Movie Review: The Hunger Games – A Compelling Character is Lost to a Film Translation

by Bags Hooper on March 25, 2012 · 18 comments

in Critic Review, The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games’ first novel was a visceral tale of Truman Story meets Lord of the Flies, which captured the confusion and primal instinct of a young girl, named Katniss Everdeen, who was forced to kill. While the book focused on an actual pseudo-reality TV series called The Hunger Games, author Suzanne Collins also showed off Katniss’ literal hunger. A loaf of bread meant the difference between life and death; it also catalyzed Katniss’ desire to hunt and save her family from starvation after her father died.

The film version of The Hunger Games cleans up the clutter of teenage uncertainty, while sanitizing the gruesome side of children killing children. Instead of a smart and emotionally conflicted Katniss, viewers get a quiet and semi-brooding teenage girl. It’s a problem that stemmed from translating a first-person narrative novel into a film. All of Katniss’ internal dialogue has been thrown away, leaving the viewer with a few inconsequential expressions from Jennifer Lawrence. This is a film that was supposed to be about high stakes, but without her internal dialogue there’s no payoff or interest in the character. There are a few humorous moments from commentator Caesar Flickerman (played by Stanley Tucci), which explain plot points, but they don’t give you any insight into Katniss.

The film begins with several dizzying, Kung-Fu swish pans. During Katniss’ initial hunt, the camera snaps back and forth between Katniss, a deer and her friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth). The jarring motion serves no purpose save to give the viewer a swift bout of motion sickness. Surprisingly, this style isn’t used throughout the movie, but only in the exposition. It’s as if the creative team realized that this was not the best direction to go in, but didn’t have the funding to change it after it was already shot.

The film does a good job of setting up the story and offering information on what led to the present state of affairs. After a long war, which a governing body called the Capitol won, a boy and a girl from each of the twelve rebelling districts is entered into a tournament where there can only be one survivor. When Katniss’ younger sister is chosen by lotto to represent her district, Katniss volunteers to take her sister’s place.

The initial trip to the Capitol captures the splendor that Katniss imagined in the book. Everyone in the Capitol looks like an over-done runway model, exploding with colors and outlandish fashions. The costumes and art design for the Capitol are great, save for Woody Harrelson as Haymitch Abernathy, Katniss’ trainer. He seems like the cleaner, younger brother of the character we met in the book. The movie steadily goes wrong from here. Viewers never get a clear understanding of what Katniss is thinking or her relationship with Peeta. A few flashbacks do little to elucidate an important point that should have played throughout the entire film. However, all the gory details have been washed away.

The fighting begins, but the savagery of the situation never enters the story. What you do get are a few comical moments from Tucci. As for the games, all the scrapes and bruises look minor and picturesque. It looks like a series of camping accidents rather than killings. Remember The Dark Knight? It was a gritty film that kept its PG-13 rating so there’s no reason why the creative team for The Hunger Games couldn’t have found a way to capture the tumultuous event. The question of the reality of the romance between Peeta and Katniss never comes into play. There is also one major plot note regarding Peeta that is dropped completely from the ending.

If you read the novel, you will be able to fill in the gaps left out from the script. Otherwise, The Hunger Games is a trite film ,which will leave you with little emotional connection to the lead character, a compelling young girl from District 12.

The Hunger Games
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Stanley Tucci and Liam Hemsworth
Directed by: Gary Ross
Screenplay by: Gary Ross
Studio: Lionsgate
Release Date: March 23, 2012

Rating:

6 / 10

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Anonymous March 25, 2012 at 2:53 pm

Seriously? Terrible review. Even if it would have included all of the “complexity” of the character developed through all three novels, Katniss was hardly even a bit more compelling. It was written for teens about teens and they are supposed to identify with the character just enough to insert their own adolescent coming of age experiences. I think it succeeds just fine. Luke Sywalker was hardly more compelling and still captured numerous generations. I think you missed the boat on this one. 

Anonymous March 25, 2012 at 2:53 pm

Seriously? Terrible review. Even if it would have included all of the “complexity” of the character developed through all three novels, Katniss was hardly even a bit more compelling. It was written for teens about teens and they are supposed to identify with the character just enough to insert their own adolescent coming of age experiences. I think it succeeds just fine. Luke Sywalker was hardly more compelling and still captured numerous generations. I think you missed the boat on this one. 

Fliller March 25, 2012 at 4:04 pm

I disagree with review. I am a 40 yr old Mother who has not read any of the books. I liked the fact that I did not know what was going to happen with characters. I felt Jennifer Lawrence gave one of the best performances I have seen in years! Certainly Oscar worthy! I love leaving a movie, feeling emotionally charged and raw…wondering about the characters. I felt that Lawrence and the Director did an incredible job with her character…leaving me refreshingly thankful that I did not know exactly what was going through Katniss’ mind, wondering what were her motives…I am left thinking Katniss did what she had to do to save both Peeta’s life and her own…but her true love was her childhood friend left back at home, Gale was his name I think? A++++ all around! I am going to buy all 3 books today!

Ivory March 25, 2012 at 4:05 pm

Great review, its exactly how I felt after reading all three books numerous times and then seeing a movie they seemed to rush through. It started out pretty good, and steeply declined by the ending. The climax in the book (the cornacopia fight and peeta’s battle to stay alive) was nothing more than a rushed-through event of the book. Consequently, after seeing it only last night, I couldn’t define a climactic point. 
The acting was amazing, but there were so many key things they rushed through that just left you saying “is that really it?” by the ending. There was no fall-out between Katniss and Peeta where he realizes that she never really knew if she loved him even though he was certain -which I thought SURELY they would have had. Parts that werent absolutely essential to the story line (such as the blowing up of supplies) were over-done whereas the parts that really deserved some action, heartache and time (such as when Katniss and Peeta think one of them may have to kill the other) were given no thought.
All in all, great movie if you’ve never read the books. I sort of wish I hadn’t because I was so dissapointed, however I would like to see it again to recap how I actually feel about it.
I loved the actors, the trailers and the books, but I’m sad to say that the movie wasn’t what it could have been. :(

Ivory March 25, 2012 at 4:08 pm

correction: “The climax in the book (the cornacopia fight and peeta’s battle to stay
alive) was nothing more than a rushed-through event of the MOVIE.”

Tlm_pa March 25, 2012 at 4:26 pm

Having read the book and seeing the movie, the review is spot on. I agree about the internal dialogue was key in fleshing out Katniss’ character, internal conflicts, etc. For all of Twilight’s fault, at least they kept Bella’s internal dialogue giving that character more shape and depth. Hunger Games was sanitized and lost its edge of desperation of daily survival in and out of the games, razor-sharp balance of betrayals, dramas, political undercurrents and really dumbed down the book to where you are left asking, “Is this all there is?” Because I hope the next movie sequel is better than the first. Otherwise, the sequel is something I’d rather reread than sit though another 2 hours made so that even young children can watch it.

Claudia Durand March 25, 2012 at 11:48 pm

Did you even read the books? There is no emotional love or thought in the movie.

Claudia Durand March 25, 2012 at 11:50 pm

The movie seems fine if you don’t read the books. But once you see how AMAZING the trilogy is, you are disappointed by the movie. Besides, you barely ever know the names’ of the characters! Tell me, who is Greasy Sae? Well, you wouldn’t know that from the movie.

Claudia Durand March 26, 2012 at 12:33 am

This is EXACTLY what I was thinking. There was no emotional connection at all with the characters or the Districts. I ended up disliking Katniss’s mother. Gale didn’t really have a personality. Prim was… a cute little girl. Nothing more. Haymitch was way too nice. In the book he was completely drunk!  Madge doesn’t exist at all. I saw the movie trailer and was really pumped! But when I got in I was quickly underwhelmed. I didn’t even care about Rue when she died! I wept for 10 minutes when she died in the book. When I watch a good movie, I get a sense of anticipation. There was none of that here. I found that camera-wise, they tried to pull the focal depth moves too much (for all you camera buffs) and overused camera shake/blur. When there was any violence, it was blurred or quickly cut out. The violence is an important part of the book though. It makes you hate the Capitol more, giving rise to the rebellion. And many parts were left out all together! 5 or 6 stars.

Anonymous March 26, 2012 at 12:38 am

…. this reviewer needs to go get a life, I’ve read the first book twice and two and three once, i believe the movie was spot on to the book, it didn’t dodge gory scenes, it showed kids getting killed, personally it exceeded my standards, the only part that disappointed me was the wavy camera scenes.

Dapeters657 March 26, 2012 at 2:17 am

Uh, she was the one in the Hob that gave Katniss the Mockingjay pin…

Fliller March 26, 2012 at 1:03 pm

Claudia Durant – You are 100% correct in that I barely even know the characters names. That is exactly why, as I mentioned, I could barely wait to buy the book set! I heard how awesome the books are…can’t wait to dive in! After reading some of these reviews, I am so glad I DID NOT READ any of the books before seeing the movie, because I thoroughly enjoyed this movie! And will see it again! Peace to you always….

Rainman March 26, 2012 at 1:35 pm

Don’t agree with your review at all. For me, this is one of the best book to film screenplay adaptations I have seen in many, many years. The movie was fantastic & whoever did the casting was spot on! But with the exception of Haymitch. Woody Harrelson did a fab job with his character but i guess he had his hands tied, and wasnt given his usual creative freedom on his version of the haracter he was playing. Woody was pretty much “spot on” in the movie when he is first introduced to Katniss & Peeta, but then something happened and it’s almost as if the Director changed his mind midway through the shooting regarding just how much of a drunkard Haymitch would be. would appear, decoded to sober him up A LOT, then did retakes (he goes from a spot on alcoholic to completely sober towards end of movie) but forgot to redo his first scenes (which were amazing by the way!).

casandra March 26, 2012 at 2:36 pm

I sgree with the review. I believe that it was an okay movie if you didn’t read the books. If you did read the books then I would totally agree with this review. I have read the books and I appreciate that the filmmakers tried to get everything out of the scenes. I felt like it was just too rushed and there were points where internal dialogue would have made it a lot  better.

Sean B. March 28, 2012 at 9:50 pm

Agree with this review, Bags.

The film stands as a good flick if one hasn’t read the source material. For those who have, it’s more of a collection of scenes from the book, but without the important glue of Katniss’ inner psyche holding everything together and giving all those scenes such weight. A little bit of narration would’ve went a long way with this. Even adding 20 minutes to the film to take us through some of Katniss’ calculating and cunning character, but more importantly her inner conflict, confusion (over love), her paranoia, defiance would’ve made the film great and captured more of the spirit of the book as well.

But honestly [SPOILERS], the omission/watering down of some scenes may have really set this franchise on a unsound foundation. The love triangle is less compelling without taking us through Katniss naturally coming to the realization she cares for Peeta (ex. the cave sequence was glossed over and the omission of Kat banging on the glass, calling Peeta’s name, thinking he’s dead. Also, throw in the conversation had on the train back to District 12 for good measure).

Sean B. March 28, 2012 at 9:50 pm

Agree with this review, Bags.

The film stands as a good flick if one hasn’t read the source material. For those who have, it’s more of a collection of scenes from the book, but without the important glue of Katniss’ inner psyche holding everything together and giving all those scenes such weight. A little bit of narration would’ve went a long way with this. Even adding 20 minutes to the film to take us through some of Katniss’ calculating and cunning character, but more importantly her inner conflict, confusion (over love), her paranoia, defiance would’ve made the film great and captured more of the spirit of the book as well.

But honestly [SPOILERS], the omission/watering down of some scenes may have really set this franchise on a unsound foundation. The love triangle is less compelling without taking us through Katniss naturally coming to the realization she cares for Peeta (ex. the cave sequence was glossed over and the omission of Kat banging on the glass, calling Peeta’s name, thinking he’s dead. Also, throw in the conversation had on the train back to District 12 for good measure).

Anonymous April 1, 2012 at 4:38 am

They were the best books I have read in a long time and I’m so looking
forward to the movide tonight.  Its really about hope and revolution and
how one person can change the world.  Don’t knock it till you’ve read
it or seen it. You will change your mind!

Tapdancer April 3, 2012 at 3:45 am

The biggest difference I found between the book and the movie was in the 1st book I wanted to shake some sense into Katniss but I liked her and had sympathy for her in the movie.   Its just too difficult to condense the book to a two hour movie.   I also agree while Woody H did a good job as Haymitch it was not the same character that was described in the book.   My daughter and I both pictured a drunken Hagrid as Haymitch, not a blonde good looking Haymitch..   Overall I thought the movie was good and saw it twice on opening weekend.   My son had never read the books and he liked the movie but didn’t get  the feeling of a love triangle.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: