Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Hunger Games (2012) - Gary Ross

The Hunger Games (2012)
Director: Gary Ross
Writer: Gary Ross (Screenplay), Billy Ray (Screenplay), Suzanne Collins (Screenplay & Novel)
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland, Amandla Stenberg, Toby Jones, Dayo Okeniyi, Alexander Ludwig, Jacqueline Emerson, Isabelle Fuhrman, Willow Shields

When it comes to movies adapted from books, do you prefer to read the book first or see the movie first? When I have asked that question in the past I have found that most people prefer to read the book first. I find that I am one of the few people that prefers to see the movie version first. This film is a perfect example of why I feel this way.

When I watch the movie first, I can enjoy it on its own merits and then read the book and expand on a universe that I already know. Where as when I read the book first, I find it hard to judge the film on its own merits. I find myself questioning, "Would I have liked this more if I hadn't already read the book?" I find myself thinking, "They could have easily removed this unimportant scene and put in this other scene that would have explained certain things better."

When a book is adapted to a film, things need to be left out of the story. It is almost impossible to adapt a book to a film with 100% accuracy. I understand that but sometimes I find it hard to comprehend why certain things are cut out and certain things are left in. I had this same problem with the Harry Potter series. I read the book first and just had a hard time enjoying the films because of how much was left out. The Hunger Games is a great example of this for me.

While I think the movie was pretty good for the most part, I find myself missing things that were in the book, or wondering why they added things that weren't in the book. There were just a lot of things that weren't explained well in the movie. What was the significance of the Mockingjay Pin? Why did Cinna care so much about what happened to Katniss? Why did Haymitch suddenly just quit drinking? What was the significance of the career tributes? Why did the people of District 11 suddenly rebel even though they have been watching their children die in the Hunger Games for 74 years? What were the muttations that showed up at the end of the story and where did they come from? Maybe all of these questions don't need to be explained for the movie to make sense, but this is a lot of questions to have left unanswered. Or maybe I am just being hard on the film because I am such a fan of the book.

I will say I did enjoy the movie but kind of on the same level that I enjoyed the Harry Potter movies. It was cool to see some of the things I had read actually portrayed on screen but I never really felt like the whole story was being told. It kind of felt like a "best of" reel, where I was just seeing all the scenes that would look cool on screen.

The casting of the film was quite good for the most part. Jennifer Lawrence was great as Katniss. I was surprised by how effortlessly Elizabeth Banks slipped into the role of Effie Trinket.  Woody Harrelson was one of the highlights of the film for me. He was perfect as Hatmitch. Amandla Stenberg did a wonderful job as Rue, I found her relationship with Katniss to be one of the better parts of the film.  Stanley Tucci does chew the hell out of the scenery, but for the role he is playing this works perfectly. Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth were passable as Peeta and Gale, given how little they were actually given to work with. Really, the only total misstep in the casting was Lenny Kravitz as Cinna. I just didn't buy it.

The direction could have been a lot better and I am glad they are looking for a new director for the sequel. Having a different director on board may make me actually want to see the sequel. Gary Ross's direction in this film wasn't terrible, it was just lazy. He told the story, he just didn't do anything unique with his story telling. The biggest error in his direction came during the violent scenes in the arena. He had to keep the blood off screen as much as possible to keep the PG-13 rating so he immediately fell back on the shaky-cam method of directing action. If people can't see exactly what is going on, they just assume that it is gory and violent. I understand these scenes would be difficult to shoot and keep the PG-13 rating, but resorting to shaky-cam is just a lazy way out. I am sure there could have been a more creative way to solve this problem.

I think my biggest problem with the movie though, was that I never really felt that Katniss was in that much danger. In the book, even though it is told in a first person perspective and you pretty much know she is going to survive, you still feel a sense of danger. The movie felt like Katniss had just gotten lost in the woods and had to camp out over night. I also never felt that the Career Tributes were all that menacing. As someone I know pointed out, "they seemed like the bad guys from The Karate Kid, they didn't seem like a real danger." In the book the Career Tributes were scary and there was a real sense of danger when Katniss had to go up against them.

So basically the movie was decent. Not as good as I had hoped but also not as bad as I had feared. I knew this was going to be a hard book to adapt into a movie but I had really hoped that it could have been done well. I will probably still see the sequel, depending on who they choose for the new director. The question is, will I run out and see it at the theater or will I wait and rent it from Netflix? I guess I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.

Rating: 5/10

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