Aaron R. Davis
The first big science fiction would-be blockbuster of 2012 is being released this month, and I have to say, I’m just not feeling it.
I love geek movies. And yes, I think The Hunger Games counts as a geek movie; it’s based on a popular science fiction novel. I feel like, at one point in my life I’d have really been into the idea of a Hunger Games movie. I enjoyed the books a surprising amount, so why wouldn’t I really want to see this movie? Well, here are some of the reasons I’ve been mulling over lately.
1. Gary Ross is a boring filmmaker.
Maybe it’s just that Gary Ross likes a different kind of story than I do. I like stories that are entertaining, and he likes stories that are treacly and obvious. He wrote Big, Hollywood’s white male fantasy of being able to run away from the pressures of being a white male in a world run by white males. He wrote the relentlessly folksy and aggressively Capraesque Dave, a white male fantasy about fixing everything that’s wrong with the country with some golly gee ol’ fashioned small town folksiness, and then, of course, being able to run away from the pressures of being a white male in a world run by white males.
He made the intensely white Pleasantville, a relentlessly dull movie that uses grand special effects to make simplistic points like Racism Is Bad and Sexism Is Also Bad (especially if you’re white in both cases), and the intensely white Seabiscuit, where the only thing that can lift the spirits of white people in the Great Depression is the amazing and unheard of spectacle of a horse making one long left turn faster than other horses. And he wrote The Tale of Despereaux, which took an inventive and charming kids’ book, removed all the thoughtful and problematic bits, and turned into another adventure about white people who look like animals. So I’m not exactly clamoring for more by this guy.
To be fair, he also wrote Mr. Baseball, which I remember being okay, probably because I just like Tom Selleck. Remember that? It’s about how a white guy who saves Japanese baseball because white guy.
2. The teenagers all look like they’re starting their senior year of college.
The casting has been a real point of contention among fans of Suzanne Collins’ novel. It is for me, too, but not for the same reasons I keep seeing.
Lots of people think Katniss Everdeen is supposed to be biracial based on some extremely ambiguous bits of description in the book. But let’s be honest: the movie industry is 95 percent white guys, and so movies are 95 percent about white guys. There was no way a studio was going to build a franchise costing millions of dollars (including, I’m assuming, the eventual splitting of the final book into two films, because that’s what everyone does now whether it makes narrative sense or not) around someone who wasn’t white. Sadly, it’s unrealistic to think otherwise. Unless there was some way that Will Smith could play Katniss, it was never going to happen, no matter who took a stand on it.
What’s unfortunately also realistic is that they were never going to cast actual teenagers, either. Go too young, and the kids can only work for six hours a day, which is going to slow down filming a novel that features its teenage protagonist in literally every scene. It’s written in first person, so there’s just no way around it. So as many teenagers as there were who wanted the role and who would have been very good in it, of course they were going to cast a 20 year-old. I get why they did it.
The thing is, I don’t have to watch it. I think it runs counter to one of the major points of the novel series. In the books, the Hunger Games are an annual gladiatorial combat where the mandatory participants are all between the ages of 12 and 18. It’s a punishment inflicted on the people of the Panem districts by the rich government of the Capitol for an earlier rebellion. It’s a constant reminder: if you get out of line again, your children will die. It’s cruel and heartless, and we see example after example of how dehumanizing it is to put children into an arena to watch them murder each other for the delight of a corrupt wealthy class. I think putting actors who are old enough to join the military in those roles completely undermines the cruelty of it and softens the point of the books. I heard at some point — and I can’t remember if anyone associated with the movie actually said it or just someone online or what, so don’t hold me to this — that it was too harsh to put teenagers in the movie and watch them in those situations. But … that’s the whole point. They’ve basically (probably for the sake of a PG-13 rating) taken the teeth out of the entire moral argument.
2a. I’m already tired of the love triangle thing.
I see the actors playing Katniss, Gale and Peeta are already out on the Twilight-style mall tours. I just don’t care. They’re playing up the love triangle aspect a lot, and I know for some people that’s the main thing in the story, but I think a lot of people miss the point that against the larger backdrop of war it doesn’t really matter who Katniss ends up with, even to Katniss. Her desire to protect people from the Games is what really drives Katniss, and everything she does in the books is ultimately to protect her younger sister Prim from harm. The most important relationship in the books is Katniss’ devotion to Prim, not the whole Team Peeta or Team Gale thing. It just doesn’t interest me. Especially when one of those guys is professional block of wood Liam Hemsworth.
3. I’m spoiled for choice in geek cinema.
These are great times for geek movies. This isn’t like the early 90s, when you pretty much had to see every geek movie that came out because you weren’t exactly getting 15 of them a year. I can wait until the next one. Or even then, I don’t have to. I’m not interested in The Amazing Spider-Man at all (didn’t we just do this, but, you know, good?), but I am excited for The Avengers. And even if I know I’ll see the final Twilight movie on DVD eventually (I have a whole love affair going on with Kristen Stewart’s ass), I’m going to line up at a movie theater to see The Hobbit in December.
So, if I’m not interested in The Hunger Games — and let’s be clear, this isn’t a movie that I have a vehement fan reaction towards; I don’t roll my eyes with fanboy anger when I see a commercial, I just look at what they’re doing and don’t think it’s anything I’d want to see, and I already have a damn good book, so what does it matter? — I’ve got something else on the horizon. It’s still a great time for movies based on comics and science fiction novels. So I don’t have to see every single one.
Which is good, because I just don’t want to.
Now, who wants to take me to see John Carter this weekend?
Aaron R. Davis lives in a cave at the bottom of the ocean with his eyes shut tight and his fingers in his ears. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org