Movie adaptations of Young Adult books can be risky, especially to book lovers.
“The Hunger Games” was a highly anticipated book to film adaptation, much like the “Harry Potter” and “Twilight” movies, but with great expectations comes a great chance of disappointment. Warning: there will be spoilers.
Early talk on the internet was positive; “The Hunger Games” wouldn’t disappoint. “We will see,” I thought, hopeful but skeptical while waiting in the theater.
When examining a book turned movie, there are several factors I take into consideration. First, the movie will never be quite as good as a masterfully written book. There are no exceptions to this rule. Judgements are made depending on how faithful the book is to the movie in terms of the actual scenes.There are always changes, so are those changes justified?
The opening of “The Hunger Games” was brilliant. The depictions of the districts and the Reaping were beautiful and emotionally charged. It is rare that the beginning of a movie moves me near to tears, but like the opening of “UP!,” “The Hunger Games” delivered that impact right away.
As expected, the scene of Rue’s (Amandla Stenberg) death was also very emotional. Flashes to Rue’s district, where her father (I assume) starts rebelling at her death added to the emotional impact of the moment.
The rest of the Capitol and the Games were also very well done. When reading “The Hunger Games,” we get the story from exclusively Katniss’s point of view. Where I thought the transition to movie might be clunky in this respect, I found no such issue. In the movie we were able to see more of the behind-the-scenes action of what was going on for the Gamemakers and for the Districts back at home.
This outside view was an excellent addition to the movie. Viewers were able to see just how much the Games were orchestrated, adding to the depth of the Capitol’s control. These views also allowed for greater character development for characters like the leader of the Capitol, President Snow (Donald Sutherland). He doesn’t become important until the second and third “Hunger Games” books, but including him in the first movie will make for a smoother transition to the second of the trilogy.
The mentor character, Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), also was more prominently featured as a complex character by the movie. Viewers can clearly see the transition from his absent drunkard ways to actually trying very hard to schmooze with the Gamemakers, who he despises, for Katniss and Peeta’s sake.
The casting was very strong in its entirety. No one can question the strength of Jennifer Lawrence’s performance as the main character, Katniss Everdeen. She was emotional and strong and everything readers love about their main character. The supporting characters, too numerous to name, were also extremely well done. It is rare that a movie gets its characters so spot on.
The movie wasn’t complete perfection, however close it came. Some of the changes from book to movie weren’t as well received. Specifically, the ending was disappointing. There was extreme simplification of the final scenes within the Games, ending with Katniss never admitting that she was only pretending to love Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) to survive the Games.
The movie definitely played up the “love triangle” between Katniss, Peeta and Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth). This method clearly worked, especially for younger audiences, but it took away from the social commentary that the book provides. The hoards of screaming teen girls in my theater were distracting, especially as they yelled and giggled happily as attractive characters were sent to their possible deaths. “The Hunger Games” is no love story.
Aside from the romantic focus, the movie also played down the violence and struggle of the Games. Though I’m not a fan of violence and gore, the Games lost some of their impact as the killing was disguised and muted. Katniss struggled a lot less in the Games as well, immediately finding water and basically dominating anything thrown her way.
This obviously was also for younger audiences, although it begs the questions: can those young audiences really grasp the true depth of the book at all? Do they realize that they are the age of the children who were sent away to fight to their deaths? Viewers shouldn’t leave the movie feeling like they want to be a part of “The Hunger Games” in real life. That ignores the point.
Other minor flaws came down to exclusion. Madge’s character, the daughter of the mayor of District 12, was not in the movie and therefore did not give Katniss the Mockingjay pin. This exclusion lost some of the tones of rebellion coming even from the wealthier members of the districts. Though it hardly affected the first movie, the second and third movies will be harmed because of them.
Overall, “The Hunger Games” was one of the most successful movie adaptations I’ve ever seen. Clearly, there were flaws, and those who haven’t read the books suffered from those flaws. Because Suzanne Collins, the author of the trilogy, wrote the screenplay, the movie was mostly very true to the spirit of the book that touched countless readers.