The Hunger Games (feat. Jonathan Walberg)Sunday, April 1st, 2012 7:50 pm—Film
The Hunger Games (USA 2012, Action/Drama/Sci-Fi/Thriller), Writers: Gary Ross, Suzanne Collins, Billy Ray; Director: Gary Ross
Uh-oh, my first post since January… I’ve been neglecting this blog a bit.
I’m back at it with The Hunger Games courtesy of my brilliant eldest nephew Jon. Only nine years old, he gobbled up the Suzanne Collins trilogy last December over the holidays. So I quickly followed suit to prepare for this joint post.
I’d heard of the books before Jon started talking about them, but hadn’t read them because they seemed a little simplistic when I flipped through them at the bookstore. Still, I thought the premise was fascinating.
The Hunger Games trilogy is set in a post-apocalyptic North America known as Panem. Twelve districts live at the mercy of the wealthy Capitol. Every year, each district pays penance for a rebellion led by the decimated District 13 by offering up one boy and one girl (known as “tributes”) between the ages of 12 and 18 for a televised fight to the death. Tributes are drawn by lottery, and viewing of the Games is mandatory.
Collins says she got the idea for The Hunger Games while channel surfing. She caught flashes of reality shows featuring young people competing at all costs for the given prize (money, weight loss, love, you name it), intercut with footage from the Iraq war. “These two things began to fuse together in a very unsettling way,” she said. “And that is where I got the idea for Katniss’ story.”
Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is the heroine of The Hunger Games. A resident of District 12, she volunteers as tribute when her younger sister’s name is drawn. She leaves behind her family and the boy she loves (Gale Hawthorne, played by Liam Hemsworth) to fight fellow tribute Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson)—the boy who loves her—along with 22 other youth.
The idea is incredibly disturbing, perhaps all the more so because of its timeliness. Those in power viciously exploiting others. People with almost nothing forced to sacrifice everything for the bare minimum. Children killed for the world to see. People’s lives reduced to entertainment, with viewers playing the odds, hedging bets and even sponsoring their favourite tributes. Collins had plenty of source material, and she draws on a lot.
I ended up liking the books much more than I expected, particularly the first. But the power of Collins’ idea was somewhat lost in translation to the screen. That’s largely due to the fact that The Hunger Games is a horrifying story targeted at teens and pre-teens. In her books, Collins found the right tone to capture her dark subject matter without indulging in gory detail that might scare away a Young Adult rating. But when the film shies away from getting too gritty, it winds up being less powerful and disturbing than it should be. I’m not asking for explicit violence, but I think something like The Hunger Games merits a somewhat heavier treatment. You don’t want to make killing too pretty, after all.
Jon lives in another province, so we didn’t see the movie together. But one of the first things he mentioned after watching it was that his screening started with a warning: The Hunger Games isn’t recommended for younger audiences. I asked if he found the movie scary. He said, “It wasn’t even really that scary, but it was a bit sad. Twenty-four people being put in an arena and forced to kill each other is kind of sad.”
Jon also said there wasn’t really anything about the movie he didn’t like. “It cut out a lot of parts, it added in some parts. In some parts you can’t understand the movie as well without the book.”
Generally, I agree. It’s a solid adaptation that lost some details along the way, and threw in others to try to make up for them in short order. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t.
In some cases, the transition to film brought key moments to life. When District 12 silently salutes Katniss for her bravery, the absence of sound and the mood it creates is captured in a way that can’t be matched in writing. In other cases, there were missed opportunities, like when Katniss and Peeta are first paraded before the Capitol. The glory of their fiery robes wasn’t anywhere near what I’d imagined from the book.
One overriding issue for me was that the movie took away too much from Katniss’ perspective, which is all we have in the book. It’s too bad, because Lawrence, who was so amazing in Winter’s Bone (see the Winter’s Bone review from August 2010), was perfectly cast and could have carried the piece. But that would have led to a very different film that might not suit its young target audience—especially not if they haven’t been prepped by the books.
At the end of the day, Jon came out a happy camper, which makes the movie a hit in my mind. He liked the costumes and the characters, and had this to say in sum: “People should watch The Hunger Games because it’s quite a good movie. But they should also probably read the books first, because the books have more in them.”
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I love you Jon. Keep reading.