I was a little apprehensive about seeing The Hunger Games. On the one hand, I was extremely excited to see the movie, but I was also nervous because I had enjoyed the book so much. I was prepared for the fact that some events from the book would be cut out. Personally, it doesn’t bother me if a movie doesn’t follow the book word for word. Books and movies have different strengths and weaknesses in terms of their storytelling ability. Here are some strengths and weaknesses of the movie adaptation of The Hunger Games.
Strength: The movie captures Panem in detail
When I read the book, I was aware that the citizens District 12 were living in extreme poverty, but to see it portrayed on the big screen really made an impression on me. The opening scenes, which serve mostly to introduce us to Katniss’ life, are devoid of bright color. As Katniss walks through the streets on her way to the forest, we see an old man greedily eating a small animal and piling the bones up next to him. The overall feeling is one of despair. These people are hanging on-but just barely. The review in this week’s Entertainment Weekly says “director Gary Ross does a tight job of establishing the future-meets-1984 vibe in Panem: the slog of daily life, the hopelessness that dulls the citizens, the fear that returns each year at the Hunger Games lottery known as the Reaping. “
On the other side of the spectrum is the Capitol. As those who have read the book already know, the people who live in the Capitol are characterized by their hedonism and devotion to excess in every aspect of their lives: they eat extravagant food, have every luxury money could buy, and are obsessed with fashion. They even go so far as to have extreme plastic surgery to stay en vogue. The scenes depicting the citizens of the Capitol may not have matched up exactly with the descriptions of the book, but the overall atmosphere was the same. Effie Trinket’s looks seemed tame next to some of the other characters’ fashion choices (Katniss’ stylist with the impossible long eyelashes really freaked me out!) To see a bunch of people from the Capitol together really gave a sense of what it would be like to live there (or in Katniss and Peeta’s case, visit briefly).
One of the most important flashback scenes in the book is Katniss’ memory of Peeta giving her a loaf of bread. Since the book is told in first-person narration, Katniss can describe to us exactly what happened and how she feels about it. In the movie, this memory is more difficult to get across. There are many brief, wordless flashbacks of “the bread incident” but it is not fully explained. This is not a problem for someone who has read the book, but people who are new to the story would mostly likely be confused.
Katniss also has flashbacks and hallucinations about her father’s death and her mother’s subsequent decline. These scenes are choppy and would be difficult to understand without knowledge of the storyline.
Strength and Weakness: Casting
Jennifer Lawrence was the perfect choice to play Katniss Everdeen. I had seen her in Winter’s Bone, so I knew she could pull of the strong, self-sufficient personality that is necessary for the role. I was pleasantly surprised by Elizabeth Banks (Effie Trinket), Woody Harrelson (Haymitch), and Stanley Tucci (Caesar Flickerman). I couldn’t quite picture any of them in their roles, but they did a great job bringing the characters to life.
I was a little disappointed with some of the other characters, however. It may be because they were not given a lot of screen time (I felt like we hardly saw Prim or Gale) but something didn’t quite fit. I was most disappointed by Peeta because I enjoy the character so much when I read the book. One minute he’s professing his love for Katniss on national television, and then he has teemed up with the Careers (who are determined to kill Katniss). Katniss has a hard time trusting him, and I did too, when I read the book. As the review in EW puts it “In the book, interesting edges rough up his niceness; he’s not quite so easy to peg.” Josh Hutcherson didn’t quite capture Peeta’s complexity. He portrays him as a nice, sensitive boy who is hopelessly in love. This is an important aspect of the character, but certainly not the whole picture.
As a fan of the book, I felt that the adaptation stayed true to the spirit of The Hunger Games. The film has been criticized for its mild approach to the violent scenes, but I don’t think this detracted from the story at all. The idea that children must fight to the death each year is enough to make an impression; seeing every death isn’t necessary. Even though I had already read the book, I found myself getting nervous during certain scenes (the Reaping, in particular). So, even if you’re familiar with the story, watching the movie is still a captivating experience.
Recommendation: 4.5 out of 5 lupines