On Reading For Yourself, and Not Waiting For the Movie
I have a terrible admission to make: I have never read The Hunger Games, and I’m pretty ambivalent about the movie coming out tomorrow. At least in my defense I can admit that I feel very guilty about both of these things, and feel as if I’m missing out in some way.
Watching the anticipation/excitement/fear from those I know who have read the books, as the movie was announced, cast, and slowly teased as tomorrow’s opening got closer and closer, has been completely fascinating; it’s not just that there’s been the kind of “Oh God oh God please don’t screw it up” reaction that every movie/television/transmedia adaptation of a beloved property brings with it (You should’ve seen me when the Scott Pilgrim movie was first announced. Or, better yet, after Michael Cena was announced as the lead), but something somehow… stronger, in some way? It reminded me of the reaction to the news of Harry Potter being made into movies, or the Twilight announcement, the transmogrification of something somehow sacrosanct.
That’s the thing that makes me feel like I’m missing out. Don’t get me wrong; I’d read the Potter books before the first movie was made – but not the Twilight ones – but I didn’t “get” them, not really; I thought (and still think) that they were good stories badly written, and prefer the movie versions for almost all of the seven books. But I remember seeing a press screening for the first Twilight movie, which was partially-filled by hardcore fans of the novels, and the sense of excitement and breathless anticipation was just overwhelming, and the kind of thing that left the jaded hacks of the press section in a mix of awe and astonishment. There’s something wonderful about that level of devotion to a story and its characters, and it’s something that I find myself wanting, more and more.
And yet, the snobbery of the “true fan” mentality is at play for me, here; I feel as if not having read the books before seeing the movie is somehow doing it wrong, and I can’t explain why. Logically, intellectually, I know it makes no sense, but it’s there in my head as a sign that I’ve somehow missed my chance to do it right; even if I for some reason waited to see the movie until after I’d sped-read the books, I feel like my experience would be somehow “tainted” by the knowledge that the movies exist, and… Oh, I don’t know. It doesn’t make sense, and it’s not something I could explain (It’s not even a consistent rule; I’ve never read any Sherlock Holmes, and have no problem worshipping at the altar of the BBC show, for example).
And yet… There’s a particular relationship that someone can have with a book (or a comic, or whatever) that’s personal and very different from the relationship an audience can have with a movie or TV show; there’s more of an involvement and investment, in a way that it’s hard to generate with the passivity of a viewing audience. I don’t have to imagine what characters look like or sound like, how they move or interact, because I can see and hear it in front of me. If The Hunger Games is everything that I’ve been told that it is, I’m sad that I won’t be able to have that kind of experience with the story, fresh and untethered by ideas of Jennifer Lawrence or Lenny Kravitz. There’s something to be said for early adopters, and for letting stories unfold for yourself, instead of relying on Hollywood to do the heavy lifting for you.