Have you read the Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins? If not, why? Put off by the Young Adult genre? Well, I’m here to tell you, run, don’t walk and download or buy the entire trilogy…then lose yourself in a fast paced set of books for a weekend. (This phenomenon has more or less happened to everyone I know that’s read the books). Now, if you’ve somehow missed out reading or seeing the film and want to go in fresh, it’s probably best to stop reading now.
Let’s accept that no film is ever going to be as good as the book it is based on. As anyone would expect, there are simply too many details to include – too much nuance and character development that the written word can just do a better job of than a montage or well acted part. Given the parameters of a movie (+/- 90 minutes running time, 112 pages of script), I can accept things will be left out. However, as a whole, good adaptations of novels can be done. For example, look at the Lord of the Rings trilogy – there was a massive set of very detailed action, yet Peter Jackson managed to capture the spirit of the stories and characters.
So, Suzanne Collins writes a wonderful first person account of a young woman in a dystopian future. Focus on the first person element. We, as the reader, are inside the head of young Katniss Everdeen – what she’s experiencing, the trials, tribulations and emotions of a complex young woman. So, in the film version, why don’t we get a single moment of voice over? As my husband and I watched the film, I kept waiting to hear Katniss’s voice tell us what she was thinking, give us a clue to her struggles. This lack of effect is most especially apparent when our protagonist is actually competing in the Hunger Games. In the cave or with Rue, I feel the audience would have especially benefited from knowing what was going on in her head. As Katniss herself points out, “I don’t make friends easily.” Well yes, but if we knew what you were thinking, we might like you better.
Additionally, I had a major issue with the overall pacing of the film, which I found very jarring. Yes, it’s good that Katniss is rudely plucked from her home environment (of which we get no real connection to – nor do we understand how much of an important role Katniss plays in her family and to a greater extent, the community) and dumped into the Capitol, but there is a lack of chemistry between well, everyone. Rather than the natural relationships that develop in the book between her and Haymitch or Cinna, we kind of get a shoved together sequence of ‘look, the Capitol is bad and Katniss is good.’ The Games themselves are a stilted montage from the book and the ending lacks any punch. If we hurry to the end, where is the payoff? Given Katniss and Peeta were about to make the ultimate sacrifice, the moment gets squashed together and immediately after…well, the denouement is a complete let down.
Finally, I have real issue with the connection between the outside world and the Games. Katniss (who, in the book we know is thinking of ways to get sponsorship and increase her ability to survive), is essentially cut off from what is going on externally. I think this is most especially a problem as it relates to Gale. As it stands, gynormous, poorly cast Gale is relegated to a minor secondary character – worth about 7 minutes of screen time. With an upcoming important role in the next two books, the Hunger Games film did a poor job of establishing his character.
Of course, these are my major problems with the film, I still absolutely love and celebrate Katniss as a protagonist. Stephanie Meyer could take a page from Suzanne Collins are learn a thing about writing a strong young independent woman – one who is celebrated for her bravery, loyalty and can’t really be bothered about boyfriends and marrying sparkly vampires.