I saw The Hunger Games last night and thought it was...okay. In general I thought the beginning part was stronger, before they got to the games. After that there were a number of things that didn't seem to translate so well on screen. Sticking in my thoughts under the cut, both on the books and the movies. Spoilers for the movie, and possibly for all three books.

I thought the reaping was done really well in the movie. It did capture the whole atmosphere of these poor people being forced to participate in an celebration ceremony that was really an incredibly cruel punishment. I loved the whole atmosphere of District 12, but thought the director sometimes stuck to his Depression-era look a bit too much. For instance, whenever you saw them watching the games they almost seemed to be watching it projected on the walls like an old movie. Surely, since this civilization actually has very advanced technology and so much of the games draws on modern reality show ideas, they should all have excellent TVs? Because they're being forced to watch the games. The contrast between the plain wooden houses and giant flatscreen tvs seems like it would make the point very well.

Also the plain look of the show undermined, for me, the reality tv show aspect. For instance, since the movies were able to leave Katniss's pov and show us the audience watching, I thought if I were directing it I would have tried to show the difference between the experience and the experience as entertainment. For example, when Katniss and Peeta were in the cave, I thought it might be interesting to show the real scene, then fade into the same scene on TV with different music showing how it would come across as a love story that we know it's really not. That sort of thing. The book described that sort of thing as going on, but it didn't really seem to be happening in this movie at least.

My larger disappointments were just with some of my favorite scenes that didn't come across as strongly to me. The biggest one being Rue's death. I'm sure I'm not alone in having that as my favorite scene in the book--I remember weeping on a bus when I read it. But I thought the movie not only didn't hit it as hard, but made a different, less moving, point with it. Rue's death is important in the book because it's a huge part of what makes Katniss the mockingjay. Her volunteering in place of Prim and her trick at the end with the berries being probably the other two times you see that really strongly.

The movie had more of a challenge in trying to make Rue important with very limited screentime. I think they relied in large part on the charm of the actress. She definitely had a ton of charm, but when you rely on that sort of charm you risk thinking that Rue's important just because she's so cute. Where as the book was able to make her important as an individual--I got how everyone in District 11 loved her, and that she and Katniss had important things in common that would make them friends. My favorite Rue moment in the movie, actually, was when she stole that knife in the training session. Not because Rue herself was cute, but because we saw Thresh shaking his head and laughing at her. She's important to Thresh. If it came down to the two of them, there's no doubt in my mind Thresh would make sure Rue won. That makes Thresh an individual too.

The big moment of Rue's death isn't that she dies, which is sad, but what comes after. Katniss sings to her and gives her a proper burial because Rue means something to her. That's exactly the kind of connection the games are trying to destroy. Then she receives a gift of a loaf of bread. At first she's confused as to why Haymitch would send her bread when she's doing okay with food. Then she recognizes the bread as being that made in District 11. She understands that this poor district, which has no money to waste, has devoted some of their meager funds to send her a symbolic thank you for what she did. They just watched a child important to them die on TV, but she was at least with someone who understood what they'd lost, made sure Rue didn't die alone, and gave her a proper burial. That was just huge. There are challenges in putting it across cinemati ally, but I thought it was most definitely do-able, particularly since we could see District 11, see the connection of them to Katniss on screen whens he gets the gift and speaks directly to them in thanks.

In the movie, Katniss receives no gift. Instead a riot breaks out in District 11. To me this made a very different point. It seemed like they were rioting simply because Rue died. Katniss didn't even necessarily register to them. It was an outburst of anger, not a moment of solidarity and respect between districts that led to a shared strength. Likewise when Katniss gathered flowers for Rue it was easy to see it as just sadness for a cute little girl dying instead of Katniss determined that Rue die as herself and not just a fallen enemy. It's not that these ideas weren't in the movie--Peeta still voices them the night before the games start. But without the book's careful buildup of this kind of situation I didn't feel how important it was when Katniss beat the game by threatening to kill herself with Peeta. That scene, too, just seemed like an idea Katinss had rather than Katniss being hugely defiant even if she didn't know exactly how much so. I assumed that's why they had to put in the scene (I didn't remember this in the book at least) of Seneca being punished. They had to make it clear it was a serious thing after the fact.

That's ironic, really, given that the story is in large part about how these events playing out on television are understood by everyone in the moment they watch them.

In general I think maybe that's why the opening works so well. That reaping does a great job showing the sadness and isolation the Hunger Games try and succeed in spreading. When Prim's name is called the other children around her just silently move away from her. There's not OTT horror or the sense that Prim's being shunned, just this instinctual distancing of everyone else from the dead person. And it worked just as well for Peeta. Just really excellent I thought! Related to that I thought they did a great job leading up to the games of showing how scared everyone had reason to me. I was surprised Katniss could even stand up when she got into that tube to enter the arena I thought her legs must be shaking so badly. I also liked the casting of the boy from District 4. He was clearly Rue's age, but without her exceptional strength, and I liked how the movie showed him without feeling it had to impress upon you the fact that he was a baby who was going to die. It almost helped that we didn't know him at all, because I found myself wondering about him just for that reason. Like when they're all in the plane going to the arena you don't need lingering close-ups on his big blue eyes. It's enough to just notice how different he looks strapped into his seat beside the larger kids. Because his knees aren't long enough to stick up. They just dangle.

I was it with a friend who had never read the books, but seemed very Katniss-like. (Her first words after it was over was to say she'd be disappointed if Katniss wound up with Peeta--she was already team Gale.) Her main criticism was that she felt the movie often glossed things up instead of just emphasizing the cruelty and I could see her point. I did think Haymitch was a darker character in the book, for instance, though WH did a good job with him. Perhaps this was just inevitable given that the movie had to have a PG-13 rating, but it is interesting to imagine how the movie would play without those constraints. It wasn't a question of the violence, which I thought got across everything there was to get across.

So! The other thing I was going to talk about was the casting, which I thought was really good all around. I especially liked Peeta. JH really perfectly embodied what Peeta was, imo. I was going to talk more about him here, but I think maybe it's a separate post--my thoughts on "the Peeta problem." Nice guy or Nice Guy tm? I'll decide!


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