Hunger Games Movie Review | Adaptation From Book To Screen

25 Mar

hunger games movie posterI just watched The Hunger Games movie. Here is my rather long review:

To summarize, it was excellent. And I’m not the only one who thinks so because  The Hunger Games scores an 86% on RottenTomatoes.com.  Film critics might like it a little less than fans, but critics usually do (they are using a different metric than scoring on a scale of 1-10 on how much they enjoyed it).

The Hunger Games movie is not a cinematic masterpiece in the sense of being an industry-changing film, but if judged according to its intent, which is to bring the book to the screen, I give it at least four stars. Maybe even five. In my opinion, The Hunger Games is the most faithful adaptation of book to movie that I have ever seen.

Is it missing some things?  Certainly.  But for the most part, the things it is missing weren’t in the book either, or are unrealistic to expect in a book-to-film adaptation.

Below are specifics, if you care to know details.

Cinematography

Some critics felt the film lacked artistry, and maybe there were some missed opportunities, but there were a number of very good directing choices that I thought worked well, such as the way the rebellion in District 11 was filmed (really loved that).  I did find the shaky camera to be a bit hard to watch, especially in the opening scenes, but I think if I wasn’t in a theater (IMAX at that), it wouldn’t have bothered me. I stopped noticing it later.

The Plot

Every plot point, major and minor, made it into the film.  The movie certainly won’t confuse anyone who hasn’t read the books and (in my estimation) will entertain (and appropriately disturb) both fans and newcomers. Obviously, it wasn’t totally identical line by line, but all the pieces were there and the details that movies typically change were implemented exactly as described in the book, such as the dress Katniss wears to the Reaping and Prim forgetting to tuck in the back of her shirt. Even the hissing cat that Katniss hates (Buttercup) made it into the movie, though Movie Buttercup is black and white instead of mustard yellow (not important).

The only major departure was the additions of scenes taking place outside of the arena during the games, such as conversations between President Snow and the Game Maker, Seneca Crane.  These were not in the books since the books are restricted entirely to Katniss’ POV, but they are really fantastic additions. I also really, really liked the uprising in District 11, which happens in the books but is something that Katniss hears about afterward in summary.  Seeing it was really powerful.

So…if you didn’t like the way something happened in the movie (and I can think of a few things I might have written differently if it were my story) it probably happened that way in the book too, or close to it.

The Violence

As I mentioned in my last post on Four Things That Disappointed Me About The Hunger Games, I have seen reviews of the movie that felt that the violence was glossed over, but I felt it was exactly the same as the books.  You see people die, but not in grisly detail, and there’s blood, but it’s not horrifically disturbing. It is a YA-targeted.  With the way they filmed it, a movie like this can be shown in classrooms (14+).

Different Or Missing Elements

Some things in the book weren’t in the movie.  Here are a couple:

Madge — In the books, Katniss has one friend outside of Gale named Madge. She’s the mayor’s daughter and they eat lunch together at school. In the books,  Madge gives Katniss the Mockingjay pin.  In the movie, Madge is cut from the story and Katniss gets the pin at the Hub and gives it to Prim. This didn’t impact the story at all.  Actually, it helped it because it allowed for more scenes between Katniss and Prim.

Styling Prep TeamIn the book, there are three people on Katniss’s beauty prep team. They all have names and personalities.  They are frivilous people (though harmless) and allow us to see what ignorant, spoiled people the Capitol citizens are.  In the movie, there are people that help Katniss get to Beauty Base Zero, but that is it.  They have no speaking lines and there isn’t that party scene where the prep team eats and then take pills to induce vomiting so they can keep eating (which disgusts Katniss since her district is starving).

Cato’s Body Armor — In the book, Cato gets body armor from The Feast. This is to protect him from Katniss’ arrows, but it ends up working against him.  In the movie, I don’t THINK they show Cato as having armor, but I can’t remember.  At any rate, he dies faster in the movie.

There were probably other things, small things, but it was all pretty miniscule as I didn’t notice the absence enough to remember it when writing this summary.

The Setting

I LOVED what they did with the setting.  Panem was perfect, from the gaudy and lurid Capitol fashion to the somber gray of District 12.  The technology was really well done too. I couldn’t have asked more from the setting.  Even the Mutts were well-designed and believable, moreso even than in the books.

Actors and Characters

The casting is spot-on.

Jennifer Lawrence delivers a stunning performance as Katniss Everdeen.  She portrays “tough and guarded, but somewhat naive and vulnerable” wonderfully and her acting is believable.  Katniss is not a character who shows much of what she is thinking, especially to people she doesn’t trust, which is just about everybody, but you can read her character through Jennifer’s actions and mannerisms.  Of course, being a movie, we aren’t privileged to Katniss’ internal commentary, which is extensive in the books and really adds to her character and her relationship to other characters, but her story comes through. If anything, the lack of internals is a reason to read the books after you’ve seen the movie (for “more”).

Josh Hutcherson was a likable and believable Peeta Mellark.  I wasn’t certain about him at first, because the Reaping is such a solem affair, but as soon as he starts smiling, he projects Peeta’s charisma and charm.

Liam Hemsworth embodies Gale.  He is exactly what I imagined physically and emotionally.  His ease and understated flirtation with Katniss and devotion to her family, as well as his underlying anger at the Capitol and assurance of his strength and independence, come through in a few brief scenes.

Woody Harrelson was the perfect Haymitch.  I don’t think there was a single thing I wish he had done differently.

Donald Sutherland was an eerily disarming/icily malevolent President Snow.  He was great. I was thrilled to learn he would be playing the part.

Elizabeth Banks was a delightful Effie Trinket.  I didn’t care for Effie Trinket in the books (you aren’t really supposed to, though she is harmless) but Banks made me love her while staying true to her character.

Lenny Kravitz was a surprise casting to me, but he accurately projects Cinna’s inner calm.  He was in the movie less than Cinna is in the books and the instant bonding between him and Katniss feels a bit rushed, but I felt like their connection was like that in the books too.  Cinna is someone who just “gets” Katniss on first acquaintence and she feels this and accepts it, no explanation needed.  The only thing I wish they had added was the exchange between Katniss and Cinna when she learns he is new as a Hunger Games fashion designer. She tells him that must have gotten stuck with District 12 (a losing District), or something to that effect, and he replies “I asked for District 12″.  This was a character defining line for Cinna in the books and I would have liked to have seen it in the movie.

Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman was great.  The scripting was perfect too. He was the perfect talk show host — all about presentation and performance and schmoozing the audience with the “appearance” of amicability and sincerity in everything while delivering upbeat, callous commentary on an ugly situation.  The way they utilized his character to explain to the audience some of the things that Katniss thinks in the book was also exactly the right way to do it.

Wes Bentley played Seneca Crane, which is an expanded part in the movie, and I really liked the additional scenes with him, in which we get to see what happens from the POV of the Game controllers in the Capitol.  Also, people should dress up like him for Halloween.  His beard was priceless.

I quite liked Willow Shields as Prim too.  Her role in the movie is small and largely silent, but her screams and tears at the Reaping felt authentic and communicated the affection between the sisters, which is really about all you need. (Note: Prim’s character develops more as we get to know her better throughout three books, but she is barely in the first book and it was the same in the movie.)

Amandla Stenberg (Rue) also fit her part. Rue is killed off fairly quickly after meeting Katniss (in terms of minutes on screen), but this was due to time constraint.  I guess Gary Ross could have spent more time watching them wander around together in the woods eating and getting to know each other, but I am glad he didn’t.  Rue’s purpose was to befriend Katniss, die, and trigger rebellion in her district, which they showed, and I am SO GLAD the time was spent there because it was really moving.  One minor quibble was that they didn’t show Rue’s skill of hopping from tree to tree, but probably this was unrealistic or unsafe to film.  They did capture her as quiet and swift and clever and sweet, and her death was sudden and tragic, which was enough.

Really everyone — Katniss’ mother, Cato (Alexander Ludwig), Foxface (Jackie Emerson), Thresh (Dayo Okeniyi), Clove (Isabelle Fuhrman), Marvel (Jack Quaid), Glimmer (Leven Rambin) etc. — were more or less like they were in the book (or close enough to make no difference…for what characterization they had).

As you can see there are a lot of characters for a 2 and a half hour movie.  Many of them are under-developed in the sense that you don’t really get to know them or connect with their role in the drama, especially in the arena, but you aren’t supposed to.  Most of the tributes die within the first few minutes of the games.  Katniss never even learns their names.  She doesn’t WANT to know them. Those that survive longer are only developed so far as they interact with Katniss, which is minimally. Katniss wants to survive. She is someone who avoids relationships even in the best of times, and to survive, she has to kill people, or watch them die, even the ones she likes.  The experience is supposed to be traumatic, somewhat frenzied, and there isn’t really time or desire for relationships, so I thought it worked.

The Theatre

I saw the Hunger Games movie in IMAX at the Pacific Science Center in Seattle.  This was a great experience. The theatre has raised seats so that no one’s head blocked my view and the screen is simply enormous.  There were lines well before the opening of the doors and I think it is there for one week only.  Some pics:

Hunger Games IMAX Movie Ticket from Seattle's Pacific Science Center

Hunger Games IMAX Movie Ticket from Seattle's Pacific Science Center

Line Outside Pacific Science Center For Hunger Games IMAX at 11 am (showtime 12 pm)

Line Outside Pacific Science Center For Hunger Games IMAX at 11 am (showtime 12 pm)

IMAX Theatre screen at Seattle Pacific science center (PACCAR)

IMAX Theatre screen at Seattle Pacific Science Center. This is actually the screen...showing an image of the theatre

Side view of Pacific Science Center's IMAX theater

Side view of the IMAX theater

line outside Seattle Pacific Science Center For IMAX 2:45pm showing of Hunger Games

line outside Seattle Pacific Science Center For IMAX 2:45pm showing of Hunger Games (as we were leaving)

One Response to “Hunger Games Movie Review | Adaptation From Book To Screen”

  1. heathtuw April 22, 2012 at 12:51 am #

    read the series twice. agreed on all counts. lenny kravits was perfect as cinna, perhaps my favorite casting aside from jennifer lawrence. i agree in wanting to see him more. for the movie his utility is efficiently used and will hopefully resonate faithfully in the forthcoming movies.

    musically, i thought was done brilliantly. at first what got my the most of course where the overall thems and the “do-re-me-so” hum of the mocking jay in the key of g minor. very simple, extremely unique. haunting. also the tune of the lullaby is tear jerking. what i caught on further viewings where the way the composer used a predominance of string instruments at very articulate times, i think to evoke the idea of the string of everdeen’s bow. i thought they really underplayed her deadliness and fierceness with the bow and arrow as portrayed in the novels, but it didn’t matter really. i liked that the composer thought it important.

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