Reviewing “The Hunger Games”

Two of my favorite films, “Jaws” and “The Godfather,” are films that were adapted from book to the silver screen. In both of those instances, I saw the movies long before I read the books. When I read the books, I enjoyed them, though I thought the films cut out the right parts and were just about perfect. While a mob-background and an illicit Matt Hooper-Ellen Brody romance would’ve added certain twists to “Jaws,” they were not necessary to tell the story. The novel The Godfather was even more rich in detail than the film was, but there may’ve been one too many tangents (cutting Lucy Mancini’s vaginal reconstruction was probably a good choice).

Recently, the beloved baseball book Moneyball was translated to a film starring Brad Pitt that eventually earned a few (probably undeserved Oscar nominations). Unlike the previously mentioned films, I read this book first, in anticipation of the film. You can read my mini-review of the book here. This time, I enjoyed the movie, but liked the book a whole lot more. But, I understand why certain things–like the details about Chad Bradford’s journey to success in the Majors and the minutiae about the draft–were left out of the film. In 8th grade, I read One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and enjoyed it thoroughly, even if I didn’t quite get the whole thing. Later, I saw the film and loved it. Then around this time last year, I was doing student teaching and was teaching Cuckoo’s Nest to a class of 11th and 12 graders. I decided to watch the film again…and I hated it because of how far it strayed from the book. Hell, it was an entirely different work than the book. Sure, the events were generally the same, but the total shift in perspective just did’t jive with me anymore.

Then last summer, I took an adolescent literature class, the penultimate class in my master’s degree course. In it, we were assigned to read the well renowned young adult novel The Hunger Games. I semi-skimmed it to get the assignment done, but after the course was over, I figured it was worth a real read. While the writing was not all that impressive, the story moved quickly and the characters were compelling. I finished it in under five days. After that, I borrowed the other two books, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay from a co-worker. I finished both of those in about two weeks time and eagerly anticipated the film’s release.

Finally, the film was released last Friday and I was in attendance with my girlfriend. I also went to see it on Sunday with my sister. Before seeing it, there was a twinge of doubt in my mind. Though I’d only heard positive things about the film, especially in regards to how it related to the book, the back of my mind was still telling me, “Maybe this won’t live up to the hype…” But, for the most part, the film did live up to the hype. I thought the filmmakers nailed the look and the feel of the setting and people of District 12, the Capitol, and the arena itself. The cosmetic changes made–such as Katniss’s acquisition of her Mockingjay pin and the semi-toned down violence–were definitely understandable. There were some “alterations” that I took issue with, though.

If you’ve read the books, then you know Katniss’s Capitol-appointed stylist Cinna is a remarkably important character in the book. In the film, his role is downplayed. The close relationship he forms with Katniss is recognizable for sure, but the urgency that appeared in the book does not appear in the film. As a testament to that, my parents saw the film and didn’t “get” Cinna’s character. Another (relatively small) issue I had was the Rue death scene. When I read the book, I told myself that scene had potential for absolutely beautiful cinema…and it mostly lived up to that. The scene was touching and the theater may or may not have gotten a bit dusty when I saw it. Still, I think the director and cinematographer could’ve done more. The scene consisted mostly of one shots of Katniss’s face and Rue’s face and this is certainly understandable as it’s necessary to see the emotions of both characters (and both actresses did a fantastic job). If I were at the helm (like I should be for every film ever made), I would’ve tried to include more two-shots of Katniss and Rue to emphasize their closeness. This isn’t a big thing to me, though. The biggest thing missing from the film, though, was Katniss’s nuance when it came to her relationship with Peeta. While it was hinted at after the Games when she meets with Haymitch before going on stage, it was not quite there in the cave like it was in the book. At that point in the film, it comes off like she actually does love Peeta, which is clearly not the case in the book. At the end, though, this is also understandable because without voice-over (which is lazy), this isn’t quite transferable to screen. And I must note that the shot of Katniss watching Peeta sleep did a good job to convey her conflict. As Peeta is sleeping, Katniss is sitting away from him and her face is half-lit, a clear signal that she’s divided at this point.

But again, overall, I enjoyed this film. If I were to sit here and pick nits about everything that didn’t match up with the book, I’d be here forever. And if they included all those things, the film would be unwatchably long. The best part of the film was the acting. Each actor did a fantastic job with his or her role. Coming away from this, I’ll remember the performances most. The editing was good and the set/art direction was spot-on with what I pictured while reading. The addition of the Games-making and President Snow scenes was welcomed, too. While this differed from the book in that most of the Capitol’s sinister actions are off-page, it helped show the audience how the Capitol works and how vindictive its leaders can be. This is crucial in setting up the events of the forthcoming second and third films.

Overall, the film version of “The Hunger Games” stayed as true to the book as possible while still maintaining its own identity and that’s about all you could ask for in an adaptation.

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