From the midnight Thursday shows to the Sunday estimates still coming in, two kinds of moviegoers entered theaters: those who have read the books and those who have not. And that is the first obstacle any adaptation faces. How does director and writer Gary Ross (Collins helped co-write the final draft of the script as well) satisfy the cults of fanatics who make it their business to know every detail of Collins's dystopia (the kinds who make take it upon themselves to map out the futuristic rendition of Panem) while simultaneously introducing it to newly invested others? The answer, of course, is to reach some kind of idealistic medium between staying true to the books wherever possible and reworking one writer's work into a based-off but stand alone cinematic one. Easier said the done.
|Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen|
It is here Katniss undergoes her preparation for the Games. She is immediately introduced to her fashion advisor, Cinna (Lenny Kravitz), who is vital to her making a splash in the many pre-Games ceremonies and earning a devoted following, something that Haymitch describes as of the utmost importance to her survival. In the book, Katniss forms a unique connection to Cinna. As we are a fly on the wall to her inner monologue, we know she constantly remains skeptical to those around her, almost never opening up. With Cinna it is different. She feels a certain empathy resound within him and in turn comes as close to trusting him as any other character in the book. From the dualistic standpoint of reader and moviegoer, the lack of development here was disappointing. First and foremost I took issue with the casting of Kravitz who could not have been more stonefaced in his role. It seems almost likely that this may in fact be the reason their relationship comes across so rushed - perhaps the Kravitz portrayal of Cinna in these crucial scenes was so devoid of efficacy that an executive decision was made to only give viewers the opportunity to witness them by way of the DVD menu. For the non-reader moviegoer, I should think that their relationship comes across as almost arbitrary: it beginning with Cinna bursting onto the scene, Katniss uncharacteristically latching on to him, and then their melodramatic departure when she leaves for the Games.
|At left, Donald Sutherland as President Snow;|
at right, Wes Bentley as Seneca Crane.
There is never a dull moment during the course of the Games and so much is kept true to the novel. Katniss's skill with a bow is a marvel to behold on screen, and the Tracker Jacker sequence is pure suspense. The score, a collaboration between T-Bone Burnett and James Newton Howard, is present throughout: a lulling country-folk-bluegrass vibe with an upbeat at times so as to remind you to not get too comfortable in the artificially woodsy, but genuinely fatal arena. Among all that, however, two character dynamics stand out most. One is the semi-romantic relationship between Peeta and Katniss which remains obscure and always wavering, teasing the audience endlessly. When they finally kiss, it's to the delight of all, save Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth), Katniss's hunting buddy and closest thing to a beau back home. The movie takes a liberty in showing his reaction to their kiss while watching on a District 12 monitor (the book never leaves Katniss's vantage point), and we're given our first hint at a love triangle. Hutcherson, who has stated how much he identifies with Peeta's character, gives a great understated performance as the self-deprecated and self-deemed underdog. The chemistry between Peeta and Katniss, which in the book is a keeps-you-guessing sort, channels faultlessly on screen between Hutcherson and Lawrence.
The second dynamic is that between Katniss and Rue (Amandla Stenberg), the 12-year old female tribute of District 11 (comparable to District 12 in socioeconomic status). In the arena alliances are not uncommon early on, and it is Rue who helps Katniss survive an early snag to set the grounds for their relationship. Unlike Cinna-Katniss, the Rue-Katniss bond adapts with ease to the big screen from the book. They immediately take to a sisterly kinship, protective of one another. Rue's character arc is brief but heartfelt in large thanks to Stenberg's ability to win your heart over.
|Suzanne Collins, author of The Hunger Games|
Series and Gary Ross, writer/director of The
Hunger Games film.
Finally, one aspect that occurred to me while watching the film that never did so while reading the book was that feeling that we, just like the rest of Panem, are watching the Hunger Games. It makes sense that it took the cinematic medium to bring that awareness out since, of course, during the course of a movie you are inherently watching. It becomes an unsettling thought to consider yourself a spectator, but it's by no workings of chance that the notion may surface for moviegoers. As touched on earlier, Flickerman's Games commentary are news-anchor style - much like that of a desk of analysts during halftime of a televised sports events - and in keeping with that are addressed directly to the camera. It was at these junctures I felt the lines between the Panem audience and The Hunger Games movie audience most blurred. It's a startling sensation, and one Ross surely sought to impart on viewers, that we should bear some part of the guilt of Panem's condoning inhabitants. For when it comes down to it, they aren't a different or even more evolved species, they are humans, exhibiting some of the worst qualities of human nature but reminding viewers that we too are capable, and unquestionably have committed equal, if not worse inhumane societies and atrocities in our history. As the movie adaptation is drawn from a piece of literature, fiction is drawn from one person's perception of life; end products such as The Hunger Games act as art's most entertaining, yet poignant reminders of who we are.
--Review by Mike Dorfman