I know I’m rather behind in this scene, but I just finished reading “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins, and watching its film adaptation. The book was an enjoyable if not a transcendent read, while the movie was a complete disappointment. I’m writing this “review” to compare and contrast (and criticize) both versions, already assuming that you have either read the book or seen the movie, or are merely interested in what I have to say. Which means, there WILL be spoilers. So, if you, like I was, are planning to read or watch the movie, bookmark this post and see if you agree or disagree with my words afterward. That also means that instead of summarizing the plot, I’m going to jump right into the action and talk about the events and characters of the medium again assuming that you know what I”m talking about.
First off, I’ll start with the book. It’s very fast paced, interesting, and has a fantastic concept that I picked up on and almost fell in love with in the first chapter. Basically, it’s a futuristic Rome and Gladiator Games contest, with the Tributes representing the Gladiators, where winners are showered in gifts, and losers systemically killed. It’s a bloodthirsty and cold-hearted tradition, but it works for the government in the Capitol (curious how it’s an “o” not an “a”) to keep control of their realm. And, choosing children as the Gladiators is utterly horrifying yet fascinating, it’s a tactic that shows the heartlessness of the Panem government to pit those aged 12-18 against each other in a Battle Royale. The characters are relateable and three dimensional, if not somewhat predictable. The action and violence is realistic, if even at some points it’s rather graphic. And, Collins kills off a loveable main character, which is something that all good novelists need to do to accurately convey realism and portray danger. Rue was an adorable character that the reader truly cared about, and when she took one for the team it was right up there with Dobby dying in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows as far as emotionalism. It’s a good book, but not a great one.
And that’s because of the romance between the main characters, the two tributes from District 12 in Katniss and Peeta. It’s really boring. For the first part of their relationship in the book, you can feel the tension, but you don’t know how it will turn out with them supposed to be pretending to be in love during the games. You can predict that it’s going to turn out badly for one of them, as one might fall for the other in the midst of pretending, but it doesn’t pan out that way. Instead, Collins draaaaaaaags out the pretending part of their relationship, muddling it and drastically overplaying it. And then to make matters worse, she doesn’t even resolve their true feelings in the end, OBVIOUSLY bating the reader for a sequel in which there will be more kissy-kissy overplayed, clear as mud teenage romance. Blech.
Secondly, there’s how she writes the book. It is written in present-progressive first person tense, which makes NO sense, but improves the pacing of the book. For example, a normal first person narrative is told like this.
“I ran through the woods, seeking my prey out amongst the evergreens, attempting to follow the blood trail as it became faint on the pines and needles.”
Present-progressive is told like this :
“I run through the woods, as I seek my prey in the evergreen forest, following the blood trail as it is becoming faint on the pines and needles.”
It’s very very confusing, because when a story is being told in first person, it’s usually the main character relating facts to you, the reader, told as a story. But instead, in present-progressive first person, it’s like she’s telling you what is going on as it’s happening, and you’re there with her. Which makes no sense, because diaries aren’t even written in present-progressive. Basically, the reader is a split personality of Katniss who she is relating what is going on to. Uh, okay? It improves the pacing, because it feels like the events are currently happening, but it makes for a bit of confusion.
The book doesn’t play to its strength of the concept, failing to expand the universe as much as it should, and wasting too much time on a romance that doesn’t even become terribly clear. Still, it’s a good book. The point of adapting a book into a film, however, is to reach a wider audience while staying faithful to the source material. However, a film adaptation can play to the strengths of the novel, and focus less on the weaknesses because it is actually an adaptation. So, in order to make a successful film, the filmmakers could do one of two things. 1) Create a teenage-romance film, and pander to that audience only OR 2) Create a heartfelt and realistically (for a fantasy) gritty film, AKA the later Harry Potters, that plays to the universe of the book. Sadly, the producers stuck with option number one, banking on the Twilight audience to bring in the box office receipts.
Here’s my problems with the movie, listed in no particular order.
1. The Film Score.
Unmemorable. All good novel adaptations should have a fantastic score, like The Lord of the Rings series. It emphasizes all the right moments in the movie and impacts the audience drastically. Which means, you need to hire a good composer, just like Peter Jackson did in LOTR (Howard Shore) or the Harry Potter producers did in John Williams. James Newton Howard is an accomplished composer, but you gotta pair him with someone like Hans Zimmer to get something truly memorable.
2. The Non-Linear Storytelling
If you’re not Quentin Tarantino or Zack Snyder, don’t tell a story non-linearly. We get these awkward flashbacks of Katniss’ father being killed in the mine explosion, and of Peeta throwing Katniss bread in the rain. We have no background or emotion tied with either scene, it just feels so utterly disjointed and awkward that we’re not sure what exactly to make of the scenes. Here’s how I would have incorporated those events into the film.
START out the film with the Everdeen’s father being the main character (like in Star Trek with Kirk’s father), with a young family in a dirt poor mining community. Show his relationship with Katniss and how he passes down his skills to her, and show what a caring parent he truly was. Then, in an emotional and tragic death scene, with piano music such as this playing……(skip to 13:10)
….show the death of their father in the mining accident, and the grief and spiraling depression that it sends the girls mother into. Then, altering the book a little bit, show Katniss running away from home in her emotion, and THERE have her encounter with Peeta as she is starving and hurt in the rain. Have her return home, and then in a voice-over by Jennifer Lawrence, have her say something like “My Name is Katniss Everdeen, and this is my story.” She can then narrate the history of Panem as the audience returns to the present events starting with the reaping. The part with Peeta has to be downplayed enough however, that when he gets chosen to be a tribute, the audience is thinking to themselves “oh my God that’s the kid that saved her in the rain!”
3. Casting and Character Changes
I don’t understand why Donald Sutherland plays President Snow in this movie. The President isn’t featured in the first book, and Donald Sutherland isn’t a politician or intimidating. And, take the creative liberty to ax the term “President”. Make the ruler of Panem have a sweet title like “Augustus” or something Roman that implies dictatorship. If you insist on having an older guy be “President”, cast Christopher Lee while he is still alive, PLEASE. Or, if you want a truly intimidating two faced politician, Kevin Spacey should get the role.
The rest of the cast is actually very well done, they’re honestly just given bad lines. Someone please kill the writer for this movie, it’s another Michael Bay-esque film where they decide to explain entire things by throwing in a line of script instead of actually showing something. It’s a book, your movie is allowed to be 2 hours and 45 minutes.
Also, WHO IS THE VILLAIN OF THIS MOVIE?? You think it’s President Snow but he isn’t even in the book and is in about three scenes. You might think it’s the Careers (District 1 and 2 tributes), but you don’t hate them at all and they’re left totally undeveloped. I think the villain is the director, who butchered this movie completely.
Which brings me to the part of Rue. Her death in the book was very emotional, and she was a great developed supporting character. However, she isn’t developed AT ALL in the movie, and when she dies you just think to yourself, “oh, well she’s gone even though I don’t really know how because the filmmakers are afraid to show violence in an inherently violent movie.” HERE’S how you do an emotional impalementish death scene.
At this point in the movie, YOU DON’T EVEN LIKE BOROMIR. But, wow. This death scene is just unreal, as he comes to terms with everything. The music, the slow-mo, the dialogue is just off the chain. Which is how it should have been in the movie.
My final gripe as far as characters go is with the Peacekeepers. Supposed to be the policing force, they’re totally lame and not intimidating. You want intimidating and memorable? Go with something like this.
Or, if you want to stick with the Roman theme, go with a Centurion design. That works too.
4. The Setting
The Capitol is described as being in the middle of the Rocky Mountains with mountains surrounding it on all sides. In other words, it’s Denver. But, we get no real notion or idea where it is, for all we know it’s in DC. They also describe District 12 as being in Appalachia, in other words, West Virginia. But again, the audience isn’t informed about this, and we can’t connect with the setting at all.
Furthermore, there should have been way more Roman architecture to go with the theme. Steal a page from the book of Gladiator and have more white stone paved streets, arches, and pillared structures. Yet, maintain the futuristic feel by incorporating more technology into the vast courtyards and plantation styled houses.
5. The Little Things The Movie Has To Do
-Create a convincing romance between the main characters. This is foremost and premier (and is hardly a little thing_, this drives the movie. It’s boring and unconvincing, and it’s what the producers tried to make a movie about. Thus, the movie failed.
-Create an “Evil Empire” feel for the Capitol and the Government. This means NOT omitting the fact from the novel that the Muttations are given life from the corpses of the rest of the killed tributes. Show their atrocities and their reign, create empathy for the rebellion and hatred for the Capitol.
-Be much more faithful to the book’s portrayal of Haymitch and Katniss’ relationship. They have an understanding but not a like of each other, which the movie doesn’t show at all. Woody Harrelson does a great job as Haymitch, his part simply isn’t written well at all. It’s like the director wanted to dumb down their relationship just so simplify the movie. Collins creates a unique dynamic between the characters, showcase it as best possible.
-Expand and enhance the scene where Thresh spares Katniss’ life. This is about a 40 second scene in the movie, where it’s several pages and is very dramatic and the book. Make the audience feel the pressure and the emotion of having to owe somebody for a kindness
-Show the REAL way that Katniss obtained the Mockingjay pin. In the movie, she gives it to Prim “for luck”. Apparently, it’s not lucky at all because Prim gets selected as Tribute. And still, Prim gives Katniss the pin as Katniss volunteers to take her sisters place, “for luck”. Uhhhhh……..why? It was just proven that that pin is not lucky what-so-ever.
-Include Cato’s Body Armor from the book. At “The Feast” where Katniss receives the medicine for her and Peeta. It’s integral to the plot, and the fact where in the movie she puts Cato out of his misery while being devoured by the Muttations. The body armor came without a facemask, which would amplify this further.
-Don’t skimp on the exposition of the movie. The audience needs to understand the disparity between not just the Capitol and Districts, but between the Districts themselves. Explain the universe as best possible.
-Don’t be afraid to push the limits of a PG-13 movie. I feel like this could have easily been up for a PG rating, whereas the book can get rather graphic and definitely merits a PG-13 rating with its brutality. You shouldn’t go overboard, it being a teen novel for the most part, but portray more of the violence more realistically, make the audience feel the pain and the sorrow in having children kill each other.
Despite all the negatives I’ve listed, the movie is very well cast (other than Sutherland) and the last 20 minutes are done particularly well. However, if you really like the book and have half a brain, you shouldn’t love the movie. I only enjoyed the book and I still hated the film. I did just purchase the second book which I’m told is an improvement, but there’s no way you could drag me to see the second movie after this chop job. My advice? If you want a good read, buy it cheaply (I did for $6) or borrow it from the library. It’s a good read and great concept that you won’t regret, but it without a doubt pales in comparison to Lord of the Rings or even Harry Potter. The book gets a 8/10 whereas the movie 5/10.