Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Hunger Games (2012)

It's ironic that I never wrote a proper review for The Hunger Games after I saw it the first time, the day it came out. Because when I read the novel it's based on, I had originally decided that, since this is more of a movie review blog than a book review blog, I would just wait for the movie to come out so I could review it, and refer back to the novel to make comparisons. But then I ended up writing a review for the book, and then when the movie came out, I didn't write a review for it!

Part of the reason for that was because I didn't really know what to say about the movie - I was too caught up with comparing it to the book to really appreciate it on its own merits. But with the second movie - Catching Fire - finally coming out, I thought I'd go back and watch the first one again, now that it's been so long since I've read the book. And yet, I still find myself getting caught up with comparing the movie to the book. Honestly, I think the biggest problem with this movie is that the book it was based on is just soo good.

I mean, it's an ambitious movie - the whole sci-fi dystopia thing, with a strong emphasis on action and human pathos. It's obvious that the film-makers went to a lot of trouble to create a futuristic world - complete with the drastic dichotomy between the starving residents of the poor districts and the fashionable socialites of the Capitol (although there is no excuse for the liberal use of shaky cam, especially in the earliest scenes in this movie). And it works. It's a great story. It builds to an exciting climax, and it hits some powerful emotional notes.

Yet, it doesn't ring quite as true to me as the book did. To me, the casting of a lot of the characters seems slightly off - which is another irony, given that I was convinced Jennifer Lawrence was the perfect choice for Katniss Everdeen, after seeing her in gritty, independent movies like Winter's Bone and The Poker House. But she doesn't seem as put-upon in this movie, in a role that demands it as much as any of her others.

Similarly, the poverty-stricken District 12 doesn't have as much authenticity or character as it did in the book. And Gale seems like more of a teen heartthrob than a rugged woodsman. I understand that The Hunger Games' primary audience is 12 year old girls, but the book is the true source of that appreciation, and I found its brilliance to be based on deeper foundations than such superficial appeals.

And the Capitol residents just look ridiculous. I realize this is at least partially (if not entirely) intentional, because part of the whole point is that the residents of the Capitol are so pretentious and full of themselves, that they'll devour the most ridiculous looking fashions and wear them with a straight face. And that there is some poignancy in the juxtaposition of the cruelty of watching children die for entertainment, and treating it as lightly as Monday night football. But for a sci-fi dystopia society, they just aren't very intimidating.

President Snow, for his part, looks way too kind and fatherly - I pictured him clean-shaven and with a sterner-looking face. And Caesar Flickerman is too boisterous, his charisma doesn't succeed like it does in the book (here, he could be easily mocked, but the most chilling aspect of his character in the book is that his sincerity feels genuine, in spite of the role he plays in these children's traumatic deaths).

During the Games themselves, the mutts have entirely the wrong look - as if the CG team opted to capitalize on the pun in their name instead of emphasizing their more frightening wolf-like aspects, meanwhile completely ignoring their most terrifying attribute - the eyes (although, to be fair, that element might be hard to get across in a movie).

It's inevitable that when a book is adapted to a movie, changes will be made. What's ironic is that The Hunger Games works better as a book than a Hollywood spectacle. But what makes the story great is that it's about so much more than a juvenile deathmatch. A movie is not introspective enough, and doesn't have the time to really get inside its character's head, and bring the world of its setting to life.

In the end, The Hunger Games just doesn't have the impact, the intelligence, and the perfectly calculated rhythm of the book it was based on. I'm still looking forward to seeing the rest of the series, but if you had to make a choice, you're much better off reading the book. And I'm not just saying that as a book snob, who thinks the book is always better than the movie; I'm saying that as someone who spends a lot more hours watching movies than reading books.

1 comment:

  1. Good review. My thoughts are pretty much identical to yours, other than the fact that I consider The Hunger Games book *so* good that even a notably mediocre adaption is utterly spectacular to me. But you're right, the substance of the book just doesn't seem to be there. I understand why they had to downtone the violence (and really, we have Battle Royale for that anyway). But there's no reason they had to scrimp on the intellectual depth of thes tory. The Hunger Games movie feels like a plot summary, the flesh of the brain is there but the synapses just aren't active.

    But ultiamtely I think what they did with the first Hunger Games movie was acceptable because the first book is the one that is closest to that anyway. It's *supposed* to be more of a hollywood blockbuster and the further you get into the series, the deeper it all becomes. They've still got three films after this to fill in the blanks.

    I take it you haven't seen Catching Fire yet? I don't want to hype your hopes up too much but it's far truer to the book than the first Hunger games movie was. My running pet theory is that they're stacking the deck so that the last two movies will be the best in the series despite covering what is (in most fans' estimation -- which I vehemently disagree with) the worst book. The thingd that I find most conspicuously absent (simply because it would be so easy and quick for them to show), e.g. Katniss crying in a ball in the corner of the room whenver she gets the chance, Haymitch so unalienably damaged that he needs to be toppled over in his cups to even function, I think most of the things that are missing will be fulfilled by the end of the film series.