Thursday, July 12, 2012

A Long Overdue Look at The Hunger Games Movie [Spoilers]

So, um. I never posted this. On the bright side, I trust that, by now, you've seen this if you've had any interest in it, so I'll feel less bad about my RAMPANT SPOILER SPREE down below. Just, um, pretend I posted this back in March when I meant to.

I've now seen The Movie twice and, oddly, the second viewing was almost an identical experience for me as the first. I didn't really pick up anything extra the second time around, but now knowing how they had handled the adaptation, I was able to relax a bit more. I maintain my original impression of the movie - it's a stripped-down version of the book, lacking a lot of the emotion that made me love the book so much, but as a movie adaptation, it was solid.

Granted, I will never be able to tell you how the movie works as a stand-alone experience, if it made sense or how it felt without having read the books, because I obviously have read the books and - as my friend pointed out to me - have become a part of the cult following (totally inadvertently - though I guess that's how cults work. I also read it so long ago that I feel like kind of a hipster about it.) I can't speak to that, because I don't know.

Yes, I'm 27, and I don't even care. Honestly, I don't think these books should be read by younger audiences, given the sheer horror of what's on those pages, but maybe it's okay, maybe they don't fully understand the implications of everything in them. As an adult, however, the details are so vivid and absolutely searing, that I couldn't help but be emotionally spent after reading them.

One of my friends pointed out on facebook that a lot of the scenes that conjured up specific emotions really only held a heavy emotional punch because if you read the book, your brain could fill in the gaps that the screenplay left out, and you knew that you were supposed to be sad, because you knew the bigger picture. Honestly, he has a point. It was in reference to one scene in particular (I'll elaborate after my spoiler warning) and it was definitely a part that the movie failed to deliver the full impact. It's not the movie's fault. We couldn't sit there for six hours. But even so, it was lacking, and reading the books definitely helps to enrich the full storyline.

I digress.

A lot of my thoughts regarding the movie are, naturally, in terms of how the book compares to the movie (or vice versa?)... not necessarily the movie itself, though I do have some thoughts there too.

Which leads us to... *SPOILER WARNING*

From this point forward, there will be spoilers for both the book and the movie, so if you don't want to know, this would be a good time to stop reading.

I wrote some notes when I got home from the midnight premiere, because that's what I do, because I'm a huge nerd. Even in my 3am stupor, I was attempting to divide them into "things I liked, things I didn't like, things that they changed" and then they all blurred together and I'm not really going to attempt to keep them in tidy lists now.

1. First things first: casting. 

I'd been following the casting drama from the moment this adaptation was greenlighted - the role of Katniss, of course, being of the biggest interest. That's what was going to make or break the story. Jennifer Lawrence was never my first choice, but guys, she NAILED it. Josh Hutcherson sold me on his Peeta much quicker than I expected. Liam Hemsworth as Gale... meh. Gale hardly has a role in the first book so I'm still not sure why he got third billing all the time other than to hint heavily at how important he'll be later, but he did all right.(That said, I'm really glad they didn't try to force extra romantic angles into the movie that weren't in the book, just for the sake of being able to sell it as a love triangle story. That could have easily happened, and it didn't.)

Stanley Tucci. Dear lord I love that man. He is fantastic in every movie they put him in, and he did a great job as Caesar. The cheesy smile was one of the few consistent comedic relief points in the movie.

Woody Harrelson... hmm. I'm really, really not sure on this. He did all right, I guess. He was just never what I pictured for Haymitch. (I had heard a casting rumor once that Robert Downey Jr was up for the role and I about had a spastic fit of excitement. Alas, it was not to be.) He was oddly sympathetic and not quite as much the rough-around-the-edges Haymitch as in the book. We'll see how he does in the rest of the series.

Elizabeth Banks as Effie = yes. She was perfect, the character was perfect. The dynamic between Effie and Haymitch was amazing.

Lenny Kravitz......... oh. I still have no opinion on this. He wasn't terrible, by any means. He's a decent actor. He's just... pretty much the opposite of what I (and everyone) had pictured Cinna to be. (I'm jumping quite a bit ahead of myself here, but... the role of Cinna was cut down and the significance of him was severely underplayed. That, and the stylist team was basically nonexistent. Not a big deal here, of course, but they become very important later, and I'm not even sure we saw their faces here, let alone learned their names. Similarly, Peeta's stylist, Portia, while present for a few scenes, was never acknowledged.)

Rue was fantastic... Amandla Stenberg was perfect. The other tributes were pretty well cast, too. None of them really had a significant portion of screen time, but the ones that did (Cato, Clove, Glimmer, Foxface, Thresh, etc) seemed suitably cast.

One thing that irrationally annoyed me was the usage of last names. None of the other tributes had last names. Therefore, throughout the entire Games, they were referred to only by their first name. Super, great. Yet both Katniss and Peeta were referred to by their whole names. CONSISTENCY, people. Would it not have been just as easy to only refer to Katniss and Peeta by their first names, too? Because you know that the other tributes must have had last names (as evidenced in Book 2), even if Suzanne Collins didn't provide them (though I suppose she could have made them up), but it seemed illogical that they would take the time to use the last names for only the tributes from District 12. Which, historically, has been the throwaway district that's expected to lose. That bugged me. More than it should have. 

2. Things that were well-executed.

The sets! Oh my, the sets. The sets were fantastic. District 12 was captured exactly how I had pictured. They brought to life that Great Depression-esque feel from the books. The Reaping scene was perfect, absolutely perfect. Full of tension and emotion, even if you knew what was going to happen. And the awkwardness of Effie Trinket, the epitome of the Capitol, in all of her awkward juxtaposition... yes.

The spectacle in the Capitol, the pre-games pageantry - part of the fun of the book was being able to imagine this dazzling display of ridiculousness, and I think the movie did a good job bringing those visuals to life. I feel, now, that Suzanne Collins had me exactly where she wanted me, in terms of how I was picturing things. Because the movie very eerily matched my imaginings.



The costuming, especially of the Capitol citizens, was fantastic, I thought.

Also, can we just for one moment stop and talk about Wes Bentley's beard? That thing is so epic it has its own facebook fan page.

The arena and the Games themselves, well, that would have probably been hard to eff up, since it's basically a woodland setting, but that was pretty fantastic too. The scene right before Katniss enters the arena was perfect, 100% in part to Jennifer Lawrence. She flawlessly captured that feeling of sudden terror and fear - you could SEE her visibly shaking as she entered that last room. (I also thought the Peacekeepers were done well - they were exactly like I'd pictured them in the book: oddly like Stormtroopers and riot police mashed together.)


The score was great, too. Beautiful and melancholy.

The violence. We need to address this. I think they handled it very well. I was convinced that there was no way they could pull off the adaptation with anything less than an R rating. But the way Gary Ross chose to handle the violence was quite brilliant. It was all in snippets and glimpses and it was more the effect of violence than gratuitous on-screen slaughter. His approach was to not simply film violence for the sake of violence, but rather, to capture it in the way that Katniss would have been taking it in: she had no time to focus on it, it was there, it was happening around her, she saw it, but didn't have time to dwell on it. (That said, I could have done without the jerky camera movements, it was so hard to focus on anything - it wasn't exclusive to the violence in the Games, either... even at the beginning, the peeks of District 12, everything was choppy and fast.)  [Interview with Gary Ross here. Thoughtful article on movie violence especially as it pertains to this movie here.]

That said, I was a bit apprehensive of Glimmer's tracker jacker-induced death because that scene really squicked me out in the book, but it was stomachable in the movie. Also, the mutts at the end - in the book, they all have the eyes of the dead tributes. I am so, so glad they didn't do this in the movie. That was the creepiest fucking thing ever and I was kind of squeamish about that. (Also, I'm really not sure exactly HOW they would have pulled that off, but... whatever. I'm glad they didn't try.) Otherwise, the violence was pretty surprisingly clean, but I don't think it detracted from the awfulness of the situation any.

3. Things I was not expecting/additions to the book.

I'll admit - I fully expected this movie to have a voiceover narrative, and when it didn't, I was curious as to what other devices they would use to fill in the gaps to explain what the hell was going on.

The commentary with Claudius and Caesar was actually quite ingenious, if not cliche and obvious - their color commentary/play by play served to explain to the audience the things that were going on in Katniss's head - things that she knew from years and years of watching the Games from home. Things that you would have had to, ahem, read the book to know.

Also: the scenes with President Snow and Seneca Crane and all of the behind-the-scenes in the control room. Some people kind of bristled at these because they were (obviously) not in the book. However, they certainly fall into that realm of "things that must have happened" - we were not privy to that information, because the narrative was from Katniss's point of view.  (Same with Haymitch schmoozing potential sponsors - that was a nice touch, I thought.)

I, personally, thought they were brilliant. I'm not entirely unconvinced that Suzanne Collins didn't have them in her back pocket the entire time, waiting for the eventual movie screenplay to unleash them. They were incredibly well-developed and nuanced and explained a lot about what could have been going on in the minds of the Powers that Be to affect what actually happened to Katniss in the arena.

Seneca Crane wasn't really IN the book, per se. Not specifically, not called out by name. We don't learn his name until Book 2, when President Snow creepily shows up at the Everdeen house and informs Katniss of his fate. But he was still a significant plot device, because he was the catalyst that helped flame the spark that Katniss started. In the end, he allowed her to play her game, not theirs. And he actually came across in the movie as somewhat human.

(Unrelated to everything, in one of the articles I read, Wes Bentley talked about how he'd randomly go grocery shopping with his crazy beard and get weird looks. Because, hi, that beard is basically a character all of its own. (SEE ABOVE). For some reason, that made me giggle.)

4. Things that were poorly executed and/or deviated from the book.

Here's where my beefs begin. From a book-to-movie-adaptation standpoint, I can understand most of them. But I am going to explain why I didn't like them. (This list is not all-conclusive, it's just the things that bothered ME. Because I'm nice, here is a link to a more comprehensive list of all the major changes from the book to the movie and their significance therein. It's pretty solid.)

The little changes start early, and a lot of it was simply a lack of explanation. There are hints to District 12 being a coal-mining community, that it's run-down, that the citizens are starving and Katniss is forced to hunt to keep her family alive. It doesn't mention what happened to her father until later, it doesn't really explain why or how she and Gale came to be such close friends, and it doesn't really explain exactly how Panem came to be. These are things you need the book for, and things that I didn't really expect the movie to be able to explain.

(The video that they played at the start of the Reaping sort of explains it, except for the fact that they mention thirteen districts but never tell you that, hey, District 13 was annihilated in that war. That's kind of an important piece... especially when you get to Book 3.)

The lack of Haymitch's presence at the Reaping and subsequent falling off the stage was kind of surprising... it kind of sets him up as this washed-out alcoholic, the kind of physical and psychological toll that having survived the Hunger Games can take. It was a seemingly innocuous change, but in the grand scheme of things, it slices off a layer of character development that I'm not sure the franchise will ever be able to get back.

The mockingjay pin! Oh, man. I almost forgot to mention that. The means that it comes to arrive to Katniss is completely different. I understand them not wanting to bother with adding the character of Madge - too much effort to explain her, wasting valuable screen time on such a minor character. But it doesn't explain WHY the mockingjay is important (it's something that backfired on the Capitol, which is why it becomes such a significant beacon of hope as the series progresses) nor is it very present in the rest of the movie. In the books, Katniss is allowed to wear it as a token from her district - obviously, the viewers can see it, everyone can see it. It becomes synonymous with her. In the movie, they show it as being a secret, something Cinna snuck in for her. The significance of it is skewed, and I'm not sure how they plan to fix that for when it becomes important, when Katniss herself embodies the symbol of the mockingjay. We'll have to see.

"The boy with the bread." There are flashes to the core of Katniss and Peeta's history, how he burnt the bread and tossed it to her. It does not explain how that very act saved her life by giving her the most important thing of all: hope. That moment renewed her hope and her determination to stay alive, to learn to hunt and to keep her family alive. I'm really not sure how this could have been accomplished other than with a Katniss voiceover (again, I was totally expecting this, given the first-person narrative of the book.)

The other, biggest, most notable thing is the way the Katniss/Peeta relationship was handled. I GET that it's hard to take such a nuanced, complicated relationship and make it, shall we say, screenworthy. It would have been hard to fully translate anyway, an movie audiences want the gratification of a simple romance. The whole Katniss-Peeta relationship was glossed over. Actually, much of Katniss's inner conflict and lack of trust and confusion as to her feelings wasn't really touched on. It wasn't apparent that Katniss was playing a game - while she was developing genuine feelings for Peeta as the story progressed, in her mind, she was just playing the part of a girl in love, to keep them both alive. In the movie, it wasn't obvious that she was pretending (or so she thought - I still maintain that she had, in fact, developed The Feelings for Peeta over the course of the novel) in order to put on a good show for the Capitol and for the audience and for the sponsors.

The tension wasn't there, the overwhelming sense of Katniss's internal conflict, that was gone. I thought the ending was kind of weak. This gets lost in the end, too, when they're on their way back, and Peeta asks, "now what?" - The movie does not relay his sheer heartbreak when he realizes that Katniss was just putting on a show. She did what she had to do to keep them both alive, but when she succeeded, there was a lot of emotional and psychological damage in the wake, and that's something you can't really show on a screen. We don't get to see Movie!Peeta get his heart ripped out, and, well, I get that. We want to like Peeta. We want happy things for Peeta. (I want happy things for Peeta. He was my favorite character, aside from Katniss herself.) But the huge emotinal wrench that will (SURPRISE SURPRISE) play a large part in the rest of the story was dull and swept under the rug, if it was there at all. Disappointing, but not surprising. I'll be interested to see how they handle that in the next couple installments.

Speaking of this, there was one very noticeable missing line (at least to me) that I kind of mentally grumbled about. When Katniss goes in search of Peeta after they announce that both tributes from a district can win, and she eventually stumbles across where he was hiding, in the movie, he grabs her ankle and gives her a weak "hi."  They downplayed Peeta's personality so much in the movie that I suppose it makes sense, but I really missed the "You come to finish me off, sweetheart?" line. Though I'm not sure it would have made sense given that the rest of the setup details were kind of glossed over in the fact that the movie didn't make as big of a deal as the book did about Katniss's irritation at Haymitch always referring to her as "sweetheart."

Speaking of underdeveloped characters... Rue. She needed more screentime. The movie did enough to show how she and Katniss formed a relationship, but not nearly enough to warrant the sheer emotion of her death scene. (This is what I was referring to earlier, about the book filling in the gaps and thus providing you with the necessary emotion to, say, I don't know, CRY at this.) In the movie, it's tragic, sure, but not quite so wrenching as in the book. The sequence of events in her death scene were altered slightly (Katniss arrives just as Marvel is spearing Rue and promptly shoots him in the neck with an arrow, whereas in the movie, she frees Rue from the net first and THEN Marvel chucks a spear at them) but I'm unbothered by that so much as I am about the missing elements needed for a truly emotionally devastating scene. (Why, yes, I do want these movies to have as big of an impact as the books did, despite how traumatizing that was. The emotional aspect is why I love/hate/love these books so much.)

The end scene with Cato was altered, too. By the implications of the movie, I think they meant for Thresh to have been killed by the mutts (in the book, he is killed sometime while Katniss and Peeta are still in the cave) - which makes sense, I guess, as his death is never really explained in the book, it's just slightly out of order here, but there was room to make that change, but then Cato mysteriously appears on the Cornucopia after Katniss and Peeta are there, as opposed to running past them making as mad of a dash to safety as they were. The climax of the Games - the showdown between Katniss and Peeta and Cato - was close enough for me to not be bothered by it, but some people (such as my sister) were really irritated at the change of the events.

It was interesting that they gave him a bit of a different monologue in the movie - he's clearly snapped but you can see how the Games have taken a toll on him as well, despite how he'd been trained, despite how he'd been pitted as the likely victor and main adversary of Katniss. I'm still working out my thoughts on this. I'm not going to complain about it, though. Like I said, I found it interesting that they allowed him to have a bit of character development right there at the end. Something none of the other tributes got to have. It's interesting, too, how in the movie, Cato's speech painted Katniss as the clear winner from the outset, when in the book, it was never clear if she'd actually make it all the way to the end. (Well, minus the sequels - but those could have been from someone else's POV instead, had she been killed in the Games.)

The final showdown - or lack thereof - between Katniss and Peeta after they revoked the rule change... that was disappointing. It was completely devoid of tension and emotion and it moved way too quickly. There was no hesitation, there was no moment where Katniss thought Peeta was going to attack her and thus raised her bow. There was no moment where Katniss realized that she couldn't live with herself if she were to return home without Peeta, where she realized they'd been using them as pawns to create the greatest finale in the Games history - pitting the two star-crossed lovers against each other in the end.

In the movie, her decision to pull out the berries seems to have happened too quickly, her motivations much more of an open rebellion than a nuanced mix of personal feelings and confusion, and, yes, the realization that the Capitol needed to have a victor, and if they committed joint suicide, it would be sort of a slap in the face. They had to have a victor. She was playing the odds that they'd be desperate enough to stop them, and was relieved when they did. When reading the book, I didn't quite get the impression that she was necessarily intending to rebel, intending to show up the Capitol... she was merely acting on instinct, doing what she felt she needed to do, the only right choice left in front of her. (There is room for debate on this - shit, in later books, other characters even debate what her intention was, as I'm sure other readers did - me, personally? I gave her the benefit of being a confused and conflicted sixteen year old girl who was forced into a hopeless situation, and reached for the one thing that allowed her any sort of say in what happened to her.) But the movie didn't give her time to feel conflicted, to think about her choices - she simply went "FU, Capitol, you're not getting a victor this year" and yanked out the berries.

I'm reading too much into this, I know, but I spent a great deal of Books 2 and 3 contemplating her motivations in this scene - this scene, of course, being absolutely pivotal for the events that followed. It was the spark of the revolution that "caught fire" in the latter part of Book 2 (get it?) and changed everything.

But it happened too quickly in the movie. There was no tension. She just pulled out those berries like it was in the back of her mind all along. It was a purposeful act of defiance. In the book, I don't think she realized the larger implications of what she was doing, or the greater chain of events that she put into motion with her actions.

Lastly - speaking of the revolution and the movie getting ahead of itself - there was no uprising in 11 in the book. (The first uprising was actually in District 8, and it was in Book 2 anyway. AND it was significant because it was the first one, and it was the first indication to Katniss that something big was happening, largely as a result of her actions) There was a bit of a kerfuffle in District 11 when Katniss and Peeta were on their Victory Tour, buuuuuut again, that was in Book 2. The movie kind of got ahead of itself with the heavy-handed rebellion foreshadowing, but, hey. Gotta set up that sequel.


In the book, District 11 shows their gratitude to Katniss by sending her bread - which is much more important and significant than you'd think. This is left out of the movie entirely.

So, those are my thoughts. There are other changes and alterations as well - you can reference that ONTD piece I linked - but I think they did a solid enough job to tell the story and hopefully not damage their ability to tell the next two installments correctly. Because, for as much of a beast as The Hunger Games undoubtedly was to translate, I can't imagine that Catching Fire or Mockingjay will be any easier. There is a LOT going on in those books and it will be even more difficult to catch all the important details. Also, if I'm remembering correctly, the violence-and-gore factor skyrockets quite a bit, too. The first book seems tame in comparison. I actually immediately re-read it after I finished Mockingjay, just to soothe my poor heart and brain.

Also, I'm really looking forward to the casting of the victor-tributes in Book 2. Especially Finnick and Johanna. And then we can start this whole process over again of OMG PLEASE DON'T FUCK UP MY BELOVED NOVEL(S) KTHNX.


Steph A said...

Damn, you have quite the memory for details! Now i'm all anxious to read them all again and watch the movie again. :D

And yeah, i have no clue how they're going to turn Mockingjay especially into a movie. There's so much hiding in closets in hospitals. I think that'll be largely edited out, and the result will be a much less psychologically harrowing story.

Kelly L said...

To be fair... I wrote 90% of this immediately after seeing the movie. I just never posted it for some reason.

terra said...

I'm always really curious to see how the choices they make in the first film in a series like this (and like Harry Potter) will affect the later films in the series. You leave out something now, chances are you're not going to have time to go back and add it later.

Overall, I liked the movie, but agree with you on the berry scene and I was sad to see some of the super emotionally charged parts of the film fade into mildly sad bits. Also I hated Peeta. A lot. said...

I saw the movie without having read the book first, so I can vouch that the love triangle was very much in tact. Katniss did seem torn to me throughout the movie, and I couldn't tell if she was playing Peeta or genuinely falling for him - which, once I read the books, I realized she didn't know either. Given the time constraints of a film, I think it was executed as well as it possibly could have been.