Since I have been talking a lot about it lately, I decided it was high time that I published my review of The Hunger Games. I am going to attempt to focus on the recent film. There is a lot that I could say about the series — I loved the story and the characters. However, I think I am going to save that for a post about the books.
As I am a fan of the books (albeit of the Janey-come-lately variety — I only read them for the first time two months ago), it was hard to focus on the film for itself. That is the main problem with film adaptations — the film has a hard time standing on its own two feet, much like the child of a celebrity.
Having seen quite a few adaptations of novels, I was not sure what to expect of The Hunger Games. I had seen the promotional materials for the film before reading the book, so I felt that I had some idea of what the filmmakers were going to do with the story. From the trailer, I noticed that they had kept most of the details and essential elements of the book.
In short, I think that The Hunger Games is one of the best book-to-film adaptations that I have seen. It really captures the heart of the story, despite having a major shift from first-person narrative to third-person. It did not cut any major characters (something I hope they maintain for subsequent films!) and the only plotline that it garbled was Katniss’s father’s death. All it did was make the whole event ambiguous, which was fine for fans of the books, but puzzling to newcomers. I had to explain that backstory to my friend on the way home, but she had it half-figured out beforehand. Considering how much they did include, I understand why they showed that plotline in that way. It flowed nicely, even if it was confusing. Would it have been a good idea to explain it more? I think so, but that was the only flaw with the adaptation.
I was more than happy with the additions to the story. President Snow and Seneca Crane get much more airtime than they do in the book. We get to understand more about Snow’s motivations. The film may have skimped on Katniss’s personal history, but it made up for it by showing us Panem’s history in as few minutes as possible. I enjoyed being removed from Katniss’s narration — it felt rather like being taken out of the arena and back in front of the television set.
Katniss is the heroine of the story. I have heard the argument that she does not earn her heroic status. In the book, the reason that she does not earn her heroic status is that she is the narrator. In fact, most main characters do not earn their heroic status — they are the main character, ergo they are the hero. The Hunger Games follows the classical model of having the main character be very obviously the hero and thus have everything revolve around them. However, I could see why some might have a problem with this in the film, because she does not narrate and by hiding her backstory, Katniss starts to display anti-hero elements: she is quiet, sullen, opinionated, brash, and generally not very conducive to getting people to like her. Why should we care about her? Well, why should we care about any main character? They are usually presented to us out of whole cloth in the film world. No matter what the genre of film, the main character is presented to us audience-members and we are expected to follow him or her whether we like them or not. They do not have to earn their status.
On a more plot-driven note, the reason that Katniss is seen as a hero initially by the other characters is because she sacrifices herself for her sister. How many of us would do that? This was bizarre and made her very sympathetic and yet dangerous. Sacrificing yourself for someone else, even your younger sister, is not considered rational in our world or the world of Panem. Hence the audience was rooting for her because she was unpredictable and yet also demonstrated love for her sister. After that, she just kept doing things (with help from others) that made people care about her and make her into a hero: she didn’t really put on airs, she was honest, she was considered the dangerous one, she made an alliance with one of the weaker tributes purely out of friendship, she showed defiance (the flowers) and ingenuity, and she played the part of the girl in love. In the book, we are privy to her thoughts on these things, but in the film, we have to do more interpretation. Overall, she was the every-girl who just happened to be very good at archery.
I absolutely hate the comparisons with Twilight and the constant mentioning of a “love triangle” in this film. THERE IS NO LOVE TRIANGLE. The whole love triangle is entirely made up for publicity, both within the story and without. Unlike Twilight, where the love triangle was the driving force of the story, The Hunger Games has the romance as its secondary plot. Compared to most books/movies aimed at teen audiences, it is not very romantic and definitely not sexy. I was very pleased to have no sex scenes to watch!
See, the love triangle is entirely fake in the first book and also in this film. Katniss and Gale are platonic friends and she is never really interested in him beyond that. He seems to express some interest in her (he is two years older than her, after all), but it is not entirely based on romance. If Prim had note been Reaped and Katniss had never gone to the Games, she and Gale might have fallen in love and married, but alas, once she did, it was over. The film even points this out quite blatantly — this is, arguably, the only portrayal of a “love triangle” — two quick shots of a disappointed Gale. Meanwhile, Peeta has an unrequited crush on Katniss, but she only pretends to reciprocate for the cameras. Perhaps one of the things that I like most of all about Katniss is that she is a teenage girl who is portrayed as not being obsessed with boys and romance. She has to pretend, and she really doesn’t know how. This has the added effect of making her seem more innocent and genuine to the audience.
(I’m thinking that there is so much that I would like to talk about regarding this series that I am going to have to write multiple posts on different themes.)
A quick note about the cinematography: I thought it worked perfectly. It captured exactly how I expected those scenes to play out. The violent scenes were overwhelming, but wouldn’t they be? Also, excellent costumes! They were almost as I had imagined them.
I can’t wait to see how they do the next films.