The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and thoughts on being entertained
November 25, 2013
Another “Squee!” movie for me. I like the books a whole lot and this was a good adaptation. Just as nerve wracking as it needed to be, good off-the-rails science fiction fun. My terrible confession: I actually feel a little bit sorry for Effie Trinket. She’s trying so hard. She’s so trapped in the system. She’s got a role, and even when she suspects it’s terribly wrong she can’t at all consider stepping outside that role. I think her clothes get fluffier the more awful she’s feeling.
So, two “Squee!” movies in a row! I am spoiled! This got me thinking yet again about what I want out of my entertainment. As an entertainer myself, I’m very interested in this question, because it helps me figure out how to write my own books. What should I put in? What should I leave out? How do you craft a narrative to evoke an emotional reaction?
You know how people say, “Well, it’s a pretty good movie if you just shut your brain off?” You know how infuriated that makes me? Because it means you’re doing exactly what corporate filmmakers expect you to do: not care if a movie is dumb, as long as it has pretty CGI and explosions and crap. WE DESERVE BETTER.
What I’ve realized: I absolutely LOVE being able to shut my brain off during movies. Because when it happens for me, it means it’s a really good, fun, entertaining movie. Seriously, I want to be able to shut my brain off during movies. I want to be entertained! I write for a living, I don’t want to spend a movie — my fun time — figuring out how to fix something that’s broken!
So I love it when my writer brain (mostly) shuts off. (It rarely entirely shuts off. Thor Dark World and Catching Fire both have fairly rigid three-act structures and make use of escalation and so on. I could track it.) Bad movies are bad precisely because they will not let me shut my brain off. I can’t ignore it when bad writing throws me out, when the plot is nonexistent or becomes too forced to bear, when it becomes clear that the filmmakers think I’m an idiot and won’t notice that their movie is dumb.
So yes, those people who say I should just shut my brain off are absolutely right. Movies are better when I shut my brain off. But it’s up to the movie to earn my trust so that I’m able to turn my brain off. It’s not a gift. They have to earn it.