So after all the hype of adapting a wildly popular book, garnering an awesome Rotten Tomatoes score, and trying to satisfy a ravenous fan base while at the same time trying to make it universally watchable… …was The Hunger Games worth it?
I thought the adaptation into the film was one of the greater successes of playing off massive hype and still somehow delivering, which rarely happens. I know it was being marketed as the “next Twilight”, which I find to be unfair. I read the book, and only rarely did it feel like something aimed at a tween demographic (there is an emerging love triangle and such). I thought it was more or less an awesome, brutal story about a death arena. Despite not really being marketed as such (which gave me a little doubt initially), the final film itself proved itself to be *almost* everything one could have hoped for in an adaptation.
For those who do not know what the Hunger Games is about… It takes place in a dystopian America, divided into 12 districts, all of them have their food regulated by the Capitol. There was a 13th district that rebelled against the capitol years ago, and as punishment, the capitol now forces each district to put two teens into The Hunger Games. The winner of the games will be showered in riches and their district will receive food for the year. This film is about Katniss, a girl from the poorest district (12), and her struggles through the games.
I was pleasantly surprised at how artsy and abstract the film was for being such a popular entity. Usually when a huge movie is made like this, it can fall victim to just sort of getting pushed out with minimal flair by the studio, knowing that people will put their butts in the seats based on principal alone, even if the finished product is lackluster. But it seems like the director put forth great effort to make something memorable. Something that could hold up against the book. One day years from now, when the Hunger Games novel is no longer such a hot commodity, and the film is looked at more on its own separate, individual merits; I think it will hold up pretty nicely.
I hope this doesn’t sound like I’m some kind of philistine, but The Hunger Games is one of the RARE instances where I read the book before I saw the film. And I’ve got to say, reading the book beforehand made watching the film very distracting. The book was almost entirely driven by Katniss’ internal dialogue. Delightfully, the film didn’t just use a bunch of voice over to convey this. Instead they relied on acting, emotion, and some clever cutbacks to ESPN-like Hunger Games commentators to explain what was going on in certain scenarios. But for most of the film I just sort of had all that internal dialogue stored in my head, so everything appeared to be perfectly explained to me. Today, as I look back on the film and think about what I saw, I can’t help but think the film was told for the most part without much exposition. To someone who hasn’t read the book, perhaps the film will be somewhat unexplained. Take the Peeta/bread throwing scene for instance. Made perfect sense to me because the entire scene plays out early in the book, but it’s told in non-linear flashback throughout the film, often in one or two second bursts. It’s cool stuff like that, just the interesting way they chose to structure and make the film, that gives me great desire to go back to the theater sometime this week and rewatch it. Except this time just phase out the fact that I’ve read the book and take the film at it’s surface value and go from there. I think it will prove to be a great film from a pure filmmaking perspective, and not just as a movie that’s based off that cool book I read. So I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’d rather be amazed by a film first and read the deeper context of the book afterwards, so I WILL NEVER READ THE BOOK BEFORE SEEING A MOVIE EVER AGAIN!! (wait, I’m already halfway through World War Z… fuck!)
Some quibbles regarding book vs. film:
-While most of the characters seemed fine to me in relation to how they were portrayed in the book, the only one who had me a little muddled was Thresh. I actually didn’t even realize that the guy was supposed to be Thresh the first few times I saw him. The book kind of describes him as a bit of a hulking ogre of a kid. Someone capable of crushing a skull with his bare hands. In this he seemed no bigger than Cato, really, and less intimidating as well.
-I thought two of the death scenes were changed to less involve the main characters’ emotions. I won’t say which ones to prevent spoilers, but they were two moments that I thought developed the characters and created much more complex conflict. Moments that I expected in the film, and weren’t in there to my disappointment…
-As my girlfriend pointed out to me, they didn’t really portray the districts as truly starving nations, and they didn’t do a great job explaining the purpose/rewards of winning the games that well. Or the consequence of putting their names into the reaping multiple times, etc. All lightly touched upon, but not delved into in great detail. Two minutes of extra dialogue probably could have solved this.
Slight issues with the film itself (book aside):
-I felt like this was an R-rated film restrained into a PG-13 rating. Say what you will about graphic violence, I thought it would have been beneficial to have much more of it in this film. It would have increased the significance of each kill, and likely created more suspense, as people would truly see the horror of what could potentially happen to these characters. Instead we sort of get a lot of off camera death shots/aftermath of a kill. Don’t get me wrong, Hunger Games is very violent even for a PG-13 movie, but it felt like they were avoiding *most* of the violence, and I took note. It’s about 24 people trying to murder each other, it’s *supposed* to be really violent! Obviously, due to marketing/demographics, the film would never be considered for an R rating in a million years, and the $155 million opening weekend proves the studio’s point.
-At times, the music score felt twangy and inappropriate for what I was watching. In some parts I felt it took away the grandiose nature of the entire thing. Not a total crapfest score, but I would have gone in a different direction. My favorite scenes in the film were often the ones without any music, however. And there were plenty of instances of this, which I thought was great.
-The pacing isn’t brisk from a story structure standpoint. And to someone with less investment in the story, I could see it being considered slow. Personally, I thought it flew by pretty quickly (for a film of over two hours), but I understand why some critics are calling it out for its pacing. There’s a lot of build up and down time in the book as well.
-The action scenes were very “shaky cam”, and often hard to see what’s going on until it settled down a little bit. Frantic for sure, but I thought people were starting to get sick of shaky action scenes? Might have benefited more from a more traditional approach to the action, just sayin’.
Despite a few complaints (pobody’s nerfect), I liked what I saw WAY more than I disliked it. I thought it was engaging, entertaining, and epic in scale. It had all the makings of a great summer blockbuster, only it was two months early, and without all the usual disappointment (hey, remember Spider-Man 3?). It’s more artsy than I was expecting it to be (that’s a good thing), and from the little I’ve seen of the Twilight series, The Hunger Games doesn’t have much relation to it (yet), and should be distanced from it for it’s own sake. It’s not a movie that girls should have to drag their boyfriends to see (like the vampire movies), it’s a movie the boyfriends should want to see as well. I would recommend Hunger Games to pretty much anyone. It’s good escapist fun made with a skilled hand.
8.5 out of 10