This week I went and saw the movie adaptation of The Hunger Games, which I was really looking forward to but also terrified of because I really liked the book and I've been disappointed by almost every film adaptation of a young adult novel.
Fortunately this was not the case with The Hunger Games.
Minor quibbles aside, this is a really great adaptation. I was pleasantly surprised by how faithful it was to the book, as well as being a good movie in its own right. The changes they did make from the book were relatively minor and helped the transition from page to screen.
I'm now getting into the more spoilery aspects of the review, so be warned.
~ I really liked that the movie didn't talk down to its audience. This is a smart film that expects the audience to be smart, which is so refreshing to see in a teenage oriented film, especially in a world of endless Transformers sequels.
~ The fact that the main characters with the exception of Rue were all white felt like a cop out. Katniss and Gale's ethnicity was left faily ambiguous in the books, and that could have been a great oppotunity to have Katniss and/or Gale played by non-white actors. That being said, Jennifer Lawrence was brilliant in the role, and the acting from the rest of the cast was really good too.
Apparently Rue being black came as a surprise to some fans of the books, which mystifies me since the books make her race pretty clear.
~ The opening with the shaky cam made me feel sick, and I remember thinking that if the rest of the movie was like this I would have trouble keeping my popcorn down. Fortunately it calmed down later.
~ I understand why they didn't want to give this film a higher rating since they were aiming at a teen audience, but it could have benefitted from it because they could have shown a lot more. In the book tributes were swinging axes into each other's faces, which obviously they couldn't do here. They tried to make up for the lack of gore with shaky cam sequences, which some reviewers found annoying but I found pretty effective. I liked that despite having to tone down the violence (which was to be expected), they still managed to convey the brutality of the situation by showing the emotional impact on the characters, which worked really well.
The only time I felt that the lower rating did the film a disservice was during Rue's death, because that was such a powerful moment in the book and by changing the manner in which she died they took out a lot of the impact. Then again, people were crying in the theatre so maybe I'm just heartless.
The Hunger Games has often been called a watered down or Americanised Battle Royale. I haven't seen Battle Royale so I can only say that judging by the Wikipedia summary the premise is almost identical but that's where the similarities end. According to friends of mine who've seen both, the comparison is a little unfair because essentially they're very different stories and the execution is completely different. Like I said, I haven't seen Battle Royale and honestly I'm not in a rush to see it either, so I can't really comment.
That being said, people being thrown together to fight to the death for the entertainment of the masses is hardly a new idea- the Romans were big fans of it- and was not invented with the writing of Battle Royale, so make of that what you will.
What I really liked about the movie was that they followed the book in that the actual Hunger Games is not really the point of the story. It's about the society that created the Hunger Games and the people who are forced to live in it. It's great that they stayed away from the temptation to focus entirely on the action and instead focused on the characters and the build up. The Hunger Games don't start until the second part of the movie, which worked really well. The tension created by the slow build up is really effective.
~ One of the criticisms I read in a professional review (I can't remember where! I'm such a bad research student) was that the movie never went into social criticism. Uh, Mr Critic, were we watching the same movie? It's a biting satire of the sadistic nature of reality television and Western society's fascination with celebrity and pop culture, where it seems like the more horrible a person you are the more people will worship you and try to excuse everything you do. The fact that Chris Brown still has a career is a case in point.
~ I was really impressed by how closely the film followed the book while still making it accessable to people who hadn't read the books. I saw the film with my dad and my friend, neither of whom had read the books, and they followed the plot without any problems. It wasn't like the Harry Potter adaptations where they didn't follow the books much at all except for the most basic plot points, and if you hadn't read the books you would have been completely lost.
I mostly really liked the few changes they did make for The Hunger Games. I loved seeing the control room, that was a fantastic addition and it was great to see the behind the scenes stuff while the Games were going on, which isn't possible in the books because it's all first person narration.
One quibble I did have was that some of the exposition felt very clumsy and obvious, particularly at the beginning. Maybe it just seemed that way because I've read the books, and a lot of it was necessary information, but it felt a bit heavy handed and could have been a lot smoother. I also felt that there were a few moments when they could have pushed the ratings bar a bit and they didn't, particularly with Rue's death, but that might be personal taste.
I give the film adaptation of The Hunger Games an A-. It's a really good to see an intelligent film aimed at teenagers for once, particularly with a strong female lead. I'm looking forward to seeing Catching Fire!