The Hunger Games: One Sci Fi Movie That Pays Tribute to the Book
If you liked the book....
How many times have you eagerly awaited the release of the movie version of a favorite book, only to be disappointed into wishing you’d stopped at the last page? After all, your imagination often is a far more amazing animator than the imagemakers who create their versions on the silver screen. Isn’t the Big Picture that you visualized while reading a book often far more satisfying than what a group of screenwriters, cinematoraphers, designers and actors ultimately come up with? I often feel that way, which is the main reason why I choose not to attend many movies.
In the case of The Hunger Games, however, my curiosity got the better of me. This movie, if the reaction to Suzanne Collins' book was any indication, promised to be a national phenomenon. I didn’t want to be left out. Also, after viewing the actors who portray the book’s main characters on their multiple TV appearances a week prior to the movie’s release, I was semi-convinced that the casting, at last, wouldn’t disappoint me. It turns out that I was correct; in fact, I was pleased not only with the cast but also with most other aspects of The Hunger Games movie.
Some Sci Fi Movies Don't Make The Cut....
Often, it seems that cinematic versions of science fiction novels bear little resemblance to the books that provided their inspiration. Although the 1960 movie version of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine (starring Yvette Mimieux and Rod Taylor) was relatively successful in bringing Wells’ original story to the silver screen, the 2002 remake missed the mark y. Both movies feature a future world of two species of evolved.... or, more accurately, devolved.... humanity: the Elois, a sweet, childlike, mindless race whose life of leisure leads to a horrible end, and the Morlocks, underground “worker bee” remnants of the human race who literally use the Elois as their sustenance. (Okay, they eat them.) That’s pretty much where the similarity ends. For one thing, the 1960 version has the main character, the Time Traveller, living in England, as in the book, while the 2002 movie is set in New York City. Like the book, the 1960 Eloi live in lush woodlands with picturesque streams. The 2002 remake has them living on cliffs. (Yes, cliffs.) The remake also features a holographic librarian (!) to explain much of the history that led to the dystopian state of human existence. ( The holograph, I must admit, was a clever device produced by modern cinema; it did not, however, bear any resemblance to anything that appeared in the book.) Yvette Mimieux’s 1960 Weena, the pretty little Eloi the Time Traveller encounters during his trip forward in time, was very much like the Weena described in the book. Her 2002 replacement, the cliiff-dwelling Mara , played by Samantha Mumba, was a very different character in a very different story.
....This One Does
Moving back to the present, The Hunger Games characters seemed to have stepped seamlessly out of the book and onto the screen. On the screen, Jennifer Lawrence is the book’s protagonist, Katniss Everdeen. In the book version, Katniss tells her story through the literary device of first person narration, while in the movie, much is communicated through action and facial expression. This holds true for most, if not all, of the main characters: Josh Hutcherson’s Peeta is very much as I had imagined the innocent young baker’s son to be, as was Liam Hemsworth’s Gail, Katniss’s “hometown” friend and hunting buddy. Donald Sutherland, who has proved his versatility throughout his long and commendable career, makes a chillingly effective President Snow, while Woody Harrelson as Haymitch, the ever-drunk former Hunger Games victor and current mentor to Katniss and Peeta, is right-on in that role. Elizabeth Banks, who actually is a lovely young woman, seemed magically transformed into the ageless, pink-haired chaperone and guide from the Capitol of Panem , Effie Trinkett. Finally, Stanley Tucci’s Hunger Games commentator, the pony-tailed, blue-haired Caesar Flickerman, seems to have stepped right from the book onto the screen.
The setting of The Hunger Games movie also is true to the book. The totalitarian dystopia of Panem, all that is left of North America after generations of war and upheaval, is comprised of twelve poor Districts subjugated to the Capitol. More detail about the Capitol is added to the movie, though, which I felt brought some clarity to the story. Actually seeing the ultra-modern buildings and scenery coupled with the pastel-haired residents underlined the fact that this was, indeed, a science fiction piece based on many of our current realities. Additional details to the plot were similarly effective. For example, the book makes vague references to the fact that the Hunger Games are manipulated by the Game Maker and his Committee. The movie takes this one step further:Head Gamemaker Seneca Crane (Wes Bently) , appropriately “bedeviled” by perfectly sculpted facial hair, is shown with his Committee, a group of “techies” who sit in tiers around a large, semi-circular room and use technology to add various “challenges” to the Hunger Games landscape.
What About the Violence?
I felt that the movie handles all the violence inherent in The Hunger Games relaively well, considering that the Games are, after all, a fight to the death for twenty-three people (Tributes) between the ages of twelve and eighteen. In this respect, the book went into far more detail than the movie, which had to maneuver carefully and cleverly to earn the PG rating needed to bring its huge adolescent fan base to its doors. In the movie, violence itself is often intimated or shown very briefly before the results of that violence (e.g., the bodies) are shown. An example is the killing of twelve-year-old Tribute Rue, where the emphasis is placed on Katniss’s agony as she discovers the dying young girl and then proceeds to surround her with white flowers as a gesture of compassion and rebellion to the unwritten rules of the Games. Throughout the Games scenes, the movie places far more emphasis on human emotion, such as the growing feelings between Katniss and Peeta, than on unbridled brutaility.
Nothing Is Perfect, but....
The movie’s one major flaw, as I see it, is a failure to connect some of the dots important to the plot, such as the fact that Katniss’s father died during an explosion in a mine in her home district, District Twelve, some years before. In fact, this is touched upon so erratically in the movie that anyone who didn’t read the book might have trouble putting the pieces together. The same thing hold true for the extremely important scene from the past when Peeta threw loaves of bread to a starving young Katniss from the porch of his father’s bakery. A picture may “be worth a thousand words,” but sometimes a few more words are needed for reference. Another omission was an explanation of the eerie Muttations, horrible dog-like creatures with features of the dead Tributes, that attack the last survivors of the Games. The Committee is shown technologically creating and placing dog-like creatures into the arena, but no explanation is given as to their nature.
Those minor criticisms aside, I feel certain the movie will do what it was intended to do: whet the appetitie of The Hunger Games’ vast fan base so that the fans will be all but salivating until the first sequel hits the silver screen. And what could be a better seal of approval than that?