Look, it is utterly impossible to please everyone with a book-to-film adaptation. I’d say it’s damn near impossible to please the vast majority of people, even. We all have our own little darlings, those particular details that we pray aren’t lost in translation. We take opposing stances on the addition of new material. We see, hear and interpret words, movements, actions and choices differently. So, whenever a beloved book is made into a movie, there will be critics of the adaptation. But in the case of the recently released film, The Hunger Games, I am not one of them.
I read the impressive YA series last year and found the film to be both an excellent adaptation and stand alone movie. Jennifer Lawrence gave a convincing performance, captured the essence of Katniss Everdeen. Her rebellious, untrusting nature, her pride, her willfulness. Her simultaneous disdain for The Capitol and fear of its power over her. Peeta was okay, Gale (Liam Hemsworth! those Hemsworth boys are genetic mutants, I think) looked and acted exactly as I’d imagined him, and The Seam was perfect. In fact, all of it – The Seam, The Capitol, inside The Games, the set, the costumes and make-up, and the decorations/props were all completely PERFECT. In fact, this may be what impressed me the most: the attention to detail to the appearance of it. Mad kudos to the folks who designed and created the superb aesthetics.
I won’t go into detail about the plot because if you haven’t heard enough about it to have at least a general understanding by now, you probably don’t care to know. (Just in case I’m wrong, here is a decent summary.) By and large, the casting was spot on. Elizabeth Banks was a good Effie and both Prim and Rue looked just as I pictured them. Willow Shields and Amandla Stenberg gave impressive performances, especially considering neither of them are even old enough to drive. I admit I was skeptical when I heard of Donald Sutherland’s being cast as the president, but he made for a surprisingly good Snow. Both Wes Bentley and Stanley Tucci were dead perfect for their roles, Seneca Crane and Caesar Flickerman, respectively. Though not in the novel, I liked the scenes with Snow and Seneca Crane where decisions about The Games were made as well as the scenes showing the folks in the districts watching The Games on TV. The book was completely inside Katniss’s head, which worked on paper, but the third person pov greatly added to the storytelling of the film.
Speaking of great scenes that weren’t part of the original material, I LOVED the scenes following Rue’s death. The aftermath of the killing of that gorgeous 12 year-old girl would have been impossible to write into the novel because, of course, Katniss was still locked inside the arena, but writing them into the film perfectly captured the angst and anxiety building outside The Capitol. The riots in District 11 were so emotionally charged, so full of heartbreak and despair and rage.
If I had to criticize something, it would be Haymitch. I love Woody Harrleson and I think he did the best he could with the tiny amount of screen time given him but Haymitch’s role in the film was nothing compared to what Collins made it in her excellent novel. For starters, he wasn’t nearly drunk enough. They always showed him with a glass in hand but never did he behave as the disgruntled drunk he was meant to be. I understand cutting his screen time short because there just isn’t enough time to include everything, but that’s why the scenes he was in should have more adequately revealed his character. He was their mentor, yes, but only because he had to be. Like every other district citizen, he detested the very idea of The Games and everything they entailed and drinking himself into oblivion was the only way he felt he could deal with it. He didn’t actually like Katniss, even though she convinced him she did stand a meager chance of winning, which caused them to spar continuously while he tried to train her. I’m sorry that they left all of that conflict out. Their volatile relationship was so downplayed in the movie that it felt like they were merely indifferent toward each other.
Gale, on the other hand, was a character I liked much more in film than I did while reading the book. His character seemed more developed in the movie since the filmmakers were able to show him in a few scenes after Katniss left District 12. I was Team Peeta all the way while reading the series but very nearly switched sides during the movie. Partly because Josh Hutcherson gave a mediocre performance (especially in comparison to J. Law.) and partly because Liam Hemsworth, in just a few brief scenes, captured every bit of the anger and frustration and contempt that marked Gale’s character. And his complete determination to help Katniss’s family in any way he could. I don’t mean to dog Hutcherson because I think he was a decent Peeta, but I will say that I hope he steps it up a notch or two in Catching Fire. I felt nervous about how they’d handle the whole romantic entanglement issue prior to seeing it (for fear it would turn into the ridiculously dramatic Edward-Bella-Jacob fiasco) but my apprehension was all for naught, as it turns out, since the screenwriters (one of whom was the author of the trilogy, Suzanne Collins) and director Gary Ross handled it with a few brief images showing Gale watching as Katniss and Peeta bonded in The Games. I was pleased to see them opt for such a subtle way to establish the love triangle without overdoing it or making it sappy.
Of course, we all have different taste and I know many people who’ve read the series and complained of certain altered details in its film adaptation, but I have to say, I enjoyed every minute of it.
I didn’t love this as much as my cohort. Don’t get me wrong – it’s a great flick, paced well, and overall, a faithful adaptation. I guess there were a few things that bothered me, and due to my bazillion neuroses, I simply can’t get over.
I was a little displeased with how condensed the games were. I wish we got to see more of Rue. I wish you got to see how much and how hard Katniss and Peeta had to suffer at the very end, on top of that cornucopia. You never get to see how harsh the elements were on the kids – there was no almost-dying of dehydration, searching for water. No freezing at night. In the books, water was so valuable, and in the film, it’s just there, no biggie, we found it. And most of all, I wish that the berry-swallowing-suicide was portrayed as it was in the book – that it was more about them trying to survive and not being able to kill each other than just a big “fuck you” to The Capitol.
I did seriously love the casting. Lenny Kravitz was a perfect Cinna. I actually really liked Woody Harrelson as Haymitch, although I think they tuned down his intensity and drunkenness for the film. I guess binge-drinking puking is not something you can show for PG13? Certain characters who did nothing for me on the page actually became real people to me. While reading, I’m not sure if I even imagined what Seneca Crane and Caesar Flickerman looked like; they just symbolized their professions – game maker and host, respectively. Wes Bentley and Stanley Tucci brought them to life splendidly. I’ve read that some people had problems with Peeta, I personally thought Josh Hutcherson was sort of perfect. He’s got the innocence/charmer thing down, with a baby-face to boot. But Jennifer Lawrence really hit it out of the park with her Katniss – she made the film for me, which is important, because it’s her story after all.
What blows me away the most is how LITERALLY EVERY SINGLE PERSON I KNOW (even people who never go to the movies) has seen this in the theater (and expressed their great love to me) within the first week of its release. That’s a feat I’ve never experienced – not even Harry Potter or your average summer blockbuster can make this claim within my personal circles of friends. The Hunger Games appeals to both genders, and a wide array of ages. I guess it’s a studio’s marketing team’s dream. I thoroughly enjoyed this first effort, but I’m hoping the second film manages to capture a few of the subtleties part one failed to mention.