Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Hunger Games (2012)

Before I begin this review, I'd like to make it clear that I had read all 3 books in the Hunger Games trilogy before I saw the movie. I do not believe that an adaptation should try to mirror whatever it is based on. It can be as identical or loosely-based or somewhere in-between as it likes, as long as it can be understood without any knowledge of the original material. However, I generally believe that the adaptation should not be exactly the same as the original, as a change in medium almost always requires changes in the text for consistent quality to exist. I ask you to read this review with this in mind, as I will be criticising the film with this perspective. This will be the case with any future reviews of adaptations also. So, let's review The Hunger Games!

I came into The Hunger Games expecting a mediocre film. I saw it a few weeks after it was released, and had heard a lot of things that didn't sound promising. Having said that, I was still excited to some degree, being a fan of the books (the first one in particular), and was interested in seeing the story come to life in a new format.

It’s about a largely oppressed society set in the we’re-not-quite-sure-how-distant future where, every year, a boy and a girl are chosen at random from each of the 12 Districts (the poor people), and forced to fight to the death in an arena until only one stands for the pleasure of the Capitol (the rich people). This is done to remind the Districts that they are powerless and that the Capitol can do whatever it pleases to them whenever it pleases. The protagonist, Katniss Everdeen (played by Jennifer Lawrence) is this year’s female tribute from District 12. She is joined by Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), who’s relationship with Katniss takes a few interesting turns throughout the film.

One of the more common complaints was that much of the history and backstory was left out. In the books, this was the primary method used for world building. This is how we were told about how poor the districts were and how rich the Capitol is. We were told about the previous civil war so that we could be given a solid reason to hate the Capitol's existence (this was among other reasons, of course). I think there are two very good reasons for the removal of a lot of the backstory in the film. One: time. It's already over two hours long, despite the cutting down of numerous sections of the story (more on that later). They simply couldn't fit it in. Two: the transition from book to film. Books are, by nature, better at explaining than showing. This is the opposite in film. They clearly recognised this when adapting the story, and made changes to the way they implemented world building into it. Rather than having a scene where we are sat down and told about how bad the Capitol is, we are presented with visual evidence. We see District 12, a dilapidated town with 19th Century working-class houses and very little in the way of technology. We are then shown the Capitol, with its Sci-fi aesthetics blended with the Classical Era-inspired architecture, intimidating red banners and eagle-obsessed iconography reminiscent of Nazi Germany. The film took a different approach, but achieved the same goal. And if you ask me, it did a far better job than the book did.

The satire of reality television is also executed to far greater effect than in the book. During the games, there are occasional cuts to the host of the games. Here we see a Big Brother-esque set with an appropriately enormous crowd. The interesting thing is that the set is in no way exaggerated; it looks just like a real reality TV show. The realism of the set actually works extremely well with the fact that the subject matter is a group of children murdering each other, and gives one of the better commentaries on reality TV of recent memory. The removal of the narration that was so integral to the book was probably done so that these scenes could be included, as many of the times that something had to be explained to the audience, it would cut to the host telling the audience about it. Despite the fact that they included these scenes, there were still numerous occasions where they simply didn’t explain particular elements of the story. It didn’t make the film confusing in any way, but made quite a few aspects of it far less powerful than they could have been.

Once the Games actually begin, the film starts to go a little downhill. The main reason for this is that each arc is given far less time than it was in the book. I wouldn’t have a problem with this is if the ending to each arc was changed accordingly. What we get instead is a bunch of emotional moments that have little to no effect because of the lack of sufficient character development.

In addition to this, the action scenes are filmed very poorly. They use the seemingly standard shaky-cam effect, coupled with quick cuts to make scenes that aren’t so much hard to follow as they are just plain boring to watch. The overall cinematography during the Games is overly repetitive. This is a problem that the book didn’t have to worry about, and it seems they didn’t really do very much to attempt to solve, which is a shame, as they showed their prowess in using visuals in the first act.

 The film was made on a modest budget of $78 million, and it shows in the CG sequences. While it isn’t horrible, it certainly looks fake. This is unfortunate, as the rest of the film looks brilliant. However, after the financial success of this film, I’m sure that Catching Fire will look far more realistic.

All in all, I think The Hunger Games was an above decent adaptation to the screen, and is as good an introduction to the trilogy as the book is. The first act is almost flawless, and shines especially in its visuals. From then on, the film isn’t quite as compelling or interesting, but is by no means tedious. The acting wasn’t noticeable, which means it certainly wasn’t bad. I came out of the film far more satisfied than I thought I would be.

Don't forget to catch on my friend's podcast, of which I am a regular member, here!

No comments:

Post a Comment