Archive for the ‘Movie Reviews’ Category

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Why Katniss Everdeen Has No Hope – But We Do

November 26, 2014

A common beef Christians have with dystopian stories is that they are hopeless.  It’s common because it can be very true – dystopias are designed to display a reality where all feels lost, where people feel crushed and hopeless, and evil has all the power.  So it makes sense that books and movies in this genre will feel hopeless.  Usually, a dystopian novel will showcase hope and resilience by the end, but not every author intends to leave that kind of “mood” with their reader (more’s the pity – I hate unhappy endings).

Of course – we Christians say – the answer is obvious.  “Put God in the book!”  Without God, of course there is no hope.

But we’re not the authors, and we can’t change the existing stories from what they are.  However, we can learn from them and we can pay attention to what makes them hopeless, as a reminder to us of Who give us true, abiding hope, and show Him to those around us.

The helpless Mockingjay and her helpless idols

I just finished watching Mockingjay: Part 1 in theaters.  Awesome movie!  I’ve never been disappointed at any of The Hunger Games films…they are all brilliantly executed and thrilling.

However, as I was watching I finally put my finger on why Katniss bothers me as a character.

She displays the exact opposite of the message I am trying to express with my own trilogy.  My characters, especially Kevin, wrestle with the reality that sometimes defending a great cause is more important than defending loved ones.  His trust in himself and his ability to protect his sister have to erode, leaving him with God as his only recourse, a far greater strength.  Until he can “let Catherine go” and turn her over to God with his trust and hope, he is fractured in his fight against a brutal enemy.  It’s a theme that has emerged slowly and gradually as I continue to hammer this story from a rough into a diamond.

Katniss, on the other hand, has always been obsessed with her loved ones.  In the first movie, we see an example of beautiful self-sacrifice as she gives herself up to save her sister – so she starts well.  But as the series winds on she grows increasingly paranoid and reckless to protect people, more so in Mockingjay than in the other two.  The thought of a loved one in danger sends her into screaming fits, and she irrationally clings to beloved individuals over important causes.  I imagine if one of them was in danger on one side, and a thousand people dying on the other, she’d go to the aid of the one family member, leaving the thousand to perish even if she had the ability to save them.  One can easily argue that she has PTSD and mental health issues as a result of the trauma she endures, and that’s a fair assessment, but I think her trauma only exacerbates her pre-existing obsessions.

For all her self-sacrifice and the hero she is portrayed to be, Katniss is actually very self-centered.  Family and boyfriend(s) are her idols which she protects at all costs.  We get the impression that if all of them were to die, she would totally crumble because she had no reason left to live.

Because she really doesn’t have anything left to live for!

There is nothing left after your idols, if you have no hope in God.  Furthermore, with no sovereign Lord to trust, ultimately you have nothing but yourself to protect your loved ones.  It is painfully obvious to the audience, as well as Katniss, that ultimately she can’t protect them.  She is one human being, powerless against forces all around her that are using her as a pawn for their agendas.

As a story, it’s brilliant.  But I can’t help wondering over and over again as I watch it, “Why doesn’t she just lay down and die?”

At one point President Coin comes to speak to her, and remarks that “whatever’s keeping you going, you still have it, and that’s why you’re still here” or something to that effect (pardon my paraphrasing, as I have only seen the movie once).

What is keeping Katniss going?  What does she have?

I don’t see much of anything, except her family and friends, who she can’t ultimately protect, and who could easily die.  No wonder she has no hope.

I’m not as strong as Katniss Everdeen.  I’m sure, if I was in her place, I would be tempted many times to just give up and die.  I don’t have her fiery rebelliousness, or her defiant streak.  I could play the part, but when things got harder I’d just want to give myself up.

But I know I wouldn’t.  Because my strength is not in me – it is in the Lord.  And in Him, we don’t have to obsess over our loved ones!  We can know they are in God’s hands, pray for them, and have confidence that no matter what happens, one day we will see them again beyond the grave, rejoicing before the Lord in perfect glory and peace.

So that’s why Katniss Everdeen has no hope.  Not only does she have no greater God to look to, but all her existence is wrapped up in the people she loves.  And fragile, helpless human beings make for lousy gods and goddesses that are easily toppled.

Our world is a dystopia too

Did you ever think of what it must have been like for Christ to step out of the glory of heaven, totally empty Himself, and become a frail human baby?

A birth in a stable, a filthy manger for a bed.  Parents of relative poverty.  A nation crunched under the sandaled foot of Rome.  A power-hungry ruler who orders all baby boys murdered in his quest to destroy you.  It’s a bleak picture, not exactly the soft, sweet “Silent Night” we sing of in Christmas Eve services.

Yet Christ gave His life here for this world, over and over again in selfless service, and ultimately on the cross, pouring out His blood for the redemption of many.  Like Katniss, He volunteered, but not as tribute – rather as an atonement for our sin.

And because of Him,

“Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you…” – 1 Peter 3:13-15b

We have that hope within us, that one day this world will be made new.  We hear news of riots, and murders, and government corruptions, and racism, and wars, and natural disasters, but we have an eternal and powerful Hope that will never fail us, never let us down, and never leave us behind.

“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.  For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” – 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

We can’t give Katniss hope.  But we can rejoice, especially in this Christmas season, that we have it in full abundance.

This is my Father’s world;
Oh, let me ne’er forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong,
God is the ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world!
The battle is not done;
Jesus who died shall be satisfied,
And earth and heav’n be won.
— Martin Luther

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Some Other Perspectives on “The Hunger Games”

May 18, 2012

I’m always surprised to see that one of the top posts on this blog is my review of The Hunger Games.  There are a lot of reviews of this book (or the movie) out there right now, and I am continually seeing new ones that bring out other points I didn’t see or didn’t expound on.  Here are some good ones I’ve seen.

I should note that I am neither for nor against The Hunger Games.  As a Christian, I don’t find them objectionable as reading material; however, I don’t think they’re worthy of praising to the skies, either.  So I read both negative and positive reviews, and usually find something to agree with in both kinds.

Why Hunger Games is Flawed to its CoreAuthor N.D. Wilson, while not saying we shouldn’t read The Hunger Games, makes some very sharp observations about the book and how it misunderstands human nature.  I don’t agree with everything he says here (I usually LOVE his writings, so I was surprised!) but the review has some good points and well worth the read.  “Many people point to Peeta as the truly noble and sacrificial character. I don’t mind him as a character, but a picture of heroic sacrifice he ain’t. In Hunger Games, he’s fundamentally passive and submissive. He’s that guy who is happy to ‘just be friends’ with the cute girl. Or a lot more than friends (but only if she initiates). He’s just the puppy at her heels. “Sure, kill me Katniss. Oh, you’d rather we both killed ourselves? Yes, Katniss. Whatever you say, Katniss.” Really? There are plenty of guys in the world just like Peeta, and kudos to Collins for using the type, especially since nice second-fiddle fellas like that confuse and conflict girls tremendously. But worldview readers are gaming themselves into seeing something that just isn’t there.”  More interesting observations at the link!

Amusing Ourselves At Their DeathsThis two-part review by Mark Meynell is long but worth the read, focusing on the dystopian and political aspects of Panem.  “Orwell’s great anxiety was that the world would be controlled by fear and the suppression of truth, whereas Huxley suggested it would be manipulated through hedonism and distraction from truth. Big Brother inflicts pain, whereas the World State inflicts pleasure.   Suzanne Collins’s remarkable dystopia … combines both poles of Orwell and Huxley. In her futuristic world of Panem, twelve districts … are exploited by the Capitol, whose citizens live a Versailles-like life of luxury and ease. In reality, both are controlled under the watchful eye of President Snow’s regime: one through Orwellian terror, with the 12 districts policed by so-called Peacekeepers, and their food supply ruthlessly rationed to ensure dependence; the other by Huxleyan pleasure.”

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Five Favorite Science-Fiction TV Shows

May 3, 2012

Growing up, I was always more a lover of fantasy than science-fiction.  Although I liked science-fiction in theory, and wrote it, I never watched or read science-fiction movies or books (with the exception of a long Star Wars phase in my childhood).  However, since Christopher and I have been married – almost two years now! – I’ve found my taste for the genre has grown.  In fact, it’s probably my favorite genre these days!

Christopher doesn’t like most fantasy, so his taste for science-fiction TV shows and movies nudged me in that direction, and now one of our favorite things to do is watch a good science-fiction series together.  We don’t have cable, so we’re limited to what we can get online via Hulu, Syfy.com, or Netflix (which starts at $7.99 a month for instant streaming only – this is a great resource to see lots of movies and shows on the cheap).  Our lack of cable hasn’t yet stopped us from finding plenty of great shows to follow!

Here are some of our favorite science-fiction series.  If you like the genre, you might enjoy these…

I should note briefly that these series are mainly targeted at adult viewers, not children, and any of them sometimes show content that is sexual or otherwise inappropriate in nature.  Most also include science-fiction violence and some bad language.  So please watch with wisdom and discernment!

5.  Warehouse 13

Artie: “And that is exactly what we do here. We take the unexplained…and we just safely tuck it away in this super-sized Pandora’s Box.”
Pete: “Metaphorically speaking.”
Artie: “Well, actually, Pandora’s box is over in Aisle 989-B. Empty, of course.”

After encountering something they were not supposed to see, secret service agents Myka Bering and Pete Latimer are transferred to work at a giant warehouse in the middle of nowhere – a warehouse that houses a mammoth collection of mysterious and dangerous artifacts with special powers.  This show has more of a magical feel than scientific, but the idea is that “magic is science we don’t understand yet”.  Myka and Pete spend their days keeping tabs on the artifacts already in the Warehouse, and tracking down others all over the world that are causing trouble.

So far we have watched the first two seasons of Warehouse 13, and are waiting for the next one to come on Netflix with the others so we can continue following the show.  It’s a good one to watch when you want something light and entertaining, not too serious, and if you enjoy the fantasy or paranormal genres as well as science-fiction.

4.  Eureka

“I hate to interrupt, but we have bigger issues at hand. Time is unraveling. The laws of physics are breaking down. Correct me if I’m wrong but that’s the kind of thing that’s not gonna stop at the city limits, is it?” – Henry Deacon

This show follows the adventures (and misadventures) of a U.S. Marshall, Jack Carter, who becomes the sheriff of an unusual small town – Eureka, where all the citizens are geniuses developing new technology for the government.  Every scientific achievement of the past 30 years originated there, he finds, and every day of work he must fix hilarious problems and prevent new catastrophes.  Most of the science is “Hollywood science”, as they say, but it makes for a rollicking good time, especially with the quirky cast of characters.  This is another “light” show, but a bit more addicting than Warehouse 13, and some of the episodes are considerably more serious than others.

We’re completely up to date on this show because the older seasons are on Netflix and Syfy.com generously posts their new episodes online every week – hurray!  (Older episodes are available from Netflix, the first three on instant streaming and Season 4 by mail.)

From here on it gets much harder to number my favorites in order!  These final three are probably tied for my affections…

3.  Doctor Who

“He’s like fire and ice and rage. He’s like the night, and the storm in the heart of the sun. He’s ancient and forever. He burns at the center of time and he can see the turn of the universe. And…he’s wonderful.” – Tim Latimer

“Doctor Who has never pretended to be hard science fiction … At best Doctor Who is a fairytale, with fairytale logic about this wonderful man in this big blue box who at the beginning of every story lands somewhere where there is a problem.” – Neil Gaiman

As the image and quotes might suggest, this show has a bit less science – and a lot more EPIC! – than the previous two in my list.  Doctor Who is the longest-running science-fiction TV series in history.  (The Doctor is capable of regenerating into a new man instead of dying, so the story can continue almost indefinitely.)  This is an unusual show, and it’s fairly safe to say that you will either adore it or hate it with a passion.  I thought I hated it – Christopher used to watch it while I was making dinner, and I’d stand there chopping vegetables and listening to all the cheesy special effects, and the tinny robot voices, and the electronic main theme, and think to myself, “Ugh.”  Then…along came the 11th incarnation of the Doctor (along with the better sound and special effects of the newer seasons).  I started hovering by the television.  Soon, I was sitting down to watch some of it.  It only took a few episodes, and I was hooked.

The Doctor, a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey, spends his time traveling through all of time and space in a time machine disguised as a British police box.  In almost every episode, he saves the world (or the universe!), usually with the help of a human companion or two he’s picked up on the way.  If that sounds boring, IT’S NOT.  It’s amazing.  But you really have to watch it to understand what makes it so awesome!  Even people who don’t normally like science-fiction might find Doctor Who appealing, as it’s almost more fantasy than anything else.

I must offer a disclaimer – I’ve only seen the newer series that have aired since the show was resurrected in 2005.  If you are completely unfamiliar with the Doctor (and especially if you are like me and hate cheesy special effects!) I’d personally recommend doing a little background research and then starting with the Eleventh Doctor, beginning at Series 5.  (Alternately, you can start at Series 1 of the newer shows; many would recommend this instead.)  Chances are, you’ll love what you see, and then you can go back and watch any older series you wish.  All of the recent seasons are currently available on Netflix’s instant streaming, although I don’t know how long that will last.

 2.  Firefly (and Serenity)

Take my love, take my land
Take me where I cannot stand
I don’t care – I’m still free
You can’t take the sky from me
— the opening theme

How do I describe this show?  Sort of like Robin Hood meets the Old West meets space travel?  Something like that.  Firefly is a true Space Western, and it takes awhile to get used to the eclectic blend of bluegrass-style music and deep space escapades.  The show’s title comes from the name of a space vessel, and the story follows her crew as they evade the totalitarian government, help the helpless, and make money any way they can – often by smuggling or other petty crime.  In the beginning of the season they pick up a pair of passengers, who turn out to be fugitives on the run, and it makes their lives a lot more interesting and dangerous.

The best thing about this show?  The characters.  The wonderful characters and their wonderful, hilarious banter.  It has plenty of dark and gruesome moments, but it’s also laugh-out-loud funny!  Tragically, the show was abruptly cancelled after just one season, but there is a follow-up movie, Serenity, which sort of ties together the story’s end, although the feel is a bit different than that of the show because it was targeted to movie audiences who hadn’t watched Firefly.  Note: if you don’t want to deal with avoiding the sexual content in the show (as there is quite a bit, unfortunately) watching Serenity is a good way to encounter the story and characters without any scene-skipping.  You can watch the full show and the movie on Netflix streaming.

1.  Battlestar Galactica (2003)

“We decided to play God, create life. When that life turned against us, we comforted ourselves in the knowledge that it really wasn’t our fault, not really. You cannot play God then wash your hands of the things that you’ve created. Sooner or later, the day comes when you can’t hide from the things that you’ve done anymore.” – Admiral William Adama

Of all the shows I am listing, this is probably the most “classic” science-fiction represented.  Most descriptions of this show will say, simply, that it’s about a fleet of humans looking for a new world after cybernetic Cylons wipe out their home planet.  Booooring!  Fortunately, that’s not an entire description of the show.  It’s also an amazing saga of courage, determination, hope, leadership, love, justice and mercy, obedience and disobedience, betrayal and loyalty, and real people making real, tough, life-or-death decisions every day, all across a background of distant space and barren planets.  What I love most about this show is that the characters are all so human.  They all have their good qualities and bad.  Sometimes you root for them; sometimes you gape in astonishment at their actions.  The story is fast-paced as well, especially the earlier seasons, and the makers are constantly throwing in new mysteries to keep the viewers hooked.  As soon as one story starts to close up, another interesting one opens!  I’d like to review this show in full someday, but it seems like a mammoth task, as there is so much to analyze: the characters, the religious aspect, the plot…it’d be a big task to take on!

With this show, perhaps more than all the others, I have to warn that it is definitely an adult program, and there is a lot of brief sexual content (sometimes as often as every episode).  As Christopher and I often mourn, this is the only big downside to an otherwise amazing story.  We highly recommend it, but with a remote handy!

This is a long-running but completed series, all of which is available on Netflix Instant.  We have only 3 episodes left – the 3-part finale – and we are waiting very impatiently until Friday evening, when we can have a finale marathon.  Eeek!  We can’t wait!

Have you watched any of these shows?  Did you love them, hate them?  Do you have any other favorite science-fiction TV series to recommend?