Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Hunger Games

Most of you know by now that I am huge fan of post-apocalyptic / dystopian fiction. Since my own attempt at this genre, Earthburst, will be released after Easter, I'm hyper aware of this market, and nothing is bigger right now than Suzanne Collins's Hunger Games series. This being the case, I thought I'd offer my insight into the film.

All of us who are authors would consider it a crowning achievement to have one of our books made into a movie, and I figure that I would probably allow my work to be radically compromised if such an offer were made. Everyone has a price, right? After watching The Hunger Games movie today, I asked myself, if I were Suzanne Collins would I be happy with the film's interpretation of my work? Unfortunately, I don't think so.

Don't get me wrong. I enjoyed the film, and it got a lot of things right. For instance, despite my reservations about her being too old for the part, Jennifer Lawrence made a wonderful Katniss. Her trembling in fear while receiving final instructions from Cinna before she entered the arena rang true to life. Well acted, but not overdone. In fact, all of the actors did a fine job. Kudos to
the film's treatment of the reaping scene. I felt as if I were there. I'm glad there was no melodramatic background music, just the quiet camera panning over fearful faces of children and their families as the tribute names were drawn. They did, however, cut Haymitch from the scene. I would like to have seen him falling off that stage.

What bothered me about the film? Simply put, it lacked soul. In the book, we experience life through the eyes of 16-year-old Katniss and her daily struggle to live in a miserable post-apocalyptic world. We identify and root for Katniss because her father dies in a mining accident and her mother suffers a mental breakdown. This leaves Katniss no choice but to become the sole provider for her mother and kid sister. She learns to hunt, learns to barter, gains self-confidence, and hones her survival skills. This gives the reader some hope that she could possibly survive the games. Film goers who did not read the book are clueless and left wondering, why her? All of this vital back story is missing from the film or dealt with in a series of flashbacks that represent nothing more than sketchy afterthoughts.

The film blows it as far as developing Katniss as a character which is too bad, because therein lies the essence of Suzanne Collins's work, the magic that makes The Hunger Games the masterpiece that it is. Also barely there in the film is the relationship triangle between Katniss, Gale, and Peeta. And shame on the filmmakers for failing to show us the depth of betrayal Katniss feels when Peeta ostensibly forms an alliance against her with the career tributes.

To be fair, that's a lot to squeeze into a conventional film, but we've all seen other novels made into movies that work well. The filmmakers could have tried harder. I'm afraid that too many non-readers will not understand what makes The Hunger Games so remarkable.

So, when Hollywood comes calling at my door to make Earthburst into a movie, I'll welcome them, but I'll also be wary.


T. M. Crone said...

I haven't read the book yet, so I'm postponing seeing the movie. Nice review.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I haven't seen the movie but I've read the books. Love your insights, Dennis, and if the movie people knock on your door, say yes. Then fly us all out to Hollywood for the red carpet premiere.

George R. Appelt Jr. said...

I haven't read the book, but liked the movie. I want to go back and read the series. Your review rings true though from my perspective having only seen the movie.

Li said...

I've read the book and just saw the movie. While I agree with much of what you said, I'm still delighted that they didn't butcher it or drastically change anything, as happens so often when a book is turned into a movie.

Cate Masters said...

I'm waiting to see the movie till I've read the book also. It is tough to condense a book into a movie, but if the producer's wise enough, he'll hit on the key points such as you mentioned. All the more a shame it's flimsy because it's aimed at young people.

jan said...

The problem for film makers is they they have so little time to work with--two hours of action can eclipse six hours of character development. Success is success...but you have to feel a little sorry for the movie-goers and what they miss out on.

Rohit Singh Jain said...

Not seen it. Been seeing a lot of reviews though. Nicely-written.

Unknown said...

I thought they did a fairly good job with the movie. They did change a few things I wish they hadn't and few things didn't quite live up to my expectations, but overall I enjoyed it.

Suzanne Collins was one of the head writers and producers of the screenplay, so she must have been happy with it seeings how she helped write it. Like I said there were definitely a few things I didn't like about it, but I figure I just have to trust her.