Thursday, January 03, 2013

Hunger Games - the book

I noted in my last post that I watched the movie The Hunger Games on New Year's Eve.  As a result I decided to read the book, in part to satisfy some of the questions I had about the movie.  The result is that I now see that the movie often provides a shorthand version of much of the background material, and while this would be sufficient to those who've read the book, it isn't always enough for a person coming new to the story.  So it pays to read the book, which is very readable - apart from a few factors.  No doubt it would pay to read the other two stories in the trilogy before the movies of those appear (the second is in production) as well.

My main concern with the book is the same as with the movie: there's little sense amongst the teenagers who spend their time killing each other off in the bulk of the story that there's something wrong with all this. Yes, they do talk about it briefly at times, but when push comes to shove, they don't seem to have many real qualms about the killing - and that includes the heroine with the weird name - Katniss - as well as her male counterpart, the equally oddly named, Peeta.  Katniss has some qualms about killing, but it's mostly to do with those she likes. The rest are basically the enemy. Suzanne Collins, the author, gets over this to an extent by painting these enemy kids as youngsters who've grown up expecting to have an opportunity to be involved in these gladiatorial games: they've made a career out of it, as it were.  In fact, this is what they're known as collectively.  Other people, however, like Katniss and Peeta - and Rue, the twelve-year-old rather incongruously caught up in this crazy business - are the goodies, and whatever their flaws, they're always painted as the goodies. Of course Katniss has to have an antagonist, and the craziest of the 'tributes' (as the youngsters are called) is seen as bad to the bone from early on.  In fact, the real antagonists of the story, I suspect, don't really come into their own until the second or third stories; this is collectively the Capitol, one of those usefully anonymous entities who appear regularly in fantasy/sci fi.  In the book version, the Capitol barely has a personality.  In fact, the Capitol in the movie has much more of a face (as do the game controllers) than in the book, courtesy of Donald Sutherland in one of his more sinister personifications.  But even though he appears briefly several times in the movie, we still don't know the whys and wherefores of his part in the whole proceedings.  This is okay: we have two more stories in which to find out about him/them.

What's not so okay, and what seems to me to be a flaw in the book (which translates over into the movie) is the way in which Peeta is constantly being rescued by the heroine.  Now, you could say that female characters by the million have spent their allotted time in books being rescued by heroes, and you'd be right.  But Peeta, who's lacking in virtually any skills that would actually get him through the nightmare of the Games, and who constantly puts his foot in it, and who is more trouble than he's worth in terms of forcing Katniss to have to deal with him as well as the big nasty, is supposed to be the romantic lead in this story.  He has to be strong enough as a character to give Gale, the boy Katniss thinks she might be in love with (but who doesn't have any involvement in the Games) a run for his money.  But he isn't that strong a character. He's a romantic, and unless he pulls his socks up in the other two stories, he's going to find himself where he probably belongs - as number two in the romantic stakes.  I suppose it's possible that Collins sees a romantic character as being more trustworthy in the long run than a hunk.

The interesting thing is that in the movie the role of Gale, the boy back home, is played by a hunk. When you come to the story as I did, without any prior knowledge of what part he plays in it all, you wonder how he doesn't wind up as the other candidate for the Games.  The role of Peeta in the movie is played by Josh Hutcherson, who isn't a hunk, and who doesn't have the screen presence of a romantic lead, and yet he gets all the screen time.  It could be said to be a nice reversal (in more ways than one), subverting our expectations.  Whether this works will only be shown when the next two films get made.  Perhaps when I read the other two stories in the trilogy - if I do - the logic behind this will come clear.

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