I have already enthused about Suzanne Collins’ young adult trilogy The Hunger Games. I stand by my opinion that these books represent the increasingly rare instances that can absolutely fuel a love of reading among young people. They are gripping. They move swiftly but still have depth. And finally, they have a female protagonist who is strong, skillful, and admirable (sorry, Twilight).
I was more than excited for the movie, though a little apprehensive as I watched the previews slowly phase out any shots of Josh Hutcherson as Peeta. I guess the filmmakers were reacting to negative audience perception of their casting choice (and Josh Hutcherson did feel a little odd for the role–shorter than Katniss, a little more unsure than he should have been). Peeta, in the books, is as integral a part of the story as Katniss–he is the anchor, the emotional twist. Reducing his role in the movies felt like a mistake. I wonder how it will play out in the movies to come. Peeta’s role in the story only gets more complex and interesting, and I hope that the later films will do him more justice.
Jennifer Lawrence is a solid Katniss–by turns plain and beautiful, fierce and vulnerable. Whatever development her character lacks stems from the film’s exclusion of key parts of the novel. As for the film as a whole…I suppose there is also little to complain about. Director Gary Ross handled the arena scenes deftly, giving them a realistic weight and gravity (the bloodbath scene, in particular, is almost too realistic, making me wonder why an 18-year old gutting a 12-year old boy garners a PG-13 but a few f-bombs automatically get an R).
Ross and his cast gave us a perfectly serviceable, entertaining movie. When compared to other recent films, which are just tired remakes of other remakes (hi, The Amazing Spiderman) or, really, pure crap (Twilight), The Hunger Games actually stands out as an achievement. It deals convincingly with heavy issues–poverty, oppression, family, sacrifice–without veering into the didactic.
Maybe I ruined it for myself by reading the books so carefully. It’s unreasonable , perhaps, to expect an entirely faithful adaptation from print to screen, since the mediums are so different. On the other hand, I was an even more avid reader of the Harry Potter series, and those films left me utterly satisfied–they brought the story even more vividly to life. The Hunger Games film, when considered next to the book version, simply plods along, hitting all the right plot points without providing the depth of the books. There are crucial lacunae. The greatest injustice done is to Katniss’ complicated dynamic with Haymitch (who looks about thirty years younger than I expected him to) and especially Peeta. The convenient healing of Peeta’s leg wound makes the original sequence of events, a much more harrowing narration in which Katniss thinks he has died and goes mildly insane on her way back to the Capitol, unnecessary. Instead, the Games are wrapped up a little too neatly. The original mess, as the Capitol puts Katniss and Peeta (with a false leg) back together, read as more compelling and established a closer relationship between reader and character. The urgency and danger of Katniss’ actions are also lost–without her thoughts, the final moment with the berries becomes comical (the audience in my theater giggled) rather than desperate.
Ultimately, I suppose the best way to think about the two branches of the Hunger Games franchise is to deal with them as separate entities, which is a shame. It remains to be seen how the next two films will build upon the first, whether they will layer on the character complexity that this first effort lacked, or whether the entire series will devolve into the kind of blank, action-driven fare that is always shoved down our throats now. The first film is a solid start, earning it three stars in my book–entertaining, but nothing compared to the original books.