Book fans, relax. The movie adaptation of “The Hunger Games” is just fine. In fact, it’s one of the better book-to-film adaptations in a while. But some things were done better than others.
“The Hunger Games” is a best-selling, young-adult trilogy that focuses on Katniss Everdeen, a young girl living in the not-so-distant future when an environmental apocalypse changes the very structure of the country.
Instead of having a United States of America, there is now just the country of Panem which has been divided into 12 districts, each of which has a specific purpose for the country, and one Capitol city where the main government is held.
Several years ago, the 12 districts rebelled against The Capitol and lost and as a punishment, The Capitol created “The Hunger Games.” Each district is required to provide one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 to compete in a fight-to-death game for the entertainment of the country.
This is where Katniss volunteers for the games when her sister is chosen as the “tribute” for District 12.
If you haven’t yet done so, read the books and watch this first movie. It’s worth it.
From the slow and bleak opening scenes of District 12 to the triumphant yet foreboding ending, we’ve compiled a list of things that worked, didn’t work and were surprising when taking “The Hunger Games” to the big screen.
Here’s what worked:
1. The movie’s perspective:
The book is told from Katniss’ perspective, which gives the reader a great look into the mind of a strong girl who is stuck in a helpless situation. But because the movie doesn’t have a constant voiceover for Katniss, director Gary Ross instead showed the full spectrum of the Games.
It was a real treat to see how “The Hunger Games” are put together with Head Gamekeeper Seneca Crane calling the shots.
Photo: Murray Close/ Lionsgate
2. The performances were all around fantastic.Jennifer Lawrence is ferocious as Katniss Everdeen and carried the film wonderfully. In the brilliant parts, she excelled and during the lacking sections of the film she raised the quality 10-fold.
Special attention must also be paid to the beautifully quiet performance from Lenny Kravitz as Katniss’ stylist and friend, Cinna. Josh Hutcherson was great as Peeta, the boy who has loved Katniss for years and was too afraid to show it. His performance is simultaneously sweet and heartbreaking. And tributes Alexander Ludwig as the evil Cato and Amandla Stenberg as Rue were utterly convincing. Woody Harrelson was snarky and sweet as drunken mentor Haymitch, though a little more drunk would have been nice. And finally, the two parts that could have been hammy and disappointing were entertaining to watch: Stanley Tucci as host of the Hunger Games Caesar Flickerman and a devilishly hilarious Elizabeth Banks as the District 12 tribute chooser Effie Trinket.
On the villainous side, Donald Sutherland was quiet but threatening as President Snow and Wes Bentley shined as Head Gamekeeper who can’t quite keep it together Seneca Crane.
3. The Pacing (the good parts)
For the most part, the pacing of the film was crisp and did not lag in unnecessary parts. The scenes that take the longest are the ones that should like the Reaping scene where the tributes from District 12 are chosen and the death (SPOILER) of Rue. The film was a full 2 hours and 22 minutes and yet it felt closer to an hour and a half.
4. The flashbacks
Much of Katniss’ life is told through flashbacks that Katniss remembers herself in the books. However, Gary Ross, the director, does a brilliant job of cross cutting quiet scenes of Peeta saving Katniss’ life by giving her bread with scenes of Katniss officially talking to Peeta for the first time after the Reaping.
5. The violence While it is strange to be praising the handling of violence or the amount of it in a movie, this series is based on public viewing of violence. Considering the PG-13 rating, the bloodshed is surprisingly still effective and, at times, difficult to watch. The scene when the tributes are first starting the Games and running toward the cornucopia has brilliant and frightening scenes where the Careers (tributes from District 1 and 2) are tearing through children from other Districts to get supplies and weapons.
Another scene that is absolutely effective occurs after Katniss blows up the supplies of the Careers while they are out hunting for her. Cato, the tribute from District 2, finds the lookout he left at the supplies flabbergasted from the blast. Katniss is near the woods looking on with her hearing temporarily gone from the blast. All she hears are muffled yelling and then a neck snap. The lookout has been killed by Cato. It’s frightening.
6. The music
From the beautifully ominous humming in the opening scenes to the triumphant sounds of the Capitol, the score by James Newton Howard was hands down one of the biggest pluses of the movie. The best pieces from the score would have to the be in the scenes where Katniss is hunting or searching for Peeta as well as the scene where Katniss shoots an arrow at the Gamekeeper during her practice before the games. The first sets the pacing of the story and the tone of District 12 perfectly while the second has a creepy sense of dread behind the quiet chimes that show Katniss’ intensity and a possibility of rebellion.
Here’s What Didn’t Work:
1. The Pacing (the bad parts)
Because of the focus on certain scenes like The Reaping or the days leading up to the Games, much of the story felt a bit short. This is where the flipside of the coin is revealed for pacing. It was tense and quick but at times a bit too quick. There should have more time taken to show a real relationship between Katniss and Rue, there should have been more time taken to explain that Katniss was playing up her relationship with Peeta for the cameras. Basically, it’s impossible to wish for more time in a movie that already takes up over two hours but in a book adaptation, there should always be more.
2. The Hunger
For children who don’t have much to eat in District 12, there wasn’t a lot of eating occurring during the scenes leading up to “The Hunger Games.” They are called the “Hunger” games for a reason. District 12 is poor and decrepit so Katniss leaps at the opportunity to eat in the books. We needed some of that. Also, Katniss has no trouble finding water during the games. In the books, it’s a struggle for her to do which symbolizes the seemingly impossible task of staying alive in the games. The movie had no reference to that. In fact, Katniss found water very quickly.
Photo: Screenshot/ Lionsgate
3. The aspect of reality television One thing the book excels at is showing how this environment of people enjoying child killing is a disturbing look into how our love for reality television could turn us into a “Hunger Games” watching society one day. Katniss and Peeta have to survive by playing up their actions for the television. The movie shows this in the scene where Peeta has his tribute interview with Caesar Flickerman but there isn’t much reference to it during the Games.
Katniss must play up the star-crossed lovers game for the audience so they have something to root for. There was a bit of intensity between Lawrence and Hutcherson, the chemistry was there, but there weren’t enough moments to show that Katniss was pretending to be in love with Peeta for the cameras.
There wasn’t enough mention of how all of this was completely real for Peeta and there wasn’t enough mention of Peeta later realising that Katniss was playing up almost all of her feelings for the cameras. We needed the added scene of heartbreak for Peeta which drives the ending home. It shows that even when players are in on the Games and the reality-TV aspect of it all, there is still real emotion there for them. And it turns the table on the audience, showing them that it’s wrong to be entertained by something so disturbing.
The movie adaptation of “The Hunger Games” is a tense, effective story that provides great action and entertainment with an actual semblance of plot and overarching themes that make for a potentially fantastic series. That’s something many book-to-movie adaptations strive for but never can find.
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