The Hunger Games: A Comparative Review

Whenever a new movie comes out based on a book, I try not to fall in with the skeptics and refuse to see it because it simply won’t be as good as the book.  I’m of the opinion that the two mediums need to be completely separated in our minds, i.e. the book tells one story while the movie tells another, similar, story. Kind of in the way a story told by two different people may have different elements despite being the exact same story.

Generally when a movie based on a book is hyped up as much as The Hunger Games, I would be hesitant to read the book first. I actually did this with the third installment of The Chronicles of Narnia series, The Voyage of the Dawntreader, where I saw the movie before I read the book.  I still found myself criticizing the film and feeling the book did a better job, but I did not dislike the film after reading.  Again, the film told a slightly different story.

Well, with The Hunger Games, I found myself pulled into the book a few days before the movie was released in theaters.  My little sister had finished reading it a few days before and couldn’t wait to delve into the next book in the series, Catching Fire.  She had received the box set of the trilogy for her birthday the day I picked it up and started reading the first chapter.  I had already formed an uneducated opinion before I’d opened the book that it was just another series on the Twilight Bandwagon (stay tuned for a future post to define that). I couldn’t imagine it could be so well done as to suck me in from the first page.

Once I started reading, I couldn’t rightly go see the movie without finishing the book, so as soon as I read the last page yesterday afternoon, my boyfriend and I made plans to go to the theater to see it.  I’ve never seen our little theater with so many people waiting outside to get in.  See, Tuesday night is “college night” at the local theater, the night we get discounted tickets.  So obviously, everyone in town was going to see it last night. We made it just in time.  There weren’t too many seats left when we got into the theater and we had to sit way in the front.  I’m not a big fan of sitting that close as it tends to give me a headache.

But I digress.  I called this a comparative review and thus I shall begin the comparing.  I also believe now would be the ideal time to call spoiler alerts, just in case you’ve heard no details whatsoever about this movie and have neither seen previews nor read the book.  You have your one and only warning.

Now, the biggest thing I will say is simply how well the book was followed.  My only complaints came from minor details that were tweaked or left out entirely.  Nothing was out of sequence (The Golden Compass did this and it frustrated me so) and no pivotal scenes were altered to the point of being unrecognizable (nothing actually comes to mind as an example for this but I’m sure it has happened once or twice).

One thing I found particularly interesting with the film, and I’m certain it was meant to aid in setting up the remaining two films, was the fact that they played on the audience in Panem. They developed supporting characters that we never really got to know in the book and gave us a view into the behind-the-scenes work of the Gamemakers.  They showed us the reactions of the people watching the Games in the various Districts, making them seem more real than they did in the book.

The main problem with turning a book like The Hunger Games into a movie is working the perspective.  The entire story is told in the first person, from Katniss’ point of view.  In the arena, she can’t see how the people on the outside are reacting. She can only speculate, which she frequently does.  The other issue with filming something like this is that in order to maintain that point of view, you would have to have her narrate the entire story, as she does in the book.

Well, this is where the director and screenwriters put their own spin on it.  Katniss may still be the main character, but we certainly do not know what she’s thinking as we watch her.  Furthermore, the historical elements and key descriptive moments are delivered to us by utilizing the commentators of the Games, rather than by Katniss’ commentary as in the book.  This works effectively and adds to the idea that the movie is a slightly different story than the book.

My only complaint with the film when compared with the book has to do with character development.  In the book, Katniss comes off much stronger emotionally than she is portrayed in the film.  I felt that she was far too icy at times and that there was no real emotional development in her relationship with Peeta. The one occasion she did have an outburst of emotion, following the death of a tribute she had come to favor, felt incredibly out of character. Her whole “shtick” is her ability to hide her emotions and never weep in front of the cameras. And I felt that particular relationship with her short-lived ally was also not developed as fully as in the book.

The strange thing about this movie being almost two and a half hours long was how fast it flew by.  The action was almost non-stop and perhaps this is why I felt like there was a lack of character development.  I couldn’t help feeling like some scenes were rushed, but in retrospect, that was probably due to the fast pacing of the story itself.

I realize there is only so much you can fit into a movie without eliminating too much from the original story, which is why I try not to be overly biased about the little details.  However, the character should remain the same regardless, and I feel the movie fell a touch shy of that mark with Katniss’ character.  Still, even with the changes they made to the point of view, I must give credit where credit is due.  Gary Ross and Suzanne Collins altered it to be beautifully effective.  Jennifer Lawrence did a wonderful job portraying Katniss as she was scripted for the film, even if I was mildly disappointed in her character’s adaptation.  Stanley Tucci was fantastic as the enigmatic host, Caesar Flickerman. Josh Hutcherson did a decent job in his role as Peeta Mellark, although, again, I would have liked to have seen his character come out a little more than it did.

Other notables in the film were the magnificent Woody Harrelson as “paunchy”, drunk Haymitch Abernathy and Mr. Lenny Kravitz as the fabulous Cinna.  Liam Hemsworth portrayed Katniss’ long-time friend Gale Hawthorne and Alexander Ludwig played her biggest rival in the arena, Cato. Rounding out the ranks with the adorable quotient are Willow Shields as Katniss’ younger sister Primrose Everdeen and Amandla Stenberg as the District 11 tribute, Rue.

Finally, the cinematography was perfectly executed. Tom Stern, who was also director of photography for films such as Letters from Iwo Jima, Flags of Our Fathers, and Million Dollar Baby, did a marvelous job. The Games looked like a real sporting event, and he captured the chaos of the first day well.  That particular battle was much less gruesome than I expected. In fact, the majority of the movie was not as macabre as I had been expecting.  The book went into much more detail of the battles and the wounds.

Perhaps this is to encourage the parents of the younger audiences who may have read the book (as my sister has) into taking their little fans to see the film. In my opinion, if they were able to handle reading about the battles and the deaths, they will certainly be able to handle watching this film. The battles were tastefully done, and even the “gross” parts the book may have described were not nearly as exaggerated in the film.  (So yes mom, I think she can handle it if you want to take her.)

To wrap up this meandering review, I’ll just say a few final words.  First, I want to repeat how pleased I was with how closely the adaptation followed the book. It’s not very often a great book gets an equally great movie. Second, while there were some minor details missing or changed that I could overlook, there were also a couple that I was disappointed in.  I don’t want to get into specifics because I don’t want to spoil any more than I may have already.  There aren’t too many, but a couple stuck out so much that if you’ve read the book you will likely agree.  If you haven’t read the book and all you want is to see the movie, these things will obviously make no difference to you. Finally, I can’t wait to start reading Catching Fire. And I can’t wait for that film adaptation either.

All in all, I give The Hunger Games movie 4 out of 5 stars. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.


~ by Sara on March 28, 2012.

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