I hate to do this to you. I get the sense that The Hunger Games is going to become one of those things that people who aren’t familiar with it reflexively hate (if it isn’t that already). But it’s pretty much the biggest thing going right now, and I have read the books, so I feel compelled.
And I really loved the first book. I was underwhelmed by the second, and hated the third. In fact, I hated the third so much that it kind of ruined the first two, and it’s hard to have any interest in seeing the movies. But I did like that first book, on which this movie is based, and it lends itself pretty well to this sort of thing.
You can get a summary from essentially anywhere on the internet right now, but basically: it’s some unknown time in the future, and what used to be North America is now a totalitarian regime run from the affluent Capitol, the hub surrounded by the twelve impoverished districts it keeps firmly under its thumb. Over seventy years earlier, the districts staged a failed rebellion, and as punishment, every year each district must offer two “tributes” — teenagers, one boy and one girl — to compete in “the Hunger Games,” a kind of reality show or televised sporting event in which they all try to kill each other in any way they can. The winner is paraded around and treated like royalty, but the others are dead.
So here are how the teams heading into 2012 are like some of the tributes [tons of spoilers likely ahead]:
The Blue Jays are Foxface.
You never learn the real name of “Foxface,” the female tribute from District 5. She gets that name in narrator Katniss’ head because, yep, Katniss thinks she has a face that looks like a fox’s. Foxface (according to Katniss) is the smartest tribute in the Games. She’s (appropriately) sly and clever, and doesn’t even appear to fight, instead subsisting by stealing just enough to survive (though not enough to be missed) from the other tributes and generally staying out of sight. She’s done in eventually by really bad luck. Katniss remarks that if the thing that did her in had been set up intentionally, as a trap, she would’ve worked it out; she died only because what happened was a total freak accident.
So that’s kind of what the Blue Jays are. I like what they’ve been doing, as I’m sure I’ve said before. I think every move they’ve made has been good, except trading Napoli away, and they’ve got some good young players. But they’re not likely to be the last team left standing (PECOTA has them going 77-85). Through the misfortune of playing in the AL East alone, it’s just not happening for them, even if they’d done everything exactly perfectly. Stuff happens, like it happened to Foxface.
The Astros are the nameless male tribute from District 9.
They start all the tributes in a circle in the same place, with a big heap of supplies, including weapons, in the middle. The boy from District 9 — one of many who author Suzanne Collins doesn’t even bother naming, nor apparently does the film — breaks for the same backpack full of supplies that Katniss does, and dies from a thrown knife in the back. Seconds into what was to be a many-days-long competition, the boy from District 9 was done.
Which, proportionally, is about how long the Astros can expect to stay in it. They’re a bad team, and not in a young-and-exciting-but-not-quite-ready-yet sort of way. They’re just bad, and as with the boy from 9 and many of the other tributes, it’s probably not worth taking the time to learn any Astros’ names.
The Yankees are Cato, and the Red Sox are Clove.
The bulk of contestants are sent against their will, but the list of Hunger Games winners is dominated by what are known as “careers” — kids from better-off districts who spend their short lives training for the specific goal of competing in, and of course winning, the Games. Cato and Clove, the two contestants from District 2, are careers, and they’re cut of the same cloth: both are brutally strong, ruthless, highly-trained and resourceful killers. Katniss assumes Cato is destined to win; he’s essentially flawless. As similar as Clove is — and neither, as you might guess, is what you’d consider well-balanced — her one flaw appears to be that she might be considered a bit too crazy, taking great pleasure in killing and even torturing her victims.
There are your Yankees and Red Sox. Well-to-do, with an attendant huge advantage over their competition. They’re virtually indistinguishable from the outside, except that while the Yankees have always been the buttoned-up professionals of the baseball world, the Red Sox (and maybe it’s all in the media, who knows) have come off as just a little bit…off. Dysfunctional. Not crazy in the same way Clove is, certainly, but if there’s a way to distinguish them at this point, that’s probably it.
The Rays are Katniss Everdeen.
She’s a pretty classic heroine, an extreme underdog from a poor family who has no desire to be where she is or to hurt anyone, but does what she has to do out of love for her family. She’s the main character and first-person narrator, and it’s a series marketed to young adults, so you have to come into it knowing that she’s going to win, or escape, or achieve some version of victory. There are many moments when that seems impossible, but you know it’s going to happen anyway, and of course you’re rooting for her the whole way.
And the Rays are the Katniss of the major leagues. So small, so poor, from such a dirty awful place (Tropicana, anyway, not the entire Tampa/St. Pete region). It’s not always easy to see how they do it and seems impossible that they should have been able to keep it up for this long, but you know they’re going to find a way to keep winning. And your average baseball fan, away from the AL East (including, evidently, much of Tampa Bay), is rooting for them. The key to being a hero in a young adult novel or film is having all the earmarks of an “underdog” while the audience knows everything’s going to turn out okay for you. And in baseball, now, that’s the Rays.