Can We Finally Get Some Oscars for This Franchise, Please?
Like, "Catching Fire" is one of the most brilliant adaptations of YA literature I've ever seen. The direction is tight, the script is ruthless, the casting is pitch-perfect, the cinematography is luscious and pretty much everything else about the film and its brethren serves only to elevate the source material. And the original books by Suzanne Collins weren't garbage by any means. "The Hunger Games" gets some flack for being a rip-off of "Battle Royale" or similar cult classics, but the execution of an admittedly old story is superb; three books and four movies use the standard YA framework to examine our cultural views of dystopia, entertainment and revolution.
And yet, the fourth and final film was just released and I have heard NO buzz about it.
What happened? Just a few years ago it was impossible to escape news about "The Hunger Games". "Mockingjay Part 2" still cleaned up at the box office, but its opening weekend grossed lower than any of the previous films, a rarity for a long-running series like this. Did it simply suffer from sequel fatigue? Or are we as audience members tuning out to this type of film altogether?
"The Drinking Games": The Rules
1. Drink for Title Drops. Varies from film to film, but you should always drink when someone says "Hunger Games".
2. Drink when they drink. Pay close attention when Haymitch is on screen
3. Drink for Daddy Issues
4. Drink when a weapon is used.
5. Drink when someone is called by their full name.
All the above rules apply. Also...
1. Title drops: drink when someone says the word "game".
2. Drink when someone dies. You don't need to see the death onscreen.
3. Drink for projections or telecom screens.
All the above rules apply. Also...
1. Drink for shaky cam or other weird camera stunts. This is mostly a thing just in the first film.
2. Drink whenever President Snow appears in a scene.
Krissy Pappau: Can't stop singing "Hanging Tree" (Medium)
Dame Poppy Middleton: Digging the costumes (Hard)
Dijan De Niro: Capitol Swine (Easy)
Shirley Whiskas: Would grab Diva Curl from the Cornucopia (Hard)
Levi: Wants a Lavender Marriage with Jennifer Lawrence (Hard)
The Rise of Jennifer Lawrence
Lawrence gets all the credit in the world for her portrayal of Katniss. Taking a character who was given a first-person-present POV in the novels and turning her into someone we can identify with on a film screen is not an easy task, especially when said character is emotionally withdrawn, curt, sarcastic and in many ways unlikable. Lawrence managed to keep the core of Katniss Everdeen present in her performance while still making her someone identifiable and admirable.
When Haymitch Abernathy, Disctrict 12's only surviving tribute, is introduced to Katniss and Peeta, he susses out her problems right away. In order for her to survive, she needs the support of the audience and more importantly of Capitol sponsors, who can send her things in the arena that will give her an advantage. And in order to get sponsor support, she needs to be likable, something she has not needed to worry about until now.
Levi, who had just come from an audition, perked up at this exchange. "Guys, he's teaching her acting!" he said.
Branding is important, because when you build up enough goodwill and good press, you are one day allowed to do things that go against your brand; you are allowed to be a person.
In 2014, nude photos of over 60 celebrities were leaked to the general public, and Jennifer Lawrence's name was among the most high profile of the victims. The sites that held these photos dithered about removing them, debates raged over whether the women could complain at all about the photos being seen since they took the photos themselves (for the record, yes they can), and other nonsense ensued. Jennifer Lawrence spoke publicly about her concern for her career after these photos were released, and then she did what any self-respecting person should do: she got angry.
“Just because I’m a public figure, just because I’m an actress, does not mean that I asked for this,” she says. “It does not mean that it comes with the territory. It’s my body, and it should be my choice, and the fact that it is not my choice is absolutely disgusting. I can’t believe that we even live in that kind of world. ”
It's also worth nothing that Lawrence's co-star Josh Hutcherson has also been the victim of a nude photo leak in the past, and literally NOBODY cares. He has not had to defend himself. Mainstream news outlets and tabloids aren't spreading his pictures around (with the exception of some gay gossip sites). He's fine. As fine as a compromised celebrity can be, anyway.
The World is Awful
"Jennifer looks like the milkman's daughter," Levi whispered as Katniss shared a scene with her mother and sister, both of whom are blonde and pale. It's canonically accepted that Katniss takes after her dead father, who seemed to be a swarthier gentleman, but there's a few different ways to read Katniss' physical description. In the books, she's described as having straight black hair and "olive-colored" skin. Not only that, these physical features are characterized as the standard look for the denizens of District 12. Her best friend and would-be-lover Gale shares these physical traits as well.
A lot of people were thrown off by this, particularly young fans of the books. Suzanne Collins keeps her descriptions of skin tone and ethnicity vague much of the time, either shying away from labeling characters as specific races or omitting descriptions altogether. This is a rare thing in a genre where so much of the time the main characters are either explicitly white or Caucasian-coded. Katniss as an ethnically-ambiguous lead in a story set in a time period following a lot of "ethnic mixing" is, like many things in the books, a small shift against the grain. A tiny statement against the status quo.
The point being, because Katniss isn't specifically written as belonging to a particular race, she didn't HAVE to be white in the films. And while Jennifer Lawrence is great for the role and does wonderful things with it, she had to dye her hair to even approach resembling how Katniss looks in the books.
"It's fine," Shirley Whiskas sighed, "and it doesn't really matter, but it's irritating."
If that was the whole story about the "Hunger Games" casting controversy, I'd agree. But it's not.
Rue, the youngest tribute in the Games, is arguably the most emotionally important character in the first book. She is characterized as small and quiet, she reminds Katniss of her younger sister Prim, and her death not only provides motivation for Katniss to fight against the Capitol but serves as an inciting incident for the rebellion all across Panem.
Amandla Stenberg won the part of Rue, and then the internet went NUTS.
The kicker is, unlike many of the characters in the books, Rue's ethnicity is specific: she has dark skin. Same with Thresh, her fellow tribute. Moreover, when pressed, Suzanne Collins labeled both Rue and Thresh as "African-American". So not only was this controversy fueled by a bunch of whiny racists, it was fueled by whiny racists who weren't even PAYING ATTENTION to the source material.
Stenberg, in effect, lived a true to life Hollywood equivalent of what her character went through. When "The Hunger Games" arrived in theaters, she was barely a teenager. And suddenly she's being exposed to an incredible amount of bile and ugliness that she should never have had to deal with. Instead of rolling over and taking it, though, she's grown up into an activist and is now writing a comic book, so that's amazing and cool (she's seventeen. What the hell was I doing when I was seventeen? What were you doing?).
The point of all this being, can you imagine what would have happened if they'd cast Katniss as anything other than a white woman?
Mockingjay Part 2: A Review
I'd argue that it's difficult to discuss "The Hunger Games" without talking about social issues. Protesters in Thailand co-opted Katniss' three-finger salute to declare their opposition to military occupancy, after all. More than most YA dystopian novels, "The Hunger Games" forces its readers to examine the intricacies of revolution, to recognize the seeds of uprising, to examine societal patterns.
So it's really too bad that the last film in the quartet kind of screwed the pooch (spoilers for "Mockingjay: Part 2" to follow).
Many fans of the books have issues with the third and final installment, especially the ending. I personally love it; the last twenty pages of "Mockingjay" subvert the happy ending that so many fantasy series fall into. Katniss has defeated her greatest enemy, the war is over, she's married to a man who loves her and she's borne his children...but she's dreadfully unhappy. She's unable to shake the feelings of PTSD that have followed her past the war, she wakes up screaming in the night, and at times she'll simply fail to be present when her children need her attention and care. She's broken.
Moreover, the system is broken. In the final battle against the Capitol, Alma Coin and the rest of the District 13 rebels revealed themselves to be just as power-hungry and ruthless as the people they were fighting to bring down. By killing Coin, Katniss strikes out against a cycle of totalitarianism that's become ingrained in Panem's government, but she discovers that even this last act of rebellion was orchestrated by Plutarch Heavensbee. Katniss was used as a tool the entire story, because she had people she wanted to protect. It's dark and it's depressing and it's super effective.
The movie...it's a faithful adaptation. Yes. But it doesn't deliver the nuances of these events as well as it could have. It's frontloaded with military-themed action scenes that drag on just a hair too long, and it loses sight of the thing that makes the core of the movie shine through: the characters. Aside from Katniss and Peeta, few characters are allowed moments for development or catharsis (to be fair, this is a flaw in the books too), and what little development that exists is swallowed up by the dreary darkness that permeates the story.
"Mockingjay" sticks with me in a way that "Hunger Games" does not because of its flaws, and because its story is told with such earnestness and grim starkness. It is one of the few stories I've read that acknowledges that change comes with a price. And that is the story that made this series matter, and that is why we aren't being inundated with ads for "Hunger Games" merchandise, and that is why real protesters are using language from these films to articulate their causes.
In case you were wondering, yeah, we were talking like this when we played the game, too. If anything, we were even worse about it.
If you'd like some extra rules to raise the stakes, try these on for size.
Drink when someone screams
This rule feels different for each film. In the first one, characters are more likely to scream in pain or fright. In later films there's this sense of desperation that really hits you in the gut.
Drink when you see someone wearing red
Might be the most thematic color in the films
Drink for kissing
Katniss has not one but TWO love interests in these films, and she gets plenty of action with them both. Her questionable motives help break up this trope quite nicely.
For Your Inebriation is written by Krissy Pappau (Hollis Beck). All "Spirited Away" images are owned by Walt Disney Entertainment and Studio Ghibli.
Special Thanks to my patrons, Caroline Kittredge Faustine and Kaela Mei-Shing Garvin! Your support helps me keep this blog up and running. Join their ranks today and donate to my ongoing Patreon campaign!