The Hunger Games: the movie

The easy way out

Seeing a movie of a book you've read and liked is always a shaky proposition. What are the chances you'll be satisfied? Certainly lower than those who have never had the richer experience. But I didn't feel the need to rail against Jackson's version of The Lord of the Rings. Nor did I have much of a gripe against the Harry Potter films.

Unfortunately, I do feel that The Hunger Games was grossly shortchanged in the film version, and worse, that it was short-changed by taking the easy way out. The drama and subtlety of the relationships is almost entirely lost because the film spent valuable time showing background stuff in command central. In other words, Hollywood was predictably drawn to doing the makeup and effects while dropping the challenge of building relationships, which I think at least some of the actors would have been up to.

The book The Hunger Games is told in first person present tense. This is extremely unusual because it's difficult to do. Essentially you only know what is going on in one character's mind right now. If they think about something in the past, then you get some background. You never see anything the one character (in this case, Katniss) doesn't see. It's an extremely limited point of view and one of the kudos the author deserves is that she pulled it off successfully. I was initially very turned off by it, but it didn't take long before I realized I was in competent hands.

Attempting to preserve and represent the immediacy of this point of view, which roots us firmly in the many doubts and dilemmas facing Katniss, should have been a primary task of the film-makers. Yes, it would have been difficult. Yes, it would have required some voice over monologue of Katniss's thoughts which we normally associate with corny made-for-tv movies. I believe a good, inventive director could have overcome these things and created a film in which the tension is much more than physical. But no, we lose Katniss's thoughts.

The result is something Hollywood does well and easily--an action-adventure. But the novel is a novel not only of survival but of emotional dilemmas and one person's code of conduct put under stress, who must question her loyalties and who constantly rides the fence between personal survival and loyalties to other individuals and other social groups.

At the very least, cut the control room baloney and provide the backstory of Katniss's father's death, her mother's catatonic withdrawal afterward and of Peeta giving bread to Katniss (when they were young children). Develop Rue and show that Katniss covered Rue's body with flowers--not just a little bouquet. Her extravagance in that gesture was one of her most inflammatory political acts. So much is lost by not including Katniss's thoughts and understanding of the political situation.

So watching the movie was not merely a disappointment, it was hollow. It was a movie made in the service of the Capitol, to accentuate the excitement and the spectacle, not to show the psychological trauma that the political system had set up long before Katniss reached the arena.

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