2012-03-23

The Hunger Games – A Worthy Adaptation of the Popular Book

by Yo Snyder

So, fans of the book should know that despite being a movie
adaptation, meaning all of your favorite parts may not be in there and
the in-depth development that’s available in book isn’t quite as
in-depth in the film, this is a very good, faithful movie version of
Suzanne Collins’ popular book The Hunger Games. Of course, the
fact that she helped with the screenplay probably has something to do
with that. The film retains all of the intensity, emotion and action of
the book, and even retains it’s rather bleak, dark outlook that’s lifted
by only the slenderest ray of hope. Fans, while they’ll have plenty to
nitpick, should find that this is a worthy adaptation of the book to the
big screen. And, all that aside, it’s just a pretty darn good movie in
its own right regardless of whether your not you’ve read the book at
all.

What’s most impressive is that the film hinges almost
entirely on how well the book’s main character, Katniss Everdeen, is
portrayed. Fortunately, Jennifer Lawrence is more than equal to the
task. She deftly captures the character’s strength and vulnerability,
and is able to express volumes with her eyes during the many portions of
the film when dialogue is sparse. Strong female leads are not always
easy to pull off, but I completely bought-in to Lawrence as Katniss,
which is exactly what was needed to make this movie click. Other
characters are fine but don’t shine quite as brightly. Woody Harrelson,
while not quite matching what I pictured for the character of Haymitch,
does quite well in his role. While not quite as surly as I imagined from
the book, and he and Katniss lack some of the antagonistic yet
respectful relationship developed in the book, for what was needed from
the character in the movie, Harrelson more than ably gets the job done.
However, I must admit that Liam Hemsworth and Josh Hutcherson weren’t
quite as vivid in the film as the book. That’s partly due to less time
to develop them as characters (indeed Hemsworth is hardly in this
movie), and may also be partly due to the fact that Lawrence just simply
outshines them on-screen. Plus, they really didn’t have much to work
with. Whatever the case, they weren’t as strong as they could and
perhaps should have been. Finally, Donald Sutherland, Stanley Tucci, and
Lenny Kravitz were all pitch-perfect in their roles. And then there’s
Amandla Stenberg as Rue, who despite her brief screen time makes one of
the most emotional parts of the film resonate just as strongly as it
should with just the right amount of innocence and purity needed for her
small but pivotal role. In short, this film live and dies depending on
how good the characters are, for more than anything else, this is a
character driven story. Again, fans should know that these characters
carry the movie just as well as they did the book. 

Of course The Hunger Games
isn’t just about great characters, it’s about kids killing kids, which
means some brutal, gritty action. While a few of the key scenes aren’t
quite as intense as they were in the book (again due to the constraints
of adapting things to a film and due to keeping things a more audience
friendly PG-13 instead of the R rating the grisly violence of the book
could so easily have earned), the movie delivers the right amount of
brutality and shock to the concept of kids fighting for their lives. The
bloody intensity of the book is toned down in the film without
sacrificing any of the intensity due to some clever editing, quick cuts,
and the use of up-close, shaky cameras. Early on I was worried the
whole “documentary, shaky camera” style of filming would be overused,
but it settles to an appropriate level as the film goes on, and is used
most effectively for more violent moments. Even knowing that every
detail isn’t going to be shown, there still moments that will make you
cringe and want to look away. I must admit, however, that due to the
toned-down nature of the film, some of the sense of urgency that was in
the book is missing here because the wounds inflicted aren’t quite as
dire looking as they were described in the book. Again, I understand
this choice in order to get the rating that it did (and again, it’s
still pretty intense, gritty and violent; so not appropriate for some of
the younger kids I saw in the theater at my screening), but this
slightly softer version does lose something in the translation.

Like the book, The Hungers Games
is a very bleak movie. The lives these characters lead is not easy.
Forced into the humiliating submission of being forced to kill each
other for the entertainment of the ruling authorities with little or no
hope of being able to choose otherwise, there are still brief moments
where characters have to boldness to stand in defiance, to cling to the
hope for something better no matter what the cost may be. It’s such a
necessary element in life; hope. One character wisely points out that
“hope is the only thing stronger than fear”, and therefore it’s
necessary, in order to maintain control, to contain hope in small,
manageable doses if the authorities want to maintain their iron grip of
control. Hope is also something is desperate need in our world today.
Indeed, entire elections have hinged on the idea of hope, and yet so
often we only find ourselves disappointed by that which we hope in. Why?
Because it’s not enough just to hope, to hope in hope, but we must put
our hope in something worthy. The Bible talks of a hope that does not
disappoint (Romans 5:5), and the reason for that is because it’s hope in
something greater than us, something more steadfast and lasting,
something incorruptible and completely pure; it’s a hope in Jesus
Christ. There’s so much to say about why hope in Jesus is a hope that
can be depended on, one that will last, but suffice it to say it’s the
hope we so desperately need in a bleak, dark world. It would take
several Bible studies to completely explain why, so if you’re curious,
I’d encourage you to pick up a Bible and check it out for yourself.

It’s never easy to take a popular book and turn it into a successful and enjoyable movie for both fans and newcomers (John Carter,
anyone?). Somehow, though, much like the Lord of the Rings movies were
able to capture the essence of the books while creating their own
versions of those beloved stories, The Hunger Games captures the
spirit of the book while telling its own, slightly altered, version of
that story. While those who have read the book will get more from the
movie as they’ll have more details to fill in the parts that aren’t
quite as fully explained in the film, newcomers should still find this
to be an engaging, exciting and emotional film. And may the odds be ever in your favor.

Score: 5 of 7