Monday, March 26, 2012

Movie of the Week: The Hunger Games

You've all heard of The Hunger Games, at least.  The hype is justifiable.  People of all ages are reading the trilogy because it is brilliant.  Its accurate portrayal of the psychological damages of killing and of war, its horror of pitting children against each other in "games" for the government's own entertainment as well as for keeping control of its remaining population, and its commentary on celebrity, loyalty, human nature, class, and history repeating itself come to light.  The moment the movie was announced, no fan could wait to see the films come to life.  And that day has come.  It fares well for fans who've read the book, but perhaps because they know more about the world and the characters than the screen actually portrays.

The plot of The Hunger Games film is stripped to its bare bones, straightforward and quick-paced.  The meat of the book came from the first person narrative of Katniss Everdeen, a sixteen-year-old girl who has survived by feeding herself and her mother and sister after her father died.  Her upbringing and her devotion to her sister effect every decision she makes, and we don't get that in the film.  We just see her competing to win The Hunger Games.  We don't understand how she was motivated to win.  There is less man vs. self than there is man. vs. man, as Seneca and fellow tributes try to kill Katniss.  The movie made it seem like the world was out to get her, whereas the book gives the feeling that she's out to get the world after what it's done to her.

The character development lacks, especially at the beginning, between Peeta and Katniss and Gale and Katniss.  Haymitch is sober the majority of the time, unlike in the book.  Katniss and Rue were just thrown together for a whole of 2 minutes before an unfortunate event transpired (that lacked the emotional weight and significance it should have had on Katniss).  We don't understand how truly complex Katniss' emotions are and how hard it is for her to trust anyone.

While the tone was dark and gritty, it was not as suspenseful or horrific as the book calls forth.  It lacked the anticipation of what's next, the calms for before the storms, and the hunger.  The hunger that everyone felt, driving their need for food and the need to go out of safety into the open.  The romance between Peeta and Katniss was watered down to create a less powerful scene in the cave, as well as a less-powerful end.

The themes that weaved throughout the book could've been delved further into during the film without elongating it.  The idea of a controlling all-powerful government who is like a neo-Ancient Rome, forcing its people outside its privileged Capitol to fight each other in a battle called The Hunger Games brings to mind the nightmares of killing and war and the values of violent entertainment and celebrity.  What one sacrifices to kill (sanity and love); true heroism; history repeating itself; humanity's lack of progression; the driving forces behind people's decisions; the lengths people go to for power; and learning about, respecting, and loving others, despite their differences are all themes either erased or flattened for the film to render it essentially an action film with children killing each other and adults trying to kill them.  It would've been great to see how the Capitol folk watched the Games, given that we don't see from just Katniss's POV now.  It could've greatly expanded upon that aspect of how people gush over and gossip about celebrities, while those at home are disheartened at the loss of their loved ones.  We could've seen how Districts 1, 2, and 4 would see the Games as an Olympic-like match, as they train their children to fight from an early age, much like the Spartans did.

Despite everything I've said with critical tongue, the acting was stellar, with Jennifer Lawrence playing Katniss with every bone in her body.  Her body language, intonations, and emotional scenes were played with precision and believability.  Stanley Tucci's Caesar was perfect as he improvised interviews with tributes who weren't Katniss or Peeta.  With gracefulness, Tucci times his reactions and eccentric flamboyance to be exactly how one would imagine Caesar.  Josh Hutcherson was immediately who I cast in my head as Peeta when I first read it, just with longer, wavy hair.  He certainly did not disappoint.  He's always been a terrific actor who portrays emotions needed just right, never too maudlin or too stiff.  He's loveable and portrays Peeta as the sweet boy who could never hurt anyone or take a life and refuses to compromise that in the Games.  Liam Hemsworth's presence is strongly felt as Gale, though he doesn't appear much.  Elizabeth Banks portrayed Effie Trinket much to my delight in a way that I had not thought of Effie.  I pictured Effie as more of a walking joke with a nasally, high voice, but Banks turned her into an domineering presence that felt unnerving and sad while holding to comedic timing.  Woody Harrelson as Haymitch couldn't have been better.  His dry and sarcastic comedic timing lent a rather more sober and kinder take to the character.  And, of course, scene stealer Amandla Stenberg portrays the loveable, sweet, swift Rue with ease as if the she was born for the role.  And the little screen time she gets just isn't enough.

But I must say, if you hadn't read the books and have watched the film, I highly recommend the books for a ore enjoyable experience, and perhaps you might like the movie more in creating a fuller experience, though you might be angered at the missing Madge in the film, like the rest of the fandom.  The series is a truly wonderful experience and a quick read.  The film, though two-and-a-half hours, is as quick-paced as the book, but leaves much to be desired by a film connoisseur.  Those who've read the books seem to enjoy the movie more than those who haven't.  It is a completely different experience if you do choose to see it without reading the books.  Know this before going in the theater.

I do want to mention quickly, the costuming and lack of score are both brilliant. Having silence much of the time is incredibly powerful and unsettling, while the costuming lends to the difference among the districts as well as the districts compared to the Capitol.

Grade: B+

No comments:

Post a Comment