Friday, March 30, 2012

Fiction Friday: Thoughts on the Film Adaptation of THE HUNGER GAMES

Spoilers ahead! If you haven’t read the book AND seen the movie, I suggest you stop reading this now and go do both. Then come back and read my blog.  Seriously...come back.

Also, I didn't realize how long this was until I'd finsihed writing it.  I think I'm kinda sorta passionate about The Hunger Games.  Sorry this is so long.

So it’s been a while since I was brave enough to see a movie on opening weekend, but I decided that I just couldn’t wait to see The Hunger Games. It was definitely the best book (and best series) I read last year. I haven’t been this excited about a film adaptation since Voyage of the Dawn Treader.  ...or maybe Harry Potter 7.

Overall, I think I liked The Hunger Games movie. At least, I definitely can’t say that I disliked it. It’s just that as I sat in the theater and the credits started to roll, I turned to my roommate and said, “It lacked something.” She nodded in agreement, but neither of us could immediately say what that “something” was. I had to take a couple days to sort out all my thoughts regarding the film adaptation of The Hunger Games.

First, the positives, and there are a lot of positives. I am one of those people who has to read the book before seeing the movie, but I am NOT one of those people who demands that every detail of a film adaptation be exactly like the movie. In fact, many of the changes in the structure of the film were brilliantly done.

In the book, everything is from Katniss’ perspective. It’s told in first person, present tense, which means we’re experiencing everything that Katniss experiences as she is experiencing it. Yes, there are flashbacks and inner dialogues, but the action of the story is always the immediate action that Katniss experiences. We don’t know what’s going on unless we’re living vicariously through Katniss.

I was curious to see how they would handle this in the movie. I was hoping they wouldn’t do a lot of voiceovers, having Katniss’ thoughts verbally project over things that were taking place. It might have added something, but I think it would have been annoying (and reminiscent of Bella-Babble from Twilight—shudder). They didn’t go that route. In fact, they didn’t even open the movie with Katniss, which surprised me. Instead, they opened with Caesar Flickerman and Seneca Crane talking about the Hunger Games.

I was confused by this tactic at first, but the more I think about it, the more it makes sense to be set up that way from the beginning. The filmmakers were able to communicate different aspects of the story without constantly putting us inside Katniss’ head. I thought it was actually kind of brilliant the way the filmmakers took the audience away from the arena to show what the announcers had to say about the actions that were taking place in the arena.

For instance, during the Tracker Jacker scene, I was starting to get nervous. If someone hadn’t read the book, how were they to know how dangerous Tracker Jackers are? Was there to be an out of place voiceover?  Was Katniss going to talk to herself or “stage whisper” to Rue? Was Glimmer going to go into a screaming monologue about the dangerous aspects of a Tracker Jacker sting as she was being stung to death? Were the filmmakers just going to go “Prisoner of Azkaban” style and just completely confuse anyone who hadn't read the book?  I had no idea how they were going to communicate the Tracker Jacker dangers—but they managed to do it well.  They took us out of the arena and had Caesar explain it.  Even if the delivery of the lines in that scene was a little obnoxious (which was probably done on purpose, because Caesar is obnoxious), I thought it was brilliant how they pulled it off.  There were several scenes in this movie that were embellished by Caesar’s announcements—it made sense to start the movie that way, as if the film audience were being treated to the show along with the citizens of the Capital.

In a way, I think that perhaps the film audience was meant to feel as though they were watching a reality show—connecting us with the audience in the Capital. America’s “reality shows” might not be pitting teenagers (or anyone else) against one another in fights to the death, but most of them are thick with false emotion, artificial drama, and writers’ tactics that draw us in to something that really isn’t reality at all. We’re too easily manipulated and too eagerly entertained. So consider this the “after school special” paragraph in this blog. We aren’t sick enough to be entertained by real kids fighting to the death, but we (myself included) are far too preoccupied with being entertained and catered to that we don’t pay attention to the “Districts” of the world. As long as we’re happy, the other people aren’t important. That’s the attitude of the Capital, and it’s one I find in myself far too often. I’m not at all sure if the filmmakers were trying to communicate that by leading into the movie with the “reality show” feel, but that’s what I took from it.  I think that's kind of the moral of the story....

I greatly appreciated that the film showed what went on in the Gamemaker room. I never really envisioned it while reading (because Katniss never saw it, we never did either), so it was interesting to see the filmmaker’s vision of it. It was also interesting (and maybe a little disturbing) to see how easy it was for the Gamemakers to develop torturous circumstances for the children in the arena—as if they weren’t real human beings.

I also liked the “notes” that Haymitch sent Katniss along with the parachutes (and I liked that the parachutes made distinctive sounds that were similar to wind chimes—made more sense than just a “metallic clunk” that could be anything). This was another brilliant way the filmmakers communicated important elements of the story without putting us inside Katniss’ head. Little details like that seem so simple, but they make a big difference in the understanding of the story. I really liked that.

The politics of the books (as well as the politics of reality) are confusing to me. I think I have a better grasp of them than most of the teenagers who have read them, but that’s not really saying much. But I really have grown to like the character of President Snow. I hated him/was afraid of him in the first two books, but that changed in Mockingjay, when I kind of realized that he and Katniss had some similarities. They both had an agenda. Even when their agendas were hopelessly threatened, they both fought and managed to “win,” at least on some level. In a way, President Snow’s character development was one of the most interesting of the series.

And I just have to say that I LOVED being able to see more of him in the movie. I appreciated the talks he had with Seneca (and I loved Seneca’s beard—if I were a guy, I’d totally get a beard like his). I think that my favorite line from the movie came from one of these scenes. I’ve only seen the movie once, so this is paraphrased, but I think President Snow said, “The only thing stronger than fear is hope.” Love it. I know where he was going with that—a little hope is good, but too much of it is dangerous. That’s not where my mind took it, but I doubt anyone wants to hear me gush on about Hope at this particular moment in time. Believe me, there will be plenty of that in future blogs.

Anyway, I really enjoyed the “extra” scenes with President Snow. I think the filmmakers were wise to include those. Not only were they interesting for this movie, but I think they laid some important ground work for the movies that will follow. I’m very interested to see how they continue to handle his character, especially as he relates to Katniss.

I also liked the "extra" scenes that showed Gale's reactions to what was going on in the arena.  I'm so TEAM PEETA that sometimes I prefer to pretend that Gale doesn't even exist, but the added scenes helped add to the "love-triangle" aspect of The Hunger Games story (which I'm glad was downplayed...just a little).  Liam Hemsworth was also very convincing in the role of Gale.  Nice and brooding...but not in an Edward Cullen sort of way.

For the most part, I appreciated the special effects. The “fire ball” scene was wonderfully intense! I was also highly impressed at how well Peeta camouflaged with the rocks and such. Seriously, I was amazed by that. I honestly thought that they would just leave that part out, but a very small part of me was hoping to see the camouflaged Peeta. I was not disappointed. Not at all. It was so much better than I thought it would be. And—sidenote—loved Effie’s makeup and clothes—futuristic with a Victorian feel! Perfect! I might want to be her for Halloween…maybe.

The muttations were a little fake-looking, and they weren’t at all as terrifying as the ones in the book (I was disappointed with that, albeit relieved because it would have been visually disturbing to actually see mutts that looked like dead Tributes—especially Rue!), but I have to admit I jumped a few times when they lunged out of the forest.

I also wasn’t thrilled with the chariot scene where Peeta and Katniss were “on fire.” The flames weren’t big or bright enough to impress me. It was good, but just not enough. And honestly, that’s kind of how I felt about the whole movie.

See, I think I finally figured out what it was that was lacking in this movie. For a while I thought it was just that I wasn’t satisfied with the connection between Katniss and Peeta. But the more I thought about it, I realized that was only a small part of it. I wasn’t satisfied with most of the relational connections in the movie. What the movie lacked, overall, was depth.

I came to this movie prepared to weep like a baby when Rue died. I have cried while reading that scene all three times that I’ve read the book. I even teared up a little when I first saw the girl who had been cast to play Rue. I was moved by how truly young and small she was. I compared her to several of the small preteen girls I know, and it broke my heart to think that anyone could ever think to make them fight to the death. So when I entered the theater, I prepared myself for some heavy tears.

Yet, when the time came, the emotion just wasn’t there. Maybe if I hadn’t been expecting it, it would have affected me differently, but I don’t think so. Katniss and Rue’s connection in the movie was substantial, but in the end, it just wasn’t enough. This was the same problem I had with Katniss and Peeta’s relationship. This was the same problem I had with Katniss and Prim’s relationship. This was the same problem I had with Haymitch’s relationship with Katniss and Peeta. It just wasn’t enough. Almost none of the relationships in the movie were quite enough.

I don’t think this was the fault of any of the actors. The vast majority of the actors in this movie were wonderful. Jennifer Lawrence did a phenomenal job as Katniss (and truly looked the part—she looked EXACTLY how I pictured her during the reaping scene, in her mother’s blue dress), but I think the director/writers tried to play up her “strong personality” too much. I understand that she does have a strong personality. She’s had to be strong; she’s had to be hard. But the Katniss I love from the book isn’t just a warrior. The filmmakers did show a little of her insecurities and conflict and such, but it just wasn’t enough. The tears she cried over Rue’s death were too little too late, and they just seemed almost out of place.   They couldn't find the right balance for her character.

Woody Harrelson was good as Haymitch, but I can’t help but think that he could have been absolutely brilliant if he had been given more to work with. He had a few good lines, a few good opportunities to show who Haymitch really is, but for the most part I just wasn’t convinced. I love Woody Harrelson and was really excited that he was playing Haymitch. I don’t think it’s his fault that I wasn’t happy with the portrayal.

Amandla Stenberg (Rue) was adorable, light, little, sneaky, sweet—everything that Rue was supposed to be. I just wasn’t convinced because the writers didn’t give her enough of an opportunity to shine.

And to be fair, I realize that this movie was over two hours long. There really wasn’t enough time to do justice to every character and every important event in the book. I am definitely not advocating the removal of the “extra scenes” (which I loved) in order to make room for more of the things that actually happened in the book. I just think that some things could have been done slightly differently. I don’t have any immediate suggestions. I simply think that what happened was that the writers (one of which was Suzanne Collins, the author of the books--which makes me a lot less eager to criticize the film's writers) and directors and editors attempted to communicate an emotionally powerful story in a brief span of time. Some things were undoubtedly cut. They had to make decisions on how to communicate certain things—which things to leave in, which things to leave out, which things to change and reinterpret. Their task was not at all easy.  They didn’t fail at ALL, but they fell short a little. And I’m not sure how it could have been corrected without greatly lengthening the time of the movie, but I’m hoping they figure it out by the time Catching Fire comes out. It was so close to being right—but it just lacked. It just wasn’t quite there yet.

Maybe a better soundtrack would help? A musical montage to communicate the passage of time as Katniss and Peeta hid out in the cave (with more kissing, or at least some believable signs of affection). That might have been disastrous. I don’t know…. It just needed more.

There were two portrayals that I truly enjoyed, that did not fall short. One of them really surprised me, but the other didn’t surprise me at all.

The one that surprised me was Lenny Kravitz’s portrayal of Cinna. When I heard that he was playing Cinna, I got angry. I had no idea that man could act. I just always thought of him as the guy who didn’t sing “American Woman” as well as “The Guess Who.” I had this picture of Cinna in my mind that greatly conflicted with the image I had of Lenny Kravitz. Yet, I was blown away at how well he did. Of course, I do believe the writers gave him a lot of good stuff to work with, but he was very convincing. Now, when I read The Hunger Games books, I’m probably going to picture him as Cinna. …and can I just say that I was SO relieved that they remembered to include the gold eyeliner. So important for Cinna!

The other actor that completely impressed me was Josh Hutcherson as Peeta! They gave him a lot to work with, as well, but the actor perfectly captured Peeta’s humility, winning personality, and loyalty towards Katniss. Honestly, Peeta is my favorite character from the series, and I was happy that he lived up to all my expectations. Katniss didn’t always impress me in how she related to him, but I was almost always impressed at how he acted and reacted. So Peeta! So perfect!

But overall, the characters, their relationships, the emotion…it just wasn’t there. It was almost there. So close. Just not close enough.

There are little nitpicky things I have, too. The filmmaker’s seemed to think it was important to add all this Appalachian feel to the movie—I even heard they specifically looked for actors from Kentucky.  But see, as a native Kentuckian (from central KY—from a county that’s technically considered to be on the very western edge of the Appalachian mountains, but really isn't Appalachian.  At all.), I know that Louisville (where Jennifer Lawrence is from) isn’t Appalachia.  Eastern Kentucky is really the only part of Kentucky that can be considered Appalachia.  District 12?  Especially the eastern EDGE of District 12?  That’s probably West Virginia, folks.  I’m just sayin’.  But none of that matters much, because the Appalachian thing didn’t work well.  Why? Because they attempted to pull it off and almost succeeded, but again—it just wasn’t enough.

Maybe if they’d had Taylor Swift sing some folksy songs DURING the movie instead of waiting till the credits…? I don’t know. Actually, I kind of wish they’d just stop trying. It doesn’t add that much, and there’s other more important stuff the filmmakers can work on without trying to be cute in adding “Appalachian flavor” that they obviously don’t understand.

I like that it was filmed around Asheville, NC, though. Those are “my” mountains in that movie.

Another little bitty nitpick? Yeah, I’m going to sound really petty for this, but it bothers me. I’m not upset about the fact that Peeta’s eyes are supposed to be blue, and in the movie they’re brown. That’s not a big deal. It doesn’t bother me. The brown eyed Peeta was really convincing. So I’m not one of those people who gets upset about minor details being wrong.

Except, it REALLY bothered me that Buttercup the cat wasn’t yellow/orange. Petty right? Well, I can’t help it. The cat was only shown for like half a second, long enough to hiss at Katniss, but it was a black and white cat. And this bothers me so much for two reasons: 1) What kind of a black and white cat is called “Buttercup”?, and 2) HOW HARD IS IT TO FIND AN ORANGE CAT, PEOPLE? Seriously…I could go out behind Walmart and find you twenty orange cats hanging out at the dumpsters. If I were making a film and needed an orange cat to hiss at the camera for a split second, I’m pretty sure I could find one. I wouldn’t feel the need to resort to some other color of cat. Orange cats aren’t an endangered species, people. Seriously? Seriously.

So, I guess if I had to summarize my thoughts on the film adaptation of The Hunger Games, I’d have to say that I really liked it, but it wasn’t enough. There was just something missing. I think they were so close to having it just right, and maybe they will figure things out while working on Catching Fire. Maybe.  ...and maybe I'll lower my expectations, too...though I doubt it.

I guess all I can say at this point is:

May the odds be ever in our favor….

1 comment:

  1. Ms. Campbell, you put a lot of detail into this! You should be a consultant for the next movies. You can come to set each day and plant your chair right next to Suzanne. :) Love you!