Friday, March 30, 2012

What I missed from the Hunger Games movie

On Wednesday, I went with some friends to the theater to see The Hunger Games. We skipped opening weekend to avoid the crowds, but it was still impressively crowded for a Wednesday night. I thought they did a great job with the movie--my boyfriend, who hadn't read the book, loved it as well and thought it all made sense--but I couldn't help but miss a lot of things from the book that got left out. I understand the necessity of cutting things down for a movie adaptation. Nothing that was in the movie stood out to me as unnecessary, and the movie is already 142 minutes long. I doubt it could have gotten away with a Lord-of-the-Rings runtime. But would it have hurt to flesh out just a few of these things?

Over on io9 they have a good post on Everything The Hunger Games Movie Left Out. They don't exactly get everything, and many of the things they mention I'm OK with being left out. Here I'll share the things that I really missed--the things I wanted to tell my boyfriend all about until he shut me up by saying he might still read the book. So, if like him you've only seen the movie but are considering reading the book, these might be considered slight SPOILERS. Really, if you liked the movie and haven't read the book, I highly recommend it. There's a lot you haven't seen that's worth seeing.

If you haven't read the books OR seen the movie, then these DEFINITELY contain SPOILERS.

Capitol living
In spite of the audience being treated to secret conversations between President Snow and head gamemaker Seneca Crane, I feel we get much less of a sense of what life is like for residents of the Capitol. Elizabeth Banks is great as Effie, but we could have used more of her. They could have added a couple lines here and there explaining how she feels about being the escort for District 12, rather than some nicer district that produces more victors. Not only would it have cleared up exactly what her role is for the District 12 tributes (not obvious in the movie), but it would have further highlighted how silly and self-centered most residents of the Capitol are. Giving Octavia, Flavius, and Venia just one short session with Katniss where they got to blab about their frivolous parties would have helped, too. Those characters get a little more to do in the next two books, so I wonder whether the movies are going to continue to leave them out entirely. If so, I'll definitely miss them.

Life in District 11 and Rue bonding time
They had to budget their runtime, but I still was disappointed by how brief the Rue alliance was in the movie. There was no time for them to discuss what life was like at home--how Rue worked in the orchards and could climb to the highest branches, and even though they grow the food they are just as starving as the residents of District 12. Panem keeps the districts completely isolated from each other, since it helps them maintain control, so this is really Katniss's first look into life in another district. It enriches her relationship with Rue, making it all the more poignant when Rue is killed, Katniss sings (because we know how Rue loves music), and she gets the bread. Yes, I missed the bread on a parachute, but I think they were right to cut it out. It would have required a random scene of Peeta explaining district bread types, and Katniss was still able to salute the people of District 11 without it.

Warming up to Cinna
Spending more time with Cinna, and the preparations before the games in general, would have slowed the movie down, but I still wished there were a little more with Cinna. Saying "I'm sorry" was enough to make Katniss like him? Really? I missed the scene where he acknowledges that Katniss must find them (in the Capitol) disgusting for having more food than they could ever need, while the outlying districts struggle to avoid starvation. It's through a series of similar interactions that he finally wins Katniss's appreciation. It was also his idea for Peeta and Katniss to hold hands in the chariot, which really paved the way to their success leading up to the Games.

It's complicated with Peeta
The Katniss-Peeta relationship is really important to this story. Not being able to read Katniss's thoughts made it much harder to explain, but it was also cut down a lot by time constraints of the movie. Haymitch made it very clear to Katniss that her best chance for sponsors was to play the Peeta romance angle. After a little peck in the cave, she is rewarded with hot broth (this happens in the movie). When she really opens up to Peeta, they get a feast (this is skipped). This progression is largely lost in the movie. The few days Katniss spends with Peeta hiding out in the cave are when the line starts to blur between what she's doing for the sponsors, for her district (if she lets Peeta die, they'll never forgive her), and for what might actually be genuine love for Peeta.

I was really bothered by the movie flashback scene in which Peeta throws the bread, because they seemed to change it, or at the very least left out a significant bit. In the movie, Peeta and Katniss don't look any younger (maybe just a problem with the medium), and he kind of callously tosses a burnt roll into a puddle for her. She's drenched, but it's not clear if she's starving or just sad. I wonder how someone who hasn't read the book interpreted this. In the book, they were only 11 at the time. It's after her father died, and she's absolutely starving. If she doesn't get something for her and her family to eat, they may die--today. She's rooting through the trash, and Peeta's mother tells her to get lost. Peeta purposely burns a couple loaves of bread, even though he knows it will mean a slap from his mother, so that he can go out to throw the bread "to the pigs". He really throws them to Katniss, who has collapsed from hunger and exhaustion. It's this renewed hope that Peeta brought that allows Katniss to turn her life around, start hunting in the woods and providing for her family. He didn't just feed her--he saved her life. How much of this came across in the movie?

Their decision not to have Peeta lose part of his leg certainly simplified things, but it also removed the urgency and drama from the end of the arena portion of the story. They need to get out of the arena FAST or Peeta will bleed out, leading to her rash decision with the berries. When they get lifted into the hovercraft (which I think are unseen in the arena in the movie), and they're separated as medics tend to Peeta, Katniss goes crazy. It's heart-wrenching and suspenseful, and I missed it. Lastly, they decided to leave out the bit where Haymitch tells Katniss that her feigned relationship with Peeta can't stop when they get back to District 12. This is a big plot point that is important for the second book. I guess they'll have to mention it at the beginning of the second movie, but I don't know why they didn't just stick in a line from Haymitch at the end of this one.

A couple other things
Did they ever explain what a mockingjay was? I don't know when they would have, but since it becomes such an important symbol, they'll have to explain it some time.

io9 makes a good point about the movie downplaying the hunger in the Hunger Games. You see how excited Katniss is when Gale pulls out a roll of bread, then you see all the pastries laid out on the train, but that's really all you have to go on to understand just how different the food situation is between the Capitol and the poorer districts. It's really important, and they could have done more here.

Those were the main things I felt I missed. All that said, there was one thing the movie included that was not in the book that I absolutely loved: The quick, wordless scene at the end with Seneca Crane. In the second book, we find out after the fact that Crane was executed (not clear how) due to his failure with the Games. In the movie, we see him escorted to then locked in a beautiful room with a beautiful bowl of beautiful purple berries. So. Perfect.

They got a lot right in the movie. I really enjoyed it, and they did as well as I had hoped. Their depiction of District 12 and the Capitol and the arena were great, and they got the essentials of the story across. But I'm still glad I read the book.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Happy Hunger Games!

The Hunger Games movie came out today, and I know it had great success with midnight showings, with the largest midnight debut for a non-sequel. The reviews have been overall extremely positive (currently 87% on Rotten Tomatoes). I'm so excited to see it, though I'm not sure which day I'll be going. I prefer to avoid large crowds on opening days.

If you haven't read the books, I highly recommend them--they're very quick reads that may make you reevaluate yourself in interesting and surprising ways. And if you don't want to read them, it seems the movie is indeed worth seeing. I hope it does really well at the box office so that the sequels will be made.

Happy Hunger Games! May the odds be ever in your favor!
(I had to do it.)

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Reflections from The Hunger Games

Spoiler free!

With all the buzz and anticipation for the Hunger Games movie, which finally comes out tomorrow (midnight tonight!), I knew I'd have to read the book. A friend of mine lent it to me on her Kindle (my first time reading a book on an e-reader--I liked it a lot) a few weeks ago, and I devoured it. I had only planned on reading the first book now, just so I would know what was happening going into the movie, but how could I stop there? It ends on an emotionally unsatisfying note that begs for the sequel, which, being just a Kindle click away, I had to start immediately.

I'm glad I finished the trilogy because not only am I finally satiated, I'm also immune to any spoilers, so I can read any analysis of the movie and books fear free. I think the first book was my favorite--probably the best standalone story, except for the fact that, as I mentioned before, it left me needing more. Without any spoilers, the third book did leave me satisfied, though there were still a few unanswered questions I would have liked addressed.

My experience reading the books was slightly tainted by the fact that I already knew what actors were playing most of the main characters, so I couldn't help but picture them in their roles as I read. In a few cases, this actually created frustration due to the age difference between actor and character--Why is Katniss being so foolish? Oh, right, because she's 16, not a 21-year-old Jennifer Lawrence. I prefer to have a clean slate so my imagination can create its own renderings of the characters, but on the bright side, when I watch the movie, the characters will look exactly as I pictured them.

I have high praise for the Hunger Games trilogy. The story is great, with a reluctant, even resistant hero forced to be more than she ever wanted to be, who stepped up in every occasion because it was necessary. It examines bravery, kindness, sacrifice, trust, love, justice, selfishness, selflessness, conformity, rebellion, propaganda... It sent me through a wide range of emotions. But also, more than any other book, or even TV show or movie in recent memory (maybe BSG?), it challenged me to rethink myself and my society. And that challenge came as a surprise, seemingly out of nowhere, in this young adult book about a far off and foreign future.

The first thing that caught me was the obvious link between the horrible, televised Hunger Games (the "highlight" of Panem entertainment in which 24 children fight to the death until one victor survives) and the reality TV that we watch today. We obviously don't let people die in our reality entertainment, but we do enjoy seeing them get beaten up, sometimes physically but definitely emotionally. Now, I've never liked reality TV, except for some talent contests (So You Think You Can Dance is my favorite), so I could just place myself above it all. Still, I can't deny how fun it was to read about Katniss's trials in the arena. All her close calls, and her triumphs--they were so exciting! When a cannon would go off, and we'd learned that someone had died that she hadn't witnessed, I couldn't help but think, Aw, I want to know how he died! Was I really so bloodthirsty? Was I as bad as the people of the Capitol of Panem who actually enjoy watching the Hunger Games? I was taken aback by this thought, though I concluded that the answer is no: For me, there aren't actually real people dying, whereas the residents of the Capitol were watching real children die. If real children's lives were actually at stake, I would be beyond horrified. But still, is there something wrong with me if I enjoy reading a story in which kids kill other kids, even if it isn't real?

The other thing that disturbed me had to do with a scene between Katniss and her stylist Cinna, a Capitol resident. They're talking, it's time for lunch, and as I recall it, Cinna basically presses a button and a table full of more food than they could possibly eat pops up. Where Katniss lives, people regularly die of starvation--she and her family almost did themselves at one point, before she learned to hunt (which is illegal by the Capitol's laws). At the thought of people in the Capitol having more food than they can eat appear at the touch of a button, Katniss is repulsed. Cinna is wise enough to know it and says something to the effect of, "We must disgust you." It's as close to an apology as he can give, verbally. With his actions, of course he could do much more.

The scene disturbed me because, somewhat after the fact, I finally realized that I'm a resident of the Capitol. I have never worried about whether I would be able to obtain food for my next meal. I have never worried about perishing from hunger. If I have any food-related problem, it's access to too much of it. Though I usually don't think about it, I've known for a long time how lucky I am. I know that there are millions of people who don't have enough to eat, millions who are in danger of dying of hunger. I even know that this isn't just because there isn't enough food in the world to go around, but that the food is poorly distributed. Though I didn't really think about it, I guess I would have assumed that starving people would be jealous of people like me. It never occurred to me that they might be disgusted by me. Or that they'd be justified.

I think there's something special about the science fiction genre to make me understand this. Had the main character in a story set in the real world made a similar observation, saying that Americans with their excess of food (note: there are many Americans who are hungry; please excuse this generalization) disgust them, I would be defensive. Well, it's not my fault that I was born to a family with enough money to provide me with adequate nutrition. It's not my fault that my society is like this. I'd help you out if there were some easy way to do so--actually, I'll have you know, sometimes I do donate to the hungry! Because I already have my own place in this world and my own views, I am already biased and resistant to criticisms. But in a foreign world like Katniss's, the only place I have is hers. Hers are the only eyes through which I can see Panem. From the first-person point of view, I can see that she is a flawed but overall good and reasonable person, so I trust her. Thus I have no choice but to view the world the way she views it. And so I accept on face value that if the people of the Capitol disgust her for how much food they have while others starve, they disgust me. Then, when I then put down the book, I can see that this particular way in which the Capitol residents are disgusting applies to me as well. It's a trick. I have been tricked into finding myself disgusting.

I don't know what will become of this revelation. Having caught the trick, I can pull up my defenses again. But the Hunger Games definitely hit a chink in the armor. Not only was it an exciting, fun, imaginative, beautiful book, it also upset me in surprising ways. That's what you can hope for from a great book.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Art of Video Games Smithsonian exhibit--now open!

The Smithsonian American Art Museum's Art of Video Games exhibit is now open! Here's the exhibition trailer:

FemShep FTW!

It's now been more than a year since they started taking votes on which games to include in the exhibit, and they announced the winners last May. It looks like it all came together very nicely.

If you live or are planning on being in the Washington, D.C. area March 16 through September 30, you should try to check it out. If only I were still living in Maryland, I'd go. At least they've posted a bunch of photos from the exhibit on flickr. Check them out!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Choosing my SWTOR legacy name

I finally powered through Alderaan with my Consular to unlock my Legacy, but now that I've done it I'm paralyzed by indecsion. Legacy is a feature in SWTOR that, once unlocked by finishing Chapter 1 with one of your characters, allows you to choose a surname that will be shared by all your characters on that server. In the future, other benefits for gaining legacy points will be available, but for the moment, it's just the simple name. If only it were actually simple.

I didn't have too much trouble thinking of first names for the various characters I've created in SWTOR. After so many years of playing games, I have some favorite old standards, plus I made up a few new names for this game. But a last name that will be shared by all my characters? That's not something I've had to think of before. The fact that it's permanent and all my future characters (on that server) will bear the name as well makes it rather intimidating.

What sort of name do I choose? Names from Star Wars canon are forbidden, though many will make it past the filter and then it's just a matter of whether or not you get reported or caught. I saw someone walking around with the last name Onasi, a clear reference to KotOR's Carth Onasi. I wonder if that person had to change it yet. It could be kind of fun to effectively write yourself into a Star Wars lineage, be either an ancestor of someone from the movies or descendent of someone from KotOR, but I don't think I'd want to risk being reported and forced to change it (or, worse, reassigned some other name without any say in it).

How about references to other fiction? Maybe a last name from another sci-fi franchise? I've seen a Greyjoy walking around the space station, plus someone named Zoey Washburne (sic). Names from popular culture or media are also forbidden by the Rules of Conduct, but I don't know where they'd draw the line. Is Greyjoy somehow obscure enough that no one cares? Zoey Washburne is obviously a reference, but the last name Washburne itself probably wouldn't be ruled out if used alone. It's a real surname, after all.

I could always make up a name. But would I go the "Nounverber" route, a la Skywalker? It's right there in Star Wars canon, but it can also seem cheesy. In general, I look down on this option as the cheap way out, but I can't deny that sometimes, it just sounds really cool. Or should I just completely create my own made-up name, one that's gibberish but sounds good?

This is what my brainstorming has come up with so far: If I go with a sci-fi reference, I might choose the name Serra. It sounds good with the various first names of my characters, and as long as I don't name any of them Inara, it's not an obvious reference--it's a real surname. Another idea that at least amuses me is the name Schwartz. A legit last name that has special meaning for Space Balls fans. Unfortunately, it doesn't really suit my characters, somehow. It would seem out of place. If I want to do a nounverber, I kind of like the sound of Stardiver*, combining a space-related word with something ocean related, which suits me. And if I completely make up a name... Well, I'm still thinking on that!

Of course, legacy names are unique in each server, so if someone else from my server already has any of these names, then I'd have to adjust accordingly. I should also mention that legacy names can be displayed two ways: as a last name (e.g. Master Eleni NAME), or as a subtitle under the name (e.g. Master Eleni/The NAME Legacy). So if I chose Serra, I'd probably use it as a last name. But I'd probably choose the second option for The Schwartz Legacy.

Anyone have any suggestions? If you're a SWTOR player, what legacy name did/will you choose?

* Edit: Stardiver has already fallen out of favor. I realized it might make me sound like an Olympic diving champion or something. Didn't like that. Need a new idea now.

Update: I finally did choose a legacy name, and I actually went with an old standard naming method of mine that I didn't mention in this post. I won't say what it is, but it is related to my name "Eleni" and is meant to translate (sort of) to "Star Fire".

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The moment we've been waiting for...Mass Effect 3!

It's finally here! Happy Mass Effect 3 Day, everyone!

I'm so happy they have some official FemShep screenshots and wallpapers now. But this BroShep one is pretty cool, too.

Unfortunately, I pre-ordered my Collector's Edition online, so now I have to wait for it to arrive in the mail. Can't get here soon enough. But to all of you who already have your hands on it (lucky!), have fun!!!

Also, be sure to check out this awesome Mass Effect 3 CG trailer featuring FemShep!!!