Friday, March 23, 2012

a few sleep-deprived thoughts on The Hunger Games movie

I went to the midnight showing There were at least five school busses full of college students, mostly women, that helped fill up the nine theatres at Coral Ridge. Amidst the crowd were several Katnisses, none as breathtaking as Jennifer Lawrence on screen but each with a long simple braid draped down a shoulder. Amidst all the magazine covers I’ve seen at the grocery store check-out this week and the altar-Katnisses at the theatre, I was reminded of the irony this blogger writes about as we glamorize and idolize the Hollywood aspect of a story that critiques what is at the very essence of our Hollywood culture. 

But let’s get down to business, i.e. my sleep-deprived musings on The Hunger Games. Here’s what I loved:
Jennifer Lawrence almost doesn’t miss a beat. Her acting is what makes us believe in Katniss. Lawrence plays her mostly just right—Katniss isn’t a sap. She’s not a vigilante or a political reformer. Katniss is a quiet, scared teenager with some serious skills, anger, and basic loyalties, all of which fuel her movement through the movie.

Liam Hemsworth plays a believable and tortured Gale, and the directors do well to direct our attention to him, back in District 12, as he watches the Games. Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks resound as Haymitch and Effie Trinket, respectively, providing some humor at just the right pitch.
The musical score, or lack thereof, is right on point, too.  There are many scenes where a score would have absolutely ruined the moment, such as District 12’s assembling for the reaping. The theatre was so eerily quiet as the youth and their mothers lined up to watch Effie host the ceremony.  Silence as Primrose Everdeen’s name is called and the news sinks into the crowd.  Silence as District 12 lifts their hands in a salute to Katniss after volunteering in Prim’s place. In the silence is felt the horror, and a birds-eye view of the assembly calls to mind the cinematic images in our collective consciousness of the standing-to-attention in a concentration camp sort of roll call.

Storyline: With a few exceptions the movie follows the plotline of the book, satisfying expectant viewers and coming to the aid of those who are new to the story:  instead of leaving us in the arena with Katniss the entire time, the film cuts to the Games host Caesar Flickerman (played by Stanley Tucci like—oh my—he was born for the role) explaining the genetically modified nature of the tracker jackers, for instance, or to Seneca Crane and his roomful of arena operators with their Capital computers as they conspire to harass the contestants with fireballs and muttations.
I need to say more about storyline, and that will veer us into the territory of what-was-not-good about The Hunger Games movie…but let’s go there:

While technically faithful to the book’s narrative arc, each major action of the Games themselves is arranged like a domino, one knocking over the next, causing the story to move at a much faster pace than the book, which of course we expect from a movie adaptation, and yet…

in many ways, the film misses out on developing the emotional desperation and anguish within the storyline, the stuff that rocks us to our core, and I resonate with DavidEdelstein’s review : “The Hunger Games leaves you content — but not, as with the novel, devastated by the senseless carnage.”  Those small details that should sell us on the humanity and complexity of the characters—and in turn cause us more horror at the mounting atrocities done to them by the makers of the Game—are missing:

Katniss finds water relatively quickly, without any indication of a desperation induced by dehydration. The time at which Katniss blew up Cato & co’s stock of supplies to the time she sees Rue die is, in movie-story time, all of three minutes, it seems. There’s no tortured night of hiding in the leaves, with a blown-up ear drum.
Once the rule-change in the Games has been announced, allowing for two victors from the same district, and Katniss goes in search of Peeta, they spend about a day together, if that, in the cave before she goes off to the Cornucopia to fetch his medicine. That means there’re no ravenous and agonizing night-watches while Peeta lies dying.  No nightlock administered to Peeta to trick him into sleep so she can sneak off to get his medicine. Most importantly, there’s no time for what could later be sold as an organic and natural attachment to Peeta to spark. No clear friendship.  It’s difficult to perceive the depth of attachment—platonic or otherwise. Katniss’s behavior in the cave seems to be entirely motivated to please the Gamemakers and Haymitch; Peeta’s attachment to her is difficult to diagnose. 

Also, we miss Rue’s backstory and the story of her district. There’s no bread from 11 sent for Katniss (although the producers do let us see the riot break out in 11 when Rue dies, a smart move on their part). And although Thresh let’s Katniss lives when he has a chance to kill her (“for Rue”)—it’s unclear whether the gesture resonates for Katniss, whether there is any alliance of the heart.  She doesn’t confide to Peeta  (as in the book) that she would hate to have to kill Thresh if it came down to that, and when she hears the boom of the cannon and sees Thresh’s face in the sky the next morning, she stares at it blankly.
Near the end of the movie, Cato’s death is speedy. The Gamemakers dim the lights for the muttation attack; Peeta, Katniss, and Cato run for the Cornucopia; Cato is knocked over and the mutts tear him apart for all of five seconds, at which point Katniss sends an arrow into the dark, apparently killing Cato; the Gamemakers bring the sun back up. What is missing is a long night in the bitter cold, holding an injured Peeta to her, as Katniss and Peeta listen to Cato’s tortured screams.

Perhaps it's the agony and torture in all the waiting in between peaks in the plot, so easy to render in the book, that helps us readers register the horror and devastation of the Games? 

But those are just initial thoughts on not-much sleep.  I hope to see it another time in theatres at a more wakeful hour, and I"m curious to see how my initial impressions may have changed or solidified.

1 comment:

Cate said...

I agree, I think the lack of time Peeta and Katniss have together makes it hard to see the complexity of their bond if you haven't read the books. I also felt like they didn't make the importance of the bread clear enough. Chris was like, "he threw a hunk of burned bread in the mud, big deal," and I was like, "No, it represented HOPE for her and kept her family alive at their worst point!" So I felt like they failed the nonreaders there. Other than that (and okay, issues with the cinematography, but I get why they did it), I thought it was pretty well done. And maybe it's just the love I bear for the character, but I liked Josh Hutcherson as Peeta, I thought his eyes at least were really emotive.