Bully has been forced into an unrated release for profanity, one can't help but look a little dimly at Ross's choices.
- At Salon, Laurie Penny compares the young, female heroines of The Hunger Games and Twilight, and the similar reactions that the two series's predominantly female fanbases have engendered.
- Two Marxist readings of the film: Voyou Désœuvré argues that the film's visuals "position it critically within the aesthetics of austerity nostalgia," while Subashini, in contrast to Laurie Penny above, argues that Katniss's survival depends on the "affective labour" of performing traditional femininity:
it still seems pretty troubling to me that it’s this required performance of lovestruck, vulnerable femininity that is needed, quite literally, to save Katniss’ life. And this too precisely because she has demonstrated what is apparently meant to be understood as an unfeminine lack of vulnerability throughout. It’s almost as if she must be punished for not being feminine enough or female in all the right ways (which is why comments to the effect that Katniss Everdeen is a “better” feminist role model than Bella Swan of the Twilight series seems to me rather strange, not least because comparing who’s more feminist is precisely why feminism is still needed, but more to the point because so many seem to miss how similar these two female characters have to be in order to be allowed to exist within the social order.)
- Finally, and to remind us of how far uphill we still have to go, screenwriter Todd Alcott reports on his own experience trying to sell a female-led science fiction adventure, and on Hollywood's continuing, and dispiriting, resistance to female leads in action films.
My guess is that today, this very day, in offices all over Hollywood, studio executives are still telling writers “We don’t make science-fiction movies with a female protagonist.” And when the writer says “But what about Hunger Games?” they will make an excuse — “Well, but that’s The Hunger Games, it’s a phenomenon, it’s its own thing, you can’t hope to repeat that.”