The Hunger Games

It’s a television show!

I can’t speak to the Twilight series, but most sci-fi/fantasy adaptations are frustratingly unlike the source material.  Sometimes they subtract from the story, which is understandable considering time limitations of film.  That argument I think is pretty bunk considering that there’s a rabid fan base that would watch an eight-hour adaptation of Harry PotterThe Lord of the Rings, or whatever.

Sometimes they reshape the story, which is understandable because a first person subjective narrative can be difficult to communicate without a narration or an excellent actor.  Narration is difficult to get right and actors are in short supply (considering the typical age of the characters).

Sometimes they add to the story, which is breaking the 11th Commandment as far as I’m concerned.  Once you add to a story, it has ceased to be an adaptation and has become a collaboration.  And by collaboration, I mean chimera.  That will not do.

The Hunger Games (2012) does not violate Commandment #11.  Well, not the spirit of it at any rate.  Bravo.

After an apocalyptic civil war, the United States has been separated into 12 Districts each providing a particular commodity.  Every year, the Capitol puts on the Hunger Games, where a boy and girl from each district fight to the death until the survivor (Victor) is showered with goodies.  Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is from District 12, the coal district.  She’s a hunter/survivor and our main protagonist.  She volunteers to fight in the Hunger Games.  Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), who has the second worst name in the movie, is the boy chosen from District 12.  Then children start to kill one another.

My immediate, notable thoughts are negative ones.  That shouldn’t be unexpected considering I knew the story going in, having read it last year, and couldn’t be much surprised by the content.

First of all, they seemed to be confused on their show-tell policy.  Sometimes they did well by just letting things evolve naturally without blatant, literal explanation.  But far more often than not, with painful intrusion, they let us know exactly what’s going on.  You really need to give the audience more credit–even those who can’t read.

Second issue–note, I do not say “problem”–instead of restricting the story to Katniss’s exclusive perspective, the film branches into the events behind the games.  The biggest example of this is the control room behind the arena where technical folks control the cameras, weather, and lethal hazards.  They also follow Pres. Snow (Donald Sutherland) a little bit.

Where these issues become problems is when the intrusions and diversions weren’t used consistently.

I don’t necessarily mind explanation when the issues are complicated and  I wouldn’t mind it if they had a clever device that made it seem less contrived (as all the Harry Potter movies failed to do).  The thing is, they did have a device and it was pretty solid.  They had the interviewer, Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci), and announcer, Claudius Templesmith (Toby Jones), as commentators for the games.  They should have run with this idea or abandoned it.  I wouldn’t begrudge them that and I’m as puritanical as it gets on adaptations.

The same goes with the diversions into those behind the scenes.  First off, I think they should have left off Pres. Snow and saved him for the next films.  Second, why wasn’t his mouth blood red?  Maybe it looked too gross, I’m not sure.  Even so, they still didn’t completely invest into the outside world.  At the end of the games when [spoiler] are going to [spoiler] and [spoiler], we should have seen behind the scenes.

I suspect this was a time concern or a reticence to diverge too far.  The latter theory is significantly strengthened by the fact that there is little that I can tell that was removed from the book.  As far as time concerns are concerned, you know that I’m not that concerned by them.

Performances.  As a general matter, performances are clearly the weak point of the movie.  You’ve got a lot of young folks in this movie and I don’t think they were pressed near enough to give realistic performances.  The volunteering, which you see in the trailer, is particularly grating.  Some of this can be explained by the screenplay.  Obvious lines inspire JV performances.  I would point to Lenny Kravitz as the greatest victim of this.  They do best when they don’t have to speak at all.

Lawrence had to carry most of the movie and she did perfectly well.  I’m not going to say she was excellent because I think she needed to be a little less likable, a little more numb.  There were points where I was impressed with Hutcherson, who I expected to be dreadful.  And Woody Harrelson, who plays the mentor Haymitch, was almost acting like a three-dimensional character.

But hey, it was still a pretty darn good movie.  Gary Ross, the director, put together a pretty good visualization of Panem.  Really, though, he made no unforced errors, which is worthy of respect.  Not admiration, but respect.

What you lose in a movie that you have in a book is quality time with many more characters.  If I’m adapting a book, I shoot a four or five hour movie and come up with two cuts: the theatrical cut and the dvd cut.  I feel like everybody wins in that situation.  Especially me.

About Prof. Ratigan

A semi-lawyer and amateur enthusiast.
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5 Responses to The Hunger Games

  1. I didn’t think the movie was wonderful nor dreadful. I do feel that the mature nature of the subject matter required more then a gloss over. Some of the scenes seemed too simplified. I agree with you that the worst thing a movie can do is to add to it. As you mentioned, “Once you add to a story, it has ceased to be an adaptation and has become a collaboration.” I do feel that the movie in fact did violate this commandment. I knew before seeing the movie that additional scenes had been written specifically for the movie. According to Director Gary Ross: “with Donald, he wrote such a compelling case for who this man [Snow] was and what this kind of autocratic power did and the imposition of his kind of authority and what this sort of fascism really was, that not only did I cast him, but I ended up writing two more scenes based on that letter.” …To me, that is clearly adding to what is already a wonderfully functioning piece of written work. This I found to be a negative strike against the film. …. Though overall, I really did enjoy your thoughtful review of this movie. Thanks for sharing…

    • See, I draw a distinction between adding scenes (like the commentators) and adding content (like a new character or plot line). They didn’t add any content, they just fleshed out some of it.

      It’s interesting they thought they were compelling in the least with Snow/Sutherland because I thought it was a weak performance nowhere near the menace of the book.

      • I get what you are saying, or rather defining what you mean by ‘adding scenes’… That does make sense… Though I still feel the added Snow and Crane scenes stole moments away from the film that could have been used to better develop some of the scenes that actually happened and were included in the film. And you are right, I feel, in saying that in the book, Snow is more menacing and evil then in the movie. Though I’m planning on seeing this movie again at the beginning of the week and perhaps some of my initial perceptions may change. …. Thanks for responding to my original comment, as do appreciate it. 🙂

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