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The Hunger Games


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#1 Emperor

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Posted 22 March 2012 - 03:01 AM

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I absolutely believed in the hype of THE HUNGER GAMES. After hearing about the greatness of Suzanne Collins’ young adult novel, I borrowed a copy from a friend and burned through it in a matter of days. It was every bit as good as I was told, acting as a true page turner with each new chapter calling upon you to progress further into the story, because you just had to know what was happening next… and then what was happening after that… and so on and so on. It may have been written with a younger demographic in mind, but the fact that it’s more than capable of holding the interest of an older audience speaks volumes about the world Collins was able to create.
But along the way, something got lost in the translation from page to screen, which’ll have plenty exclaiming, “Go figure!” as a long history of poor book-to-movie adaptations cement the argument that the book is always better than the movie. THE HUNGER GAMES isn’t a poor film though. There is plenty of good material to like that director Gary Ross absolutely nails in giving the nation of Panem life. It’s just a lesser film than the book deserves. For a script co-written by Collins herself (working with Ross and Billy Ray), it’s astounding that THE HUNGER GAMES misfires badly at times when presenting, or, in some cases ignoring, key elements that gave the written version such impact.

The premise of THE HUNGER GAMES is that after a failed rebellion against the government, a competition was created by the Capitol that would randomly draw one male and one female participant called tributes from each of the nation’s 12 districts to be entered in a kill-or-be-killed winner take all battle. This was done as a way to remind the people what happens when you try to rise up against the government… a debt must be paid in the form of sacrificing children between the ages of 12 and 18 annually.

This particular year, the young Primrose Everdeen, in his first year of eligibility is picked, but, sensing the danger and most likely inevitable death of her sister, her older sibling Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) volunteers in her place. Now she’ll have to enter the arena to fight for her own survival against 23 other combatants, in the hopes of making it back home to her family who relies upon her for everything they have. She’ll have some help in trying to achieve victory – her fellow District tribute Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), who believes she has a better chance of winning than himself, her stylist Cinna (Lenny Kravitz), whose job it is to help Katniss make an impression with the massive audience watching the Games and Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), the drunken former Games winner who must try to mentor her into the position of being the last one standing. While each of the performances are excellent, in addition to the secondary characters of Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) and Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci), and go a long way in making this dystopian society feel real, there’s no depth to most of their actions, leaving THE HUNGER GAMES feeling hollow in places where you should be forming an emotional connection to the material.

THE HUNGER GAMES plays like a Greatest Hits version of the novel. Sure, all of the big moments – the Reaping, the “girl on fire,” this character or that character not making it out of the Games alive, etc. – are there, but it’s the smaller events, the in-between stuff, those less prominent album cuts that really make those events memorable and matter, that’s really where THE HUNGER GAMES fails. While the book moved ahead at a torrid but methodical pace, leaving no opportunities for lulls as it moved from one beat to the next with no regard for your need to catch a breath, the film races through very important exposition and character introductions, undercutting their importance in the overall scheme of things.

There’s barely any indication as to what Katniss means to her family – what she does for them on a daily basis, her role in raising her sister in regards to the absence of her mother – so, even though there is a tension already in watching these children being gathered up for possible selection into a situation that could strongly lead to their death, it’s more due to the horrors of such a scenario even existing, not because of how it will affect this one family. This build of the Everdeen household isn’t given any time to be explored, which minimizes the bond between Katniss and her sister and how she carries it into the arena as her drive to survive.

The preparation for the Hunger Games between Katniss, Peeta and Haymitch is absolutely glossed over, which is a mistake. This is where the strategy to winning comes into play, and rather than treating it respectfully, since being the one at the end is the main goal when you’re entered into the Games, it’s given no more than a quick exchange in order to get to other things on the Hit List.

Woody Harrelson is able to do wonders with Haymitch, channeling a little bit of Roy Munson into his coaching role, but that all rests on the charisma of Woody. The mystery of Haymitch’s intelligence is missing entirely, as the days of him being a fall-down drunk that offers no real hope to the District 12 tributes are over. He has his wits about him at all times, which eliminates the idea that Katniss and Peeta would be better off without him. It also means no adversarial relationship with Katniss, which is another missed opportunity for the film. This is a character so rich with possibilities, because no one expects much from him, except to pour himself another drink when the one he’s holding is empty. That’s lost on this rendition of the character though as he’s presented as a fully functional, non-adversarial mentor who gets right into the swing of things. It’s really a waste that his intellect is spoon fed to us as opposed to revealed to us over time.

Jennifer Lawrence is absolutely capable of carrying THE HUNGER GAMES on her own, fantastic as Katniss Everdeen. One needn’t look past her moments right before entering the arena to see how well she fits into this role. Her stoic and tough exterior cracks for once, and we see this shaking teenage girl in front of us, gripped by fear, finally realizing the weight of what’s about to happen. She doesn’t need any bit of dialogue to convey this to us, and, while she’ll regain that tough façade in a moment, because the Games are no place to show weakness to your opponents, right then and there we get to see the fragility of Katniss Everdeen. We get to see her at her most vulnerable, and it’s all in her body language, in her look. Once again, it’s the small moments that make everything else she does count, and this is one of those instances where Lawrence makes the most from them.

The same can’t be said for the romance angle that exists between Katniss and Peeta. Their history is rather clunky in the flashbacks shown, not integrating fluidly with the rest of the story and feeling out of place with how it’s approached. But what’s really missing in the star-crossed lovers aspect of their relationship is a spark of any kind. There’s not nearly enough time given for you to believe that any possible relationship between them is genuine. Their first kiss lacks any feeling at all, and it’s further trivialized by the fact that afterwards there are no more kisses exchanged. It’s all hugs. How can two people who may die at any moment and are supposedly madly in love with each other bypass smooching at every possible moment for a good hearty squeeze? It doesn’t jive with the rest of the set-up. Going even further beyond that, the idea that all the Capitol wants is a good show is completely discarded. It’s introduced earlier in the film, but it never works its way into the Games as far as making them interesting. Katniss’ self-awareness to put on a good and likeable performance for the Districts, the viewers and potential sponsors is missing from the film entirely. The gamesmanship is non-existent, which really undercuts a lot of Katniss’ actions and behaviors in the arena.

At a running time of 2 hours and 22 minutes, there is an awful lot of THE HUNGER GAMES that seems rushed through, preventing you from getting any greater understanding about some of these characters, their motivations, but, more importantly, their overall role in the grand scheme of things. It’s as if the film feels it needs to get in an entire list of events in order to please the fans who are expecting them, with no consideration given to making sure they’re as meaningful as they were in that initial book. It does manage to squeeze them all in, but at what price?

A stellar cast makes the performances of these characters work, but the layers that are missing from them take the film down a few notches. THE HUNGER GAMES wants to cover so much, but never takes the time to really get into what it’s showing you. It’s all on the surface level, which makes for a shallow film at times, one that lacks the emotional pull of the novel. THE HUNGER GAMES is better than okay, but good or great it is not. I’m still curious to see the next step of the trilogy, in order to find out where these characters go next, but there is plenty to be desired from the first leg. For as excellent as the book is, the movie is lacking in far too many pivotal areas. It’s certainly a bit of a disappointment, as I was served up THE HUNGER GAMES, which should have been a can't-miss, and walked away dissatisfied.

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#2 Emperor

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Posted 22 March 2012 - 03:06 AM

Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. After watching Gary Ross’ adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games I had a conversation with some fellow critics about the film and for the first time I truly felt what it was like for people talking with me after the first Harry Potter film.
It seemed like the fans of the books were saying the same things when I’d nitpick certain elements of the film. “Well, in the book…” or “Yeah, they explain that better in the book…” I remember very well telling people that in the first Harry Potter book it didn’t feel like a cop-out happy ending when Potter’s house was given all the last minute points to pull out a win because the book explained how many bullshit points were docked from them over the whole book. The movie didn’t, so it felt like a cheap win.

The Hunger Games is a franchise I have no prior history with, so I found the roles switched after watching the movie. I was now the one needing clarification, asking what was in the book and what wasn’t.

That’s not a bad thing, by the way. If the movie works it has to work as a film first and foremost. The best Potter movies did that, the LOTR films did that, the Bond films do that. I was very excited going into this movie, actually. I knew the Battle Royale parallels, but storywise that was about it. I did know they have a great young actress in the lead role and Gary Ross at the helm. The man wrote Big and directed Pleasantville, so he’ll always have a fan in me.

I want you all to know that I didn’t go in with a chip on my shoulder, scoffing at this newest young adult fiction adaptation so when I tell you that it’s a mixed bag you don’t think I made up my mind about this movie in advance.

Two people don’t know the set up, but for those two here’s the short short version: A civil war happened years ago. The losers now have to submit 2 “champions” (a boy and a girl) every year for The Hunger Games, a televised fight to the death.

Let’s start with the good, shall we? I like that the studio had the balls to keep kids as young as 8 in these deadly games. Jennifer Lawrence has proven her chops in Winter’s Bone and now has proof that she can lead a big budget film. I think a lot of people, fans especially, will overlook a lot of this movie’s faults based squarely on her strong, but vulnerable portrayal of Katniss Everdeen.

It’s a great, subtle, multi-layered performance. Ross protected her as an actress during filming and Katniss as a character during the writing process. She’s a strong role model, a quiet hero who can kick ass when needed, but is never cruel. Her kindness proves to be a strength many of her competitors undervalue.

I also dug how the rich live in this semi-Victorian paradise of pomp and circumstance and how that clashes with the almost Winter’s Bone-ish working class reality of the poor districts.

However once Katniss and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) are picked the movie feels like it takes about 13 years to get to the actual games. We’re shown an endless parade of training and events that are all geared towards impressing sponsors, who can, at points, in the game buy care packages for their favorite contestants.

It’s an interesting premise, but one that is kind of glossed over in the actual games and since we don’t actually get to see any of the sponsors or get to know them at all there’s no drama to this section. We don’t see anybody swayed, instead it’s just a non-descript bunch of old, rich white dudes that we only ever really see in wide shots.
All that would be fine except we spend so much time on the sponsor side of things that I was expecting there to be a hook and, at least, a big pay off at the end, but the best they do is send some salve.

When the games actually start the pace picked up and I was once more invested in the movie. There were stakes, there were consequences and we were out of the theoretical, what could happen and were firmly planted in what WAS happening.

I know this is pressing buttons with the book’s fans, but I gotta be honest here… once you see Battle Royale the actual Hunger Games feel like the watered down, safe version of that story. The similarities between the two are just too close to ignore and in almost every instance Battle Royale did it more honestly, more interestingly and more real.

I tried my best to separate the two in my mind, but visually and thematically the two are just tied too closely together. I didn’t like that a lot of these kids were experts in killing. It works for Katniss because the only way she can keep her family fed is to hunt small critters with her bow. But then there’s a girl that throw knives like a carny in a sideshow act. I get it, there are districts that train their kids to be prepared for the games, but the beauty of the concept as shown in Battle Royale is that these kids are just that: kids.

It might be unfair to compare the two, but it was my honest headspace when watching the movie.

Then there’s the camera work which is disappointingly shaky. I understand needing to create a kinetic tone, but some of this work is just plain sloppy. Too close, too shaky. I’d guess that Ross uses that to hide a lot of the violence in order to keep his PG-13 rating, which is smart, but also makes the action in the film very confusing. Many of the fight scenes are incomprehensible and the aesthetic is even used in many of the dramatic scenes which only distracted me from the characters on the screen.

I’m also afraid that some crucial character information is skimmed over for us non-fans. It’s in there, but covered so casually that people like me might miss it. For instance, there’s a moment when Katniss is saved by one of the others in the game that totally threw me for a loop. Why the hell did this guy save her? It’s the first time he’s ever spoken in the damn movie and he helps his competition? It took some explaining afterwards by book readers to clarify why this was not only reasonable, but also a hugely emotional moment. That shouldn’t happen. You can’t count on every one of your audience members reading the source material. I pay attention at movies, so even though looking back I can see where this was set up it was done in too subtle a way for that moment to ring true when it actually happened.

I’m being deliberately vague to avoid spoilers, but I think fans of the book and those that see the movie will know what I’m talking about.

Those were my main issues with the movie, but I will give it credit for handling some really solid social criticism in a broader way and getting great performances from everybody involved, especially Lawrence and Hutcherson. The reason why I’d call my views mixed-positive is almost 100% because of their work in the movie.

Tom Stern’s cinematography is actually gorgeous when the camera was still enough to let us see any of it, Gary Ross’ direction was solid and the movie overall has a lot to say.

While I didn’t fully connect with it, the film is by no means a hollow piece of fluff and for that to be said about a big studio young adult franchise picture is high praise just by itself.

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#3 fearless-freak

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Posted 23 March 2012 - 05:11 AM

it reminds me of Battle Royale, but i will give it a fair shot and did you know the book ranked in fifth place on the American Library Association's list of most banned books for 2010, the reasons being it was "sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, and violence."

#4 ironcross

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Posted 23 March 2012 - 07:57 AM

I'm guessing that this movie is all hype. It will soon fade with movies like expendibles 2 and the re releace of titanic, and what is left will die when the hobbit comes outjust my opinion
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#5 Rasheta Ardashir

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Posted 23 March 2012 - 08:04 PM

For instance, there’s a moment when Katniss is saved by one of the others in the game that totally threw me for a loop. Why the hell did this guy save her? It’s the first time he’s ever spoken in the damn movie and he helps his competition?


Apparently he missed the line shortly after saying "just this once District twelve, for Rue."

I saw the movie, I agree with some of the comments but overall I really liked the movie. Yes I have read the books, I actually liked the entire cast which is rare for me. Normally I like certain characters/actors and not others, I really loved what they did with Cinna, Effie, and Caesar. Stanly Tucci just makes me laugh all the time. I literally laughed at Peeta and Caesar's interview which I did in the book as well. I thought they did as well as they could with a graphic book and still keep the movie at PG-13

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#6 Majsju

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Posted 23 March 2012 - 08:16 PM

Never heard of the book, but to me it sounds heavily influenced by Stephen Kings The Long Walk and The Running Man. Which means I will probably see it when i find the time, as you can have worse inspiration than King.
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#7 Az

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Posted 25 March 2012 - 08:01 PM

I haven't seen the movie yet but I've seen a lot of reviews saying that it just seemed like the highlights. This is probably why the last book is split into 2 movies. I read the books and am looking forward to finding time to see the movie.

#8 Nolder

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Posted 25 March 2012 - 10:05 PM

not really interested in it myself
might see it when it comes out on DVD if I have nothing better to do

#9 Emperor

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Posted 26 March 2012 - 06:39 AM

I saw this over the weekend. I actually think they did a good job translating the book to the screen. It was nice for me because I read the books so long ago I wasn't being nitpicky about changes. By the way, I am not a fan of most young adult movies (Twilight) so I was surprised to find myself liking this one.

#10 ironcross

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Posted 27 March 2012 - 09:28 AM

not really interested in it myself
might see it when it comes out on DVD if I have nothing better to do


what he said
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#11 Raena

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Posted 29 March 2012 - 07:37 AM

Saw this yesterday, I thought it was good and well done. I haven't read the books; I planned to but never got around to it. Definitely want to read them after seeing the movie though.

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#12 Alanna

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Posted 29 March 2012 - 08:26 AM

I liked the movie a lot, and I'm a fan of the books too. I agree with what I've heard some people, which was that the movie lacked some of the subtleties in the books, but straight-up plotwise, it was all there, and I don't know that they could've done much more without making the movie much longer. So yeah, I thought it was really good. I liked all the cast too, I think it was really well cast.

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#13 Emperor

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Posted 30 March 2012 - 03:01 AM

Oh and this movie is not going to fade away iron.... this should not be compare to expendables 2.

#14 the7thsign

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Posted 04 April 2012 - 10:44 AM

the hunger games is just a copy of another series! it is a lie! Just like the cake!

#15 Cybertrolloc

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Posted 09 April 2012 - 01:49 AM

I've read the first two books: I find the first devoid of characterization and motivation for the most part. Verismilitude is painfully bad. There's a few dramatic moments that are done well, otherwise the writing is flat. It's not insultingly awful and can't be too subtle because of audience, so there's that.

Catching Fire: stuff happens to Katniss and sets up the next book. I guess there's again a few dramatic points, but really wanted to put this one down. Might make a better paced film (haven't seen HG, just going by the book), at least should be easier to score a PG13.

I'll let you know about the third whenever I have about two hours...though I'm dreading it. Probably will read so I'll know for sure if something like Stephenson's Diamond Age can just be recommended instead of this series.

In a way it's like Twilight (I did put that book down lol). You can do so much with the premise, there's just no excuse for it to be boring.

For those who have seen it, does it look like an $80million dollar movie? Are the Souderburg directed portions obvious (2nd unit means the principal actors usually aren't involved in those scenes)?

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#16 Cybertrolloc

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Posted 10 April 2012 - 12:10 AM

Well, in case you're on the edge of your seat about book 3...there's no reason to be. The flaws in the setting become even worse, more things happen to Katniss (she does drive the action at points moreso than 2).

I guess there's a chance interesting films can be made.

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#17 Elusive Athena

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Posted 10 April 2012 - 12:18 AM

I saw the movie (haven't read the books) and I thought it was incredible, a beautiful story of a brave young woman struggling against, and defeating, the absolutist rule of her society... In itself, without considering how well it compares with the books, which I'm very much looking forward to reading, I think it is wonderful, and Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss is brilliant. I also think she'd be a great Nynaeve.

Also, I hate when people compare the Hunger Games to Twilight. I originally thought the hype for HG was unjustified, but that was before I saw the movie, and I've now seen it three times.

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#18 The Bard Babe

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Posted 10 April 2012 - 08:41 PM

I thoroughly enjoyed the movie.
I've been a fan of the books for a long while, and it does bug me when people compare them to Twilight. HG has better characters and a much better plot. The whole thing makes you think and the only correlation to Twilight it has is that it is Young Adult Fiction and lots of teenagers enjoy it.
And just in case we have any Twilight fans around here, I did actually enjoy the books, but I only ever read them once and never thought they were better than average. But the movies suck.

Anyway, back HG, when I read the books, I was drawn in by the whole idea of it, drawn straight into the world of the Capitol and the Districts and the fantastic characters and settings. I absolutely loved the series and re-read it many times. Well, I re-read the first two many times, the third seemed to be written in too much of a rush and too many of my favourite characters died.

As a book and a movie, it was always going to succeed. With the different Districts to ally with and the many different points of view presented, there really was something for everyone, making it appeal to several different audiences and with the movie there was at the very least, the promise of hot, young lead actors.

I was very impressed by all of the casting done in the movie, everyone cast played their role extremely well. Lots of concepts in the movie were different to how I imagined them in the book, but good nonetheless. I agree that it was something of a greatest hits version of the book, but the director has to have a certain amount of slack allowed! No director of a movie based on a book as big as HG is going to make all book readers happy. There's always going to be some plot element that they miss. They're likely to face teh wrath of book fans no matter how many elements they fit in, but they also have to make the movie work on the level of a standalone film.

The compromise between book and movie is a delicate art, and one I don't think we've quite perfected yet.

As a movie, the Hunger Games was great. It was very enjoyable, despite the fact that it felt a bit rushed.

Also, an aspect of the film that I really enjoyed was that the kids in the Arena actually looked like kids, as opposed to 30 year old actors made to look 12. It made the whole thing a lot more confronting.

The soundtrack has my approval. It was very well done, and I'm not talking about the song that went over the credits, I'm talking about the actual music in the film. A nice touch for book readers is when Katniss loses her hearing in the explosion of the career's food and a high pitched noise is all you can hear for about ten seconds. I thought that was effective, if only because I knew that it meant Katniss had lost her hearing in one ear. I don't know whether it was a failed attempt to convey that to an audience that hasn't read the book, or a shout out to those who have, but I like to think of it as the latter.

Anyway, I'll stop talking now. :)

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#19 Ashaman Kovan

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Posted 10 April 2012 - 11:02 PM

I haven't read the books. I didn't think the movie was all that great. It wasn't bad, it just seemed thin and sort of lackluster. But that might be because I haven't read the books so I probably didn't catch every nuance and such. That's what sequels are for though I guess. And I'll probably read the first book sometime soon. Maybe that will let me enjoy the movie more in hindsight.
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