Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Hunger Games: A Comparative Review

I just got back from watching the film adaptation of The Hunger Games with my wife. Overall, I enjoyed the film. I felt it had a good balance of action and story. If I hadn't read the book, I probably would have loved it. As it is, I had a good time, but I have a few beefs.


The first issue I had with the film was the shaky camera work. This is the primary criticism I would still have had if I had not read the series ahead of time. We right now have technology that makes it possible to erase shakiness in film. Therefore, the only reason for a major Hollywood movie to NOT do this is stylistic. This was a poor choice on their part. The only other problem I had not to do with their choices in adaptation was that their is a scene where Katniss goes to sleep in a sleeping bag and wakes up without one.

Now starting at casting. Katniss was well done. Haymitch was fine: I didn't love his performance, but he did a fine job looking the part. I feel that Gale was too beefy in his appearance and Peeta was not beefy enough. President Snow was excellent. I liked Seneca Crane, but his portrayal struck me as someone new to being head gamemaker, even though dialog established that he had years of experience. Most of the rest of the casting was fitting, though unremarkable. I wish Rue had looked a little more like Prim (even just putting her in pigtails would have helped), but my wife caught the connection, so I'm probably being too picky.

The lowpoint of the adaptation for me was cutting out the part of Peeta's story where "even the birds stop to listen." That is arguably my favorite moment in the entire series. Cutting it felt like a jab to the heart.

On the other hand, the absolute highpoint of the film, adaptation-wise, was the bowl of nightlock berries left for Seneca Crane at the end. Absent from the book, this scene communicated volumes about President Snow without a single line of dialog. Top notch.

In regards to major plotlines, I have mixed feelings. For example, I felt that the fabrication of Katniss's feelings for Peeta was unclear, while in the novel the confused feelings of trying to stay alive, experiments with first love, and obligation for his childhood gift of bread were beautifully communicated. My wife, however, was able to see without my telling her that her feelings were, if partially genuine, primarily motivated by Haymitch's strategy, so again, I may be too picky.

The plotline of Rue's death and her district's response was an interesting change. In the novel, they sent her bread. In the film, they were immediately incensed to riot. Now, I understand how the bread is a less exciting response than a mob. Also, it does tie well into the rest of the series to show the beginnings of a revolt. But I liked the bread. It was sweet.

Now, arguably the worst handling of a plotline is the way they changed Haymitch's growth. The novel did a good job of showing him change from a full-on alcoholic, to a man willing to stay sober to help two young people he believed in. In the movie, however, he showed signs of liking Katniss too soon and too often. Realistically, he shouldn't have been shown to like her at all. Respect, yes. Believe in, sure. But it's very clear in the book that even when he approves of her individual actions, he does not actually like her.

There are many other changes I could harp on: the differing origins of the Mockingjay pin, the inferior explanation of the origin of Muttations, the absolute neglect of explaining what happened to District 13… but all in all, these don't matter. When I first left the theater, I said to my wife that I considered it a good movie, but a poor adaptation. As I've thought more, however even that is too harsh. I would say now that I disagree with almost every artistic decision they made in adapting the story, but I am still pleased with the overall result. And you know what? That's pretty darn good.

PS: If you're looking for other Hunger Games adaptations, I recommend The Katniss Chronicles. It is a free audiodrama made by some very skilled people, who I feel did a fantastic job portraying Suzanne Collins's work.

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