Archive | Uncategorized RSS feed for this section

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)

Four Things That Disappointed Me About The Hunger Games Books

24 Mar

The Hunger Games By Suzanne Collins | Review Of Books This review isn’t about the movie.  It’s about the books.  I haven’t seen The Hunger Games movie yet, but I have tickets  for tomorrow at the Seattle Pacific Science Center and I just read a Hunger Games movie review by MSN critic Kat Murphy . She gave the film only two and a half stars.

I don’t find it surprising.  Movie critics tend to be…well…critical.  Murphy’s point was that the film is not that artistic, or violent, and because it moves so fast you don’t get to know the characters. The reason I don’t find this discouraging is because Murphy’s review of the movie reflects my thoughts about the books as well.

The books are not particularly artistic.  They are all page turners, but they are not lyrical.  This works, however, because stoic prose fits Katniss’ character.  Taking this into consideration, the movie seems to be a decent/faithful adaptation.  Maybe it doesn’t take any cinematic risks, or improve upon the story, but it should please its audience.

Why am I posting about this?  I already wrote a summary of The Hunger Games and analyzed its popularity. Has this blog become about The Hunger Games?  No. But I think this movie, and the sequels that are sure to follow,  are going to be “kind of a big deal” for the next couple of years and I want to get my thoughts out on the BOOKS before I see the movie, and before I read too many other people’s opinions, which may influence me… for better or worse.  So, as a former English teacher, aspiring author, YA entertainment fan, and professional analyst (for whatever that’s worth) here’s my opinion on The Hunger Games:

———————MILD SPOILERS ARE MILD———————

I loved The Hunger Games novels.  I couldn’t stop reading them, or thinking about them after I had finished them, and that to me is a good series.  I read all three books (The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Mockingjay) in about a week. I read the first one on a plane and it kept me absorbed for five hours straight.

I have to congratulate author Suzanne Collins for writing such a riveting story.  I think YA is a very difficult genre and these novels do what many YA novels fail to do: they don’t insult their audience.  Instead, they make them think, and they make them care, and they encourage them (teen readers) to think beyond themselves, not just to their friends and family, but politically and globally, even to their enemies. For that I say BRAVO.  With the movies, I believe Hunger Games will become even more popular, eclipsing even Twilight mania, but with a better message. I think it is a good thing (though we will probably all soon be sick of it).

That being said, the books aren’t perfect.

Here are four things that disappointed me about the series:

1.) All things  considered, The Hunger Games plays it pretty safe

The violence is extensive, especially in Mockingjay, but given that it’s YA, it’s not that descriptive. Maybe you didn’t notice when you were reading it, but you rarely actually see anyone get hurt.  Not in a visceral way.  A lot of the violence is summarized or left to your assumption.

Also, though the characters are put into some truly terrible and traumatic situations, there aren’t that many hard choices that Katniss makes (until the final third of Mockingjay at any rate).  This was surprising, as the story’s premise was essentially about having to make the hardest choice imaginable–killing other humans beings, innocent human beings, and for no reason other than that someone is making you for their entertainment.

But in The Hunger Games Katniss only ends up killing enemies–vicious, blood-thirsty killers intent on killing her. The Careers are convenient antagonists because they take out all the weaker, more sympathetic tributes, leaving only Peeta to keep us guessing on what is going to happen.  We don’t learn much about them or their reasons for being Careers so they are easy to hate and/or to sacrifice. Katniss only kills Careers.  And the only one she REALLY kills is Marvel.   Her actions do result in some other deaths (e.g. dropping Tracker Jackers on Glimmer and blowing up the camp supplies) and she shoots Cato, but the latter is more of a mercy kill.

I’m not saying this made for an unenjoyable story.  Or an untraumatic one. It just wasn’t as gritty as it could have been.

2.) I couldn’t make sense of the setting, especially the Capitol

Suzanne Collins is vague about Panem.  We know it exists in what used to be America, but we don’t know what happened to create it and I never could quite grasp the dimensions. I’ve seen a number of “fan maps” laying out the Districts throughout North America, but it seemed to me that the Districts were much too small (and the human population is said to be threatened) to cover the entirety of the United States.  District 12 read more like a town.   It seemed like Katniss could walk across it and there seemed to be only one major market. District 11 was much larger, but it couldn’t have been THAT large. And the Capitol was particularly confusing, especially in Mockingjay where it seemed like the civilians were living amongst a bunch of booby traps and rabid animals (those scenes read rather like an RPG video game–Monster Attack!  Actually, that’s another thing that disappointed me about the world. I disliked the Mutts.  They just seemed unrealistic to me.  I felt that characters who were killed by them deserved more meaningful deaths.)

I guess it doesn’t really matter.  I am not terrific at writing setting either, and the setting was not particularly important to the plot, but I do wish it had been a little bit more defined.  I am actually interested to see if the movie improves upon this because I really wanted to know more about what the Capitol was like and I didn’t feel that I got the chance to really understand it.

3.) Teenage love triangle drama

peeta mellark (Josh Hutcherson), katniss everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), gale hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth)Again, it’s YA. From a market perspective, Suzanne Collins did it right.  She created a story about teenagers and included elements that teenagers care about–fashion, frivolity, fitting in, falling in love, feeling confused, and so on.  But it was a bit much for me sometimes.  In the first book, I had only a passing interest in the love story.  If I was Katniss, love would be the last thing on my mind, and to the author’s credit, that was how Katniss felt too, but I could SEE the love triangle shaping up, and it was hard to take seriously given that Katniss was going to have to fight to the death.

By the third book, love comes to matter more.  It means something real and is more important. I ended up loving the ending, but prior to the last chapter, and really the last few pages, there were many moments where I felt “this doesn’t matter right now”.

4.) Katniss wasn’t the heroine I wanted.

Katniss is kickass, or has that potential, but she is a fairly passive character for most of the series.  On the upside, she is a well crafted character. When you read from her point of view, you get the feeling that she is a real person with flaws as well as good traits and she has a unique way of thinking.  I find her relatable and likable, but she doesn’t take charge of her destiny. Mostly, things happen to her.  And she reacts.

To be fair, though, I think this was deliberate by the author.  I wanted Katniss to be kickass.  I wanted her to stand up to oppression, to cruelty, to The System. I wanted her to be the Girl On Fire.  But she wasn’t.  Throughout all three books, Katniss is a pawn in a game between other powers. She accidentally trips a rebellion. She is threatened by her enemies and deceived by her friends.  And then she is thrust in the midst of a revolution with little choice as to her role.  She does what she can.  At first, she just wants to survive. Later, she wants to keep the people she loves from harm.  By the end, she just wants peace for the survivors and for the people in power to act sanely and leave her alone.

Saving Grace: What The Hunger Games Is Really About

By the time I got to the very end of the story, I understood what the author wanted and was doing.  From the premise, I had incorrectly assumed The Hunger Games was a story about a  heroine who takes a stand.

What Collins actually wrote is more like an anti-war novel.

Katniss’ story is rather realistic, and gripping, from this perspective.  What she faces is what young people actually face when they are conscripted or thrust into war or revolution or some other violent situation not of their own choosing.  Even if they are strong (and Katniss is a tough survivor), they still get hurt, and they suffer, and they lose people they love, and if they manage to make it through all of that, they are never the same and it is all they can do to pick up the pieces and find a way to keep living.

That is the story Suzanne Collins set out to write with The Hunger Games and that is ultimately why it has become one of my favorites.

Promotion Through Pinterest: Drive Traffic To Your Site Without Abusing Copyright

18 Mar

I just got Pinterest.

I’ve been hearing about it for awhile, but it took me this long to actually get around to getting invited and playing around with it. But now I have and I get it.  I totally totally get it.

Let me explain.

Pinterest isn’t just a hot thing in social media.  It isn’t just a pinboard to express yourself. It is a useful tool for promotion. And yes, I know that Pinterest asks users to avoid self-promotion, but I think there is a way for people to pin AND promote without turning the community into a can of spam, much the same way that there are good marketing practices for the use of Twitter, Facebook, or any other social media tool (be authentic, share valuable content, diversify, etc).

Why is Pinterest So Popular?

It’s VISUAL and SO EASY to use.  It is a natural fit for the internet because it capitalizes on things that are already popular–funny animals, kids and babies, unique or interesting crafts, art, decorating, and  recipes.  There are hundreds of user groups and internet forums and YouTube channels and email chains dedicated to these things.  Pinterest just makes it easy to share and store images you like, in a visually attractive way, with virtually no effort at all.

How Can Pinterest Help Your Business?

I don’t know why the SEO community isn’t freaking out more about Pinterest.  It’s basically hotlinking 2.0. Actually, I don’t even know if it’s hotlinking 2.0.  Pinterest is just hotlinking.

What does this mean?  It means that every time somebody Re-pins something that you have pinned from your own site, it LINKS to your site, because the image is actually HOSTED on your site. If you click through images put on Pinterest, you end up on the page where they are hosted.

I pinned images on my blog that I thought others might find useful and shareable. And you should too, especially if you own a small business that is graphical in any way, shape or form. Photographers, designers, artists, crafters, bakers, and chefs…PIN YOUR WORK! (concerned about copyright? see below)

Pinterest is great for other businesses too.  Does your company make attractive infographics? Pin them.  Publish an ebook?  Pin the cover so people can how that they like your book, with a description and a link to your website, reviews, reasons to read,  place to purchase, whatever you want.  You can even create really unique or inspiring images with the purpose of showcasing your stuff and driving traffic to your site. Pinterest is like an unlimited advertising board for absolutely everything.

But please keep it pretty.  Or useful.  Or funny. Don’ t just pin junk. Value is key here!

Also remember this: if the site where your images are hosted has limited bandwidth, you may experience problems from people hotlinking that may cost you.  But this is a good problem to have as it essentially means that your image advertising is working and your images are “going viral.”

Wait.  What About Copyright Infringement?

SO GLAD you asked.

Pinterest IS having difficulty around the issue of copyright infringement.  Technically, you aren’t allowed to use images created by others unless you pay for them or get permission.  Of course, people break this rule on the internet all the time because they don’t know about it, especially bloggers, but Pinterest’s business is built around the sharing of pictures that technically don’t belong to them…so copyright could impact them (and their users–i.e. YOU) the same way Napster got slammed for peddling music it didn’t own (thanks for the insight, Visible Technologies–ye providers of social monitoring software).

You don’t have to worry as long as you are only pinning images you have the rights to.  Since you shouldn’t be uploading images to your blog or website that you don’t have permission to use, this shouldn’t be an issue.  All of the pictures I pinned from my blog are either free (from Microsoft’s free image library.  Thanks, Microsoft!) or were pictures I made, photographed with my phone, or had commissioned.  And you know what?  PLEASE SHARE THEM.  Yes.  I want you to repin my work.  You have my blessing.

As for pinning images from other people’s sites (which is most of Pinterest)…be careful.  Right now, the onus is on you not to abuse copyright, but here is what I think should happen:

Artists, graphic designers, bakers, photographers, etc. should upload/make available versions of their images that are “cleared” for pinning to Pinterest. This could be done with a caption or a logo (Pinterest approved! Please make a universal one, Pinterest!) or watermark. If Pinterest was really ambitious, they could offer an “auto watermark” feature that essentially takes care of this for everybody. This is similar to what istockphoto does with thumbnails, to distinguish advertising of art from the actual art. That way everyone can admire and browse through pictures without being able to use the originals for anything else without purchasing them.  Net result?  Exposure for artists.

For this to work, Pinterest needs to make “Re-Pins” free from legal issues.  Pinterest would have to put the onus on uploaders and adders while those who just share can do so without penalty (like YouTube does with videos).  That way, I can keep my Social Media Infographics board (and other boards) intact without abusing anyone’s creative design.

If Pinterest DOESN’T find a way to make repinning okay, I predict a mass exodus from Pinterest (myself included) as people become informed of the risks. I’m willing to give it a little time, though, since the concern is new (please don’t sue me!).

Use Pinterest Without Abusing Copyrighht