Review: ‘Hunger Games’ leaves viewers starving for more
I’ll be the first person to tell you how wonderful ‘Harry Potter’ was and what it’s meant to me and my life over the course of the last 14 years. But I will also be the first person to complain about everything that was left out of the movies for time. Sometimes I understood the omissions, sometimes I did not (Gellert Grindelwald, anybody?), but no matter how much I may have loved a ‘Harry Potter’ movie, I was always able to find something that was left out that upset me.
But I can truthfully say that after seeing the midnight showing of ‘The Hunger Games,’ I am completely satisfied and fulfilled by the script Suzanne Collins, Billy Ray and Gary Ross put together from Collins’ 2008 novel about the killing of children by other children in a televised reality competition, a punishment for a failed rebellion that happened three-quarters of a century before the book begins.
I came late to the ‘Hunger Games’ party, only reading the series in 2010 after the last book in the trilogy was published. But I blew through all three books in a matter of days. The movie, I have to say, is faithful to the book, leaving out things that most people probably wouldn’t notice were missing until they were told of their absence. The mockingjay pin is purchased by Katniss for Prim instead of Madge giving it to her as a gift. The avoxes are not mentioned, but they are seen in the background in some scenes. And there is a line early in the film about the Capitol cutting out tongues as punishments, obviously a reference to the avoxes that loyal fans would understand right away. No time is really spent on Katniss’ stylists other than Cinna, obviously, but the film doesn’t feel lacking because of these omissions. It’s not like they cut out Quidditch entirely or killed Rue incorrectly (ahem, Sirius Black). The film does a wonderful job translating the story and Katniss’ plight from page to screen.
But I’d be amiss if I let you believe that this adaptation was perfect and every single thing about it was flawless simply because I thought it was a wonderful adaptation. Because no matter how hard screenwriters try, films based on books will never be able to adequately capture the nuances found in the written word, nor will they ever be an exact replica that encompasses every tiny tidbit or fact that the original author included in the book. Even Peter Jackson’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy didn’t have every detail from the books, but no one would argue that they weren’t amazing or extraordinary. So while there’s no real reason to be upset about the movie, I still think there are some things that were lost in translation. For instance, there were times, especially during the Games themselves, that I felt the movie was too clean. I saw District 12, I saw the grittiness of these peoples’ lives, the dirtiness and the squalor some of these districts are forced to live in. I saw the the defeated air about their inhabitants and the tiredness obvious in the expressions on their faces. I saw how poor these people were (and the film did a great job contrasting this with the eccentric and extravagant lifestyle of those lucky enough to live in the Capitol). But during the Games themselves Katniss seems to have it too easy.
I know, I know, you’re thinking, “Well, she’s clearly off her rocker.” But I’m not. I don’t mean that Katniss’ experience was a walk in the park. And I can’t remember exactly how many days the Hunger Games last in the first book (I’m so ashamed), but she’s obviously been out in the wilderness for quite a period of time. So why isn’t her hair greasy? Did she redo her braid every day? Why doesn’t she have more mud on her face and hands? Can’t we make her look more tired and gaunt? I distinctly remember her referencing how skinny she’d gotten over the course of the Games, and since she wasn’t all that meaty to begin with, I think I’d have liked to have had some form of acknowledgement about this hunger that ate away at her sometimes. I don’t mean I think Jennifer needed to go all Christian Bale or anything in her preperation, but she didn’t ever seem to be wanting for food or look like she was malnourished, and I can guarantee that she most assuredly was.
My second problem with the film (and here is where I get spoilery – so if for some reason you’re behind the rest of the world, stop reading now and go see the film or read the book) is that I didn’t feel Peeta transitioned from the page as well as he could have. To put it better, I think the actual story as it related to Katniss and her relationship with Peeta didn’t transition so well to the screen. And this is at least partially a repercussion from taking a book, a medium in which the reader is privy to every single thought running through the protagonist’s head, and transferring it to the screen, a visual medium in which the viewer only hears what the characters say (unless there is a voiceover). You lose some of the more intricate thoughts and feelings during the transition from page to screen. But it’s not the fault of the actors or the screenwriters. It’s just the problematic truth of adapting novels for film.
Josh Hutcherson did a great job in his portrayal of the baker’s son, and he masterfully took Peeta Mellark and brought him to life in all of his love, strength, silent intelligence and kindness. But even so, in the movie the budding romance between Katniss and Peeta came too easily. And I understand that this is Hollywood, where for some reason this movie has to complete with something as ridiculous as ‘Twilight,’ a series that is literally only about a love triangle and nothing more, and therefore the love triangle of this trilogy has to be played up to become a major plot point. But because it came too easily, the love triangle doesn’t seem to be much of a triangle at all. Aside from a few scenes showing Gale looking mildly upset that he’s back home watching his girl kiss another dude on national television, there doesn’t seem to be any indication that there’s more than two people in this problematic relationship.
At the end of the book, there’s an exchange that was left out of the film entirely.
“It was all for the Games,” he says. “How you acted.”
“Not all of it,” I say, tightly holding onto my flowers.
“Then how much? No, forget that. I guess the real question is what’s going to be left when we get home?” he says.
“I don’t know. The closer we get to District Twelve, the more confused I get,” I say. He waits, for further explanation, but none’s forthcoming.
“Well, let me know when you work it out,” he says, and the pain in his voice is palpable.
The film version made no mention of Katniss’ uncertainty regarding her feelings. And I’ll admit, Katniss kissing Peeta was swoonworthy. And I don’t just mean for me or for their faked showmance, Katniss actually looked like she was swept away by it too. But in the book she wasn’t sure how she felt about Peeta at that point other than wanting to keep him alive. She kissed him to get sponsors so she could get the ointment needed to keep him alive. The only inclination that maybe she didn’t feel the same way as Peeta at that moment was the sissy kiss that garnered a sassy message from Haymitch, “You call that a kiss?” which in turn lead to the deeper kiss.
I think the book did a much better job at showing the slow progression of Katniss’ feelings for Peeta, so the payoff was greater and seemed to be more appreciated when the two finally got together at the end. But because of how much the love story seems to be a part of the film’s narrative, I’m worried that the next two (or three) films will lose a bit of their message about power and its all corrupting abilities. I’m worried that Hollywood might try to make this a superhero love story instead of focusing on Collins’ real message. But I suppose that’s a worry for another day.
To be clear, despite my two problems above, the story was well written, well acted and expressive. The major moments tugged at your heartstrings (RIP Rue!) or made your heart beat out of your chest (the end sequence at the Cornucopia, the fire sequence). You felt Katniss’ pain, you felt her gradual warmth to Peeta and his love for her, you felt everything she felt, and that’s all thanks to Jennifer Lawrence, a woman I scoffed at when I heard of her casting. I thought her too blond, too old. But I take back everything I said about her, because she embodied Katniss, she was Katniss in every way and I couldn’t believe that I ever doubted her casting. Lawrence was a perfect choice. She was able to play Katniss’ strength while at the same time convey her depth of emotion equally well. And I can only hope that she’ll continue to impress as Katniss’ story – and the story of Panem and its people – progresses in the next film.
Note: Photo courtesy of Lionsgate.