I read The Hunger Games for a couple of reasons: pop culture relevance and simple curiosity. I wanted to get it read prior to the release of the film, too. The book is simple and incredibly melodramatic, but it’s also surprisingly engrossing and the characters are quite well rendered. It feels like a hundred other genre all-ages books I’ve read and it also lacks a central voice, other than the fact that “bad people suck,” to quote a friend. The classic genre films and books of this type had something to say deeper, and at least to the author, more important than just the adventures of so and so.
What this book and film has is a well-developed and interesting female hero in Katniss Everdeen. She’s strong and imperfect, but a good role model for young girls, unlike a certain vampire lover we all know too well. Now a good role model for young girls isn’t a requirement for me to like a book or movie, but if kids are going to grab onto this story, at least the hero is worth their time.
So, both The Hunger Games book and film are good pieces of entertainment. This book is like a sci-fi opera, not space opera because well, we aren’t in space. The set-up of the world in the book is quite vivid and is offered the opportunity for filmmakers to craft a unique visual experience. The good news is that visual experience is a true success and not necessarily in the way you’d think. The costumes and sets are a mix of art deco and a sort of retro 80’s look to the characters. The bulk of the film is shot in a forest, which, no matter how you cut it, isn’t going to look futuristic. The filmmakers could have created a ton of alien creatures and Dr. Seuss-looking trees, but fortunately they didn’t go there.
Instead, the overall shooting style is a visual feast and ends up being an emotional tool for the director. At first, the camera is spastic and shaky, especially when Katniss first hits the stage when she is introduced to the world for an interview to talk all things Hunger Games. As she becomes more confident so too does the camera work, more steady and focused. The whole feel of the cinematography really tells the tale well. There’s one extremely moving scene in particular where the camera moves to the skewed perspective of a victim and it is absolutely moving and gorgeous. It’s not too surprising that the film is gorgeous to look at when you consider that it comes from the cinematographer that previously brought us Mystic River, Billion Dollar Baby, and American Beauty. This movie was Lionsgate’s biggest gamble, yet being the most expensive film the studio has made and followed by one of the studio’s most expensive marketing campaigns. As everyone knows now, it paid off for them.
From the perspective of someone who has read the book there are many parts of the film that feel paint-by-numbers to the book. These sequences are often left pretty vague in the film as if the filmmakers assumed that everyone watching has read the book. My friend who hasn’t read the book loved the vagueness of the scenes. He felt that it was pretty gutsy of the filmmakers to leave these parts of the story open for interpretation and actually he’s right. Fans of the book may also be disappointed that some extremely important story threads and character elements were completely left out. The film is nearly two and a half hours long already, so obviously some things needed to be cut.
From here on out be warned there may be spoilers, in fact, there will be.
One of the most interesting and successful aspects of the book is the question of who’s side Peeta is really on. There is a predictable nature to the story, but still there are a few points in the book where it’s just not clear who this kid really is. In the film, either the filmmakers were incapable of accomplishing this mystery or their overbearing need to make Peeta a hero kept them from developing this part of the novel. Also, Peeta comes off a little too one dimensional in the film compared to the book.
Obviously the book is substantially better than the film, but considering all of the pressures of making a mainstream friendly film and getting the entire story crushed into less than two and a half hours I have to say the filmmakers did an admirable job. Both are good, better than they honestly should be, and there’s no doubt that they’ve made an indelible impact on popular culture on the same level as Harry Potter and Twilight. It doesn’t hurt that the story in at least the first book of the Hunger Games trilogy is better than one of the previously mentioned pop culture icons. I’ll let you decide which of the two I’m referring to.