Kristan Hoffman - Writing Dreams Into Reality

Tue Apr 3 2012

Story, message, and chemistry: my (spoiler-free) thoughts on the Hunger Games movie

(Because the world totally needs another post about this…)

What did I think about the Hunger Games movie?

I loved it.

It wasn’t perfect, but I loved it.

(Especially Seneca Crane and his spectacular beard.)

For a fuller overview of my thoughts and feelings about the movie, check out Ingrid’s post on We Heart YA. There are jokes and pictures and really, really good observations. I give it all a big fat DITTO. Especially the numbered points at the end.

Ingrid closes her post with a very good question: How does this movie hold up for viewers who didn’t read the books?

Well, it just so happens that I went to see the movie with one such viewer: Andy. His thoughts and questions afterward were very telling, because they revealed how many blanks I had filled in without even realizing, how many little details retained significance for me but told him nothing. Don’t get me wrong: he enjoyed the movie. Just nowhere near on the same level that I did.

Story vs. message

I think the “problem” (though I hesitate to call it that) was that story was prioritized over message. To be clear: I think that was the right choice. It’s just that there were so many elements that had to be included — both to satisfy fans and to make the plot coherent — that with a “mere” 2 hours and 22 minutes, the deeper levels of meaning got relegated to the background. The menacing control exercised by the Capitol. The support for Katniss spreading among the districts. The avoxes. The uprising. These things were all shown, briefly, but without Katniss’s narration, and with so many other details competing for attention, it’s hard to comprehend their full weight.

You end up seeing the breadth of the story perfectly, but only glimpsing hints of the depth.

Also, the first two books use the arena as a metaphor for war (while the third book depicts war more literally, which I’m sure the third and/or fourth movies will do as well). But this film didn’t push the Hunger Games that far. Instead it focused on the idea of entertainment vs. ethics, and a society so concerned with its own pleasures that it becomes oblivious to the cost. An important message, to be sure, but it didn’t ring as true without the in-depth worldbuilding of the books.

Chemistry

The other problem with the film (IMO) was chemistry. Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson were both excellent in their roles — individually. But together? Not so much. The Girl on Fire and the Boy with the Bread produced, at best, a lukewarm dinner roll.

(Also, Josh with blond hair doesn’t hold a candle to Josh with dark hair.)

The cave scene in particular was so fraught with tender confusion and emotion — in the book. But in the movie, it felt rushed, almost stilted. Now, a caveat: I think for Katniss, that interaction WAS awkward and a bit forced. So maybe, maybe, that’s how Jennifer and Josh were playing it. And maybe that means they’ll heat up as the series goes along.

In the meantime, Jennifer’s chemistry with Liam Hemsworth was smoking like a seventh grade science experiment. And I’m not even on Team Gale…

But seriously, I loved it

Okay, put down the bows and arrows; leash up your muttations; and please, please, don’t send Tracker Jackers after me. I’ll say it again: I LOVED THE MOVIE. I even went through 3 whole tissues (versus 1.5 tissues for The Vow, for example). I just didn’t think it was perfect.

But then again, how could anything so beloved, so monumental in my imagination, possibly be lived up to?

It couldn’t. So I guess I’ll just have to read the book again. :)

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13 Comments
  1. Ben says:
    Tue Apr 3 2012 at 11:18 PM

    I also saw this as someone who didn’t read the books first, and I think you nailed it. Everyone who read the books seemed to enjoy it way more than I did. I didn’t *dislike* it, but so many nuanced things were missed–the cave scene was especially awkward.

    I came away from that with the exact opposite reaction I was supposed to, based on what happened in the book in that scene. At least, that’s what the readers tell me =)

  2. Trisha says:
    Wed Apr 4 2012 at 9:04 AM

    I did not read the book. Loved the movie. Smart enough (or old enough) to catch on to the whole government theme. I didn’t need more of an explanation. The avoxes? I didn’t get them at all from the movie.
    Now. I’ve read books 2 and 3. (Yes, yes, I will go back and read book 1). From reading book 2, I get some of the things that were omitted in the movie. Would it have made a huge difference? Eh, the books are always better than the movies.
    Everyone keeps raving about Seneca Cane. From just watching the movie, I took him to be a court jester. Nothing more. The beard? Silly. I realize that it was representing everything that is wrong with the government. Guess I’ve paid taxes long enough that isn’t a hard sell for me.
    Cinna rocked.
    I didn’t get the Peeta with the Careers from the movie either. I was very confused at first about whose side he was on. Obviously, I would have understand that much better had I read the book. Or, they should have done a better job of explaining it in the movie.
    Now this is a reflection on the movie. When you want to discuss books 2 and 3, lemme know. :)

  3. T. S. Bazelli says:
    Wed Apr 4 2012 at 10:11 AM

    I haven’t seen the movie or read the book. Do you think I should read the book first?

  4. Sonje says:
    Wed Apr 4 2012 at 10:16 AM

    I haven’t seen it, but yesterday I was just talking to a neighbor who saw it, and I thought you might be amused to know that she had the opposite feeling about the Peeta/Gale thing. She was completely unimpressed with Gale and all about Peeta. She’s also read the books, and she said she’d started out (when reading) as Team Gale but switched to Team Peeta in book 2, but if she’d just seen the movie (and not read the books), she would have been Team Peeta the whole way. Different strokes for different folks, I guess!

  5. Shari says:
    Wed Apr 4 2012 at 10:41 AM

    I completely agree with you about the issues with character development/in-depth meaning. Something got a little lost in translation without the first-person narration (which, I totally understand, wouldn’t really have worked for a movie like this, but so much of what makes the book compelling is seeing and hearing what Katniss is feeling). That said, I think Jennifer did a great job still getting the emotions across. I’d have liked more development on the Katniss/Peeta relationship and also Katniss/Rue (I hate that we didn’t see District 11’s gift of the bread to Katniss after her tribute to Rue, because it was so poignant in the book), but overall, I thought the movie was wonderfully done.

  6. Kristan says:
    Wed Apr 4 2012 at 11:17 AM

    Ben-
    Lol yay, it’s always nice when someone agrees. (Especially since it was very hard for me to write this, to figure out exactly what was bothering me and then articulate it.)

    Trisha-
    Ah, see, for me Seneca Crane was the perfect embodiment of that entertainment vs. ethics theme. He completely forgot that these kids were flesh and blood – he was just trying to do his job and do it really well, and that job was to give the audience a good show. I actually sympathized with him in the movie, because I could see him struggling to please the president and the people. I could see (ironically) how blind he was to the tributes being anything more than toys in his 3D board game.

    And yes, Andy was confused by Peeta going with the career tributes too. Katniss’s various suspicions and speculations in the books give a context that the movie simply couldn’t/didn’t offer.

    T.S.-
    Well I think you can enjoy the movie without the book, for sure. But if you want the full-depth, definitely read the books. They are SO worth it. (I would also say that if you’re going to do both, do the movie first. I find it’s usually less disappointing to go in that order.)

    Sonje-
    Haha. Well for sure, this is just my opinion/take. I get that people will respond differently, and that’s totally cool. Also, I can see why someone might be unimpressed with Liam/Gale, since he’s only there for a few minutes. It will be very, very interesting to see how he and Josh/Peeta do in the rest of the series.

    But (as Shari said) I don’t think any questions that Jennifer/Katniss was great.

    Shari-
    Funny enough, I wondered if they would do a Katniss voiceover, and I was SO, SO glad they didn’t. Despite what was missing, I again think that was the right call.

  7. Meghan Ward says:
    Wed Apr 4 2012 at 2:08 PM

    I can’t wait to see the movie! I’m aiming to go next weekend. My husband read the books, too, so we’ll both be seeing it from your perspective. It’s so difficult for a movie to capture everything that’s in a book, but it sounds like they did a fairly decent job with this one.

  8. linda says:
    Wed Apr 4 2012 at 9:02 PM

    Yay, I’m so glad you blogged about this! :D I liked the movie a lot but yeah, it definitely didn’t measure up to the book. I think I automatically filled in a lot of the details they left out instead of overanalyzing the experience, which allowed me to retain more of my giddiness at finally seeing the movie instead of being all nitpicky about it, haha.

    That said, I really love the analysis on io9 on things they left out of the Hunger Games movie. I wanted more from the cave scene! And when the hovercraft came! And the bittersweetness at the end! (Yeah, definitely Team Peeta.)

    I also went with a few people who hadn’t read the books and it was interesting to hear their opinions as well! (I’m making one of them read the book now, to see how much better the book is, haha.)

  9. Kristan says:
    Thu Apr 5 2012 at 3:01 PM

    Meghan-
    Definitely! Hope you two enjoy it. :)

    Linda-
    That io9 link is great! (As they usually are.) Except they said, “We know the movie can’t be 3 hrs long,” and I’m all, WHY NOT?! Seriously, I think even additional 20 minutes could have made a huge difference.

  10. Jon says:
    Mon Apr 9 2012 at 12:21 PM

    Absolutely agreed about everything to do with the adaptation. Wish there were more details, understand they can’t fit everything into a movie. I wrote about this in fact on inReads if you want to take a look: http://www.inreads.com/blog/2012/03/27/page-to-screen-the-hunger-games/

  11. Kristan says:
    Mon Apr 9 2012 at 1:52 PM

    Yep, I read your piece a couple weeks ago and really enjoyed it. :)

  12. Em says:
    Tue Apr 10 2012 at 11:14 AM

    Kristan, you just articulated exactly how I felt about the movie. I really liked it … and there were even some aspects I liked BETTER than the book (I liked the “war room” where they created aspects of the arena, and I liked that we could see Rue’s district revolt after Katniss’ display when Rue died instead of having to wait until she learns of it later). But you’re absolutely right … the message is largely missed which is a shame, but probably a necessity for all the reasons you mentioned.

    I’m a sucker to the “bigger meanings” and politics, so I wish it could’ve been a louder theme.

    Can’t wait to see the next one!

  13. Kristan says:
    Tue Apr 10 2012 at 3:49 PM

    Thanks, Em. :) Yes, the “war room” was a great addition, and that scene of the District 11 uprising had me in tears! I’m guessing the next couple movies will have more of the message/politics… but either way I’m sure we’ll enjoy them!

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