September 4, 2012

The Hunger Games (2012)

Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson

Books > movies. Sorry, but it's true. I have yet to see a movie that is better than the book. That being said, some movies are still satisfying in their own right. I would not count this as one of them. (I can already hear the booing from the Hunger Game fanatics.)

Let's start with the plot - I understand adapting a long book down to a reasonable-length movie is difficult, but you'd think the screenwriters would try a little harder to stay true to the details of the story. Call me a purist, but I don't like directors to change key symbolic moments, like when Katniss receives her mockingjay pin, but then make the effort to keep random details like Katniss reminding her sister, Prim, to keep her shirt tucked in. Again, it may be minor, but it makes me wonder about the prioritization of what's important when adapting the book. Huge symbol for the trilogy that's on the movie poster and is even the name of the third book? Or minor detail that comes up just once more? Hmmm...tough call.

I also understand that with all the buzz surrounding the books, that lots of celebrity names are eager to hop on board with the movie. This doesn't mean, however, that the plot should then accomodate additional screen time for these stars. What do I mean? Most notably, Donald Sutherland's President Snow, who is mentioned, but rarely seen in the first book, yet has his hand in the Game throughout the movie. Seeing Woody Harrelson as Haymitch was a surprise, although I could get on board with him being a drunken lout. What I couldn't get on board with was giving his character credit for a massive plot point just to give him more screen time. And Lenny Kravitz? In a movie? As an actor? Please.

So about the casting...Josh Hutcherson. Yes, the kid from this awesome movie. This is who we are supposed to imagine as the big, strong Peeta Mellark? Um...he's 5'7". I know Hollywood has limitations in finding tall people, but...5'7"? Really? That's the same height as Tom Cruise! I may not be a big fan of the Hemsworth brothers (for no other reason other than the fact that one of them is engaged to Miley Cyrus), but at least the one in this movie is actually tall enough to be believable in his part!

I could go on and on, but I'm trying desperately not to ruin the plot for those who didn't read the book. I will say that one of my main complaints about the book is the lack of character development beyond the main heroine, Katniss. And the book is mostly done in first person narration by her, which makes it difficult to then explain things on screen without a narrator. But I felt like the depth and cleverness of Katniss was totally underrepresented on screen and the need to condense the time cut out some nice details during the Games. That said, I do feel the plot followed the book much more accurately once the Game actually started and provided some nice foreshadowing for the sequels that weren't detailed in the book. Those are my two compliments - the second half of the movie wasn't as inaccurate, and it provided two scenes of foreshadowing. At least we already know there are going to be three movies, so one can hope they get better? (as if so many sequels are better than the original??)

Final word: You'd be better off if you never read the book. But if you never read the book, you might have a hard time understanding all the details of the movie. So either way you are screwed. 

Related: turning every movie into a franchise

Do yourself a favor and read the books instead:

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