Confession #1: I haven’t read The Hunger Games, the blockbuster novel which spawned a blockbuster movie. As a matter of fact, just a couple of months before the film’s release I was speculating with friends that the movie would have a soft opening; that the book just wasn’t the phenomenon that Twilight or Harry Potter were. This was based strictly on my own awareness, and The Hunger Games was just not really on my pop culture radar at all. I’d heard of Twilight and Potter before those properties became films; I knew people that were voracious fans of the books. But The Hunger Games? No way.
So, one $155 million dollar opening weekend later, and I can admit publicly that I was very, very wrong. In other news, I think my pop culture radar is on the fritz.
Confession #2: I thought the film was just okay. Yes, I realize I’m in the minority on this. The Hunger Games is currently sitting with a strong 85% fresh rating on RottenTomatoes.com, and many of my peers have already declared it a classic of science-fiction. I think Jennifer Lawrence is quite good, and movies need more characters like Katniss -- young women that are intelligent, capable, compassionate, and most of all non-sexualized. But, for the most part, I didn’t feel like the movie had many surprises beyond its logline (kids are forced to fight to the death in a dystopian future, aaaand...that’s pretty much it right there).
Some of my issues with the film were in the construction of the overall world and story. I acknowledge that these might be things that are dealt with in the book that just didn’t make the transition from print to screen, so with that in mind, here are my lingering questions about The Hunger Games, in order of significance.
Potential spoilers ahead
1. If the games come every year, why don't all the districts prepare for them?
This confused me, especially since they went out of their way to mention that one of the districts prepares for the games. Why only one? How does anyone benefit from not training the kids, if any of them can go? Even the poorest districts could still find some way to physically condition their own kids for the games. Instead they seemed content to sit on their hands and hope that their names weren’t called. You’d think after seventy-plus years, they’d get more proactive about the competition.
2. If you can volunteer for the games, as Katniss does, why wouldn’t a district have their very best competitors offer themselves up?
This directly ties into question number one. Because Katniss offers herself up to replace her sister Primrose, it’s established that anyone can offer themselves up to take the place of another in the games. It would seem to me then that a district would always offer up those they’ve selected on their own as the most probable winners. This sort of breaks the process of the random draw, but, again, if anyone can volunteer, is there even a need for a random drawing? The Hunger Games would’ve made more sense to me if districts trained these kids like an army, and selected their own candidates through a strict prelim process.
3. In the book, are the odds ever against Katniss?
We’ve been conditioned by movies to understand that if a movie is about a competition, the star of the movie will win (rare exceptions: Rocky and Cool Runnings). Usually, writers create situations for the hero in which the odds seem insurmountable, so that even though in the back of our brains we know they’re going to win (because they’re the star), there’s still a good amount of tension created.
What I found surprising about The Hunger Games was that not only was Katniss presented as the clear favorite in the games, she was even declared the favorite by the film’s villains. Imagine if, in Die Hard, everyone, including Hans Gruber, patted John McClane on the back and doggedly assured him that he would most definitely save the day. The conflict in Die Hard would have a totally different weight to it. I’m just using Die Hard as an easy example, but at no point during the movie was I ever in any doubt whatsoever that Katniss was going to win this thing.
That’s problematic. Without even a sliver of doubt, The Hunger Games is robbed of a lot of tension that might have existed otherwise. This could be something that reads differently in the book, but, for film, I think concessions have to be created in which there’s some question as to whether or not the star will actually make it to the end, victorious.
4. At the end of the game, what would’ve happened if Peeta and Katniss did nothing at all?
I’m not going to get into the troubling philosophy that The Hunger Games posits concerning suicide as the only worthwhile option when faced with an impossible decision, but I did wonder why they jumped right away to suicide as their first and only option. What would the consequences have been if they just decided to do nothing? Would they have lived out the next several days in the dome, slowly starving, on the road to death, but not by their own hands? Would the Capitol have stepped in and forced the situation in some way? “I guess I’ll just kill myself” seems like a typical immature teenage answer, but it just doesn’t feel like the right answer, especially since Katniss never strikes me as a quitter.
5. Why are only youth selected for the games?
I understand the answer to this on one level -- that the stars of the book match the age range of the audience for the books themselves -- but is there an in-story explanation for why the Capitol only selects kids? It would be a much more harrowing experience if all ages were selected for the games, manipulating adults into situations where they might have to kill a child and vice versa. I just chalked this up to “them’s the rules” and it didn’t really affect my overall enjoyment of the film. I just like the horrific idea of an all-ages no-holds-barred free-for-all.
6. What’s the deal with the dogs that materialize out of nowhere?
At first I thought these beasts were holograms, but then they started eating kids, and I was left questioning exactly what they were. We see a tech create them, Wes Bentley nods in approval, then the next thing you know they’re materializing out of thin air, yet seem to be actual physical animals. It’s not something that affects the story in any significant way, but it was something I left wondering about.
Update: Our pal Kim Voynar at Movie City News has written a response to this very post attempting to answer each of these questions.