So last week my husband and I got around to finally seeing The Hunger Games like the rest of the country. We hadn’t seen a children’s book adaptation since Hugo, a movie we were both fairly meh about. Hunger Games was a far cry from the realm of Selznick, though. Where Hugo appeared to be written with a nostalgic adult audience in mind, Hunger Games was a crowd pleaser for more than one kind of crowd. That said, Matt and I disagreed on the final tally. I felt that it certainly had its flaws but was a strong adaptation in an era of Twilight. He, in contrast, wrote the recent blog post Rulebook Casefile: Obstacle Vs. Conflict in The Hunger Games. After reading it (and the very intelligent and fascinating comments that follow) I was able to start crafting my own response to the film. Consider the following a kind of mental tally put in electric ink.
For me, the movie mostly works not just because of what it does do but in large part because of what it doesn’t do. I decided to make a list and put it here, though I’d be interested in your own opinions. And for the record Matt’s subsequent post on Deathwish Fulfillment is also worthy reading.
What the Hunger Games Movie Does NOT Contain (the good):
- A drawn out romance between Katniss, Peeta, and Gale. It’s interesting that with the Twilight movies doing so well the filmmakers weren’t inclined to play more with the three-way romance here. I was grateful for it, of course, since this film is not the time or the place to get into all of that. Besides, every time they cut to Gale in the movie the audience giggled at his earnestness. Bodes badly for the future, it does.
- Product placement. You laugh but don’t you remember that Star Trek prequel from a couple years ago? That film had the gall to include at least two (probably more) ridiculous shots of futuristic product placement. I lived in fear that we’d see some Bladerunner-type shot of The Capitol with ads all around and about and while I would have appreciated less CGI the lack of advertising was sublime.
What the Hunger Games Movie Does NOT Contain (the bad):
- A satisfactory death scene for Rue. Matt’s not a fan of when folks take a novel in its entirety and slap it onto a screen without taking into account the different format (print vs. film). He’s far more inclined than I am to change large chunks of a story’s plot if it makes for a better movie in the end. I’m reluctant to change too much in a given film, having enjoyed movies like the Harry Potter films (well, some of them) precisely because they brought to life the heart of what I loved about the books. That said, there are certain elements in The Hunger Games that worked for me precisely because I saw them in my brain as I was reading about them in a cinematic way. And then there were the parts that should have worked on the big screen and, for whatever reason, didn’t. Rue’s death was a perfect example of this. Two years ago when I watched a fan video of Rue’s death I was pleased with how the filmmakers incorporated the lullaby and the flowers. I wondered at the time if the official film could even come close to the emotion of the scene, due in large part to how limited they’d be in terms of time. As I thought, the official film didn’t have the same amount of time to spare but they changed other more peculiar things. Though they set it up to mirror the scene early in the film where Katniss sings to Prim after she has a bad dream, in the film Katniss wasn’t allowed to sing two notes before the terrible orchestration (more on that later) swooped in and drowned out her voice. Meanwhile we started getting Rue Cam. Which is to say, we were seeing the sky from Rue’s perspective as it got fuzzy. I did not need Rue Cam. I wanted to hear a sad lullaby and to cry a little. Instead, no tears, a dead girl, and they didn’t even replicate that fantastic moment in the book where the mockingjays sing the lullaby back after Katniss finishes singing!
Here’s the fan video that did a pretty good job:
- A significant score. Remember when the first Harry Potter film came out and you heard the John Williams score for the first time? If you were anything like me you gave a definite sigh of relief. I had high hopes for something similar with this film when I saw an early preview. The four note song of Katniss played at the end of that preview (you can hear it here) made me think that hopefully the musical theme of the three movie series (pray it’s not four) would be based on those nice eerie notes. Alas, it was not to be. In fact, the score of The Hunger Games is no great shakes. Constantly interrupting meaningful scenes, distracting when it should lie low, and drawing too much attention to itself at the worst moments this was a good example of a movie succeeding in spite of its problems.
What Hunger Games Does Contain (the good):
- Haymitch. In one scene Haymitch speaks to the kids for the first time, drunk out of his mind. Peeta tries to take his drink and Haymitch stops him with a bizarre bare foot to the chest. Where the heck are his shoes? Really, Haymitch was used perfectly in the film in general. Getting to see him working behind the scenes was essential. You almost wish you’d seen that in the film.
- Great performances. With the exception of Sutherland everyone seemed to be putting their all into this film and it showed. Stanley Tucci being the best, of course.
- Good shortcuts. How does Katniss get the Mockingjay pin? Well we cut out the mayor’s daughter (no tears there) and it has to be quick and dirty. There were lots of moments like that. Smart elements and people cut down to accommodate for time.
What Hunger Games Does Contain (the bad):
- Bad guy cops (Peacekeepers) clad in white ala a dystopian movie circa 1975. Nuff said.
- A Donald Sutherland to be a de facto villain. I understand wanting to show a bit of the bad guy in the first film, but to my mind the whole reason we don’t see much President Snow in the first book is to show how the villain in this story isn’t one guy but society itself. By constantly cutting to Sutherland (a sleepy performance if ever there was one) we get the feeling that if you just took that guy down everything might be okey-dokey.
- A low-key Cinna. However, this was my fault entirely. With all the talk about whether or not GLBTQ characters are sufficiently represented in YA dystopian fiction I was hoping to see a heroic gay character on the screen in the form of Cinna. Lenny Kravitz gave a “subdued” performance and there’s nothing to say that his Cinna isn’t gay. I wanted someone out there and heroic and I didn’t get that, but that was my own personal reading of the part. After all, there’s nothing saying that Cinna is gay in the books.