Saturday, April 7, 2012

Guest Blogger, Danielle E. Bowers: "The Hunger Games" Film Adapation in Review **Spoiler Alert**

As a big fan of Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games, I waited for the movie with a mixture of glee and dread. I wanted to see these amazing books brought to life, but at the same time I knew it couldn’t measure up. Unlike Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings books, The Hunger Games was written by an author with a strong background in scriptwriting. Her style of writing, the lush descriptions, and the non-verbal communication between the characters transferred well to the big screen.

From setting to costumes to casting, meticulous care was given to the slightest detail. It was obvious that everyone involved with the making of this movie wanted to show Suzanne Collins’s vision of how The Hunger Games looked from her eyes. From the point of view of a fan, I was delighted by this adaptation of the book.

First, casting: there weren’t many casting choices that seemed out of place to me. The casting of each character was a long, drawn-out process with "The Hunger Games" and it shows.

Katniss Everdeen- Jennifer Lawrence hit Katniss out of the ballpark. So much of the story deals with the internal conflicts within the character and she pulls it off beautifully. At the reaping you can see the stunned shock in her face and her struggling to hold it together as she answers Effie’s questions. Someone nominate this girl for an Oscar please.

Gale Hawthorne- Liam Hemsworth brought Gale’s confident masculinity to life. He didn’t get enough screen time in this movie, but what he did get he made the most of. We get a taste of his partnership with Katniss and his intense bitterness toward the Capital.

Peeta Mellark- Josh Hutcherson did a fine job with Peeta, but the movie could have done a lot better with the characterization. We didn’t see a lot of the motivations behind his devotion to Katniss so he came across as simple. Maybe it’s just my general dislike of the character, but I couldn’t connect with him in the movie. The expression on his face when he was reaped was awesome though. This was a kid who knew he was going to die. Maybe if they played the angle that he knew he couldn’t make it out of the arena, but he was going to help Katniss get out, it would have worked better. I couldn’t figure out his motivation for helping her to the point of suicide. Yes, he loves her, I get that. But why? Show me the reasons.

Haymitch Abernathy- I think Woody Harrelson was too good looking in the movie (Haymitch is not that handsome!) and not repulsive enough in his behavior. This is man who has mentored twenty-three years of tributes only to see them die. That’s 46 children. He was too…cheery. But the movie did need a touch of comic relief and he provided it. Maybe in the next two movies we’ll see a darker Haymitch. I did enjoy his reaction to Katniss shooting an arrow at the Gamemakers. It was more in character for Haymitch than how he reacted to that scene in the book.

Cinna- The casting of Lenny Kravitz as Cinna was perfect. The warmth and kindness of the character glowed even if he didn’t g et much time on screen. Another of the small details from the book is the lack of makeup that is rampant in the Capital. Kravitz wears the simple clothing with only a touch of gold eyeliner, just as Collins describes Cinna wearing in the book.

Effie Trinket- I can’t say enough good things about the casting and portrayal of Effie by Elizabeth Banks. Her costumes, the way she talked, and the casual way she treated the tributes going to their death was true to the books. Even the antagonism between Haymitch and herself was shown in the movie.

President Snow- We see a lot of Snow in the movie and he wasn’t what I expected. I thought he’d be shorter, clean shaven, with a greasy feel to him. It didn’t take long for me to get used to Donald Sutherland’s Snow though. He looked like a grandfather, but you could feel the controlling menace coming from him.

Primrose Everdeen - Prim, played by newcomer Willow Shields, doesn’t get a lot of screen time, but in what time she had, she nails the character: fearful, sweet, and too delicate for the harsh world she’s living in.

Now, on to the plot, setting, presentation, et cetera!

The movie doesn’t waste any time launching the viewer into the story, so I’m going to do the same and report as the scenes unfold.

From the start of the film, the viewer sees that the dynamic of Katniss and her mother is complicated. The director and actors pulled it off beautifully here. The tension between the two women is always there and they don’t have to say a word. Small facial cues, awkward conversation, and camera movement spelled out the strained relationship. Whenever Katniss would interact with Prim in a motherly way, their mother would stiffen and interrupt.

District 12 is painted exactly the way I imagined it from the book: depressed, repressed, and faded. The Hob was even portrayed perfectly for the one scene it got. The look and feel of a flea market crammed into a space too small to hold it was right on too. I loved the attention to detail in the District 12 scenes and I can’t find a thing to complain about.

One significant area where the movie deviates from the book is when Katniss gets the Mockingjay pin. Instead of a gift from her friend Madge, who also happens to be the Mayor of District 12’s daughter, she gets it at the Hob from a vendor. This change is a better fit for the movie and allows for a scene between Katniss and Prim where she gives the pin to her sister and promises that if she wears it, nothing bad will happen to her. It becomes a different kind of symbol in the film as a result.

The Reaping. There is so much to say about the Reaping. The filmmakers managed to make it look and feel as grim as it was and the defeat in the children was heartbreaking. Effie Trinket’s garish makeup and costume were appropriately out of place, as was her cheerful attitude. The hot pink against the muted browns and grays of the audience really exemplified the stark difference between the Capital and the districts farther away from it. The three-fingered salute the citizens of District Twelve give Katniss at the Reaping as a farewell and acknowledging her bravery and sacrifice was also powerful imagery and a great choice.

We then see the Capital of Panem through the eyes of Katniss and Peeta while on the train and again when they arrive. Wigs, bright colors, and makeup that would make Lady Gaga jealous fill the screen. It’s here that we get a good look inside the Hunger Games and are given a sense of just how removed the Capital is from the reality of places like District 12.

The movie takes good advantage of being able to show what is going on elsewhere in the story, rather than being limited to Katniss’s point of view as we were in the book. We meet the character of Seneca Crane, for example, someone who is mentioned in the books but who Katniss never meets directly. He is the Head Gamemaker and through his point of view we can see how the Games are the height of entertainment for the Capital. Every stage of the Games is choreographed to a science. The POV flexibility also lets us see the tributes on their chariot rides through the city from the perspective of the audience. We see Katniss and Peeta in their fire costumes and can watch Claudius and Caesar skip over half the tributes, showing the impact the pair was having.

One scene I was looking forward to seeing in the movie was when Katniss gets the opportunity to show off her skills for her score to get sponsors. When she shot the apple out of the pig’s mouth and said, “Thank you for your consideration” I wanted to cheer. The look on the faces of the Gamemakers was perfect. Her out-of-character formal courtesy was also just right.

I was underwhelmed, though, by the start of the Games. In the trailer there is a mechanical voice counting down to 1, providing more suspense, but the voice-over disappears in the movie and is replaced by silent, fiery red, visual numbers. However, when Katniss enters the arena from the lift the filmmakers switched to handheld cameras, making the chaos of the bloodbath at the cornucopia feel real: glimpses of people running, screaming, and locked in battle as Katniss grabbed a bag and was attacked. While it was a strong message, this makes for shaky footage and after a few minutes I felt car-sick, but the overall effect was impactful. The cameras also cut to shots of Prim and Mrs. Everdeen watching the start and Gale sitting alone in his and Katniss’s meadow. That, in particular, was a good shot to add. The fact that Gale can’t stand to watch Katniss going into the bloodbath makes his feelings for her all the more palpable.

While the Games continue there are several scenes involving the control center and the Gamemakers. Obviously, in the books we’re told and shown that the Gamemakers steer the tributes and do things to spice up the action. But in the film, now the viewers can see Seneca Crane ordering the forest fire. One line from the movie that haunts me is Crane laughing, “Get the cannon ready” as he steers Katniss toward the pack of Career tributes.

Then we have the scenes with Rue. If the next two movies are going to be a success then these really had to hit home…and they do. There wasn’t a dry eye in the theater when Katniss was singing and covering Rue’s corpse with flowers. Another scene that stuck with me after the movie was the three-fingered salute she gave the camera to bid Rue farewell. Seeing District 11 watching this and returning the gesture was beautiful. In the book District 11 sent Katniss Rue’s bread as a thank you, but I found the movie’s choice even stronger.

Aside from small changes like Haymitch leaving physical notes in the sponsor gifts, the movie sticks to the book pretty closely during the Games. Peeta and Katniss team up after the rules change and the movie slows down. In the books the connection formed between Katniss and Peeta is subtle and layered; he is the ying to her yang. He needs her strength; she needs his kindness. There is the history of him taking punishment to give a starving girl some bread. He has reasons for his self-sacrifice. Peeta’s blind devotion to Katniss in the movie though, as I mentioned earlier, didn’t hold my interest.

An earlier scene showed Snow explaining to Seneca Crane why it was bad for the underdogs to win the Games. It would improve the moral in impoverished districts and give them hope. In the books, Districts 1, 2, and 3 were always represented by Career tributes who were children trained to compete. These districts are the wealthiest and with the strongest ties to the Capital. Most of the Peacekeepers of Panem come from District 2, for example. Snow’s words in the movie show an interesting facet I never considered in the books, that the Games were rigged so the Career tributes won most of the time.

With the death of Thresh from District 11 the Games are down to three tributes and Katniss knows that this is the finale. We see the Gamemakers again and Seneca Crane ordering the release of the designed Muttation dogs. With the scenes between Crane and Snow, it is not surprising when the plot deviates from the book here. In the book, Cato is fleeing the muttations and leads them to the Cornucopia. Peeta and Katniss are the original targets of the dogs in the movie, possibly because they weren’t supposed to win. In the Gamemakers eyes the star-crossed lovers from District 12 would be killed, leaving Cato from District 2 as the victor.

Instead of being chased by the muttations, Cato was lying in wait on top of the Cornucopia. He was mortally wounded and the scene from the book with him getting Peeta in a strangle hold over the rim was present. Instead of drawing an X on Cato’s hand, Peeta just taps it. Cato falls into the clutches of the dogs thanks to a well-placed arrow to the hand.

The muttations were in the movie were CGI creations with faces that looked almost human. They were identical and I found myself looking for characteristics of Glimmer, Rue, and others in them as they had in the book. This was a little disappointing, but it didn’t ruin the movie for me.

Now, the berries. I liked this scene when many didn’t. It showes that Katniss knew what she was doing. She wanted it to look like the act of two people desperately in love and, while Peeta may have been there, Katniss was doing it knowing that the Capital had to have a victor. It was the ultimate game of chicken.

The ending didn’t have that suspenseful “did he make it or not?” question it does in the book either, as in the movie, Peeta didn’t suffer the leg wound during the battle with Cato and the mutts. In the book he’s bleeding to death even as they are being named the victors. It would have been a powerful scene to include showing Katniss pounding on the glass while the doctors worked on Peeta.

Instead, the viewer is shoved right from the scene where the hovercraft picks them up out of the Arena into a scene with Katniss and Haymitch. There is no fear regarding her or Peeta’s health. Instead, Katniss is cleaned and dressed up, and Haymitch is warning her that the Capital is upset about her double-suicide stunt with the berries.

Then we come to the end when, if a viewer hasn’t read the books, one might be confused by Katniss’s sudden pulling away from Peeta and her decision to forget their time together in the Arena. The books make it clear but the end of the film is so rushed that I left the theater feeling unsatisfied—and I read the book. We’re flung through an emotional and visual wringer and there wasn’t enough mental runway left for a landing. We get scene after scene of the aftermath, but not enough time to process.

For example, the image of Gale waiting for Katniss at the train station was compelling. And seeing how Seneca Crane meets his fate (locked in a room with a bowl of nightlock berries) was a wonderful addition. Even the closing shot of Snow watching Katniss arriving home was a great way to end this movie and a hint that the Games aren’t actually over. But we don’t get to absorb—it’s all just thrown at us then the credits begin to roll. This was probably done on purpose to hammer home the point that there isn’t a happily ever after…at least not yet.

Final thoughts on The Hunger Games: Isn’t it nice not to walk out of a movie in horror whispering, “What did they do to my favorite book?” Finally, the filmmakers are taking the original audience of a movie—the readers—and honoring the vision of an author that made them love the book. Instead of saying, “I can do this better!” filmmakers are taking beloved scenes from the books and bringing them to life. If I were rating this movie against other movies, I would give it seven out of ten stars. As an adaption of the book--eight out of ten stars.

There were small things I didn’t like about the adaption of The Hunger Games, but the new POVs added more than made up for it. If I hadn’t read the books I think I still would have enjoyed the movie. Maybe not enough to go see it again the second night, but the previews would have lured me in. I’m glad I read the books prior to going to see the movie though because I was able to appreciate the scenes, the small details, and the characters better for having enjoyed the story beforehand.

About the blogger: Danielle lives in Massachusetts with her husband and children. A former Veterinary major in college, she now writes full time and travels.

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