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29 March 2012 @ 09:49 am
In Which Maggie Reviews the Hunger Games('s Audience)  
The other day, VH1 asked me to do a review of the Hunger Games movie, which I did. Actually, the one that went live yesterday (read it here) is my second version of the review. I had to rewrite it because my first review that I dashed out, on re-read, was about the audience. When I confessed on Facebook that I'd had to throw out that first version, Facebook asked me if I'd post it here. So I will. But be warned, it's sort of bitter and opinionated.

Below are my original, just-seen-the-movie, unedited thoughts:

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I’m pleased that everyone in the world now knows what the Hunger Games is about because it spares me that awkward moment of trying to explain that it’s about kids killing kids on national television. Some people just can’t buy into the concept. “It’s too implausible,” they would always say. “Who would watch kids killing kids on TV?”

I want you to hold that thought.

Opening night. The ever-growing line to get in made my teen author heart glad. It was made up of people of every size, shape, color, age, and race. Somehow, this incredibly intelligent YA book, skewering America’s love of voyeurism (reality TV, tabloids, shock bloggers) had managed to speak to all of them. I felt warm in the general direction of all my fellow Americans.

It didn’t take me long to feel warm in the general direction of the movie, either. Yes, the content of the first book was edited to fit into two hours, but it was more cutting than altering, and the spirit of each scene was so vibrantly attuned to the text that it felt as if the director had reached inside my head and placed my thoughts onscreen. Insert deja vu here. About twenty minutes into the film, I realized I hadn’t spent even a second analyzing the film from the point of view of a non-reader.

Get yourself together, Stiefvater! I exhorted myself. You’re supposed to be reviewing this movie for VH1! NOW IS NO TIME FOR RABID FANGIRLING.

But it didn’t work. I can’t separate my experience as a reader from my experience as movie-goer. I can’t even tell you what I thought worked the best about this adaptation. The casting (Stanley Tucci as Caeser Flickerman was genius)? The sets (with the exception of the strangely imagined cornucopia, the poverty of District 12 and the opulence of the Capital were awesomely done)? The acting (I can’t describe how moving it was to see Katniss [Jennifer Lawrence] begin shaking right before entering the arena)?

Basically, this: I cannot imagine a reader being unhappy with this adaptation. It maintains the spirit of the original so well.

That disturbing question lurked, though: “who would watch kids killing kids?” I couldn’t forget, as I sat in that theater, that I was. I told myself it was different for viewers in America versus viewers in Panem. Because in America, in this theater, we knew what this movie was trying to say. 

And then one of the tributes — the kids in the arena — was murdered. Though every kid onscreen was now a killer, this character was responsible for the death of one of the more sympathetic tributes, and she’d even seemed to enjoy it. Anyway, her neck got snapped.

Around me, the theater erupted in applause.

Applause.

As I sat there with my hands pressed into my thighs, that’s when I realized just how well the film makers had done their job. Like the Gamemaker, they’d carefully monitored audience perception of good and bad, success and failure. Through editing and music and selective storytelling, they made villains and heroes of twenty-four victims. They had exactly proved the scathing point of the book; that we glossy and well-cared for members of the Capital could be made to enjoy watching a teen die.

My verdict? It’s a crazy-good piece of film-making about the insanity of kids killing kids.

Who would watch something like that?

Turns out, I would. But I’m still not going to clap over it.

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Since writing this first review, too, I've had several people tell me that the movie just wasn't violent enough. They would've preferred to see more gore in order to enjoy it. I don't think I have to embellish my previous review in order for anyone to know my thoughts on that.


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