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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Hunger Games

Let me start by saying it's a terrific movie - beautifully made, wonderfully acted, and very well adapted from the book. Jennifer Lawrence carries the movie, and does a great job. I liked the scenes that the movie added, like the Gamemakers during the game - something the book couldn't have included, because it's all from Katniss's point of view.  That said, I do have a some complaints:

For an almost 2 1/2 hour film, it doesn't feel very epic.  The pacing is a little off.  The climax, when Cato is killed, feels rather muted and not very dramatic.  Because you spend the book inside Katniss's head, the fear, anxiety, and, especially, the urgency of her situation are much more powerful than they are in the movie. (My friend Suzanne agrees with me about this - we saw it together.)

In general, the relationships Katniss has with other characters, especially with Peeta and Rue, are understated compared to the book, and don't come across as strong, as complex, and as important as they are in the book

A couple of very significant things have been left out, which makes the movie less intense, less moving, and less meaningful compared to the book:

- Madge, the mayor's daughter, gives the mockingjay pin to Katniss before she leaves District 12, and insists that she wear it in the arena. We later discover that the pin is the symbol of the rebellion.  In the movie, Katniss buys the pin from a junk dealer in the market, so it's significance is completely stripped away.  I can understand the film needing to eliminate some characters, but this scene in the book is 1/2 a page, and very important, so it seems an odd deletion.  Even stranger, Cinna, who we later discover (in the second book and presumably in the second movie) is also involved in the rebellion, gives the pin to Katniss to wear on her uniform in the arena - this scene IS in the movie, but it doesn't mean the same thing.

- Katniss sings in both the book and the movie - to Prim and to Rue.  It's sweet.  But in the book, it's especially poignant and significant because singing is something that represents Katniss's father, who she was very close to.  He taught her to hunt and to recognize edible plants (central to her survival in the Games), and he taught her a bunch of songs which appear over and over in the books.  Losing him is one of the defining moments of her life, and it greatly shaped her character.  This entire relationship is eliminated from the movie - no flashbacks, virtually no references to him in dialog.  Discarding this important person takes some of the heart out of the story and out of Katniss's character.

- The cave scene in the movie is well done, but it leaves out a great deal about both the history of Peeta and Katniss, and several elements of their developing relationship. Perhaps most significant is Peeta telling Katniss how he fell in love with her - in the movie, he tells her she sang the Valley Song at school.  In the book, he explains that his father was in love with her mother, but her mother married a coal miner (someone below her station) because when he sang, the birds stopped to listen, and when Katniss sang the Valley Song in school, the birds stopped to listen.  The scene is the book is very important and meaningful, but in the movie, it's just sort of cute, because they left out everything that was moving and significant about Peeta's story.

- Another important aspect to the Peeta and Katniss relationship that the movie eliminates unnecessarily - when Peeta gives Katniss the bread, 1) she suspects (and the reader knows) that he burned it on purpose so he could give it to her, despite being harshly punished by his mother, and 2) she was completely at the end of her rope and starving, and his kind act saved her and the lives of her family members (her raison d'etre throughout the entire series), both by providing immediate sustenance, and, perhaps even more importantly, by giving her hope (hope - which happens to be a major theme in the series - the movie even adds a, frankly terrific, scene, where President Snow explains the role of hope to Seneca Crane).  The deliberation behind Peeta's action is left out of the movie completely, though it is central to the way Katniss sees Peeta and, perhaps more importantly, central to the way the reader sees Peeta (several movie reviews I've read talk about how insubstantial Peeta is, and I think it's partly because the film misrepresented this very important part of the story).

- The hunger aspect of the games, and of life in Panem ("bread"!), are not emphasized nearly as much in the movie as in the book.  Suzanne pointed this out to me and I found myself thinking a lot about it.  For example, in the movie (and the book), Katniss asks Gale in an early scene, "how many times is your name in [the lottery]," and he says 42, but the audience has no idea why - in the book, it's very clear that you have to put your name in to get extra rations for your family - so the "odds" are already much less favorable for poorer people. And, as I mentioned above, Katniss's connection to Peeta is a result of him saving her from starving to death. There's also more references to hunger in the games themselves, such as when Katniss thinks, after destroying the Careers' supplies, "Okay Cato, let the 74th Hunger Games really begin." because she realizes that one of her major advantages is that she can find food and he probably can't. Also, the winner gets enough food for life, creating a strong incentive to the tributes from poorer districts. I would go so far as to suggest that many viewers of the movie, if they didn't read the books, really have no idea where the title comes from.

Another quibble I have is that they left out some great lines - when Peeta tells Haymitch "She has no idea the impression she makes." and when Katniss tells Peeta, "You're not going to die, I forbid it."  I know they can't include everything, but certain lines of dialog are so memorable and so representative of a character or of a relationship, they seem almost mandatory!

Again, I thought the movie was great, and it's making oodles of money, so clearly fans like it too.  But, in my opinion, it does not adequately capture what makes the books so compelling and resonant and emotionally satisfying.



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