The Hunger Games: Worthy Adaptation or Missed Opportunity?
The Hunger Games: Movie/DVD Review (contains spoilers)
Directed by Gary Ross (Pleasantville, Seabiscuit), The Hunger Games is the first of not three but four movies to be based on the best-selling book trilogy by author Suzanne Collins. Set in the fictional nation of Panem, which once was North America, one teenage boy and one girl from each of the 12 districts are chosen to fight to the death in a public arena until there is a lone victor. Rather than dwelling on the inevitable blood and massacre, The Hunger Games is a young heroine’s journey of exploring her identity, humanity, and will to survive in an unjust fascist world.
The Hunger Games shares many of the same motifs as Margaret Atwood’s (Oryx and Crake, Year of the Flood) post-apocalyptic Madd Addam book trilogy. Atwood’s imagined future, like Collins’, is a bleak vision of tomorrow’s humanity: televised deaths (Painball – it’s like Paintball but the paint can blind the eye and corrode the skin), an authoritarian government corporation (CorpSeCorps – the secret meat ingredient in their SecretBurgers is you), and gene spliced creatures (Liobam – part lion, part lamb, cute but lethal). Where Madd Addam trilogy is a biting satire and dire warning, The Hunger Games speaks to the importance of libertarianism and rebelling against oppression while allowing the viewer to ponder the world of Panem which is not fully detailed or fleshed out.
Both The Hunger Games and Madd Addam series have been described as science fiction dystopias but Atwood has made a distinction in classifying her work as speculative fiction which could also be said for Collins’ series. Atwood explains that a science fiction narrative can happen on another planet, alternate universe, or on a spaceship with monsters; whereas, speculative fiction is a plausible reality used to explore human nature and what could actually happen. As far-fetched as Panem might seem at first, it’s not too far removed from the real-life concerns of today: economic disparities, erosion of personal freedoms, popularity of reality television, and devaluation of human life.
Like other popular dystopian novels or movies such as Children of Men or Serenity, the success of the The Hunger Games owes to a strong, identifiable protagonist. Actress Jennifer Lawrence (X-Men: First Class, Winter’s Bone), is commendable in her portrayal of Katniss Everdeen, a sixteen year old girl who hunts for food with her bow and arrow in the woods outside the fenced perimeter of District 12 in order to feed herself and family. At the Reaping where Tributes are randomly chosen from a large container of names, Katniss volunteers to replace her litter sister Prim in the Hunger Games, an annual televised Battle Royal organized by the all-controlling Capitol as a penance for the districts failed uprising many decades ago.
Rounding out the large cast is Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mellark (boy tribute from District 12), Liam Hemsworth as Gale Hawthorne (Katniss’ hunting partner and best friend), Woody Harrelson as Haymitch Abernathy (Katniss’ alcoholic mentor), Elizabeth Banks as pucker lipped Effie Trinket, Stanley Tucci as television host Caesar Flickerman, Donald Sutherland as Capitol President Snow and Lenny Kravitz as fashion designer Cinna. Each of the actors played their roles well, and for the most part embodied the essence of their literary counterpart.
The one character whose portrayal in the movie felt slightly different from what I imagined from the book is Peeta Mellark. However in my subsequent viewing most of my trepidations were alleviated. The book described Peeta as charismatic; using his way with words to win over the audience during the interviews and to capture their hearts when he confessed his true love. These same scenes were in the movie but it didn’t quite hit the right notes for me. Peeta was actually thoughtful in his approach to the games but the subtly might be lost on those that did not read the book or only watched the movie once. For example, when Peeta is cheerfully waving to the crowd from inside the train and reveals his crush on Katniss to start a show-mance, it is to gain the audience’s favor and thus sponsors who will provide food, medicine or other necessities. Further, his alliance with the formidable Career Tributes was a ruse to help Katniss stay alive because he genuinely cares for her.
The emerging love story of Katniss and Peeta exemplifies the element of what is real versus artificial or manufactured. Although Peeta’s feelings are sincere, Katniss is play acting to gain sponsors and to ensure their survival. Like many reality shows such as Jersey Shore or The Hills, the events are often contrived or manipulated by the show’s producers and so-called reality stars playing a role. There’s also the use of war propaganda by the Capitol in the special film featured in the Reaping to persuade, pacify and control the citizens of Panem. (Those that read the books know the Capitol’s film has one major lie that will prove to be important later in the series). Collins uses these elements in the Hunger Games to make us question if what we see on television or read on the internet is the complete story or just someone else’s version of the truth. Although the book is completely from Katniss’ perspective, it would have been an interesting choice by the director if there was a second narrative: televised scenes selectively edited by the Capitol and the audience’s reactions to what they saw as opposed to what really happened in the arena. (Note: the death of Rue was broadcasted which resulted in a riot in her district.)
My favorite moments in the movie is when Katniss is being her true authentic self; willful and defiant. For example, when she stabs the knife between Haymitch’s fingers, shoots her arrow into the apple in the pig’s mouth and is about to eat the poisonous nightlock berries with Peeta. Interestingly, the superficial citizens of the Capitol probably like her the best when she’s playing the role of the girl on fire such as riding the chariot with Peeta, spins around in her dress after the interview and the staged kiss with Peeta in the cave.
It may be a bit nitpicky but there were a couple of aspects to the movie that could use some improvement. It’s understandable that Katniss was emotional when Rue died, but as an audience we did not spend enough time with Rue to feel for her loss. Perhaps they could have given Katniss a line that said Rue reminded her of Prim; although she did sing to a dying Rue which should remind the audience of the begining of the movie when she sang to Prim.
It also felt like the movie took the hunger out of The Hunger Games. Clocking in at over two and a half hours it is important to keep up the momentum of the movie; however the book did spend a fair amount of time eating and searching for food. For example, when Katniss boards the train and enters her quarters in the Capitol she should be seen stuffing her face instead of daintily staring at her dinner plate. Not only because she is eating all these tasty foods for the first time but it’s her strategy to pile on nutrients before the games. A lengthy passage in the book was dedicated to finding water which showed how smart and determined she was despite being severely dehydrated; in the movie she filled her bottle up as soon as she escaped the cornucopia. Further, her ability to hunt kept her alive, a skill lacking in the other tributes which is why it was important for her to destroy their horde of food. It would have been intriguing to see the effects of her plan and how the other tributes coped without their food.
With an impressive box office performance, millions of books sold and the release of the DVDs/Blu-Rays, The Hunger Games is an enduring phenomenon that is worth the time to catch up on. The next movie in the series, Catching Fire, is set to be released in 2013.
Posted on August 18, 2012, in Movies, Review and tagged Catching Fire Release Date, Gary Ross, Hunger Games Blu-Ray Review, Hunger Games DVD Review, Hunger Games Movie Review, Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Margaret Atwood, Mockingjay, Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.