Sunday, March 25, 2012

Movie Review: The Hunger Games

There was no hunger in The Hunger Games, but it’s still worth the wait.

Non-spoiler Synopsis
Panem, a world built on top of former North America, is governed by The Capitol. Its governance easily translates to tyranny. With the oppression of the 13 districts, District 13 led a rebellion aiming to overthrow the seat of power. The rebellion failed.

Thus, District 13 was incinerated and the Hunger Games was put into play.

Every year, two randomly selected tributes, a boy and a girl from each district, are shoved off into the televised Hunger Games. With the brutality of the games, the districts have become divided, and unwilling to ignite another rebellion despite the Capitol’s blatant injustice.

Praying not to be chosen as tribute, Katniss Everdeen of District 12 took on the job of bringing food on their table despite her young age, right after her father died in a mine accident. Her mom spent the days wallowing in grief, bereaving the death of her husband. Her younger sister, Prim, starving, Katniss had no choice but to be the head of the family.

The 74th Hunger Games changed everything as Prim’s name, against all odds, was unfavorably handpicked as one of District 12’s tributes, Katniss had to volunteer, pitting herself against 23 other tributes who will fight to the death since the Games allowed only one sole survivor, the victor.



The Hunger
The Hunger Games movie is good, not great, certainly not epic, but it’s worth the wait. In spite of this, I can’t shake off the feeling that it lacked the plot’s backbone—hunger. I’ve read the book, but after years of watching epic chapters being truncated to 2 hours of footage, I’ve been reasonable with my expectations on paper-to-screen transitions and I highly hoped, with the movie title having “Hunger” on it, that the film would not fall short in depicting the cause, the purpose, and the mechanism that Suzanne Collins has driven the book on. Though the movie did show the lavish lifestyle of the Capitol, and is still a satisfying visit to the cinema, it failed to reflect the famine experienced by its protagonist which is her motivation to survive.

SPOILER ALERT!

The Cons

The Lack of Hunger or the Oppression:

-          Gale gives a bread to Katniss. Katniss did show a lot of interest on the bread that Gale gave her, this was very good but it’s like a picture frame without a stand because the rest of the film did not support this scene. Add Katniss’s flashback of Peeta throwing bread to her, and it made bread as if it’s the most luxurious food in District 12.

-          Katniss and Peeta’s appetite. In the film, Katniss and Peeta ate like they were used to food, pampered with their poise and manners despite the abundance of food, when they were supposedly trying to stop their selves from using their hands to devour every edible and succulent dish in sight.

Other film insufficiencies and unfaithful transitions:

-          Madge is nonexistent. This is very forgivable though Madge’s inclusion in the Hunger Games as a possible tribute is chained to the fact that even the District Mayor’s daughter isn’t exempted from the Hunger Games.

-          No goosebumps when Katniss volunteered. Maybe the lack of background music, the camera angle, or the framing of the scene failed to trigger a sigh. This scene felt rushed.

-          The Avoxes. This is also forgivable. Avoxes are people considered as traitors by the Capitol who are enslaved and whose tongues were cut. They are a living proof of the Capitol’s brand of justice. In the film, they're the ones wearing red either standing in a corner or waiting on the Tributes and their posse.

-          No bread from District 11 after Rue died. This was the first sign of hope for a unity between the districts so I felt that it was crucial point. Though the film brought us a glimpse of book two, Catching Fire, to substitute this scene. It lacked the message that the crisp bread delivered, the appreciation of District 11.

-          No hardship before finding a source of water. This showed Katniss’s ability as a hunter, that she can survive in the woods. I understand that the film had to trim this down, but it failed to compromise this cut by showing her survivor skills except for tree-climbing and her shooting.

-          There were notes from Haymitch. Katniss’s brilliance includes how she worked out a system of communicating with Haymitch, their mentor, through the receipt, and non-receipt, of gifts. Since this all went through her head, and the Games were televised, they can’t have Katniss speaking her mind so I guess the notes were the way to go.


-          Katniss did not say, “Let the Seventy-Fourth Hunger Games begin Cato. Let them begin for real”. Katniss did not say it in the book but this would’ve been a good dialogue, as a definite and defiant sign that Katniss and Rue was taking the offense.

-          Seneca Crane was influenced by Haymitch, The scene where Haymitch advised Seneca to milk the romance between Peeta and Katniss made it seem like Haymitch had an indirect hand in Seneca’s death. This scene never happened in the book.

-          Clove died without a dent on her skull. Completely forgivable, but definitely one of the things I was looking forward to.

-          The Muttations weren’t emphasized that they looked like fallen tributes. Also forgivable, the film did still expound the Capitol’s iron hand. I only included this because it depicts how ruthless and inhumane the Hunger Games can be.

-          The parting of Peeta and Katniss was too bland. It was a very emotional moment for Peeta, finding out that Katniss had to pretend during the Games and trying to compute how much of her kisses were make-believe.

The Pros

As I’ve said, I still enjoyed the film. Films inspired by books can’t remain faithful to every detail and still produce a reasonable movie-length. But this is how the creativity, intelligent workarounds and strategic displacement of book elements, of film makers is tested.

-          Casting. First off is casting, I think casting was perfect especially for Haymitch. Perfect portrayal for Cinna. Followed by Katniss, Rue and Effie. Gale was a good choice and Peeta, though I still feel that Josh Hutcherson’s height compared to Jennifer Lawrence’s should’ve been considered, but I did not feel this was of great importance when watching the film. Cato was perfect. Okay, a bit biased but to be fair, his acting was fluid when he was on the Cornucopia and about to kill Peeta.

-          Capitol People. Aside from the breathtaking, Star Wars-like, design of The Capitol, its people were exactly how the book described them.

-          The Chariot scene. It could’ve been improved but it was enough. Though there was no Cinna suggesting to hold hands, symbolizing an alliance, I have no misgivings on this scene, Katniss is still the girl on fire.

-          Haymitch’s anger. Haymitch was angry while watching a Capitol kid pretending to attack her sister with a sword. The use of the kid playing around suggests the immensity that the Capitol do not see the tributes as people anymore and that they have lived with The Hunger Games for too long to care what it does to the tributes, their families and their districts.

-          Rue’s death. Rue’s death was epic, in terms of its tear-jerking capability. It triggered the same emotion in the film as it did in the book. Amandla Stenberg’s acting was notable.

-          One-on-ones of gamemaker, Seneca Crane, and Capitol leader, President Snow. The film interjected scenes where Seneca Crane was speaking with President Snow. Though this was an obvious way to compromise the transition of book to film, used as an excuse to tell the tale of implied concepts, these scenes were well-placed and well-made exhibiting a good use of foreshadowing.

-          Peeta is not a loser. The book made it seem as if Peeta is helpless and useless in hand-to-hand combat. Setting aside his strength of throwing a bag of flour, he never really used it to prove his strength in a fight. But during the fight scene with Cato, the film supported Peeta’s character in general, as a person who will fight and can fight when needed.

-          Overrated romance. The film did not include the ridiculous part where Katniss was too in love with Peeta in the interview with Caesar Flickerman, which I think is out of character despite her quandary when I was reading the book.

-          The suggestive part two. We all know that The Hunger Games is a trilogy and the film ended with an implication of something bigger is coming.

All in all, it is as expected that the film will not suffice the thirst of the story’s readers. However this may be, we always need to remind ourselves that we are an audience when we enter the theater, not a reader. I’m not saying that this is a hopeless and given case for book-to-film transitions, there’re still film makers who can surprise readers.

It is a good film. We should always be generous with our praises as much as we are with our critiques, that the experience was an exciting watch. But we cannot deny the decrepit backbone in portraying the hunger experienced by the districts, a healthy underpinning would’ve made an audience, who hasn’t read the book, easily understand where Katniss is coming from—a life of struggle, of poverty, of hunger. They should learn this from the film and not from their friend who read the book.

After all, Katniss, and the rest of the districts, has lived with a voracious appetite not only for food, but also for justice.

2 comments:

Aubrey March 26, 2012 at 4:03 AM  

I agree that film adaptations should be given enough elbow room to interpret the literary work, much so allow it to shine as its own medium. Although with the Hunger Games, the film took away more than it added. It isn't really a question of whether the film was point blank accurate on the details, but was it able to substantially capture the essence, and richness of imagery evoked by the original work. This, I feel, is where the movie failed.

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