Thursday, 5 April 2012

THE HUNGER GAMES AND 'BABY FAT'

Hello and happy Thursday, everyone! Today I have some thoughts on The Hunger Games film that I would like to share.

I saw it last Saturday, and I intend to go and see it again this Saturday (my birthday!) so that should tell you that I liked it.

I was not at all sure that I would. I found reading the books such an emotionally intense, devastating experience - I haven't been that wrecked by a story for a long time. I'd intended to do a review of the trilogy for the blog after I was done with them, but regular readers will know that I never did. I didn't even mention having finished reading them. I couldn't. It was too personal and I felt too raw about it.

So if the filmmakers had deviated too much from capturing the spirit of that harsh, noble, beautiful, terrible story, I would have loathed the film. It would have been very easy for them to alienate me. They already nearly did, once: I was one of those people who'd gotten the impression from the books that Katniss was mixed race, and I got a bit vocal about my disappointment when Jennifer Lawrence was cast.

But then Suzanne Collins came out and said: Chill. You guys may have had an image of Katniss as mixed race in your heads and that's fine, but that's not what I actually wrote, and the filmmakers are working from the books, not your imaginations. And I think Jennifer Lawrence is right for this. So stop hatin'.

And so I felt a bit ashamed of myself and stopped with the hatin'. But I was still reserving judgement.

Then I went to see it for myself, and I found that I more than liked it. I LOVED it.

It's my personal opinion that everyone involved in this completely hit it out of the park. Let me list some things I adored:
  1. Jennifer Lawrence. She had me in the first five minutes of the film. She had everything that the Katniss in my mind had. A combination of fawn-like awkwardness and still, graceful beauty, tough common sense and huge, frustrated, dignified maternal love. She will always be Katniss to me from now on. I'm sorry I ever doubted her.
  2. Josh Hutcherson. I didn't have the strong reaction against him that some readers did, but I can't say that the casting lit up my world or anything. Until I saw him on screen and he WAS Peeta. Peeta's sneaky humour and unexpected smoothness, Peeta's vulnerability, his sweetness, his fierce, honest strength. You've heard of people (like Cleopatra) that aren't especially attractive on first glance, but who have such a way about them that half an hour later you're convinced they're the most beautiful person you've ever met? That's Peeta. That's Josh Hutcherson's performance. Stunning.
  3. The direction. This is a story in which combat is the central feature - but it's not about that. That's the vehicle Suzanne Collins uses to show us so many other things, like courage and sacrifice and corruption and horror. But in the film you can't do what Suzanne Collins did and share with us Katniss's every thought and feeling so that we understand this. It would have been so easy to go the usual Hollywood route and produce slick fight scenes that would entertain us, get our blood pumping. But that would have been a betrayal of the central ideas of the story. Instead, Gary Ross shows the fights in the arena for what they are - a vicious, awful slaugher of innocents. These scenes, which often skipped music and sound efffects in order to lessen their cinematic quality, were sickening and brutal, and I'm so glad. Likewise, other moments of high emotion in the story were left to stand on the actor's performances (which were universally excellent) rather than being milked for sentimentality. Katniss's grief, Peeta's delirious confession - things I'd been looking forward to seeing for so long! - did not disappoint.
  4. The music! Again, could so easily have gone wrong, and been either annoying or forgettable. There's so much action and drama in the story, and I bet it was really tempting to go for something huge and actiony and cliched. Instead James Newton Howard created something incredibly subtle and tender. I caved and bought it almost straight away and have been listening to it non-stop ever since. Here's Rue's Farewell. Prepare to bawl:
  5. Characterisation of minor players. I loved how they handled Cato, especially, but even the tributes that were never named each got a little shot, a moment where they lit up for the camera before they disappeared. I also include Gale in this. He doesn't have much to do here, and he was never one of my favourite characters anyway, but he felt a lot warmer and more...believable. I could see why Katniss liked him so much.
I didn't think the movie was perfect, mind you. I thought it was a shame that the ending was so heavily truncated: that Peeta's leg was fixed up (it took away the sense of desperation which I'd liked), that we didn't see Katniss's joyful reunion with Cinna and Haymitch and the rest, or witness her terrible fear for Peeta. But the author was heavily involved in writing the screenplay, so I can only suppose she thought these changes were necessary, and I'm ready to live with that.

There are a lot of other things I could meeble about, but I shan't. I just want you to go see this film, basically. And I also - given all that I've just said - I want to take moment and ask the media: WTF, dudes.

This? Seriously?

Apparently some American critics think that Jennifer Lawrence's body is 'unrealistic' for the film, stating that she should have looked 'hungrier'. Some even said that she had 'too much baby fat'. Ah...



Yeah, I got nothing. Just WTF?

Jennifer Lawrence is certainly not as thin as, say, Lindsay Lohan. She is not frail or waif-like. Her legs do not resemble twigs, nor do her arms look like toothpicks. But do these guys honestly think that all people come in two types - skinny to the point of emaciation, and fat?

In fact, Jennifer Lawrence looks incredibly lean and toned. She looks like a young woman who has been working hard to keep her family fed for several years, like someone who could string and draw a bow, bring down prey, skin and clean that prey and haul it back to her home. She looks like someone who could run through the forest for hours if she needed to, and survive cold nights out in the wilderness.

Quite aside from the fact that Katniss's lifestyle would inevitably shape her body a certain way by packing hard, wiry muscle onto her, it's simple fact that a congenitally strong person - with a robust frame, broad shoulders and hips, and the tendency to build up muscle - would be more likely to thrive and breed in a subsistance level society like District Twelve, and pass those qualities onto their offspring. A skinny, small boned Katniss would be unrealistic not only from the perspective that she would be UNABLE to do what Katniss actually does in the story, but also because she'd be genetically unlikely to be born in the first place!

I notice no one's criticising Jennifer's extremely well muscled, well nourished looking male co-stars. It's fine for them to look as if they've been eating enough to keep alive. Apparently it's only female actors who have to bow to 'realism' to such an extent that they should look gaunt, bony and as if trying to draw a bow would snap them in half.

Idiots. Gah.

OK, that's enough rage from me! See you all next week, and have a great weekend :)

    20 comments:

    Jesse Owen said...

    Fab write up, I saw it last Saturday too and I completely agree with this post.

    And re Daily Mail article: seriously? If some American critics did say that it's attrocious! (though this is the Daily Mail we're talking about and I don't believe everything that paper puts out there lol)

    Lauren said...

    I loved it, too. I had a few minor issues... Like, I do *get* why we saw that scene with district 11 rebelling after Rue's death, but I personally would've preferred to see the gift of bread to Katniss, like in the book. I also missed the lamb stew references, and the muttations didn't thrill me. But actually, I think the fact that your minor issues differ from mine suggests that they're more personal preference than anything else!

    I completely agree with you about the fight scenes, too. People around me in the cinema gasped when Rue was hurt - the person in front of me even said 'Oh, no' out loud. They were so well done.

    I hadn't heard anything mentioned about JL's weight, but that is INSANE. I actually did think right after the actual games began that they'd made her look a little more substantial than she did in the earlier scenes, but I put that down to impressive commitment to detail - I seem to recall the book mentioning that Katniss gains a little weight from the Capitol diet. And naturally nobody mentions the male actors' weight, even though muscle mass is related to food intake too. Duh.

    Zoë Marriott said...

    Jesse: Thanks! And yeah, the fact that it was Daily Mail gave me pause - but I followed the names back and found the original articles. This was a real, general criticism aimed at JL. Grrr.

    Lauren: Ach, I meant to mention the bread! I missed that too. They could definitely have dwelled on the food more, yeah.

    I think it *was* impressive attention to detail! So cross with certain elements of the media right now.

    A.J. Mullarky said...

    It is crazy that anyone would say that. WTF.

    Misty said...

    A friend of mine went OFF on Facebook after those comments about JL started coming out. And of course, I jumped into the fray. I hate to say it, but I do think that some (many) of the male critics in this country DO think women come in only 2 sizes (emaciated and fat) - and I can tell you which they think we SHOULD be....unless, of course, our fat gives them a reason to talk about our T&A.
    And keep in mind, most of these men who speak all this shit the loudest - no prize themselves...

    It's really almost enough to make a person want to do really bad things in the name of instant karma...

    But beyond just the critics, it seems to be just MEN in this country (and elsewhere, I'm sure). When my friend went off on FB, one of our (normally-sane) male friends jumped in and said he agreed, and that she could have lost weight, and men do it for roles all the time, what's the big deal, blah blah blah.
    So much respect, just GONE in that instant.

    [Also, in one possible realm is Jennifer Lawrence fat?! And yes, the districts are starved by the Capitol - which is why they have a black market and bend the law to take care of themselves. Katniss wouldn't really be fit for hunting or her athleticism if she were truly starving...
    Ugh, I just want to throttle someone.]

    Misty said...

    Um...in WHAT possible realm. Not one. (Oops!)

    Emma Pass said...

    Completely agree. I thought Jennifer Lawrence was PERFECT as Katniss, and one of the reasons she was perfect was because she looked exactly like the tough, take-no-prisoners character I saw in my head when I was reading the books. A sickly waif wouldn't have worked at all!

    Gah!!

    Saya said...

    Oh lulz, you've drawn me into commenting!

    I read them a some months ago (finally - I eschewed them for years firstly because a) incomplete series NOOOO, and b) 'Stephenie Meyer woz 'ere' stamped on the front NOOOOOO), and oh, I hear you, sister. I was so devastated and broken I sat up all night writing to myself so I wouldn't forget just...how...like that. I went around in something like shock for days afterward, unable to comprehend what just happened.

    (See this: http://26.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_m1tnjc58UI1rncopko1_500.png)

    People say this generation's dystopia is soft stuff compared to the likes of John Wyndham or John Christopher, but having read a bit of the latter, it has all the devastation but far less of the humanity. There's lots of reasons why HG 'works', but Katniss being Katniss is one of the biggest.

    I went to see it a couple of weeks ago, but I was, uh, lost in the middle of S4 of Merlin so didn't properly appreciate it, even though I've been excited about it for monthsss XD I need to watch it again, now that I'm slightly getting over Merlin.

    I was surprised by how perfect Lenny Kravitz was - he didn't seem like a Cinna-type, but he was PERFECT. And I can't believe some of the things I've read people said about Rue and the actress who played her. Head. Aflame. Despair at people -_-

    Bekah Tuggy said...

    Zoe - do you have a reference for your Suzanne Collins paraphrase about Jennifer Lawrence and the mixed-race question? I'd like to be able to pass that along to a couple of people. Thanks!!

    Isabel said...

    I completely loved the movie! And I agree so much with what you said about Josh Hutcherson - I never thought of him as attractive before but simply the way he comes across in the movie made me fall for him right away.

    I hate that article too, and I was thinking as I was reading it how ridiculous it was that they clearly point out Gale's larger frame and say nothing of it being out of the ordinary. Thanks for bringing that up.

    Zoë Marriott said...

    Alex: LOL - yes, I can see our reactions are perfectly aligned.

    Misty: It's OK, I got what you meant :) And yes, throttled is RIGHT. Lemme tell you why that 'men lose weight for roles' thing just makes no sense. First of all, because JL didn't need to lose any weight to be realistic (as we've all already discussed). But ALSO because Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth both had to put weight ON for this film. The official HG guide which I have right here states that filmmakers asked Josh to put on 15lbs of muscle. So Jennifer Lawrence is supposed to get skinny and lose all her muscle in order to look 'realistic' while her male co-star is bulking up and everyone's praising him for it? Er...what is wrong with this picture?

    Emma: I know! Why aren't we allowed to have tough, capable, complex female characters unless they look like they'll snap in half with a stiff breeze? Is the thought of physical strength in a woman really that intimidating? GrrARgh.

    Saya: Go watch again! It's the sort of film that repays a second viewing. And yes - despair. Male authors are always assumed to be better at writing about Important Stuff but often what that means is that they right about everything on a big scale and ignore all the tiny details that make a situation real and human (because writing about feeeeelings is so icky and girrrrrly). THG is devastating emotionally; focusing on the actors appearance instead of her astonishing performance is so sideways and reductive I can't even stand it.

    Bekah: Some of her reaction I got from her open letter to fans here: http://the-hob.tumblr.com/post/4006709187/exclusive-hunger-games-author-suzanne-collins-gives and some came from scattered other interviews she did which I can't find now (most of them have probably been taken down, since it was a while ago).

    Saya said...

    You know how Bridge to Terabithia is on every Christmas, lately? I knew Josh Hutcherson from that before he was cast as Peeta - there's this wonderful scene I've been TRYING to share forEVER (nobody else I know seems to have both seen BtT and read HG), where his character, Jess, and his best friend Leslie are helping Leslie's parents paint a wall in gold paint. One of the parents goes, 'come on, I want to see this wall catch fire'. The second I rewatched it this Christmas, I felt a wonderful moment of things connecting together.

    Random unconnected story.

    And Rue was amazing. My sister and I both pretended to each other that we weren't crying.

    Also, Bridge to Terabithia = unexpected sobfest XD

    Bekah Tuggy said...

    Thanks, Zoe! The conversations I've been privy to have been complaining about the movie studio specifying in their casting call that they wanted Caucasian actors only for the role of Katniss. If there were something from Collins that could back that up a little, I'd want to know about it.

    Zoë Marriott said...

    Saya: Ha ha - I love those little signs from the universe. I'm sure it must all connect together somehow.

    Bekah: Well, to be honest, I still have a little problem with that 'Caucasian' note in the casting call.

    The fact is that Katniss is supposed to have dark olive skin, dark hair and light eyes. There are many talented mixed race actresses who fulfil that criteria and could have auditioned for that role. Jennifer Lawrence, brilliant actress that she is, would probably still have blown everyone away and gotten that role. But I still feel that excluding actresses who might otherwise have been perfect for the role and preventing them from accessing the opportunity to get in front of those casting directors was a bad move from the filmmakers.

    And one that doesn't really make sense, either. WHY was the role of Katniss only made available to white actresses? Why exclude people of mixed or ambiguous ethnicity? Suzanne Collins has *also* said that by the time of the Hunger Games, there's been so much racial mixing in Panem that most people are technically 'mixed race', so it seems like a nonsensical decision to say "Katniss must be Caucasian" if there IS no Caucasian in Panem. There are already so few roles available to POC in contrast to white actors, and even fewer where race isn't the deciding factor in the casting (ie - we need a great actor for this role, rather than, we need a black actor for this role).

    So that still frustrates me. I'm just chosing not to let that ruin my enjoyment of the film or my love for Jennifer Lawrence :)

    Saya said...

    I'm trying to trawl through months of browser history to find a couple of articles I read about how studios don't want to alienate their majority audience of white people - and how Will Smith is the only black man...oh, found it!

    This: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1386096/White-cinema-goers-prefer-movies-cast-similar-race-says-study.html

    (interesting and worth reading despite DM)

    And the casting call for Katniss to look hungry and white: http://www.movieline.com/2011/03/01/oh-no-they-didnt-the-hunger-games-casting-for-underfed-white-teenage-girls/

    And just for lols about how people care more about little missing white girls and not so much about little missing black girls:
    www.huffingtonpost.com/john-ridley/missing-white-girl-syndro_b_51632.html

    I think I've exhausted my history now XD

    I always felt like actors' colour is a lot less of an issue in English TV - is this true or am I making it up? I mean, you look at stuff like Eastenders, the Bill, and so on - classic English stuff, and colour is such a NON-issue that I really do get shocked by things like the Will Smith article above.

    batgirl said...

    Well, for a stupid kind of even-handedness, didn't one blogger / reviewer feel that Peeta was miscast because he (being a Romantic Male Lead, which misses the point already) had to be at least 2 inches taller than Katniss the Female Romantic Lead?
    Probably a case of Did Not Read the Book, too.

    Zoë Marriott said...

    Batgirl: Oh God, not that too! What other stupid, tired, insulting old cliches can people did out? The thing is, many of these people DID read the books - they're just so mired in prejudice that they can't *see* anything which doesn't fit with their worldview. Rue described as having 'satiny dark' skin? Oh, she's just got a tan, she's not (whisper) black! Katniss is capable and strong and tough? Oh, the poor frail, waif-like thing, how brave of her! Eugh.

    Isabel said...

    Happy birthday!! Have fun going to see The Hunger Games again. :)

    Zoë Marriott said...

    Isabel: Thank you very much :)

    Giora said...

    Happy Birthday, Zoe. I did't read the book before the movie, only some parts to capture the writing style of the author. I came to the movie with an open mind, and immediately felt that Jennifer Lawrence is Katniss. Peeta and Gale also were a good match. Did you ever imagine which actors will you pick if your novel made it to the big screen?

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