Mar 26, 2012
Posted by Simeon
Seeing as how I just wrote a review for the novel, I will skip the small talk as well as the plot synopsis (the movie adaptation has the decency to follow the book pretty closely), and go straight to the question of whether The Hunger Games has made a good transition from the pages to the big screen.
I would say that considering the source material, it definitely has. The movie is a well-paced and compelling affair, following the book yet straying when the narrative flow demands it. I disagree with very few changes (the lack of the Avox storyline, the diminished presence of Rue and Haymitch and the missing origin of the wolflike creatures), and as a whole I think that director-screenwriter Gary Ross, with the help of the book's writer Suzanne Collins, has created the best possible script to both honor and not be constrained by the original.
That said, The Hunger Games falls short in weird ways, becoming a strange mirror of the novel's shortcomings (check out my review here). What dystopian traits the books tells about, the visual adaptation is trying to show. Shaky cam is used freely in the District 12 scenes and the action sequences to depict the almost documentary day-to-day misery of the people outside the Capitol, and the immediacy of the fight for survival. The contrast with the oppressing opulence of the Capitol, where everything is monumental and the people are colorful, pale and strangely lifeless in their joy, is striking. At the same time the director and the operator exhibit real talent in not a few occasions, with wonderful camera angles and artful scene dynamic, with the bread flashback as my particular favorite. Special effects are used to enhance rather than steal the scene, and are again combined with a distinct visual style that you can recognize among the pile of "same old" that modern Hollywood presents to us in recent years.
At the same time however, none of these elements really lasts long enough for it to stamp itself in your memory. It's all kinda there, but not really. The visuals of the Capitol are kinda marvelous and threatening, but not really. The action is kinda stressful and frantic, but not really. Even acting is kinda pretty good - especially in the cases of Haymitch (Woodie Harrelson) and Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) - but not really, and this last one is a huge shame, because both the characters and their corresponding actors could do so much more if the script would just utilize them.
Katniss herself is shockingly more likeable than the book version. Not that Jennifer Lawrence is that special - in fact I felt that she had slightly more curves than a child coming from a starving community should, and she was constantly giving me a vaguely unpleasant vibe - but since we are out of her head, there is no need to be witness to her embarrassing singlemindedness and her inability to see what's right in front of her face when it comes to Peeta.
With all this criticism, it might not be entirely clear that I actually enjoyed the movie adaptation of The Hunger Games the same way as I enjoyed the original. In fact, in some ways, it is even a little bit better. It has a flawed grace and as far as adaptations of hit YA novels go it's top notch. In fact, it's easily among the best ones of recent years. The movie has its own distinct visual style, and there is not a single dull moment in it. Most of its failings come from the source material and are unavoidable, and the ones it has invented on its own do not really detract from the enjoyment. It's a sad fact that - just like the book - it could simply have been much better. The potential is there, and even if the end result is good, it bugs me when I could tell it could have been amazing. Oh well, they still have two more movies to get it right. In the mean time, this one is definitely worth watching.