Episode 143 – Battle Royal vs. Hunger Games

March 31, 2012

Click to listen to Hunger Games podcast

This week we talk about the new Hunger Games movie and the twelve year old Japanese film it’s often compared to, Battle Royale. Clearly not having read the books, weeaboos have been deriding Hunger Games as a rip-off since the movie marketing hit fill stride. It’s an asinine statement and this IGN article explains why quite nicely. That doesn’t mean the Hunger Games, fantastic book as it is, is a good movie though.

Hungry for Hunger Games

Since the first rumours of a film version of Suzzane Collins‘ book The Hunger Games surfaced, I was both excited and concerned. Excited since in the post-Harry Potter world the prospect of a series of sci-fi/fantasy young adult novels getting reasonably faithful, big-budget film adaptations was a possibility. I was simultaneously concerned because in the post-Twilight world, the expectation Hollywood would would cock-it-up for the tweenest common denominator was just as much of a possibility.

One could speculate that the monumental success of the mary-sue vampire franchise is exactly what made The Hunger Games such a success. Without even consciously trying, it positioned itself as a quazi-fem-lit alternative to Twilight. As much of a love-drunk doormat as Bella Swan is, Katniss Everdeen is just as much a strong, crafty, self-possessed girl who is neither an androgynous butch nor a wilting wallflower.

So with both Hermione Granger and Bella Swan as precedents, there were two ways Hollywood could have taken Katniss Everdeen off of the page and onto celluloid (or whatever medium movie theatres use these days). It shouldn’t take three guesses to figure out where they took her.

But you’re wrong. They didn’t sell her out completely and have her curl up in a fetal position waiting for Peeta to rescue her. Almost worse, they split the difference. Jennifer Lawrence plays Katniss as… well, as nothing at all.

The real, or not real, Katniss?

In the book I read Katniss to be similar to another young heroine of popular fiction, Lisbeth Salander. Not so far along on the autism scale, but with a similarly insular, anti-social prickliness. Katniss is respected, but not particularly liked except by a few select people. She’s attractive, but in an unaware, chilly, aloof and tom-boyish way.

katniss everdeen

The producers made damn sure Lawrence is full of glowing feminine warmth tempered with only a calculated amount of endearing awkwardness. It’s the kind of “America’s sweetheart” role you’d have expected someone like Miley Cyrus to be cast in or perhaps Linsday Lohan circa Mean Girls. She’s so darn likable Woody Harrelson (as Haymitch) has to outright tell the audience that she’s unlikable. Up to this point she’s been cute, polite, brave, caring, capable and self-sacrificing. Maybe in Hollywood those are all qualities which are detestable in a human being.

I won’t fault Lawrence for not bringing the engaging edginess of Katniss to the role, I’m sure it was sanded and buffed off by the producers and marketing department. As they did with every other aspect of what makes Hunger Games interesting. I don’t think it would be appropriate to say they “castrated” Katniss Everdeen, but they gave the whole film a hysterectomy.

Hunger Games is in fact the Hunger Games

If you take one thing away from the book, its a message of how media desensitizes our empathy and controls the population with carefully crafted narratives that serve to strengthen certain attitudes and mores. Much like the Games are a tool by which the Capitol maintains a system of class disparity, TV shows have traditionally been designed to put viewers in a suitably consumerist state of mind in order to be optimally receptive to suggestion during the next commercial. Whether by malicious design or mere happenstance, commercial media has been a tool for controlling the population for nearly a century now.

So It’s only natural that the powers that be in Hollywood wouldn’t want to highlight this theme. Undoubtedly there’s warehouses full of Hunger Games swag just waiting to be unloaded on a Katniss-crazy population. It wouldn’t do to see the real Katniss, so we’re shown the Katniss the people in the Capitol got to see. The Hunger Games film has essentially been turned into our own Hunger Games.

Glossed over are the parallels between Panem and our own society in favour of a twilit version of the love story and a lot of shaky-cam action sequences. This might not have been such an issue except that the way Katniss manipulates the media manipulators by maipulating their own manipulations to survive the games IS THE WHOLE STORY.

The very core of what made Katniss and interesting, engaging character on the page is effectively removed from the film. And since Katniss pretty much makes The Hunger Games what it is, you could argue they’ve removed The Hunger Games (the book) from Hunger Games (the movie) leaving only a gladiatorial spectacle to entertain the masses.

But if I hadn’t read the The Hunger Games, I’d probably think it’s a good movie, right?

Probably not.

In CHUD.com‘s review Nick Nunziata points out, “Katniss almost never is given a chance to do anything good as characters come in from out of nowhere to give her the key to whatever needs to get her out of the pickle she’s in, balloons with gifts from the real world deliver an ingredient she needs, or worst yet a character saves her skin just before she’s killed or takes the fatal shot themselves. It’s lazy.

What is great about this review is Nunziata has clearly not read the books so he’s is able to see just what a mess the film is without rose-tinted glasses or the luxury of knowing what the hell is actually going on. In the books Katniss isn’t saved by “luck”, she has to work for those balloons. It’s clear she’s horribly outmatched and isn’t going to survive based on her one skill (archery) alone. It’s true, in the film she appears to pretty much just hide in a tree and let the Games roll over her.

Nunziata goes on to say, “A lot of how much an individual enjoys this film depends on how much of this world they’re willing to buy. Accepting that a populace is this willing to be held in sway by such a ludicrous peace solution. Believing that kids killing kids for televised entertainment would be even possible.

Another good point since the premise seems patently absurd in the film. The citizens of the Capitol come off as merely bloodthirsty ghouls but that’s not how they’re portrayed in the book. On the page, the people of the Capitol have become so entrenched in their class system that they can’t even see how unjust the Games are. They honestly believe the tributes are heroes and that the Games are a generous opportunity for the poorer districts to obtain more food rations.

The Capitol citizens’ disconnect from the reality of the situation chillingly mirrors our own disconnect with less fortunate demographics within our countries and those further abroad, such as African nations. Like all great Sci-Fi, Collins created an allegorical tale of the future that casts a critical eye on contemporary society. The book satirizes everything from reality TV to professional sports to the disparity between 1 and 99 percenters. It’s subtle, subversive, and hard-hitting. But, though it’s alluded to and flirted with (at least they kept President Snow‘s monologue on “hope” in), the message effectively lost from the film.

As I said before, all that’s left is a shallow gladiatorial spectacle to keep the masses entertained.


Episode 142 – LEGO

March 27, 2012

Click to listen to LEGO podcast

 

LEGO: The Building Blocks of Our Society?

In nostalgic conversations about childhood, one of the only toys almost everyone agrees on is LEGO. Appealing to a common creative node in our brains, since the 1950s boys and girls have embraced the brightly coloured gender-neutral building blocks. Well, until about the turn of the century anyway when LEGO suddenly became “for boys only”.

Of course, it wasn’t sudden if you were paying attention to the LEGO shelves in the big corporate toy stores. Slowly the service station and farm sets made way for yet another Star Wars set. Then BioniclePirates of the Carribean and Harry Potter started taking up the lion’s share of space. Plain old regular LEGO even found itself making way for surprisingly violent non-franchise lines such as Ninjago, Dino, Alien Conquest, Kingdoms, Racers, and even City which is like more traditional LEGO sets but an extreme version populated exclusively with cops and firemen.

Young Boys’ Club

Just take a look at the screen capture (below) of the LEGO website and see how “boy-centric” LEGO has become. You have to scroll down just to see “Bricks and More” (which is the completely underwhelming name for “starter sets”).

Click to embiggen

Click to see full product line

Now, of course there are plenty of girls out there who would love to play with Pharaoh’s Quest, DC Universe Superheroes, or Technic, but there’s plenty more suburban moms fully-indoctrinated into stereotypical gender roles who would never buy them these sets.

So what at first seemed like the pointless and backwards move on LEGO’s part, there might actually be a need for the new “girl-centric” Friends line. There’s absolutley no way merchandisers were going to ever be able to get stores to give up Star Wars shelf space for boring old basic sets. LEGO needed to make a splash. They needed to produce something for the media to get excited about; for people to get angry and blog about. Something blatantly, sexistly pink.

Making Friends

Unfortunately, it seems like instead of bringing girls and boys together they’ve seemingly segregated them by creating a more Bratz-like alternative to the iconic Minifigs. They’re making it easy for the suburbanites by saying “This is not Little Johnny’s LEGO, this is something completely different.

Not that kids ultimately abide these toy segregations, I remember seeing Han Solo having tea in a Littlest Pet Shop somewhere.

But it’s still unfortunate LEGO has wedged a separator-tool in between the “boy” and “girl” bricks because when we had a chance to see them in action at the mall a few weeks ago, they’re actually far better than the franchise-oriented sets they’ve been producing for the last decade or so.

As much as it pains me to say it but—with a return to a more basic style of set—Friends is better geared towards the open-ended creativity that always made LEGO great. It’s something that’s been missing from the franchise sets. The problem with Star Wars LEGO or the DC sets is by their very nature you can only build things from those franchises.

Creativity UnBound

A couple of years ago I tried to play with my (pretty vast) collection of Star Wars LEGO and soon became bored. I didn’t want to make Star Wars vehicles, I wanted to just create something. I couldn’t. By the very nature of the pieces everything ended up Star Wars.

I remembered that as a kid, before there even were Star Wars sets, it was so much more fun trying to make an X-wing out of regular old LEGO. Maybe it was yellow and blue and the X-foils didn’t collapse, but  it was a rewarding creative experience

Watching the kids play with Friends at the tables, I could tell those bricks had the same creative potential. Though whatever you made was going to be a gaudy pastel shade, you could build anything you wanted—a hair salon or an armored riot-control vehicle.

Let the Pieces Fall Where they May

What is sad is that boys are going to be the ones losing out here. They’re going to be stuck with their restrictive, uncreative Ninjago sets while girls are learning to make connections with their minds. Hopefully those suburban moms and dads will be able to suppress their homophobia long enough to let Little Johnny play with his sister’s new Friends.

LEGO Grand Theft Auto

Some of Jakob’s student work from graphic design school, circa 2003.


Episode 141: Social Media Gaming

March 13, 2012

Social Media Gaming Sims Social Angry Birds Farmville Triple Town

Whether we admit to it or not, we’ve all, at some time, let a game attached to a social media website take over our lives.

It might just be for a short time, but once our dopamine receptors get wise to the triggers in problem solving games like Angry Birds and Triple Town, there’s no turning back.

Interestingly, games with absolutely no problem solving prove to be devilishly addictive. Sims Social on Facebook is one such game. Like the proper Sims games, it is an allegory for real life where you strive to complete empty tasks for empty achievements. For some reason we find this gratifying.

Eventually it feels a bit empty and you build a confinement room in your backyard near the well where you dump the bodies and quietly wait for the cops to show up.


Awesome Crazy Giant Dragons (search terms Feb)

March 1, 2012

Okay, so let’s just get this out of the way first. Apparently Kate Beckinsale’s ass is the most popular thing on the internet. Ever. I think it’s even giving “zombies” a run for their money. But then, zombies don’t run very fast.

underworld awakening kate beckinsale ass pictures: That is just the crest of a tidal wave of “underworld ass” searches (that one came in a whopping 36 times) this month. Here’s few of the better ones:

  • underworld selene ass (13x) — the silver medal winner.
  • kate beckinsale underworld ass (7x, plus 3x without the word “kate”)
  • underworld girl ass (4x)
  • underwirld girl ass — the above wasn’t always spelled correctly.
  • kate beckinsale underworld 4 butt ass (2x) — I think “butt-ass” is the new “butthead”.
  • kathryn beckinsale assthe more refined ass Googler uses the long form of her name.
  • underwold dat ass — for the more ghetto ass Googler.
  • underworld selene butt in tights
  • vampire kate beckinsale in lack leder sometimes these searches are educational “lack leder” is German for patent leather. I didn’t know that. Now I do.
  • underworld hot butt — this sounds to me like something you’d get at dim sum.
  • kate beckinsale ass pant underworld — actually, I think “asspant” is a better insult than “butt-ass”.
  • best selene underworld ass shots  — only the best.
  • best pictures of underworlds ass  — only the best pictures of Shane Brolly, plzthx.
  • underworld kate ass — For some reason “kate ass” sounds like a condition to me. Like shingles in your crack. “Blimey. Me old kate arse is kickin’ up ag’in like a sack o’ponies.”
  • underworld pic ass — I imagine the vinyl tights had Kate’s thong fully wedged in there and it needed to be picked out every night. Sexy.
  • underworld asspics when setting off on a long journey, make sure to pack some vampire butts in aspic. A hearty delicacy.
  • kate beckinsale underworld hot — more of a catch-all search, not limited to the butt region.

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