12 May, 2017

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

Yes... I realise it's been 4 years since my last post. It takes a surprisingly long time to recover from a PhD. That's no joke. Someone should really, really study the effects of a PhD on the brain -- pre and post thesis-production... it's a shit show.

Anyway, what brought me back you ask? None other than --- KING ARTHUR!!

Here’s my review in two parts. I literally have two totally different parts of my brain looking at this.

Perspective 1: I have my master’s in Arthurian Literature. I’m skeptical at the best of times about any re-interpretation of a legendary story, based on the late-Roman-era hero of King Arthur (I generally ignore the medieval, romantic, knights in shining armour Arthur).

Perspective 2: I have my PhD in the adaptation of event films, and I study, investigate, and celebrate taking original material and turning it into a unique, entertaining piece of media.

Also, I live in Snowdonia, Wales (although originally from the US) where this was filmed (it was also filmed in the Scottish Highlands, but surely the most stunning scenery was my backyard). So, I’m a bit biased by the locations.

So here are my two perspectives:

Perspective 1: Are you kidding? Vortigern and Uther are brothers? And Uther turns into the rock that holds Excalibur when Uther kills him? I’ve got that right, right? Uh huh? Right… in the written legend (yes, I know it’s legend, and therefore I shouldn’t be this angry at the faulty reinterpretation), Uther dies of old age, impotent but still the father of Arthur, and Vortigern is a random king in the north who wants a lot of power (political power…. Not serpents and giant elephants and mystical shtuff). Like any dude with an obsession of power, he tries to build a tower. It keeps falling. Over, and over, and over again... 

So, in legend, he learns from his prophets that he needs the blood of a bastard to be spilled over the foundations of his tower.  Only then will it be strong enough to stand. Merlin is a bastard. No one knows who is father is (spoiler… it’s Ambrosius, Uther’s brother, making him Arthur’s actual uncle), so this makes Merlin the most Famous Bastard in All of the Land. So Vortigern is determined to spill Merlin’s blood. However, Merlin catches wind of this, spins the story like any stellar politician would, and convinces everyone that there are in fact two dragons fighting underground, in the foundations of Vortigern’s tower, and that’s why it keeps falling. There’s a white dragon, signifying Vorgiern, and a red dragon, signifying Ambrosius. The red dragon is victorious! So Vortigern is defeated, and the red dragon still flies as the emblem on the Welsh flag. The Welsh people have also adopted Dinas Emrys as the location for this epic dragon battle, and you can hike to the summit yourself and see the ruins of Vortigern’s tower (some ruins… but more like 11th century than the 6th).

Anywho, this film takes EXTREME liberties with this story. Basically, they’re the same character names, and the rest is up for interpretation. In this film, the tower is actually an antenna of some sort for black magic. Right.

Things that are constant: Arthur is the unknown king. Arthur pulls a sword from a stone. A lady of the lake gives the sword back to him. Vortigern wants power and his tower won’t stand.

Yup. That’s it. Merlin is mentioned, but we don’t see him. He sends a mage to guide Arthur to his life as a king.

Things that are wildly redonk: Vortigern and Uther are brothers, the mystical element allows mages and those with power to control animals, thereby including crazy big elephants in the opening scene, and wicked large snakes. There’s also some crazy serpent ladies (including one who looks like the grandmother of the Fat Lady in the portrait from Harry Potter) who demand the blood of a loved one to be spilled in their creepy underground lake in order to grant power to Uther.

Who. Just. Keeps. Killing. His. Loved. Ones…. that's messed up.

So, with regard to an Arthurian retelling, it takes some major liberties. And it’s unsettling.  Its jump cuts, the inappropriate humor, it's a mess of cultures and genres, with some post-modern comic relief that elicits a laugh, but also jars the viewer. Our hero wears white, our villain wears black (and his minions are even called "The Black Legs"...) it's all just so wonderfully predictable.

Pros: what a unique retelling. What a use of the scenery of Snowdonia, and a reinvention of the oft re-told Arthurian legend in an updated, edgy, and functional way. It uses some lovely historical elements and a few names to retell the Arthurian legend sharply, with humor, action, and yes, some eye-rolls. I think you could really enjoy it if you knew nothing about the source material.

Cons: see above. Seriously? Messing with the timeline/bloodlines that much? GIANT ELEPHANTS!? Power antenna?? 

Perspective 2: HOT DAMN! How much fun was that?! I mean, if you’re going to totally disregard the potential of an historical Arthur, not question the likelihood of finding of a dojo in Roman London, ignore the existence of Camelot, Merlin, and any kind of believable through-line, you might as well have fun with it, eh? It has Guy Ritchie stamped all over it—thugs, brash jump cuts in editing, match-edited explanations (i.e. explaining a scene in words as a character mouths those words and we cut away to the action matching those words), crass humour, and moments of intense, gorgeously-filmed action. 

High points: Okay, there were indeed a few nods to the historical Arthur, and the legends that are commonly used and reinterpreted in Arthuriana: it existed in a Roman time (near the end of the Roman rule in London – aka Londinium), Arthur didn’t know his heritage, he pulled a sword from a stone, a lady of a lake gave it back to him… there are a few great nods to our well-studied legends.

But in terms of a reinterpretation, if you’re going to take source material and make it your own, I honestly think King Arthur: Legend of the Sword was a blast.  I think it’ll be attacked by critics, but I had fun. It was clever, fun, action-packed, had excellent effects, good villains, characters I cared about… and the random ninja named George! I mean, why not? If you’re going to have a street-smart posse of thugs, they ought to be named George, Blue, Bill, Wet Stick, and Back Lack.  It was entertaining, great music, super-stylised, and excellent villains/conflicts. No gratuitous love crap, and interesting embracement of power. Arthur was always confident, but it was clear he had a lot to learn, and the pacing of this allowed for a really natural arc for the growth of Arthur.  He had to earn the role of King; believe he could fulfil it, overcome demons, train, and embrace his destiny (and all that wonderful cheesy shtuff). And, in turn, his band of merry fellows fell in line similarly.  The round table at the end was a bit twee (British term for super cheesy), but it worked. He’s not a snot-nosed, silver-spooned king. He worked and was driven for the power he now commands. A round table suited, and someone else knighted him the same way he knighted his knights (pardon the redundancy).

Low Points: Oh it was so gratuitous.... drama, serpents, blood, swearing... it was an old boy's club of redonkulousness. If I was the script editor, it'd be difficult to compliment the lacking through-line of this story, the believability of the villain, and the justification for things like mysticism and mages. It seems rather shoved into the world. It's not 'earned', so to speak. 

Speaking in the language of film overall, however, it was a fun, sharp, and clever film. Surprise surprise, I'm not the script editor, so my thoughts weren't taken into consideration, sadly :) But as a fan and scholar, it was fun. I can take it for the lark that it was, laugh, and enjoy. I loved seeing my home scenery on the big screen (seriously, if that doesn’t convince you that North Wales is the most glorious place ever, there’s not much I can do for you)

So, there’s my bi-brained response. If it’s a gateway for some wonderful geek to get into the legends and origins of King Arthur—brilliant. And if it’s a two-hour romp through the stunning scenery of Snowdonia focused on my hero, King Arthur, and some seriously questionable plot points, line-delivery, diction, and context, but you still laugh out loud …. Then that’s brilliant too!

In short, go see it. It was fun.  I doubt it’ll get multiple sequels.  I can't envision this making bank on its investment (maybe I'll be wrong!) But this one was fun. We shall see, eh? Perhaps if we gaze into the Crystal Cave…

18 May, 2013

Oh Star Trek... I am Converted.

I've always been a sci-fi and fantasy geek, clearly, but Star Trek was always just a little too far into the sci-fi path for me. I never geeked out about it. I enjoyed Next Generation growing up, but that was mostly because of my crush on Wesley Crusher, and because watching it was bonding time with my mom. 

But then J. J. Abrams showed up.... and then: hot damn.

I loved the reboot. Loved it. And I'm happy talking about Star Trek here because I do think of it as an adaptation. It may not be based on an original source novel like the other things I've looked at here,  but it is derived from a previous existing piece of media. People have an idea of what things should look like before going into the cinema based on the multiple TV shows and films that have come before. Therefore it's the same principles I work with on adaptations.

So anyway, Star Trek: Into Darkness was amazing. I loved the first one of the new reboot, and have watched it many, many times, and therefore I am so glad to see that the second installment not only meets the expectations from the first one, but builds the plot, characters, and relationships; not to mention the technological and special effect advances.  

I've seen it twice already and really think I need at least one more viewing. I've always been a Benedict Cumberbatch fan (made intensely strong by my love of Sherlock), as well as Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto.  The latter two had such a wonderful chemistry, banter, and timing with each other in this film. The former was so deliciously, wonderfully bad but also understandably so, that he was a joy to watch. It often takes quite a bit for me to get caught up in the story of a film; I'm usually too busy analyzing it-- actor performance, how they got that shot, scenery, or costume design that the story is just one more thing I'm examining. That didn't happen this time. I was EXHAUSTED at the end of the film. I felt like I'd just done battle alongside my friends to save my ship from the big bad guy. 

Things I loved:

Relationships: This was the biggest positive for me. There was so much development and complexity, but also humor, kindness, and authenticity.  The story was great, the effects great, the pacing and suspense great, but I think all of that hung on the growth of these characters, and the relate-able relationships they've developed in this film.
     Spock and Jim- teaching Spock what it means to have a friend, and to have someone care about you... I enjoyed when Jim asked him, "You know why I went back, right?" but Jim never really answers it. He wants Spock to figure it out, that it's because Jim likes Spock, and cares about him; they're friends.  

I liked that Jim showed some vulnerability before he jettisoned himself across space to the Big Bad Starship, and told Spock that he didn't know what he should do, he only knew what he could do. Jim was so much more human in this film with his uncertainty about himself, his loss of Pike, the father-like figure, his allegiance and devotion to his crew, and even the beginning sparks of a relationship, not just a fling, with Carol.  And who didn't get at least a smidge choked up at the  scene pictured on the right. I'm still reeling from the structure of this scene. The emotion of friendship, the acknowledgement of fear, the desire to comfort but the inability to contact, and personally witnessing the passing of your best friend, and being powerless to stop it. And Spock crying. Brilliantly done scene in terms of dialogue, pacing, and actor performance. I loved it.

      Spock and Uhura-How fun was that? I mostly enjoyed them fighting, and Jim's line of "oh my gosh, are you fighting? What is that even like?" But Spock and Uhura came to a neat understanding in their relationship, I think.  She is so capable (languages, facing the Klingons, backing him up in the final fight with Khan, etc.), and calls him on his crap; I think she can tap into the human side of him faster than anyone, and encourages him to question his decision to not feel emotions. They're a strong, and functioning couple. It's not all Hollywood romance, or even the cheesy romance of past Star Trek couples. They work hard at their relationship, it shows, and I think strengthens them as characters. I certainly enjoyed watching them. 

       Khan and Everyone: Oh Khan was fabulous. The body language, the vocal tone... it wasn't too far off from his portrayal of Sherlock, really. He's overly gifted, knows he is and is therefore quite cocky but in an endearing way, but Khan has that extra evil streak where he'll happily hurt whoever to get what he needs. And that duplicity was so intriguing. You knew it was coming, particularly as soon as you found out he was Khan and not 'Harrison' (in this scene), but the suspense of when, and how drove the conflict throughout the film.  I loved watching him (or his stunt double, whatever...); he moved like a dancer: tall, graceful, sharp, controlled, and watching him fight was beautiful. Even when Jim was punching the heck out of him and he just had a look of curiosity on his face. His beautiful, beautiful face:

  I also have such great fun watching Abram's filming style. He goes to great lengths to give shots a retro feel (so. many. lens flares. But I love them), and utilized 'old school' and unique techniques to get the shots he wants. If you've never watched the special features on the first film, I highly recommend it. The real-life shots and the CG shots are so in tune with each other, that it's difficult to tell where special effects end and the actual thing begins, which I think helps the audience member stay in the story. If something was blatantly CG-ed, then we'd notice it, and it'd take us out of the story. But each shot is stylistically like the next from the super-alien world in the opening scene to the normal conversations between characters. All have a great feel of authenticity to them.
All in all, this was a tight, well-written story that moved all individual story lines along in this new, re-written Star Trek world of Abram's creaction (Scotty, Bones, Sulu, and Chekov included) forward, and gave brilliant conflicts to structure the story around.  A cocky captain brought down to a normal man, earning the chair, coming into his own, and embracing a brilliant constructed conflict in Khan.  A crew supporting their captain, coming together as a strong, cohesive unit, and all of the humor, action, effects, drama, music, and design we've come to expect from this Star Trek reboot. 

Boot away! I can't wait for the next instalment! It's still 'in development (2016)' on ProIMDB, so we'll see what comes of it... but this new Trekkie is already geeking out about it.

03 February, 2013

PhD Madness

The Beast. And many, many notes.
Do you see the date on that last post?! It's almost A YEAR AGO!! 

Crazy, I know. But work and the picture to the left is pretty much all I've been up to for the last few months!

From April 2012-June 2012 I traveled to 9 states to lecture, promote Wales, talk about film adaptation, and a slew of other fun facts, crazy work appointments and whatnot.

From June to September I was a total recluse writing the above. Literally. Did. Nothing. Else. Nothing.

September - January = 14 states, holiday in Spain, lectures, work, and beginning to study my thesis to prepare for my viva (the oral defense of the Beast... aka, PhD thesis).

And that basically brings us to here!

Things on my mind film wise: Les Miserables, The Hobbit, Jane Austen Celebrations (!!), Leaky Con 2013, and all sorts of new forays into film work, script editing, and writing a bit more for hypeable.com and pagetopremiere.com. It'll be a big year!

I'm revamping my website, studying The Beast and hanging my head in shame at the dumb mistakes (oh redonkulousness), working hard at my new job and loving it, and still fitting in as much film work as I can. For example, last week I was on a panel with executives from BBC, S4C, Film Agency Wales, and a producer from Apollo Productions. We listened to 8 professional writers pitch passion projects, examine their pitch documents, and provide feedback for them.

Anywho, more to come soon as I come back to life and re-immerse myself in all of this!

31 March, 2012

Another Hunger Games Thought

So I saw it again last night with my flatmate (I'm back in Wales now), and I'm having further issues with the Katniss/Peeta relationship. Overall, I'm still a big fan of the film; successful adaptation, well done, blah blah blah... but....

...I think it should be made more clear that Peeta is head over heels for Katniss, that Katniss is confused, and that she was 'playing a game.' The only real moment that stands out to me as honest emotion of care from Katniss is when she hears the canon, thinks Peeta has died, knocks the nightlock out of his hand and yells at him for scaring her; that was great. Really.....really great.  And maybe that moment when she decides to leave him in the cave to get the medicine. That was up there too.

But overall, we're left without clarity of the situation between them.  It would have just taken one line before Katniss went on stage; the line, "Have you told Peeta this?" Haymitch: "He's already there." That would have brought it to our minds; and again, on the train when she says they "try to forget"... they could have adapted that scene so it was a bit more clear that Katniss was playing a game, and Peeta never was. At this point it just seems Katniss is unsure; Peeta doesn't doubt her for playing a game with Haymitch without him knowing the rules. 

Prior to this, in the cave (yes, I'm still harping on about the cave), we could have used the multiple kisses; seeing Katniss work out the game with Haymitch (one kiss = one parachute), and use it to her advantage to assist Peeta... then, when the 'big kiss' came (I say it in quotations because I didn't get to oooooo moment I should have from that kiss), it would make more of an impact; we would get that this kiss was different...that Katniss felt something different then....

I found this on Pinterest; I'm sorry I don't know the original poster (The Trilogy? Written in the corner?) but thank you for creating it!

....also, I missed the line from Peeta "you can kiss me anytime you want;" he recognizes that the cameras are on them and it'll make the audience happy, but he genuinely wants her there, with him. His attraction/love are never in question, and I did question it in the film. A few more lines, a few more interactions, and it would have set the stage for Peeta's heartache and Katniss's indecision; as it is, he's a bit disappointed and she's kinda confused... but I don't get the depth of emotion that was in the book, nor what I think ought to exist at this point before heading into Catching Fire.

I realize these sound like teenage girl desires, but I honestly do think it's that proximity to each other, growing from assistance to need to desire that makes the audience believe in the relationship, and perhaps also allows Katniss to believe in the possibility of attraction to Peeta. It's that believable bonding in the cave that sets the tone of all of the attraction, protection, and partnership events that happen in the following two books (I think it was Mockingjay where Katniss says, "That's what we do... we protect each other" after Peeta asks, "You're still protecting me, real or not real?").

That's all for now. I'll weigh in on the questions I've been asked in a bit, but I had to get that one off my chest :)

28 March, 2012

The Hunger Games

So I was in Denver for work when this was released, and the friend I went to see it with said, "Isn't it cool that we're in The Capitol going to see The Capitol?" It took me a minute, but then in made perfect sense... The Capitol is described as being through the Rockies, and in a setting similar to Denver; plus there were a few restaurants and whatnot called The Capitol, spelled that way... it was convincing! How appropriate!

Also, Seneca Crane and Ceasar Flickerman were in the audience of my screening.... they were die-hard fans with really authentic costumes. Seneca even shaved his beard appropriately. I salute that sort of effort.

So here I will give a quick overview of my thoughts on The Hunger Games, directed by Gary Ross based on Suzanne Collins's novel (but if you don't know that already, where have you been? Painted into a rock lying in a riverbed?), and then I'll provide a bit of analysis and discussion on elements of the adaptation, the adaptation process, and personal thoughts on what I loved, what I didn't love, and what was missed in the film.

The Hunger Games-- I was quite nervous about this adaptation. I spoke to some of the development team ages ago when it was just going into the script, and I was frustrated that I didn't get to work with them for long. However, I don't think I had to worry as I did... I was very sceptical, I was nervous, I didn't trust them, I didn't think they understood the span of their fandom and the power that they could wield over the financial returns of the film...

.... but I really shouldn't have worried so much because I think this was a well done adaptation, and a good film in its own right.  It's faithful enough to not upset the fans, it has necessary additional scenes to expand the narrative from the text to the screen without alienating the existing story and to provide enough information for those encountering the story for the first time, the elements of the book that were removed are regrettable (Madge, lamb stew), but I wouldn't have changed much in the film in order to get more of those elements, and at nearly two and a half hours, there wasn't a lot that could be added; the stuff that was there worked; the performances brilliant for the most part; costume, set, and makeup phenomenal, the camera worked as its own narrative tool, the CG while cheesy at times (the flames in the chariot springs to mind) was pretty effective overall (particularly with the tracker jackers and the fire), and I loved the music. I would have added a few things (time with Peeta mostly to develop that emotional relationship), however, but overall I was greatly pleased!

While I liked it at first, after my first viewing, I found myself wanting. I was at a bit of a loss, and slightly perturbed and unsatisfied by the film. However, I'm learning to accept that this is my go-to state after a first viewing. This is the viewing where I'm sitting with a note pad in my lap, marking moments that I have a thought I want to explore later, which may relate to my thesis, which may relate to a script I read last week or a book I'm considering optioning, which repeatedly takes me out of the narrative and into an analytical mindset instead of just watching and experiencing the film, and it's this viewing where the film is complementing or replacing the images in my head from the reading. This is why I wait for after multiple viewing to delve into analysis (I'm on 3; 4 will happen on Thursday when I'm back in Wales).

I left that first viewing feeling a bit angry that I didn't have more Katniss and Peeta affection time, and their relationship I still think is the one that could have used more attention.  I was also quite bothered that in the end of the games they weren't more torn up than they were.  In the book they're on the edge of death, and it was that tear-down to the will to survive, the bringing of the characters to base zero where their continued existence is in question, that really brings home the brutality of the Hunger Games for me. When they are lifted out of the arena in the novel, we don't even know if Peeta is going to live he's lost so much blood.  In this one they've got a few scratches, they're never bordering on dying of thirst or hunger, Katniss seems to still have a functioning ear, they're pretty much always pretty, and Peeta has both legs.

I don't mind detail changes, and encourage them when they don't fit into the film's narrative (like I missed the reference to the mutts' eyes, but it didn't need to be there; the focus of that scene was on running away and surviving; it's a regrettable loss, but not a pivotal one); changes must happen with a media shift like a book to film adaptation, but the emotional change for me was in seeing them brought to near death, The Capitol bringing them back within days and then parading them around for show. It shows the brutality of The Capitol-- their power to save, and yet their refusal to save; only to allow children to kill, and it bonded Katniss and Peeta in a way that no one else would understand; not even past victors because they could never share the experience. Like a war buddy and a lover in one, Katniss and Peeta are bonded by their near-death experiences in the arena, and I missed that in the film.

My favorite moments of Katniss and Peeta, where I think you can see the most natural chemistry and affection is 1) When she thinks that Peeta has died after eating nightlock, and she finds him, hits him, yells at him, swears at him, and then hugs him with relief. It was a genuine reaction of affection, and 2) Right before they're about to eat the nightlock at the end when Peeta touches her braid. It's so sweet and sincere; I really do think that's their most intimate moment because it's not a game, it's not due to any commentary on Haymitch, and seemed a natural movement for Peeta. I wanted it to be the kiss in the cave, but it wasn't for me.

So that's my major complaint of the film; not enough of the emotional development of Peeta and Katniss. Seeds are planted, yes, but Peeta is supposed to be head over heels, crazy mad in love with her, and I could never sense his sincerity; Katniss is possibly playing the game and is uncertain of her feelings, so that's understandable, but the chemistry was still there in the novels, even if the certainty on her side wasn't; the certainty and the chemistry was always on Peeta's side, so I'm sorry that didn't showcase in the film for me.

Additions: They gave more cut back scenes to Gale, keeping him ever in our minds, particularly as these cut backs were almost always in conjunction with a kiss between Peeta and Katniss, illustrating the love triangle.

They also gave more scenes to President Snow, which I think was a very smart move. Donald Sutherland on The Today Show yesterday said that Suzanne Collins (a credited executive producer and part of the screenwriting team) supported the additions so that they gave additional weight to President Snow's threats, thus also illustrating the author's blessing upon the changes from the source text.  We have pages and pages to read about Katniss's internalizations of Snow's treachery and 'rule them all' attitude in the book, but in the film we don't get that kind of access to Katniss's head. Therefore we need more moments with Snow threatening Seneca, ripping apart roses, commenting on containing and defeating the spark of rebellion, and purposefully manipulating people's emotions by giving them hope and then killing it. He was wretched...which is just what he's supposed to be, so well done for those extra scenes. It also cut Seneca a bit of slack, in my mind. He was just a cog in the machine, and not a horrible guy, but raised by a horrible system to commit horrible crimes. Overall he too succumbed to The Capitol and to President Snow's maliciousness.

There were also a few small additions that I appreciated, one in particular was Katniss switching the window in her Capitol room into a forest-- you immediately saw her alienation in this strange, weirdly decorated Capitol filled with gadgets and weird colors. The forest put her back on familiar ground and gave us one of the first glimpses of the human, shaken, and threatened Katniss.

I'm going to depart from my normal pros/cons for this one and discuss it thematically, and a little chronologically instead, as that's how my notes, my head, and my thoughts are rolling!


Opening music and titles- I would have chosen a different font (it was a bit too friendly; yes, a font can be friendly), but the information was concise, and projected the overlying serious tone of this film-- uprising = children fighting to the death.

Opening scene in the capitol and switching immediately to the grim District 12 gives immediate contrast to the divide between the Haves and the Have Nots; the rich and those that make them so.

Prim is a very good screamer; terrified and innocent and sincere all at the same time; we hear it again at the reaping-- it's a soul-crushing, heart wrenching scream; I too wanted to protect her.

Gale and Katniss:  I like their ease; in the books its so natural and comfortable; we also have the benefit of learning how long it took them to trust each other and the time put into the friendship to become a partnership; however it's clear that relationship is there in the film with the nicknames, the playing to Katniss's shooting strengths, the suggestion of running away together, and the sharing of the bread... all elements from the novel, but ones that illustrate the unity and partnership of Gale and Katniss. It isn't romantic, it's functional... but it's also affectionate. I always saw brother with Gale, not lover, but that's just me....

Katniss and her Mother: Wow. Way to put it to her that Katniss has been running this family, is strong, in control, the provider, protective (telling Prim what she wants to hear, singing her the lullaby, bringing in the food etc.), and the strong, directive tone to her mother "Don't tune out again... you can't." was really effective.

The Hob- smaller than I'd pictured it, and Greasy Sae was a bit more kind that imagined (I pictured her tough as nails, hard ass), but perhaps a little gentleness was needed in such a harsh atmosphere as District 12, and as we lost Madge, it was nice having the Mockingjay pin come out of a moment of kindness; a glimmer of the goodness still apparent in humanity.

The Reaping- the film at The Reaping was a good filmic device to provide information to those that were not previous fans of the books. It gives insight as to what happened in the past, and the Capitol's rationale in creating the Hunger Games. Gale's mouthing of the words and Effie's miming of them illustrates the repeated use of this film as part of the ceremony, thus giving information to the viewer, but also showing the Capitol's control and exercises of domination over the districts. This is also the first time we see Peeta...

Peeta:  We first see him as a scared, shorter-than expected guy, but with a baby face that fit my imaginings of him.  Peeta was a slow burn for me. I didn't like the casting decision early on as I only knew Josh from 'Little Manhattan' and 'Vampire's Assistant,' and I thought him too small... I'm still slightly miffed by a few elements of the script and performance as it felt like a lot of the time he fulfilled the 'Hermione Role' in that he fills in script information. "Katniss, Haymitch is our mentor, we should try to work with him..." he's there to provide information which can come across as 'convenient' at times. However, I'm fully crushing on Peeta. I don't mind admitting it. Josh worked his way into my psyche and has taken over the visual role of Peeta fully in my imagination now.

Color- The color throughout the film is brilliant. Very effective and telling. In District 12, everything is muted. Grays, blues, whites, faded clothes and nothing is outstanding. The red of the banners and the influx of the Capitol stands out against the faded dreariness of the district. Then when we see Effie Trinket for the first time... holy Capitol difference .... bright fuchsia and those gold lips against the stark gray and blue of 12-- it certainly separates Effie as a far, far, FAR cry from 12.

12: Grays, blues, whites, dreary, faded
Capitol: Bright, primary colors and high-intensity and high-saturation colors; also a lot of block colors. There are very few patterns.
Arena: earthy; browns, greens, hiking boots, army green trousers... it's strange that the most 'created' thing, the arena, is the most 'natural.'

Music (and sound below)- I noticed the specific use of the music first in The Reaping, and then again throughout-- first of all, the score is gorgeous. I love James Newton Howard ever since I first heard 'Flying' from 2003's Peter Pan. He weaves a story with sound so well, and I love that he's not afraid to mix medias-- strings, electronic, voices, percussion-- it all knits together very well to create a specific tone for the image it matches. In Hunger Games, I noticed the use of music as a narrative tool more frequently than I have in other films.  Often the sound stops, or the dialogue stops, and music takes over; music can project a feeling so strongly, and this score with its strong base tones (listen to 'The Cave' on the score soundtrack; there is a constant tone across the bottom register... it's almost a buzz it continues so thoroughly that you don't notice it after a few bars. This tone is apparent in a few of the songs, and ties the narrative together, whilst allowing the melodies, the tones and the beats to take on specific actions.

The Capitol anthem starts and we seize up for all that it embodies; the four-note tone of Rue's call appears and I get chills (you can even download the tone for free from iTunes or amazon-- message alert tone anyone? Yes.), or one of my favorites are the uses of percussion for Katniss's decision or for Snow's impact-- I'm thinking of the scene in the cave where Peeta gets worse and she decides to go to the feast for his medicine. She's serenely staring at him, worried and active, but quiet, and then the drums start (same track as above, it comes in at 2:24) and the first bow stroke and drum beat she is up and decisively moving. The music shift marks her decision and empowers her movements.

Similarly, when Seneca walks into the palace room after the games finish and that crystal bowl of Nightlock berries are there to greet him... then the drums/beats start (that bit doesn't seem to have made the cut to the soundtrack, but it's in the film right after we see the berries). It punctuates the scene and moves the story forward.

And this is just the score... then there's discussion on the lullaby (which has been stuck in my head since I saw it the first time, let alone after three viewings... it's stuck in there now for good!) and the soundtrack itself which I'm a fan of. A few songs feel superfluous (Kid Cudi), but overall the score and the soundtrack give a tonal feel to the film of folk, with acoustic, country, blues artists but also mixed in with new age/electronic/even punk feelings with mixed media instrumentation and edgy artists like Arcade Fire participating. Love, love, love the music. Sometimes I think a score can really make or break my experience with a film...

Sound- Along with the music, there's the overall sound profile of the film with interesting moments to notice.  The silence during The Reaping-- no music, no sounds, little dialogue, and the stunned silence after Katniss takes Prim's place, and District 12 gives the salute.  Again, there is no sound as Katniss and Peeta are taken to the train by Effie; she starts prattering on about washing up and the dialogue recedes, and the music swells, the emotion replacing the dialogue.  It is here that they board the train, and after seeing the disbelief of Katniss when Gale pulled out real bread, or the bath in a bucket, the worn clothes, and the twine as payment for fresh game, we then have the contrast to the sickening decadence of The Capitol. During viewing number three my mother leaned over to me in this scene and said "That's sick." And it was. It was a good shock, showing the inhumanity of The Capitol's 1%. I love that no words were needed; we had Katniss's and Peeta's faces, and the swelling, haunting, and descriptive music.

Similarly with Caesar Flickerman on stage when Katniss first comes out; she's shocked by the size and sound of the crowd, and we hear the muffled, foggy cheers that she hears, effectively putting the audience in her place. There was also silence after Katniss blew up the food and it was silent, then we all got our hearing 'back' only to hear the high pitched buzz, which may represent Katniss's destroyed ear, again putting the audience in Katniss's place. And another at Rue's death, similar to Sirius's death in Harry Potter: OOTP, Harry silently screamed as Lupin held him back; the music took the place of that emotion, and it did the same here with Rue. Katniss falls over her body and mourns her, but silently as the music swells. I also loved this moment how she had arranged the flowers around Rue, and then looked directly into the cameras, as an accusation-- "Look what you did!!" And then the brilliant salute to Rue, and the rebellion in District 11 as the music continues (about 3:00 to the end of that track) to take over; there's no dialogue in that entire section.

Camera- along with the sound, the camera greatly assisted in putting the audience member in the place of Katniss/the tributes.  There was a LOT of hand-held camera work. To the point that I got a bit dizzy at times, especially at the Cornucopia blood bath, and Katniss's fight with Clove. This put us in the games, added to the confusion of who was killed, where, and when, and often gave us Katniss's view as she ran through the woods, or even Rue's view as her vision turned to white in the woods and she passed away.

Supporting Cast: Ooo phenomenal. Particularly Elizabeth Banks who I think got some of the best lines of the film and illustrated really good comedic timing. Plus, she got the best outfits. And I will love Stanley Tucci in nearly anything he ever does. He was a perfect choice for Caesar Flickerman. The hair, the over the top smile, the supportive and encouraging interview style-- it read well on the page, and was performed well on screen. It gives him a role as an entertainment personality, but then you remember it's for a battle to the death of children; someone so kind and welcoming is still ultimately supporting a society of fascism. I even didn't mind Lenny Kravitz. He's not the best actor, and his delivery was a smidge wooden, but he fit the part, I love the retention of just his gold eyeliner as his Capitol garb, and his sincerity works, although I think that's mostly due to Jennifer Lawrence's performance.

I really enjoyed how little the trailer gave away. We had quick flashes to the characters of Cato, Rue, etc. but with none of the expansion of their role in the story. We got to get to know them organically and naturally through the film.  Rue in the nets on the ceiling of the training center, Thresh laughing with her, Cato stirring up trouble and being a bully from the very beginning, and Clove's deadly knives and deadly attitude. It was nice to have all of that revealed for the first time via the film, and not have all revealed in the trailer.

Jennifer Lawrence: How have I not mentioned her yet? She's brilliant. I think her performance was spot on; anger, confusion, frustration, quick-temper but also resourceful, loving, loyal and calculating. She added a gravitas to the film, and a sophistication to the role that is needed for the character. It's not a frivolous one; there are a lot of layers-- Katniss embodies SO much, even though she doesn't realize it, she does. She is freedom, defiance, rebellion etc. She doesn't embrace these desciptors nor does she consciously act on them-- everything she does is from her own motivations, not political ones. However she needs to be able to also become a symbol; we need to see what the other citizens of Panem see-- The Mockingjay, and the embodiment of the hope needed to overcome the regime.

Plus I want her boots, her hair, and her kick-ass nature...

The Love Story (stories): There was also very little of the love story (stories) explored in the trailer. We got to have that drama introduced during the film.

I have to say I wasn't over thrilled by the love story of Katniss and Peeta in the film as I said above. I've never been overly focused on the relationships; I'm not Team Peeta or Team Gale, I'm team Katniss. She rules, and why does a main focus of the story have to be her choice of man? However, I still have enough cheesy teenage girl in me that I loved the flutter of love, and crushed on Peeta throughout the three books.  For the film, however, I was initially somewhat disappointed by Peeta, I didn't believe his love for Katniss, there wasn't enough kissing, the sincerity of the attraction wasn't convincing, but I like the relationship so well from the book I can't help but still be crushing on Josh, purely because he embodies Peeta. It's a lot like the Twilight effect, as my friend Ashley pointed out. The script was rough, the performances a bit forced, but you want them to succeed so much because you too crushed on a sparkly vampire that you're willing to overlook the cheesy lines, the overly-delivered performances, and the crush perpetuates.

Hence why I can't stop looking at this:

Moments I loved:
"Thank you for your consideration"

"Loosen your corset, and have a drink."

"He made you look desirable, sweetheart..."

Katniss's anger at Peeta after the Caeser interview and her slamming him into the wall-- great performance, great emotion, and good apology later.

As Ashley said, "Holy tracker jacker jesus...." great scene

The cut to the Gamemakers right after Katniss and Peeta put the medicine on each other; it's a lovely moment, and they cut immediately to the Gamemakers who are in a trance; rapt attention whilst watching this moment with the rest of Panem. It's as if they've captured the Gamemakers, putting the power into Katniss and Peeta's hands.

The rebellion scene in District 11; I found it even more emotional than Rue's immediate death because you could see the effect of the games... and recognize the pain they all feel, but are generally unable to show due to The Capitol's wrath.

Things I missed:
The inner dialogue of Katniss. It wouldn't have worked on film; I acknowledge this, but it was hard to attribute just how calculating and bright Katniss is when you only have visuals to work with. They did a great job showing the extended hunting scene in the beginning; figuring out the wind was blowing her scent to the deer, her skill with a bow, her strength of character taking care of her family... that was a lot of exposition and character development accomplished visually, but I still did miss the inner dialogue and the discussion we had access to as readers.

Katniss screaming Peeta's name the second that they announce partners are allowed. I loved that moment in the book; her complete abandonment of safety, and an honest reaction that gives the reader (and would have given the viewer) a hint as to her potential affection for Peeta.

Right... surely that's enough for now... I'll keep mulling stuff over, I see a scene-analysis in my future, and I know I had some questions from my Hunger Games trailer analysis post that I'll get to answering as well, but this should be enough to be getting on with. I welcome any and all comments!

I'm lecturing at Arcadia University tomorrow, then flying back to Wales tomorrow night and will have a few days of relaxation in my cottage in the valley, with thesis-writing, script-reading, pony-patting, and Peeta-dreaming.

Happy Hunger Games!

The cast all sorts of healthy and happy... and clean, from their Vanity Fair photo shoot!

which looks suspiciously like the Twilight shoot from awhile ago...