Highlights of 2015

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After a lengthy and unplanned, but personally productive hiatus (slogged through graduate school applications and played a LOT of Fallout), I am back to wrap up 2015 and put a bow on it. This year saw the release of a number of highly-anticipated games, films, books, and television shows as well as plenty of surprise hits and a few disappointments. As just one person with highly subjective opinions, I will not be attempting any kind of top ten list or ranking system. There are so many wonderful pieces of media out there that it would be absurd for me to even pretend I could evaluate them all. But I am a big fan of taking time to look back and wallow in nostalgia, so I decided to talk about some of my personal highlights of 2015 as they relate to nerd culture and this blog.

In no particular order, here were some of my favorite moments of the past year:

Master of None
While not sci-fi, fantasy, or fairytale, Aziz Ansari’s single-camera sitcom about the experience of Dev, an Indian American actor in New York City, has plenty to offer for film-nerds and pop culture connoisseurs. The cinematography and soundtrack call back to 1970s American films, and the scripts/dialogue take some cues from Richard Linklater (whom I love), but Aziz Ansari’s contemporary content, diverse casting, and willingness to address social issues help the show feel fresh. Each episode focuses on a different ‘topic’ ranging from family relationships to racism to sexism to long-term romantic relationships, and each except the last two are directed by a different person. The show is consistently funny throughout its first season and its surprising and somewhat risky finale only makes me more excited to see where it goes from here.

Life is Strange
Since this blog was inactive until midway through Life is Strange’s episodic release, I was only really able to talk about episode 5 here so far, and what I did say about it was highly critical. But this was easily my favorite game of 2015 if only because of the emotional impact it had on me. Although I’d played Remember Me, Dontnod and Life is Strange weren’t really on my radar in January, a friend recommended this game to me and I was immediately hooked. The sci-fi premise, artistically rendered environments, and well-curated soundtrack drew me in but it was the authenticity of the Chloe and Max, and the nuanced performances by their voice actors Ashly Burch and Hannah Telle, that kept me hooked. While the pacing, puzzles, and dialogue missed the mark at times, moments like breaking into the school and going for a swim with Chloe or playing detective in her room were a pleasure to play. For all its eccentricities and missteps, Life is Strange was one of the most compelling games of 2015, as its passionate fans who spent months speculating, theorizing, and creating art and follow-up projects can attest to.

SXSW Gaming Expo
This was my second year attending the SXSW Gaming Expo in Austin and it was just as entertaining and content-packed this time as in 2014. The indie game corner is my favorite portion, but the panels were interesting and the table-top area is really fun; they’ll teach you games like Magic the Gathering if you’re a first-timer or you can play competitively if you’re experienced. You can try Oculus Rift/VR if you haven’t had a chance, and explore exhibits of older game and computer technology. I almost didn’t want to mention the event here since it is one of the only Austin-based festival activities that isn’t horrendously crowded, one of the coolest conferences/expos/game things I’ve attended, and totally free, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge it as one of my favorite parts of 2015. Plus, in case I haven’t mentioned it 12,000 times, I met Felicia Day!!!

The Martian
I have not read Andy Weir’s novel of the same name, and took my sweet time to see this movie, but I am so glad I did. I was less than impressed by both Interstellar and Gravity, but this film has earned a place in my list of favorite space movies. While the decision to cast non-asian actors in the roles of Vincent Kapoor and Mindy Park was very disappointing to me, and the tale of the sympathetic white man who the world saves/who saves the world has certainly already been told, The Martian was an engaging story with a diverse cast that emphasized the power of humanity to come together and use our knowledge and compassion to address incredibly complex issues, and that was something I appreciated. Rather than feeling dumbed down, sensationalized, or derailed by seemingly shoe-horned romances (although it does contain one of these), the film felt like it trusted and respected its audience. And Jessica Chastain as Commander Lewis is probably as close as I’ll ever get to seeing FemShep on the big screen.

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens
Speaking of space movies, the latest installment in the Star Wars saga was quite a satisfying one. While talking with people about this film before its release, I got the feeling that each of us was holding our breath, hoping that we wouldn’t be disappointed. Upon leaving the theater after watching the movie, I imagined a collective sigh of relief as we all realized J. J. Abrams actually did a really great job of rooting this film in the Star Wars tradition while opening up room for new chapters of the story to unfold. Nothing about the movie particularly surprised me, from the climactic battle to the binary of good and evil to who lived and who died, but it was quite refreshing to see beneath the Storm Trooper helmet to a black man, and to watch a woman inherit the Jedi legacy. I’m really looking forward to seeing where the story heads, and now that we’ve established that Star Wars can handle sequels and we can handle them, to the surprises I hope Episodes VIII and IX will bring.

And of course, I haven’t even mentioned the indie PC game Her Story (which I’ve written about pretty extensively on this blog), the choice-based horror for PS4 Until Dawn, the lovely Adventure Time mini-series Stakes, or the countless other 2015 productions that deserve a place on a highlights list.

There are also quite a few things from this year that I haven’t gotten to check out yet and am really looking forward to, like:

  • Tales from the Borderlands
  • Rise of the Tomb Raider
  • Assassin’s Creed Syndicate
  • It Follows
  • Carol
  • Sicario
  • Orphan Black Season 3

While I’d say we’re ending 2015 on quite a high note, I have a lot of catching up to do without even beginning to touch on all that next year will bring, so don’t be surprised if things stay a little quiet around here through the winter. The blog remains a priority of mine and I hope you guys will stick around as we continue reading, playing, and watching in 2016.

As always, thanks for reading! Your comments are welcome below. Happy holidays!

Review: Life is Strange Episode 5

Warning: this is a detailed and spoilerrific review of the finale of Life is Strange, so if you haven’t played the game yet, get outta here!

With Episode 5: Polarized, Dontnod has brought Max Caulfield’s time-traveling adventures to a close. Polarized runs a bit shorter than the other episodes, at only about two and a half hours of gameplay, which lines up with the fewer opportunities for exploration and branching dialogue it offers.

The episode opens with Max trapped in a storm bunker turned photo studio with her teacher Mr. Jefferson, a much darker beginning than in any other installment. As she regains consciousness, the player can look around and examine nearby items, eventually realizing that Max’s classmate Victoria is also tied up nearby.

But this is where gameplay diverges from previous episodes. Where, in previous episodes Max can explore the environment before moving on, Polarized gives you a single option: photo-travel out of here and leave Victoria in the horrific dark room/torture chamber. This narrative device is frustrating as it conflicts with opportunities Max has in this episode and others to aid other characters in danger.

Life-is-Strange-finale-review

Instead of grabbing Victoria and getting the hell out of that bunker, the developers give Max one choice: travel back a few hours to a drug-induced photo shoot. While a convenient progression for exposition’s sake, her jumping back and forth through photos of herself doesn’t allow for any exploration or organic discovery by the player.

In fact, it leads primarily to lots of talking, and unfortunately Jefferson’s initial expository monologue comes off as cheesy and out-of-character, playing off of stereotypes of mentally ill villains even though Jefferson claims later that he is totally sane and his clear-headed planning seems to reflect that. His speeches also play into the trope where the villain explains his reasoning to his victim in great detail.

Rather than showing us, the game wants to tell us what’s going on. These issues in the first minutes of gameplay reflect concerns many fans and critics alike have raised about the episode as a whole: that the cliche story elements and changes in play mechanics in the last episode do not do justice to the unique, ground-breaking game.

everyday heroes

In many scenes the player must move Max through motions that feel pointless at best and counter-productive at worst. Walking through a San Francisco gallery talking with artists has no urgency when all the characters and locations the player cares about are back in Arcadia Bay, yet shmooze we must if we want to progress in the story. Saving characters from harm on the way to Two Whales lacks meaning when Max plans to time travel away from that moment immediately after, yet the choices are reflected in the post-credits statistics.

The episode also spends a significant amount of its running time reminding the player of conversations and interactions Max has had in previous episodes. Audio is frequently re-used, but entire scenes from the game reappear as well, as in the maze sequence when Max relives every major moment she shared with Chloe.

That particular nostalgic slideshow provides much-needed relief from the trippy and disturbing mental odyssey Max has just been on, during which we see some of the most creative material of the last episode. The creepy classroom, entirely backwards scene, and endless hallway are all surprising and delightfully innovative yet emotionally difficult moments leading up to the climax of the game.

nosebleed

During that climax, Max finds herself at the lighthouse with Chloe once again and is confronted with her final choice. Max herself becomes convinced that the tornado is her fault and Chloe seems to agree, giving her an ultimatum of sorts: travel back to the start of it all to let Chloe die, or save Chloe and let the tornado ravage Arcadia Bay.

Understandably, this has not been a popular ending choice with everyone. In each episode, one of the game’s objectives (if not the central objective) has been saving Chloe. She’s the character players know the best besides Max, and even moments before this conversation, Max tells Chloe she is ‘all that matters.’ Letting her die just feels a little off, even if it is for a theoretical greater good.

For players who chose to pursue the romance between Chloe and Max, this conclusion also reinforces tropes around queer relationships in media like the Bury Your Gays trope, where the relationship ends in death for one or both people involved. Life is Strange has consistently received mixed reactions regarding its representation (or lack thereof) of queerness. While the end scene does confirm their relationship, it also leads to death regardless of Max’s choice.

max chloe tornado

Beyond that, when an ending choice is presented in a choice-based game, especially when it fundamentally changes the universe of the game or kills a majority of the game characters, many feel that it takes meaning away from previous player decisions. This is a challenge faced not just by Dontnod, but by the entire genre. Mass Effect 3 is infamous for its end choices, and Telltale is often taken to task for not integrating player’s choices into the closings of their games.

Dontnod undoubtedly faced obstacles wrapping up their story: they’re a small studio with a limited budget and a 6 – 8 week episode release timeline. Even though they took about twice that long on Polarized, Life is Strange’s gorgeous art style, intricate world-building, and unique characters deserved more time, space, and nuance than the episodic format afforded them.

This isn’t the first time I’ve wanted Dontnod to give a project more room to blossom–Remember Me’s beautifully designed world and intriguing story were held back by frustrating game mechanics and similar budget constraints. It feels safe to say that small studios like Dontnod deserve more freedom and financial support, that nuanced subject matter like that of Life is Strange should be treated with the utmost respect, and that choice-based games should not be shackled to the five episode arc if they have a greater story to tell.

It’s also probably safe to say that trusting our French friends to give us a happy ending is usually a mistake.

life is strange tornado

Thanks for reading! As always, your input is welcome in the comments.

Review: King’s Quest A Knight to Remember

While not an original King’s Quest adventurer, when I heard about the episodic King’s Quest reboot The Odd Gentlemen was working on, I knew immediately that I wanted to play it. A fantasy adventure game with beautiful graphics and a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor that is short enough I can play an episode in a night? That’s a pretty easy sell for me.

Set in the kingdom of Daventry, the game follows King’s Quest’s original protagonist Graham on his quest to become a knight and eventually king. Framing the story, we hear the elderly Graham telling his granddaughter Gwendolyn stories of his youth, a fitting homage to the similarly sharp-witted film The Princess Bride.

The game also shares an actor with the film–Wallace Shawn, who played Vizzini in The Princess Bride movie and video game–but features plenty of other celebrity voices as well. Christopher Lloyd plays old Graham, while Josh Keaton gives a charming performance as his young counterpart. While Gwendolyn’s young actor Maggie Elizabeth Jones and the voice of the blacksmith Zelda Wiliams both sounded wooden to me at times, Loretta Divine and Kevin Michael Richardson each had me laughing out loud due to their excellent delivery.

Source: Sierra Entertainment

Source: Sierra Entertainment

Speaking of laughing, this game is full of puns, contributing to its goofy tone. Don’t let the game fool you though: this story is dark at times and does not shy away from heavy themes of violence and death. Even with its irreverence (or maybe because of it), gameplay showed traces of Crash Bandicoot and other games I played as a kid. Without being a KQ veteran, I still felt properly nostalgic.

The graphics are contemporary and beautiful, despite clipping in any scene involving cape animation, and the elements of choice The Odd Gentlemen built in will feel familiar to fans of Fable or Telltale adventure games. While there is no tutorial or run down of lore, the world-building is solid and I didn’t feel confused by the game mechanics.

The design and controls are fairly intuitive, and the first quest is straight-forward enough that learning as you go is actually enjoyable. (Of course, for those who do feel lost, Polygon published a great rundown of the series to date.) With all of these elements working in its favor, it’s hard to be mad at A Knight to Remember for what it gets wrong, but it does make a few missteps.

Source: Sierra Entertainment

Source: Sierra Entertainment

Unskippable dialogue you hear every time you die or re-enter an area grates on your nerves after a while, and with no map, fast-travel, or reload mechanics, sometimes even the simplest puzzle takes a long time as you traipse back and forth across Daventry. It’s also hard to tell whether any choices you make in the game aside from your dialogue with Gwendolyn actually influences her actions, but I suppose that’s something only time will tell.

Overall, King’s Quest’s gorgeous and richly detailed graphics, strong voice performances, attention to world-building, and silly but sincere story make it worth a play, even if it isn’t quite sure where to challenge the player and where to make something like getting around a little easier. I look forward to its future installments, especially if any of them require playing as Gwendolyn.

Did you play the original Sierra Quest games? What did you think of the reboot? Let me know in the comments!

Review: You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost)

With the dawn of the internet, a new school of celebrity has risen, and many of the most popular personalities you’ve never heard of do most or all of their work on YouTube. One of these people is Felicia Day, an actress, writer, producer, and self-identified ‘situationally famous’ nerd. In her new memoir, Day writes about being home-schooled, her college career as a violin and math prodigy, her prolific commercial acting career, and the rise of her internet fame beginning with her webseries The Guild.

youreneverweird

Day’s goofy tone translates well from screen to page and it’s fun to see behind the curtain of her online empire. I am often skeptical of celebrities obsessed with reminding us that “they’re just like us” but with access to much more money, power, and influence. I understand why it’s become a marketing technique for young stars, especially women like Jennifer Lawrence, Anna Kendrick, or Taylor Swift who are often criticized by fellow women attempting to distance themselves from the stereotypically feminine.

But all the reminders that they eat pizza and stay up late watching Netflix can become disingenuous, and Day ventures into this territory in the opening of her book, which evolved from speeches she wrote about her YouTube channel Geek & Sundry. She establishes who she is and why she’s writing a memoir in the first place, convincing those perusing the opening pages in Barnes & Noble or on Amazon to buy the book, which is good business but can be disorienting for those self-identified geeks opening their pre-ordered, signed copy.

My skepticism faded, however, as Day pushed past self-deprecating humor and delved into her her experiences with self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and physical illnesses. For fans who had no clue she was struggling, her honesty about these issues and how they affect her creative work is both surprising and empowering. Mental health issues are rarely addressed by public figures with such candor, even by younger celebrities who spend more time on social media with their fans.

The depth and vulnerability in the later chapters of the book is not consistent throughout, however, and there are certain events well-known by her fans that are conspicuously absent from the timeline she lays out, like her work on Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and other successes that pre-date/co-occur with the success of The Guild. Those holes are easy enough to fill with Wikipedia pages, but do add to the impression early-on that she’s maintaining a persona through her book.

Her gratitude towards her fans and fellow nerds, however, and her continued passion about her work shine through and make reading her memoir a pleasure. She also puts a face and set of personal experiences to an idea that I think many nerds hold dear to their heart: what happens online is just as ‘real’ as what happens away from our computers. While certain virtual experiences of hers (like her gaming addiction) negatively affected her life, her connection to gaming provided relationships and growth that shaped her as a person and allowed her to create projects that others relate to, like The Guild.

the guild

In turn, this connected her to more and more people, fans and industry folks alike, allowing her to continue carving space for nuanced female characters and more complex analysis of online life in pop culture. Day’s frustrations with the stereotypes faced by women working in entertainment or participating in nerd culture, while not the first of their kind, add meaning to the roles she’s written and helped in creating. She also touches on how fame and other people’s expectations can devastate the creative process, and how Gamergate affected her personal and professional lives.

Looking forward, it would be great to see Day talk more about race, sexual orientation, ability, and diversity in the geek world in her future writing and public speaking. The ‘democratic’ nature of the internet and of nerd culture is often explored in terms of representation of white women in media and gaming circles, rather than other areas of inequality. Since Day has taken stances against bullying and for embracing your ‘weird,’ using her voice to amplify the complexities of that issue and her channel to host content by nerds of all identities and backgrounds would be both refreshing and ground-breaking.

But this book, while about fairly unusual experiences, focuses on the delight we feel when we find something we’re passionate about as well as the contributions the highs and lows of our lives make to our identity and our work. That’s something everyone can identify with in some way, and makes it a worthwhile read for ‘nerds’ of all types…and the embarrassing childhood photos of Day scattered throughout don’t hurt either.

What did you think of You’re Never Weird on the Internet? How would you title your memoir? Let me know in the comments!

Review: GTFO The Movie

I’d been intrigued by GTFO: The Movie, Shannon Sun-Higginson’s indie documentary about sexist harassment in gaming culture, since I learned about it at South by Southwest in March of 2015. Of course, I didn’t sell my soul for a SXSW film festival pass, so I wasn’t able to catch it when it was in town, but it finally went up on Vimeo, iTunes, and the like and now that I’ve seen it I can say with confidence that it was worth the wait. As a woman who plays video games, it didn’t necessarily tell me something I couldn’t have imagined or guessed at before, but it built the perfect spring-board for a continued conversation about misogyny, media, and society.

 

In the film, journalist and gamer Maddy Myers, Dragon Age writer Jennifer Brandes Hepler, activist and cultural critic Anita Sarkeesian, and an array of other women from the gaming world shared how they fit into it and when things went terribly wrong for each of them (i.e. online harassment, discrimination, and even rape and death threats). While the women themselves often told their stories with a wry smile, seeing and hearing the explicit, horrific messages sent their way was incredibly uncomfortable and scary. But that’s not the sole focus of the film. The movie examined several aspects of the game industry including marketing, character-design, multi-player online games, and competitive gaming. It also delved in-depth into two major events in recent gaming history: Capcom’s reality show Cross Assault, and the #Gamergate controversy (the latter of which seemed like a last-minute addition, but more on that later).

source: Shannon Sun-Hugginson / GTFO The Movie

source: Shannon Sun-Hugginson / GTFO The Movie

The film touched on a lot of things I myself think about on an almost daily basis, like what it means to make gaming an integral part of your identity or how to go about changing a toxic culture. What I really appreciated about it, though, was that it broke down a few stereotypes about gaming along the way, including:

If You Play Your Cards Right, You’re Safe

People often believe that the only gamers being harassed are the women who ‘flaunt’ their gender or otherwise invite criticism. But I think Todd Harper, author of The Culture of Digital Fighting Games and another voice in the film, said it best when describing Miranda Pakozdi’s reaction to her time on Cross Assault. He believes women who play games are given two unappealing choices: they either don’t point out the harassment they/their peers experience in order to protect themselves and to continue doing something they love, or they speak up and at best, receive backlash, but at worst, are isolated from their own community. There’s really no ‘safe’ option for girl gamers.

Harassment Comes From Anonymity

Again, the film’s examination of Cross Assault does a great job of debunking this myth. The fact that Aris Bakhtanians felt comfortable touching, smelling, ogleing, and heckling Miranda on camera and telling a reporter point blank that “sexual harassment is part of [fighting game] culture” shows that anonymity is not what produces this behavior. Rather, it’s a set of beliefs. Of course Aris, and the folks involved in Gamergate, are not the only people whose actions and attitudes are harmful to women, and these beliefs didn’t appear out of thin air. Which brings me to the last, and in my opinion, most important point…

Gaming is More Sexist Than X

Many people outside of the gaming community perceive the video game industry to be somehow more misogynistic or more toxic than the rest of the world, or to be at fault for sexist behavior. But as Harper and Sarkeesian point out, gaming doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s a form of media just like television, film, or music and it reflects the same attitudes we carry into all aspects of our day-to-day lives. That the rest of society seems eager to look to games as a cause of misogyny, or to call it out without examining other media, is willfully short-sighted and a point of contention among many gamers.

While the film isn’t exactly polished – shots are reused, quality varies from scene to scene, and the Gamergate montage was clearly added after the rightful end of the film, delivering a somewhat jarring/dissatisfying close – the ideas it explores are integral to the understanding of gaming culture and how it fits into the greater context and history of sexism; the animation and score are enjoyable; and director Shannon Sun-Higginson rightly continues the conversation online.

Have you watched the movie? What were your thoughts? Share them below, or find out where you can watch here.

 

Review: Game of Thrones Season 5

source: HBO

Warning: If being elbows deep in an Orange is the New Black marathon prevented you from watching the finale, you may want to click away for now. This review contains spoilers for all episodes of the Game of Thrones television show.

Disclaimer: I have not read the books…yet.

The fifth season of Game of Thrones had its final episode Sunday night and, if you were hoping for an action-packed finale, I’m willing to bet you weren’t disappointed. ‘Mother’s Mercy’ flitted from character to character, spending only a few minutes with each as dangling plot points were wrapped up and new storylines were set in motion.

Considering the number of plots David Benioff and Dan Weiss (D&D for short) were juggling this season, the change of pace is no surprise, but it is a departure from the show’s structure to date, which packed its most shocking moments in the 9th episode of each season. (See: Ned’s betrayal, the Red Wedding, the Purple Wedding, Oberyn v The Mountain – episode 9 has historically been no joke!)

Apart from some exposition in Meereen, every scene in the finale contained a substantial turn of events, which encapsulates what I believe was both the greatest strength of this season and it’s biggest weakness. Season 5 featured a few of the most shocking scenes to-date, but at the expense of the things that make the story a stand-out in the fantasy genre: dialogue and character-building.

One of my favorite parts of this season was that finally, after a whole lotta talk, winter came. The characters were constantly talking about the White Walkers for the first four seasons, but aside from Sam and Jon’s run-ins, the wintry zombies hadn’t done much of anything. And then episode 8 gave us one of the best ‘come at me bro’ moments of television history.

But…what happened before that?

Not a lot. Most of the season’s issues were resolved within a few episodes, albeit with violence and death as is the Game of Thrones way. The moment between Stannis and Shyreen in episode 4 feels like a cheap set up for her horrific death in episode 9, and the third infamous rape scene of the show didn’t really move anything forward at all. Dany’s marriage lasts all of a few weeks and D&D even introduce an instant fan favorite just to kill her in the same episode.

Subplots like the Sand Snakes and the Faceless Men drag until the final episode, and even then Myrcella’s death by poison feels somehow less impactful than Joffrey’s, while what happened to Arya isn’t clear. Of course, with so many characters in one story, it’s impossible to showcase everyone’s faves in each episode, much less be exciting and meaningful 100% of the time. But really, was Brienne just staring at that tower window for an entire season?

The thing Game of Thrones does best is skillful, unexpected character pairings: Arya and The Hound, Sansa and Tyrion, Olenna and Littlefinger. Once an odd couple is established, their adventures together allow both characters to grow and give the audience further insight into their personalities. Yet despite Tyrion teaming up with Jorah or Sansa marrying Ramsay, this season felt particularly bereft of a Jaime and Brienne in the bathhouse type of scene.

Of course, D&D did set up some great pairings for the coming season. One of the highlights of the finale was Theon and Sansa jumping from the wall of Winterfell, and whether/how they escape Ramsay will be interesting to say the least.

I’m also looking forward to Tyrion and Grey Worm working together to run Meereen, and think Lady Melissandre must have returned to the Wall for a reason. I can only hope our beautiful cinnamon roll Jon Snow will be subject to some Lord of Light action a la Beric in Season 3.

As the show has caught up with and branched off from the books, new possibilities have opened up for Game of Thrones that have both readers and show viewers eager to see what happens next.

While this season never quite found its legs, the finale still packed an emotional punch and I’m excited to see whether D&D can continue to hold their own as they tell their story in tandem with George R. R. Martin’s. I hope they’ll recapture some of what made the first few seasons great.

What did you think of this season? Who is really dead? Share your thoughts in the comments, but please tag book spoilers and leaks from future seasons.

Review: Catching Fire

Warning: This review contains spoilers for the book series and the movie series The Hunger Games.

I just saw The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and I can’t stop thinking about it. While it got better reviews and had a much larger production value than the first film, it didn’t get me quite as excited as the first movie did, and here’s why. First of all, it is the 2nd book/movie in a trilogy, meaning it is a stepping stone from beginning to end, made up primarily of exposition. (Don’t get me started on the fact that their splitting the last book into two films–ASFDGHJKL;WPOJN!!!) I think my biggest problem, however, is that the book is told from the first person point of view, while the movies are told from the third person point of view, switching between limited and omniscient perspectives.

In the films, we usually see things from Katniss’ POV, but sometimes we see President Snow, a rebelling district, or the gamemakers when there is no way Katniss is seeing them (i.e. when she is in Victor’s Village, in the arena, etc.). This difference in perspective doesn’t have to be a bad thing. After all, it’s really hard to do a big blockbuster film from first person, and if your script and actors can’t convey the subtleties of someone’s inner thoughts, you end up having cheesy voice overs like in Twilight. Unfortunately, I think the change in Catching Fire ends up sucking much of the nuance out of the story.

The use of the fictional pregnancy as a ploy is totally brushed over in the movie, while in the second book it is a big reason that Katniss and Peeta both survive. The love triangle is also seriously exaggerated; Katniss doesn’t know how she feels about Peeta or Gale in the books and, while her uncertainty and lack of awareness was sometimes frustrating for me, it made sense considering she was in constant danger of dying/being asked to kill her peers. If I was trying to save my ass from getting stabbed 24/7, I wouldn’t spend much time thinking about cuties either. In the movies, however, we lose some of that depth, especially in the relationship between Peeta and Katniss.

Credit: brightandwild, Source: deviantart.com

Credit: brightandwild, Source: deviantart.com

My other big problem was that the switch to the third person perspective meant the action and political and cultural satire became heavy-handed. Instead of slowly revealing the reasoning behind President Snow’s actions, we saw really straightforward and almost unbelievable conversations between Snow and Plutarch that basically spelled everything out. I wanted the movie to trust the viewers more, especially when using amazingly subtle actors like Philip Seymour Hoffman. Just because the audience is mostly teenagers doesn’t mean they aren’t able to use deductive reasoning.

Source: catchingfiremovienews.com

Source: catchingfiremovienews.com

Of course, there were things I really liked about the movie. I thought Jennifer Lawrence gave an excellent performance and I loved the casting and writing for Joanna and Finnick. I think their characters were more interesting and more sympathetic in the movie than the book; both actors did a great job. I thought the pacing was good too, and considering there was a lot of back story missing from the film, it was surprisingly coherent as a whole. I also am totally in love with the off-screen friendship between Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson. Adorable!

Credit: Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images, Source: usmagazine.com

Credit: Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images, Source: usmagazine.com

As I mentioned before, both the book and the film Catching Fire are middle installations and thus, mainly serve as bridges from The Hunger Games to Mockingjay. We get a lot of plot, and the story is basically a reimagining of the first book/movie. This inevitably makes it the least compelling of the trilogy, but I think the book still offers more than the film adaptation. Good YA fiction gives credit to its readers, treats them like adults, and challenges them creatively and intellectually. That’s what made me fall in love with The Hunger Games even though I was no longer a teenager when I read them. Sadly, Hollywood doesn’t challenge or trust anyone, especially the target audience for this series: young women.

I really love film and have seen a few really great film adaptations of literature (Brokeback Mountain, anyone?), which is part of why I was disappointed by this movie. I was really pleased with the first Hunger Games film as an adaptation of the book and a standalone product, but the second one was just too Hollywood for me: too little substance and too much gloss. Either way, we can look forward to two more movie installments of The Hunger Games in the near future, so keep your bows and arrows at the ready.