The Hunger Games

August 26, 2012 at 12:55 am Leave a comment

I made the mistake of reading the book before watching this movie. When I watched The Shinning, I read the book later and as a result its one of my favorite movies ever made, even though I recognize that they are very different. Generally, I watch the movie before reading the book and have always been a defender of the movies because the goals for writing a movie are different than that for writing a book. I went through film school and had this idea pounded into my head in screenwriting courses. Even though I know better than to be mad at the movie because it’s not like the book, I’m mad at this movie because it’s not like the book.

I read the book recently, picking it up at a discount while stranded with a stalled out car and with few other options for potentially semi-entertaining reading material. I was reluctant to either see the movie or read the book because I was always told they were popular with the Twilight crowd. Not exactly a ringing endorsement.  But I picked up the book anyway since the plot reminded me of The Running Man, one of my favorite movies and a well done but different short story I rather liked.  I read the book in four days, roughly. It probably would have been one day if I weren’t interrupted by things like work and life. I loved The Hunger Games. I loved the story, the characters, the writing, the world it set up, everything. They took a played out idea, ripping off Battle Royale or The Running Man, and made it something wholly original. So much of the reason I enjoyed that book was the main character, Katniss. She really felt like a girl I know, or maybe a piece of many different girls I’ve known over the years. So much of that book was internal, I didn’t know how well it would work as a movie. Generally, it’s difficult in a movie to get into the characters head without long, drawn out voice over, which never plays well, or excessive breaking the fourth wall, which turns this into a very different but hilarious movie. Point being, I had no idea how this was going to work as a movie after reading the book.

The Hunger Games movie played like it was written by someone who skimmed through the book and slopped together a lazy book report. They worked so hard to hit all of the plot points from the book that they skipped the parts that added context and emotion to those scenes. I will not pretend to know what they could have done to make those moments work. I will say, I don’t feel like they worked hard enough to make those moments work. It felt more like they were more concerned with getting this movie out as quickly as possible to cash in on the success of the book. The one line review I can give for this movie is that it was a missed opportunity to make something truly special. For movie going audiences whom hadn’t read the book, it felt like movies like Battle Royale did this same story better.

The Hunger Games is about a totalitarian future where North America is ruled over by The Capitol, filled with fancy elitists. The rest of the country looks something like Little House on the Prairie, with people living in abject poverty. The continent is divided into 13 districts. One of them was bombed into non-existence so that leave 12 districts left to pay tribute to the Capitol through something called The Hunger Games. They pick one boy and one girl from each district, from the ages of 12 to 18, to fight to the death. The winner lives a life of luxury and the district gets more of the stuff they need to live.  Katniss Everdeen provides for her mom and younger sister through illegal hunting. When her sister gets picked for the Hunger Games, Katniss volunteers instead. The boy picked from her district, Peeta, is in love with her. This story of star crossed lovers captures the imagination of the Capitol people. Katniss has to survive her competitors, the Game-makers whom control the games and add interesting hazards to the arena, and the wrath of the President of Panem. She also needs to work out the whole love story sub-plot, but it is much more a source of conflict in the book.

One controversy I would like to address is the death of Rue. At the time the movie was released, some people called racism. They cast a black girl to play Rue and for some people, they feel like her death had less impact because of it. That is 100% bullshit. I do agree, Rue’ death in the movie rang hollow compared to the book but it had nothing to do with race. It had everything to do with the fact that we barely got to know Rue in the movie. A good portion of the book involves how Katniss feels about Rue, how she sees Rue in a similar light to her sister, how clever Rue is in terms of survival skills. Their alliance was solidly written and her death really hit the reader hard. In the movie, Katniss teams up with Rue and she is dead five minutes later. All of the subtly and nuance of the character in the book is missing in the movie. And that really sums up the movie as a whole.

I don’t blame the actors, I think they made the kind of movie the director wanted. I don’t blame the writers either. It feels to me like the studio dictated some of the changes between the book and the movie. At the end of the day, I feel like the movie failed to capture what was special about the book. Truthfully, other movies have done this story better. If they had stuck closer to the book, this could have risen above being just another Battle Royale rip off. My recommendation is watch Battle Royale or The Running Man. Or read the book.  Lt. Cmd Geordi LaForge is right, reading opens a world of adventure. Movie just kind of miss the point.

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