THE HUNGER GAMES movie review that you didn’t ask for

If you know me, you know that I’ve never been a huge fan of movie adaptations of books that I love.  It’s nothing personal, and I certainly don’t think I’m better than anyone because I “read the book first”, but simply because once I see the movie, the film’s images portrayed will cancel out my own mental pictures.  Also, since books can get into much more detail and exposition than a movie realistically can, movie adaptations tend to feel like a poor man’s substitute, and why would I want to see the lesser version when I already greatly enjoyed the original product?

That being said, I was genuinely excited to see The Hunger Games movie.  It’s such an action packed story, with a great dystopian setting, that I thought it would naturally lend itself extremely well to film.  And once I saw the casting choices they made, I was immediately intrigued.  Never before have the actors portraying them bore such a close resemblance to how I pictured them in my mind while reading a novel.

After going to the midnight showing last night (proudly wearing my Mockingjay pin and accompanied by my best friend and my boyfriend – the former of whom introduced me to the books, since she is a youth services librarian, and the latter having just finished the book near minutes before we went to see the movie), I had enough thoughts about it that I wanted to write them down while they were still fresh in my head.

****IF YOU HAVEN’T READ THE BOOKS, SPOILERS AHEAD*******

First off, let me say that I enjoyed it very much, and generally thought they did a great job.  The performances were all incredible, and Jennifer Lawrence portrayed Katniss exactly as the book described her.  As the books all take place from Katniss’s POV, I was curious as to how they were going to tell this story without having a voice-over narration by her.  Obviously, the events unfolding on-screen tell a good part of the story, but by simply by watching what happens, you would miss out on a great deal of exposition by Katniss, from memories of her father and how she learned to hunt, to the struggles her family endured, her own thought process throughout the Games themselves (figuring out strategies, etc) to -possibly the most important – explanation of the history of the Games, the world of Panem, what trackerjackers and mockingjays are, etc.   It would have been tempting to make Katniss think out loud, talk through her strategies to another character (when she is near one), or even just show it all in her face.  But they stay true to the character, making her face a stern mask, occasionally betraying surprise, shock, confusion, but in only the most subtle ways.  Katniss is a strong, immovable figure in the books, often focusing on “not giving anyone the satisfaction of seeing her cry” when she is being transported to the Capitol.  It’s a testament to Jennifer Lawrence’s acting that she is able to portray as much as she is with only the subtlest action.  Which brings us back to the initial concern: without the narration by the main character, how do you fill the audience in on what exactly is going on?

In the movie, this last point is well taken care of by commentators of the Games as they are going on.  In the book, you only see the Games through Katniss’s eyes.  Everything that might be going on in the rest of Panem while she is in that arena is only guesswork and probability. The only connection any of the Tributes have to the outside world is the occasional gift from a sponsor (medicine, food, etc), a couple loudspeaker announcements by the gamemakers themselves, and the pictures projected into the night sky announcing which Tributes have died.  And while that fact remains in the movie, the audience also gets sees the story unfold from the viewpoint of the audiences at home, as well as the Gamemaker’s headquarters where they are constructing the dangers and obstacles the Tributes face with just a touch of a finger.  All of this helps explain the process of how the Games generally unfold (conclusions that Katniss comes to on her own in the book, having grown up watching the Hunger Games every year).

The movie does a good job of not leaving anything important out.  The way the events unfold (especially in the arena) are very key to the structure of the story, and part of what rivets the reader.  However, I direct you to a quote from another review about the movie from TWOP.com:

Faced with the daunting task of translating a passionately beloved book to the screen, director/co-writer Gary Ross and his fellow scribes Billy Ray and Collins herself have made the understandable, but unfortunate, decision to primarily follow the letter rather than the spirit of the novel.

While I don’t entirely agree with that whole review, I thought they made an interesting point: in their desire to not cut out anything important, the movie itself felt a little rushed, specifically the beginning and the end.  Obviously, running time is a factor when adapting a book to film, but in order to keep every key moment, they lose some of the emotional connection to the spirit and feel of the book.  Once Katniss volunteers as Tribute, its a whirlwind of train rides, training and coaching.  Which, to be fair, may have been a choice on the filmmakers behalf to show how overwhelming this all is, being yanked from your home, and after a some PR, grooming and training, being flung into a battle to the death in the blink of an eye.  It would make sense, to portray Katniss’s powerlessness at the Capitol’s hands as speeding so fast she can’t catch a breath….except that’s not how its portrayed in the book.  If anything, the book lays out as this slow, ever-looming end point, giving her time to worry, and plan, and go through a range of emotions as to her public persona, her homesickness, her constantly changing feelings about whether she can trust Peeta.  It feels overwhelming, sure, but certainly not a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it experience, which takes away some of build-up to the Games themselves.

Even her friendship with Cinna, her stylist for the Hunger Games, and the one person in the Capitol she seems to consider a friend, seems off, because they don’t explore WHY she trusts him, how much time they spent together, etc.  Instead, you see them meet, Cinna commend her bravery to sacrifice herself on her sister’s behalf,  him style her as “The Girl on Fire”, and then by the time the interviews run around, he is her closest confidante, and someone she embraces without hesitation.  Which would be fine, except that it is not generally in Katniss’s nature to trust so readily, and I felt like they could have shown even a bit more conversation between the two of them to help display their friendship.  There is even a line in the book, before the interview, where Cinna asks her if she trusts him, and she replies that he is probably the only person here she trusts, leading her to pretend she’s talking to him during the interview.  That line, as well as her looking at him in the audience, was omitted from the movie, and I feel like that would have helped solidify their connection a little better.

Additionally, I wish they had gone into more detail with Peeta and the bread.  Again, I understand that with any movie adaptation of a book, some exposition and backstory will be compromised for time.  But in the movie, it shows that he threw some bread her way when he happened to see her outside,  weak and starving.  Which makes an impact on her, but doesn’t express the sheer importance of that action; that she was, at that moment, just about to give up, had been starving for weeks, that he burned the bread only after Katniss was yelled at by his mother for rummaging through their garbage, thereby showing the true nature and kindness of this act.  It’s the fact that he so selflessly helped her out (getting in trouble in the process) when she was at her absolute lowest point, that leaves such an impression on her, and the reader.  In the movie, it comes across simply as him being nice enough to throw her some scraps when he just happened to be outside.  It’s a small thing, but its such a crucial part of setting the stage for their relationship, that I felt it wasn’t given its proper due.  Additionally, at the end, they don’t show Peeta’s heartbroken realization of Katniss’s calculated portrayal of her feelings for him to win sympathy from the audience, nor her guilt for having deceived him, as well her own unsure feelings, which, for me, ended the book on a bittersweet, darker note that I thought fit nicely with the structure of the book.  However, I have less issue with that because I suspect that will be touched on in the beginning of the next film.

As more people go to see the movie, I will be curious to hear reviews and impressions from people who saw the movie who haven’t read the book.  To see if there was anything that left them confused, and what their general feel of the movie was.  There might have been things that, to me, felt like they were lacking because I am mentally referencing the source material, but to a viewer being introduced to the story for the first time, still connected emotionally in all the ways I did.

The filmmakers clearly have a plan as to how they will be laying out all three movies, touching on things more in the movie than was ever mentioned in the first book, but it was done well, as you can see them setting the stage for things to come, which only makes the sequels more intriguing. Unlike my previously mentioned concerns about certain omissions from the movie, the additions not originally in the book, are done in such a thoughtfully and artistically chosen way, that I felt like they did a fantastic job adapting this story, this world, to a fully engaging film experience (the scene, in particular, where Katniss and District 11 exchange a wordless, lovely, 2 finger salute, made the already incredibly emotional moment that was Rue’s death that much more beautiful and powerful, to the point that I cried without shame in the middle of the theater).  I can honestly say that I thought it was a great movie, and I definitely cannot wait to see the adaption of the 2nd book, Catching Fire, as well as the evolution of these characters, portrayed so respectfully by this great cast.

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~ by Alli on Friday, March 23, 2012.

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