Tag: harry potter

Movie Review: The Hunger Games

The movie is huge. When my brother and I were getting popcorn at our 1pm showing on Saturday the guy working the counter said that the night showings were already sold out. The theater was running the film on 4 different screens. That’s crazy talk. It’s a date movie, a movie for the Twilight crowd, a movie for fans of the book, a movie for people that want to see young kids kill other young kids in brutally violent ways, a movie for everyone. And it’s pretty good, too.

The story is gladiators for the reality TV crowd, with a little dystopian future vibe. The tributes from each of the 12 districts of Panem (all between the ages of 12 and 18) fight to the death in a rigged arena for the pleasure of the Capitol audience and the hope-crushing of the rest of the citizens. A double whammy! Our hero, played quite well by Jennifer Lawrence, volunteers to be a tribute to save her little sister. She fights, she falls in love (?) and she comes to the inevitable conclusion. And that’s the problem with the film. For all of its pomp and circumstance (the bits at the Capitol before the Games begin are the highlights, showing just how silly and disconnected the privileged are) a lot of the film is a rote retelling of the book. The director (Gary Ross) doesn’t do anything to make the movie into a movie other than film the story as it is written in the book. The script was written in part by Suzanne Collins, the author of the book. This is why authors shouldn’t be allowed to adapt their own work for the screen. They are too hesitant to change things. There was nothing new, nothing that I didn’t already picture in my head when I read the book. Contrast this with the superb later films in the Harry Potter series which are faithful enough for the fans but maintain a cinematic quality that doesn’t exist in this version of The Hunger Games. It’s unfortunate, because the movie could have been great. Instead, it is just good. Pretty darn good, but not what it could have been. Luckily for us, however, it has made enough money to justify the two sequels, the second of which is by far the messiest book but also contains the most potential for a great film.

When I wrote my top 100 list last summer I talked a bit about messterpieces when I wrote about Thirst. What this movie could have used is some messiness. Yeah, it tries to get there with the near constant use of the shaky-cam, but even that is calculated to show just enough of the brutality to get the idea but not enough to get an R rating. The sense of urgency and dread is there, but not capitalized on. Only one scene really stood out to me once the Games got rolling. It’s a death scene and it is beautiful. The action stops, the film shows you something you didn’t see in the book (at least, not in the first book), the camera work drifts and floats around, and it all adds up to something wonderful. Why isn’t there more of this in the film? Where’s the feeling? I’m constantly being told that the stakes are high and everybody is sad, but this is the only scene where I feel it.

As I write this Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 1 is playing in the background. That’s an adaptation done right. That get’s the excitement of the battles, the sadness of the situation, the cinematic-ness of a movie. There are invented scenes and animation breaks. Yates goes all out to bring this world to life. What The Hunger Games could have used is a scene like the one where Harry and Hermione dance to a Nick Cave song. We need more connection to the characters, and we need to see them be people. Let The Hunger Games be a lesson on how extremely faithful adaptations will end up being only pretty good at best. The screen needs something different than the page. They are different media, allow them to be told in different ways.

Book Review: The Magician King by Lev Grossman

“But I do have a choice, and I only have one life, and if it’s all right with you I’m going to spend it in Fillory, in my castle, chilling with dwarves and sleeping on pegasus feathers.” – Quentin

Lev Grossman’s breakout book, The Magicians, was part Harry Potter, part Narnia, and part “literary”. Someday soon I’ll write about how silly the distinction of “literary-ness” is but until then we’ll just assume it means that it gets down to real feelings and is well written. And The Magicians was all that, a disaffected youth finds out that magic is real and goes to school to learn how to do it. Then he goes to a fantasy land and defeats an evil magician. Sounds like one of a billion fantasy romps but the anger and sadness emanating from Quentin, the hero, twists it just enough to make it a worthwhile effort. I didn’t love that book, well written though it was, because the near-constant whining was kind of annoying. This sequel, The Magician King, fixes that for the most part and is better for it.

That’s not to say that it’s completely without emotional depth. Now that Quentin and his friends are kings and queens of Fillory, the Narnia fill-in, he’s beginning to feel like he’s a bit useless. Tired of the partying and decreeing, he goes on a minor quest to the end of Fillory’s territory to collect taxes. It’s not much of an adventure but it’s enough. Of course, everything doesn’t go as planned and what follows takes as much from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader as that book did from Homer’s Odyssey. It’s a nautical quest with exotic islands and a mission to save the world.

Quentin is more mature now, not angry at the world for not being like it is in books because, well, it is like it is in books. He’s happy to be questing but he finds that questing isn’t all it’s advertised to be. When some of his comrades start to die there’s a much greater sense of loss than I’ve found in other books of this type. The end of The Magicians is magical and terrifying, a hard balance to strike when you’re dealing with such unrealistic powers. Grossman carries that over here. When a group of magicians try to summon an old god the result is horrifying and devastating. And, though this book doesn’t end on a huge battle as the first did, the climax is a powerful reminder that even Magician Kings don’t get everything to go their way.

Map drawn by Roland Chambers showing the lands beyond Fillory

Much of the book deals with the prospect of becoming a hero with a capital H. A hero can’t sit on his throne and drink all day and all night. They must do something heroic, even if that heroism causes harm to the people around them. Is being a hero even desirable if your friends suffer? This is one of the two big questions the book studies. The other being whether such an obvious fantasy world is a valid place to spend your life. This dichotomy between being happy where you’re from and desiring somewhere better is personified in the two female characters, Poppy and Julia. Poppy, a new character from the “real” world doesn’t understand the compulsion to live in a fantasy land away from the struggles that make everyday life worth living. She’s a constant optimist and a breath of fresh air in a world filled with people fearing the worst. Julia, on the other hand, is barely a human anymore. She can’t function on Earth and only magical Fillory provides respite from all the crap she’s been through in her short life. Part of the book is her backstory and it echoes Quentin’s journey in the first book, though to an even more exaggerated degree. It’s certainly not as fun as the rest of the book, but it’s an important area to study and where she is by the end of the book is a fascinating look at what it means to be human.

This all sounds very serious and it is, at points, but it is also a really funny book. Quentin’s grown a sense of humor about himself in the two years between the events of the first book and this one and the lands explored beyond the bounds of Fillory are inventive. There’s a take on the Underworld visit from the Odyssey that’s equally funny and dreary. It ends, as all middle parts of a trilogy must, on a down note, though it does so well and with enough of a sense of finality that the story is satisfying in its own right. You certainly want to see what will happen next and how the bigger story will come together but the quest is complete by the end of the book. It’s one of the best of the genre and well worth any fan of fantasy or literary fiction.

30 Day Film Challenge: Day 15 – The Film That Depicts Your Life

Day 15 – The Film That Depicts Your Life
Dear readers, I don’t know if you know this about me but I am a teenage wizard. I was chosen from birth to destroy the most evil wizard in all of history. It’s a burden I can only bear with the help of my friends. All of this is probably not true. What is true is that this is the first movie in the series where the kids go out into the real (wizarding) world. Outside the relative safety of Hogwarts Harry, Ron, and Hermione must deal with real issues (the biggest being maintaining their friendship during difficult times) and have a mission to accomplish. My life now consists of trying to find a job and keeping connected to friends. No, I’m not destroying evil or anything but leaving the bubble of college to make my own way is my connection to the guy with the dorky glasses. Also, I have dorky glasses.
Notes:
  • Potential other choices: Hot Fuzz, Adaptation, and 127 Hours. Make sense of that, I dare you.
  • I thought Harry Potter was one of the best films of last year. This year’s conclusion (one month away!) could be the best movie of the year. David Yates has made the final four HP films really awesome. 
  • Check the trailer for the next film in the series. It’s close to the best thing ever.

Book Review: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Imagine a world where kids are picked at random to compete in an all out fight to the death which is engineered and broadcast by the government. Imagine an arena that is booby trapped and filled with implements of death with which the young contestants can maim and kill and monitored by hundreds of cameras. If you’re thinking of Battle Royale you aren’t wrong. However much The Hunger Games borrows from the concept of that novel/manga/movie – and it borrows a lot – it totally works on its own right. The idea isn’t original at this point but it is supremely well executed and hits all of the right emotional buttons.

Don’t think, though, that Battle Royale is the only influence here. There are heavy dystopian future elements with a government that forces its people from each of the 12 districts to play by their rules both in and out of the arena. One of the best elements of this book is the sense of hunger that Collins conjures throughout. Obviously in the beginning we see Katniss outside in her daily life where she must illegally hunt just to feed her family and the hunger is right there on the surface. As the story goes on and Katniss learns how to survive in the arena the hunger becomes something different. It’s a hunger to survive and get back to her family while trying to maintain her sense of humanity. It’s this central conflict between survival and her human nature which drives the story and kept me reading raptly as Katniss tries to win and subvert the rules at the same time.

Of course, there’s a twist. Each district sends two contestants, one male and one female. Peeta, Katniss’ counterpart, is also a really interesting character. He seems to be in love with her but it might just be a strategy to win the game. As these are two young people thrown together by circumstance and under intense pressure some kind of attraction must arise. What it means to each of them drives the second half of this book and Collins brings them through quite a few interesting circumstances. The emotions are very real and complex, an element I didn’t expect from such a book.

This book is, of course, very violent. There are all kinds of death and destruction and gore which makes the events seem very real. The deaths are emotional and thrilling at the same time. It’s being filmed soon and is aiming for a PG-13 rating. I don’t know how they’re going to do some of the more intense sequences unless they really push the ratings like the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (and probably Part 2). I hope they stay true to the intensity and if we must sacrifice some of the blood I guess that’s alright. The book is one of the most exciting books I’ve read in a while and I look forward to reading the remaining books in the trilogy.