Ah, the Hunger Games. There’s nothing quite like a movie/book about little kids stabbing each other with swords. For those few people unfamiliar with the premise of this movie, it is this: an all-powerful dystopian capitol decides that each year, for no particular reason except that it makes for an awesome movie, two teenagers, one male, one female, from each of the twelve districts (read: slums) of Panem must fight to the death with pointed objects over the period of two weeks while the evil rulers ( and us) watch it all on television. Why with pointed objects and not guns? Why have the combatants trudge around for two weeks in the forest, when a quick Spartacus-style bloodbath would probably make for a better show? Why have these games at all, when they are cruel and likely to incite uprisings in the disgruntled population? Because in case you didn’t realize, Panem is EVIL, that’s why. It also may or may not be a symbol of American excess and imperialism, though the metaphor is weakened by the fact that the American government doesn’t make the children of Ohio or wherever fight to the death. The main character we are meant to root for in all this bloodiness is Katniss, a plucky, redheaded archer woman.
To be honest, this movie is big on games, but pretty low on Hunger. Everyone in it looks decidedly well-nourished and attractive, which somewhat dampens the gritty feel the filmmakers seem to have been going for. Oh, well. It’s still a great movie.
Maybe not since the Lord of the Rings has a big, best-selling book series got such a quality adaptation. The last Harry Potter film did try, but there was simply too much material to condense into a truly coherent two-hour movie. Deathly Hallows, while well-shot and quite fun, was a bit messy and confusing for those not intimately familiar with the book. And the Twilight movies are, well….I confess to only seeing the first one, and the best that can be said of it was that it was all right.
Anyway, I digress. The Hunger Games is a movie with a good story, but what is really great about it is the cinematography. AT times it’s actually distracting. It seems to be calling out to you–“look! See how artistic I am!” And yes, it’s true. The cinematography is the real star of this movie. While we’re in the grungy, poverty-stricken districts, the movie employs a sort of close-up shaky cam. In the luxurious capital, we get wider, flatter angles. And during the games themselves we get all sort of clever tricks, like the trippy scene when our protagonist, Katniss, is stung by a hallucinogenic wasp and staggers around the woods, or the scene at the very start of the games where the sound cuts out and the shaky cam makes its triumphant return.
The other star of the movie is Jennifer Lawrence, who plays a character very similar to the one she played in Winter’s Bone (except more sexy this time), with similarly successful results. Let it be known that this is the only quality, financially successful action movie I can recall since Kill Bill starring a female hero. Maybe it will start a trend.
So what is better, the book or the movie? The book, for a few reasons.
1. The minor characters–particularly Thresh–are better developed in the book. A pivotal scene in which Thresh saves Katniss
2. The book better explores up the emotional confusion of having to pretend to love one person while being maybe in love with someone else except possibly being actually in love with the person you are pretending to be in love with…hmm, well the love triangle in those books was pretty damn convoluted and annoying in Catching Fire, but at least in the Hunger Games it was ok.
3. The berry scene (readers of the book will know what I’m talking about) is much more suspenseful in the book. In the film, it’s criminally underplayed, and we never have a moment where we wonder “Oh, God, whatever will Katniss do now?”
4. The first book was more or less a stand-alone thing, while the movie’s ending is a shameless sequel plug.
Though to be fair the book’s writing was somewhat simple and uninspired. When compared to the score, the editing, and of course, that cinematography…it’s fair to say that the craft, at least, is stronger in the film version, while the story suffers a little, but not too much.
Both the movie and the book share a few weaknesses. They both try to keep Katniss morally in the clear by having her kill only the evil, brainwashed competitive private school–I mean “Career”–kids, rather than any innocent poor kids. How convenient it all was that all the nice kids managed to get themselves killed off without Katniss having to lift an arrow–by which I mean shoot them in the ****ing throat with an arrow. They also fail to explain why it makes any logical sense for all the private school (Careers, I mean) kids, who are the best fighters, to band together when it would make more sense for them to kill each other first, thereby eliminating the greatest threat. I mean, jeez. I guess the things they learned at that top-secret academy they were all trained at to compete for the Hunger Games didn’t include basic tactics and strategy.
The Hunger Games is a fun, well-crafted movie that deserves its success at the box-office. I look forward to the sequels.