The biggest and most important thing for any individual who’s about to witness a book-to-film adaptation is this: the film is not the book. Simple words right? Well, I’ve taken a real understanding that many fans, including myself, have unrealistic expectations for films that are inspired by written novels or works. Though most moviegoers don’t realize that almost 50-60% of all films come from some other source or material, films that come from huge series like the Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter have a huge following considering the fan base is already in place. But the backlash for studios, producers, screenwriters and directors alike is that original creativity is hard to be completely accepted when working with such known stories and characters. The willingness and riskiness that filmmakers attempt to make can become a hugely misguided attempt considering that though it may be completely original and innovative for film, fans will completely be astounded and appalled by the fact that the film is not being 100% faithful to the novel. I was a huge fan of the Harry Potter films, and I think the biggest contribution to that was I made the decision to read the books after the films so I can fully appreciate the cinematic version of the most successful book series. The amount of effort, care and detail all individuals involved in the process of translating the HP books to films really was seen on screen, and for me personally, I loved the films and has led to my enjoyment of reading the books now. As being a newcomer to reading and being fully entrenched in books, I love the relationship between books and films. But it can also be a deterring and stressful relationship a la The Hunger Games.
I don’t need to go into detail about The Hunger Games and the plot. I think most if not all already know what The Hunger Games entails. Katniss, a 16 year-old girl who has the maturity and fight as a warrior in his physical prime, volunteers herself into the Hunger Games (a last man standing kill all type reality show) when her younger sister gets chosen. Along with Peeta Mellark, they travel to the Capitol to do some meet and greets, train and eventually enter the arena with 22 other tributes distributing from 12 districts until one final individual survives.
Okay, getting that unimportant section out of the way, the first thing that I want to state right out of the box is that I thought they did a great job being faithful to the first novel without being completely soulless or unoriginal. Listen to all Hunger Games fans, you cannot have every little detail, scenario, character or situation involved in the film. It’s just merely impossible. With the film running at 2 hours and 20 minutes, what else could be introduced into the film? The pace of the film was already quick and straight to the point, so add more elements or minor characters, than we got a three hour epic in our hands. That’s what fans want, but not the average movie ticket buyer. What I personally loved about the film was what I was most concerned was going to be missed: the atmosphere. Though I have not read Catching Fire or Mockingjay, reading the first book you can tell where the direction of the story is going. Overall, the environment of Panem and the different districts is brutality, struggle and the unbalanced life and culture that has been introduced and sustained through the 74 Hunger Games. Life is extremely difficult, especially being on the bottom of the district levels, and the film really captures that important essence. It doesn’t shy away from the grittiness and darkness of everything that is happening around Katniss. I could see where the filmmakers really wanted to stylize the series, especially during the pre-games festivities, but Gary Ross wanted a more realistic feel. From the shaky cam (I know many didn’t appreciate that, it did get a little old…) to the more documentary approach in terms of cinematography during the Hunger Games, the overall feel of realness and taking the viewer into these scenarios are achieved.
Considering Ross and Suzanne Collins (creator of the novels) both co-wrote the script, it’s understandable that being as faithful as possible on screen was a huge priority. Even then, there were some missing elements in the movie, especially in character and relationship development. My biggest issue with the film was how as viewers, we are suppose to accept the development between two characters when the attachment is not clearly shown on screen. With Peeta and Katniss, Katniss and Rue, Katniss and Cinna, all these relationships are progressed so quickly and emotionally are large impacts on Katniss, but we don’t necessarily see these complete, fulfilled dynamics on film. Obviously the pacing and time length is a big contributor, so I understand that. I just could see the average individual who hasn’t read the books feel completely ignored and confused to the advancement of these characters and the side plots.
Understanding these shortcomings, it doesn’t really matter as long as you can connect and become attached to Katniss. She is the heartbeat to this film, and that was the biggest challenge for the film. Can they find their Katniss and portray the character that Collins so perfectly created and developed? In Jennifer Lawrence, they definitely succeeded in the most important aspect. Lawrence is talented, smart and not to mention not too bad looking, which all is accounted for in this film. She really plays the “do everything you can to survive and win” down to a tee, and the way she treats her surroundings, especially Peeta, is a character of Katniss that needed to be fully understood on film. Lawrence doesn’t just do justice, but I actually feel she becomes the better Katniss compared to the book (Don’t kill me book fans). The other minor characters are done well enough to be passable, with Lenny Kravitz doing an appropriate Cinna, Elizabeth Banks playing exactly the Effie Trinket that I imagined in my mind and Woody Harrelson nailing down Haymitch, his arrogance and then his turning on his two trainees realizing their potential and abilities. I swear, the worse of the haircut, the better the performance (Javier Bardem in No Country For Old Men).
And to the Hunger Games itself. Besides Katniss’ performance, the other very important portion of the film is how they were going to approach and display the Hunger Games? Obviously, the film cannot be rated R, though the violence and brutality of the games is a large element, so I was intrigued how we were going to see this being displayed though it’s PG-13. I’m a huge fan of blood and violence, especially when a film shows more and becomes more realistic, but the way Ross approaches the violence is done very well. Using tricks through the camera and editing, we see glimpses of blood and the killings, but we finish the strong visualization process in our minds, and that is just as shocking as seeing the actual thing. Especially in the all out brawl in the first minute of the games where we lose almost half of our tributes, it was a deliberately gruesome and defying moment in the film. All the pop and circumstance of displaying your looks, your charms and your skills, and then right away, we see what these kids are truly made of and if they are really willing to kill to survive. No guts and no gore, but all the brutality of the books.
After the credits started rolling, I had two different, slight, but different opinions on the film. One from being a fan of the books and one being a pure film enthusiast. Of course I wish there were more stories, more characters and more development from the book, and I would love to see more Cinna, more of the struggle in District 12 and more of the fighting in the games, but as a film enthusiast, I appreciate what is being displayed on screen. I appreciate the plot and the characters, and I really love the overall feel of the film. I’ve hated book to film adaptations before like Angels & Demons, but what fans need to fully understand when they are about to witness a movie with huge expectations from its original material is that there are obvious differences and abilities from books to movies. Movies are so much more complicated, intricate and have plenty of different aspects to incorporate like box office, critics, running time, ratings, etc. But there are reasons why books are books and movies are movies, and overall, The Hungers Games is successful in both formats.
The Hunger Games is worth Almost A Full Clock (3 1/2 Stars)