The Hunger Games...not so satiating - J. Kenner

The Hunger Games…not so satiating

Over the last couple of days, I’ve finally experienced two things that I’d been anticipating. One, my husband’s birthday dinner at the Brazilian style restaurant, Fogo de Chao. We ate at a similar restaurant in China when we adopted Isabella (where they have a huge salad bar and bring a never-ending stream of meats to your table to carve them right onto your plate) and we’ve been wanting to repeat the experience ever since. It was freaking awesome.

I’ve also been looking forward to the movie adaptation of The Hunger Games, since I’m a big fan of the book. We took our oldest daughter to see it, and in preparation, Catherine and I listened to the audiobook, finally finishing Saturday afternoon before our Sunday matinee showing. That was the third time I’d read the book, and I found it just as enjoyable as the first two go-rounds. And, yeah, I had high hopes for the movie.

Alas, the Hunger Games left me hungry for more.

Warning: From here on in, it’s Spoiler City. Proceed at your own risk.

I think I have myself to blame for a significant chunk of my dissatisfaction; after all, it’s a rare adaptation that lives up to the book, and I had come off reading this one mere hours before I saw the movie.

My husband, however, hasn’t read the book in ages, and he was equally (actually, probably more) disappointed in the film. In the interest of full disclosure, however, our ten year old daughter thought it was awesomeness come alive.

So what bothered me? And what did I think the filmmakers did well (because there were some aspects that I genuinely liked)?

My primary complaint stems from the pacing. Yes, this is an action movie, but the pacing was such that the action never let up so that key emotional moments were handled in such a boom-boom-boom fashion that the viewer didn’t go along for the ride with the character. It was, at least to me, very obvious that the filmmakers were relying on the audience’s knowledge of the broader emotions and subtleties to support the actions on the screen. And in my not-so-humble opinion, that’s cheating. This happened throughout the movie, but the two moments that truly stand out are the relationship with Rue and the interaction with Peeta after Katniss finds him injured and they go to the caves.

With regard to Rue, the action was nothing more than action–punch, punch, punch. She allies, they have a plan, plan goes bad, Rue dies, Katniss is sad. That’s pretty much what happened in the book, too, but in the book we had the benefit of being in Katniss’s head. Of seeing her relationship with Rue develop before the little girl dies. I’m not saying the filmmakers should have taken a left turn toward the two of them flouncing through daisies, but one more scene establishing them acting together as a team and bonding would have had the effect of truly punching home the horror when Katniss can’t save Rue, and the poignancy when she decorates the little girl’s body in flowers. As filmed, I thought the scene was more “gee, bummer,” than tear-jerkingly poignant.

Similarly, with Peeta, the scenes in the cave are pivotal in the book. Katniss is something of a clueless character where her own emotions are concerned, but in the cave their relationship truly shifts–but that was only glossed over in the movie. Moreover, that would have been an excellent place to work in dialogue to explain to the audience what Peeta was doing by joining with the careers. The filmmakers didn’t, though, because they went into the film with the idea that everyone’s read the book. But an adaption should stand alone; it shouldn’t need the novel to support it.

These two complaints touch on an even bigger one–the movie lacked highs and lows. Despite kids killing kids, it was remarkably flat. There was never a time where I was truly worried about Katniss or Peeta. No dehydration. No risk that Peeta was going to die from the infection. No franticness on the part of Katniss. The games seemed more like a video game (will the risks inherent therein) than actually life-threatening. And because of that the movie seemed long; I never lost myself in the world as I so desperately wanted to.

Interestingly, had the filmmakers added about 15 more minutes, I think the movie would have seemed shorter. That would have allowed the time for us to become involved, something that’s so key in a film (and, yes, hard to do in a situation where so much of the underlying source material takes place in the character’s head. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be done). And it would have allowed time to punch up the action and then to give us those emotional down moment that let you process before the next big burst. Instead of a roller coaster, though, this movie was bell curve…and even then the curve didn’t rise that high.

(Don’t get me wrong; I don’t mean the characters should sit back and have a long, on-the-nose conversation for chunks of the film, but we did need more development. Jennifer Lawrence is an amazing, subtle actress. Give her the time to do her thing even better than she already did.)

Related to the above discussion of Rue, the cutting of the bread from District 11 as a gift to Katniss seemed purposely designed to rob that emotion from the movie, and the cut to rioting in District 11 (while it at least supported a story purpose, was added at the cost of emotional oomph)

I was also unimpressed with the Cato character, who seemed more frat boy than legitimate threat. Similarly, the toned down violence didn’t do justice to the movie. I don’t need a major gore-fest, and I realize they wanted a PG-13, but the tone was just a bit too antiseptic.

As for the camera work, did someone pass a law that every movie has to have shaky, motion sickness inducing camera work?

So what did I like?

I thought all the actors were great–I just wanted them to have more to work with.

I thought the change in the origination of the Mockingjay pin was brilliant; tying it to Prim was perfect for the film.

The new scenes with the Gamemakers outside of Katniss’s pov were fabulous and fun (and, at least to me, had more life and impact in them than the actual novel adaptation scenes).

The choice not to make the mutts out of the dead tributes was a good one. It would have required too much digitizing, and the movie does deserve kudos for not looking overly digitized as, for example, the (absolutely hideous-looking) trailer I saw for The Avengers before the film began.

I wouldn’t give Hunger Games a failing grade, but for me it was a C+ movie. I’ll see the next one…but I won’t bother with the theater. I can wait until it streams through Apple TV.

I haven’t read any other reviews or any critics’ comments on the film, so I have no idea how my impressions compare to other folks. So what do y’all think? Am I completely off base? Did you love the movie, or did it leave wishing for more?

13 Comments

Beckie

I read all three books and the first one is my favorite. I have no desire to see the movie(s) because, well, I read the book(s). Maybe once it is out on DVD and I can borrow it from the library. Maybe. It sounds to me that it is like the Twilight movies and they assumed that everyone in the audience knew what was happening because they read the books (and I think the books are not that great and the movies are worse than the books). Thank you for your honest review, and I had a feeling this was going to be case. When someone gets this much hype, it usually doesn’t live up to it.

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Julie

I agree that most Big Book adaptations don’t live up to the hype. But I think they *can* and the key is to keep the beloved elements and yet still stand alone. I thing THG failed in that regard. In contrast, I think the Harry potter movies work well as adaptations-they genuinely stand alone (albeit die hard fans want more than could be crammed into a movie!)

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Ginger Calem

Hi Julie! Bummer that you were disappointed. I, thankfully, wasn’t. We had also just finished listening to the audio version to refresh our memories. And, to your point, that probably helped to fill in the emotional blanks. We all agreed it would have been better if they’d added in the bread gift from District 11. Huge moment!

I agree completely that it was so well acted. I was impressed, especially with Jennifer Lawrence. I think she did a phenomenal job.

And now I want to read Catching Fire ASAP, but my son has already commandeered our copy. :)

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Julie

Buy on kindle and share the account with the family, LOL!

I’m glad you enjoyed it! Being underwhelmed by an anticipated movie is no fun!

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Karen Mueller Bryson

I was starting to think I was the only person, who was disappointed with the movie. I was disappointed for some different reasons, though. Let me first say, I did not read the books nor do I have any desire to do so, especially if they are more violent than the film. I was surprised to read that you felt the violence was “toned down.” I was extremely disturbed by a few of the scenes and, quite frankly, I find the entire premise of forcing kids to kill each other barbaric. I don’t have kids ( and at times like this I’m glad) if this is the type of thing our culture is promoting as “family entertainment.”

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Julie

The books are more violent, yes, but the violence is much more organic and fuels the story and Katniss’s emotional growth. To clarify my post, I don’t want the movie to be more violent for the sale of violence–that’s a Hollywood trend that really ticks me off–but in the case of this story and this dystopian universe, the violence and K’s reaction to it–her fear, her strength, and even the Capitol’s blasé attitude–are all key to the emotional build-up of the story, both for the characters and for the audience. (I do get why they didn’t-bc they wanted to keep the PG-13. But they can’t make that trade-off AND skimp on the other emotional aspects and expect te film to truly satisfy)

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David7118

I too was disappointed with the movie for many of the reasons you state. Nothing was “enough” for me in that the action sequences didn’t go far enough (and the shaky camera work which didn’t allow us to tell who was fighting or winning was terrible), the emotions didn’t ring true enough (though the 9-year-old sobbing girls behind us might disagree), and the relationships weren’t explained enough ( the relationship between Peeta and Katniss and Haymitch especially was not covered well). I left the movie disappointed. I liked book 2 okay and I can’t even get through book 3 (Katniss seems a former shell of herself in that she pouts and whines) so I doubt I’ll see the other two films.

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Stephen Carver

Hey there. I hope to see it this weekend with Sunny while I’m in Austin. I know nothing about the franchose…but liked your review…and it comes from someone who knows the film industry as well as writing a good story. But, that’s the nature of Hollywood…take a good story, chop it up, eliminate anything emotional, add some explosions, and boom…you’ve got a $155 million opening weekend. Sigh….

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Julie

Dude, you’re in Austin this weekend? Any time to get together? Dying to see you, and since I’m not going to RWA National this year (it’s in Anaheim) I don’t get to hang with my LA friends :(

Let me know what you think after you see the movie. Would love your take.

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Holly Bambs

I 100 percent agree with you! I felt really disheartened by the lack of character development and was especially dissapointed by the lack of development in the relationship between Katnis and Peeta, which is so utterly heart-wrenching in the book. I love Peeta and I think he deserved to have his involvement with the careers explained and his enduring, unconditional love for Katnis made evident. In addition, I also felt that there needed to be a few more passionate kisses and also a scene depicting Peeta’s reaction to the fact that Katnis was acting. However, I personally, do not feel that Gale needed anymore development; i know the strength of their friendship was not really shown to be prominent, but in the book he wasn’t really that involved (i feel). I am aware that she did think of him and there was longing and concern but overall, the book did very little to coax me onto team Gale or even really inspire me to care about Gale. Although, I probably feel that way because I haven’t finished Catching Fire yet (well I’m like ten pages away) or started Mocking Jay, so I could be missing some scenes which would inspire me to join team Gale. I’m team Peeta, so there is bias there also i guess. Thank you for your review. I’m glad someone shares my views!

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Julie

LOL on the bias. I feel pretty much the same way. I thought the back and forth with K and P was much more interesting than the backstory and the potential with G

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Chris

Interestingly enough, you put into very eloquent words many of my opinions about the movie, I still managed to enjoy it immensely – enough to see it in the theater twice. I definitely agree that the relationships between Katniss & Rue, Katniss and Peeta and K&P with Haymitch all needed to be better developed (VERY important if there are going to be movies made of the remaining books). I really appreciated the “live action” feel to the movie (I saw that hideous Avengers trailer too) and too really thought the addition of the Gamemakers scenes was a great way to manage the details that we lacked from not being in K’s head. I do think a bit more time to establish K & Gale’s relationship was lacking and that a few minutes added there would have helped. After seeing the movie the first time I commented to my family that I could easily have sat through another 15-20 minutes for the sake of more firmly building those relationships as well as character developement. It will be interesting to see the “deleted scenes” on the DVD version – or maybe we’ll get lucky and they’ll have an extended version like they did with so many of the LOTR movies.

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Julie

Yes, it’s so odd to me that they didn’t use the extra time that was so available to them to really push that emotional oomph. With an adaptation of a Big Book, there’s really not the pressure to keep it under 2 hours. So I don’t understand why they did!

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