Friday, 23 March 2012

My Hunger Games Trilogy Pt 2 - The Review

It was almost a case of life imitating art as I walked into the cinema last night to find a teenager with her feet planted firmly on my seat.  Not sitting on the seat, just sitting with her feet on it.  My seat! (Think Ross’ sandwich in Friends but with furniture).  Sure, it doesn’t have a plaque engraved with my name or anything, but it’s where I like to sit. Thankfully, after some meaningful glances (i.e. wild eyed staring of the ‘one of us will have to move first’ variety), there was no necessity for life to imitate art, albeit more Seat Wars than Hunger Games.

If you’ve happened upon my previous blog post, you will know that it’s fair to say I approached this movie with some degree of anticipation (come on now, everyone likes an understatement!)  Book adaptations are always fraught with drama and as the lights dimmed, the potential for disaster wasn’t far from the forefront of my mind.  I’m happy to report that disaster was averted.  Mostly.

(Spoiler alert – if you haven’t read the book or you have but don’t want to know anything about the movie yet, don’t read on)

For everyone familiar with the novel, The Hunger Games opens on an unfamiliar note – the first of a series of breakaways from the point of view of heroine Katniss Everdeen – before a quick cut to District 12 gives the loyal reader their first sigh of relief.  Very little teen movie gloss has been applied to Katniss’ downtrodden district, and there are distinct echoes of Jennifer Lawrence’s role in Winter’s Bone.  Events unfold in a near-perfect replication of the book, beginning with Katniss and Gale’s hunting trip and gathering pace with The Reaping.  A few minor omissions or alterations can be forgiven – sacrifices have to be made to allow the story to breathe on screen and save the pace from a fatal stumble towards the end. 

Some sacrifices can’t be forgiven quite so easily.  The Hunger Games hinges on a concept that is inherently violent, yet the handling of the onscreen violence is almost cowardly.  Yes, there are problems associated with portraying children killing children, especially when trying to secure an apparently all-important 12A certificate.  No, it’s not a great idea to show every last drop of blood spilled in the arena, or for us to hear every breaking bone and every snapping neck.  But that doesn’t mean it should be treated lightly either.  The impact of several huge moments is dulled by our inability to experience it with the characters, notably the death of one of the youngest Tributes, and as we were constantly reminded by the marketing campaign, you shouldn’t have to see it to experience it. 

It says a lot about the quality of the rest of the movie that this seems almost like a minor complaint, and much of that quality is on display in the performances.  I will humbly take back any petty grumbling I’ve ever done about Josh Hutcherson – he simply is Peeta.  Lenny Kravitz, rather surprisingly, brings Cinna’s quiet loyalty to life in a way that was much more touching that expected, and Elizabeth Banks is delightful, if seemingly underused, as Effie.  Only Woody Harrelson seems an odd fit, appearing altogether less shambolic that we’ve come to expect from Haymitch Abernathy, and an awful lot more contained than he could have been.  It could simply be that he’s outshone by the wonderful Jennifer Lawrence, who is a perfect fit for Katniss.  She has the toughest job to do with arguably one of the least sympathetic characters, yet by the time she’s breaking down in the arena the audience is right there with her. 

Perhaps the greatest triumph of The Hunger Games is that any temptation to flesh out romantic entanglements and turn the movie into a sappy Twilight hybrid has been resisted, and by doing so the filmmakers have stayed true to Suzanne Collins story. 

Now, how many days is it till Catching Fire?

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

My Hunger Games Trilogy Pt 1 - The Wait

The moment is almost upon us…

As anyone who has sat within earshot of me at any point in the last five months will know, The Hunger Games hits cinemas this week.  To say I am excited would be something of an under-sell.

This is one of those weeks where the movie geek that lives inside me breaks out of her otherwise quiet existence and consumes me, turning a normally sensible (sort of) human being into a raving, raging lunatic who speaks of nothing but casting, exposition and correct ordering of movie credits. 

For the most part I like to think I keep that part of myself on a reasonably short leash.  Alright, so that’s a big fat lie – in reality I have to restrain myself from climbing over the seats on the bus to shake the teenager behind me who incorrectly quotes Patrick Swayze in Red Dawn.  My point, however, is that my geekdom, which rears its head for every Big Movie Event, is at its worst this week – not only is The Hunger Games going to be a spectacle (and I do love a spectacle) it has the enormous responsibility of living up to one of the best books I have read in a long time. 

In the week that the first reviews start to pour in via Twitter and the like, the anticipation gives way to something much worse – the anxiety.  People who know me well know that I live and die by the movies.  I love them or I loathe them.  I have outrageously over-the-top reactions to the slightest error in continuity or a laid-back attitude to basic plotting.  My tastes are diverse, though I abhor pretension in all its forms, and there’s nothing I love more than a good adaptation.  And there’s the catch – a good adaptation.  Can The Hunger Games possibly live up to the hype?  Can it possibly be as tense, as compelling, as downright entertaining as the book?

And here comes the anxiety.  I have every possible faith in Jennifer Lawrence.  She showed her quality in Winter’s Bone and her style in X-Men: First Class.  She’ll do Katniss proud.  It’s the other casting decisions that leave me a little less confident.  On first reading who had been cast as the male leads, I assumed the article had accidentally switched them around – Josh Hutcherson as sweet, sensitive Peeta?  Really?  I like the actor, but I’m struggling to see him in this role (though I’m hoping to be pleasantly surprised).  And I’m skipping right by Lenny Kravitz…

Then we have the violence.  Seven seconds of cuts had to be made for the UK 12A certificate.  Director Gary Ross and the cast have seemed cautious in some of their interviews about how the blood-shed in the arena would be portrayed on screen.  The idea of toning it all down makes me just a little bit squeamish. 

Last, but certainly not least, on the list of things to make me crazy is the dreaded omission.  You know, that favourite part of your favourite book that didn’t quite make the cut (take a bow, Deathly Hallows Part 2), or that crucial piece of exposition that was left of the cutting room floor (Twilight, I am looking right at you)?  The idea of what might be left out is enough to keep this geek awake at night.

So thankfully we’re heading into the good days – anxiety gives way to anticipation.  I’m not talking about the generic “I’m looking forward to seeing that movie” type of anticipation – I’m talking about squeal-at-every-tv-advert, smile-at-every-poster, WHY-ISN’T-IT-FRIDAY-ALREADY?!  (Some call it hysteria, I call it being a fan.)  This is the kind of anticipation/madness that will set in tomorrow.  Tomorrow I’ll fume all day long, knowing that I could go see the film tomorrow night but that I should wait to pay day (ie Friday).  I’ll amuse myself by weighing up the relative benefits of IMAX and normal screenings, the varying levels of comfort offered by competing cinemas and the best time to go to minimise the chance of someone talking through the movie.  Most of all, I will spend the whole day thinking “please, just let it be brilliant.”

If I make it all the way to Friday before seeing it (unlikely), I’ll be ready with a review on Saturday.  I’m ready to love it.  I want to love it.  The odds are in its favour.  (Yes, I went there.)

If only they'd told me...

In the middle of a conversation with one of my oldest friends last night, I had an epiphany.  It was one of those moments when you think to yourself “why couldn’t I have figured that out sooner?”  If I had, the last few months would have been an awful lot easier.

So what is this is amazing epiphany?  I finally realised that – wait for it – writing is hard. 

That’s it.  Writing is hard.

I know it doesn’t seem like the most shocking revelation in the world.  I’m not about to have the world’s leading scientists flocking to this blog to marvel at my new universe-changing discovery. 

The thing is it wasn’t always hard.  When I was young, it seemed to come so much more naturally.  I don’t remember ever spending the enormous amount of time I do now agonising over every little detail, writing and rewriting then rewriting some more.  It didn’t seem to matter whether or not I used adverbs, or if I was telling instead of showing.  The fourteen year old version of me wrote naturally, and fearlessly.  It seemed so easy back then. 

Now that I think about, though, wasn't everything easier then?  The fourteen year old version of me could also easily scale the kitchen counter to reach the top shelf in the cupboard.  I haven’t tried it in a while but I suspect that these days that sort of thing would end in tears.  And an ambulance.  And possibly death.

I suppose then that it’s ok that it isn’t as easy as it used to be.  Writing is hard.  It’s supposed to be.  If only I’d realised it sooner, I might have had fewer moments of anxiety, self-doubt and downright panic.  Then again…

Coming soon on What Happens in Hayden – my Hunger Games movie trilogy (otherwise knows as What Happens When The Movie Geek Takes Over).

Saturday, 10 March 2012

I mean it this time...

At last the long dark days of procrastination are at an end.  This is going to be a Big Writing Weekend.

No really, it is.

I know the fact that it’s already lunch time and I haven’t actually started yet probably undermines my certainty just a little, but on any day that doesn’t involve The Day Job my working day doesn’t generally start till after noon.  I’m optimistic.

Ignoring advice from people who know far more about this kind of thing than I do, I have been plotting.  In preparation for the Big Writing Weekend, I now have in my possession that most elusive of objects – my plot.  From start to finish, I know exactly what happens at the beginning, middle and end.  No more “I’ll figure that bit out when I get there,” or “that will come to me later.”  That worked better in the first draft, but this isn’t the first draft, and it’s time to get it finished.

I’ve been sharpening my weapons as well.  I have the teeny, tiny chopping knives ready for where I need them, but this weekend it’s going to be all about the giant red axe.  There are some characters I love, but I love them because they’re mine, and I have to be honest with myself and admit that they don’t really add anything to the story.  They have to go.  Quick, clean cuts – it hurts less that way, right? 

This (hopefully) final draft will also be three or four chapters lighter, and missing a section that has been present in every draft that’s come before it (resisting the urge to curl into a corner and weep even as I write this!)  Doing the old head-over-heart routine, I asked myself “does the reader really need to know this?  Really?  Yeah, but really?”  My first answer, of course, was “YES!  They need to know this!  Of course they need to know this.  If they don’t know this, then how will they understand this, this and this?!” 

I then had a lie down until the spinning went away.

I am learning the difference (again, hopefully) between what the reader needs to know and what I want them to know.  (Note – I am referring, of course, to my book and not my blog.  No one needs to know any of the insane rambling that goes on here.)  If this process was governed solely by what I want the reader to know I would be better dropping the writing part altogether and just recording my ravings on tape.  It would only last for three or four days, be subject to constant editing, weekly updates and my ever-eloquent ums, ahs and “did I tell you that part already?”

Perhaps not.

I digress.  Procrastination is over, it’s time to write. 

I am coming off the internet right now.

No really, I am.