Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Hunger Games (2012)

Having read The Hunger Games, I knew that coming to grips with the film was going to be a challenge, so I took along my resident expert in Greek and Roman myths and the life and times of teenage girls -- and my personal symbol of rebellion -- when I went to the movie last night.

BG:  So what did you think of the movie?

KG:  It didn't seem like the same story.  The book didn't translate to the movie very well.

BG:  I think it's hard to get from a first-person novel to a third-person film.  That may explain why the producers ended up with a second-rate director.  The good directors shied away from the script.  If anybody deserves a poison berry for the The Hunger Games (2012), it's Gary Ross.  He just never found the right mix of action and contemplation to make his film work.  And he never got close to the horror in the book, of Cato's death for instance.  Ross never caught the power of nature, violence and unreason as a sustaining force.  

KG:  Yeah.  Maybe it would have been a better movie if they weren't trying to make "The Hunger Games."  The book is so iconic now and so many people share it that if you try to be true to the characters and plot the way all these people imagined it and trying to please everyone, you can't make a good enough movie.

BG:  Maybe it's about selection.  Picking the right things about characters and the right scenes from the novel to make a good film.

KG:  They didn't do a very good job of that.  The scenes at the cornucopia were important and they fell short.  It's such an important part of the arena, and the things that happen by it and around it set the mood for everything in the arena.  The actors they chose were wrong.  Except for Peeta and Primrose.  Josh Hutcherson was right for Peeta.  Willow Shields was perfect as Primrose.  Jennifer Lawrence was too old to play Katniss.  And she didn't look hungry.  And they dyed her hair!  Donald Sutherland was a terrible choice for President Snow.  The people in the capitol are supposed to age gracefully.  They're supposed to be thin.  And they missed a really good chance to contrast the people from the capitol with the people from the districts at the beginning when Effie Trinket comes to District 12.  She should have been way over the top.

Jennifer Lawrence, The Hunger Games, Lionsgate, 2012

BG:  Aging gracefully means staying thin?  Got it.  The producers are going to be up against it, trying to cram in two more movies before Lawrence turns 25. And yet, Lawrence is about all that The Hunger Games (2012) has going for it. She is someone people can care about. Her face is large enough and smooth enough for the camera to linger on, to turn into the kind of landscape we're missing for most of the movie.  What do you make of the fact that Collins gave the kids from District 12 nature names, like Katniss, Primrose, Gail (like a strong wind), and even Peeta (like the bread)?

KG:  They don't have much.  All they've got is nature.  Nature helps them survive.  They'd be dead without it.

BG:  Did you miss knowing what Katniss was thinking?

KG:  Oh, yes.  Definitely.  What she was thinking is over half the book, and when you take it away there's like this enormous weight on the dialogue and the body language to communicate the depth of what she was thinking.

BG:  It's hard to find good external signs of inner dialogue and change.  Katniss goes from girl to woman, from huntress to warrior, and, at the end, back to girl.  If Ross had pulled that off, he would have had a great movie.  All of that teenage energy and drama, dropped into the middle of gladiatorial training and combat.  OMG.  The screenwriters, who included Susan Collins, and the director missed so many chances.  Katniss' thoughts at the end of the film could have been externalized by having her say them out loud to Peeta, for example.  I thought the most effective scene in the film was Katniss' hallucination in the arena.  It works because you finally get into Katniss' point of view.

KG:  At the end of the fighting, when Cato makes his big political speech, he could have been talking for Katniss. 

BG:  Anything else?

KG:  Yes, there are two main things that they changed in the movie that they should have left the same. The first one is the mockingjay pin. It's the symbol of the whole book and when they had her getting it at the hob they demolished the connection between Madge ( the mayor's daughter ) and Katniss.  The problem there is now in later movies they will need to think up a new way for her to meet Madge or leave that part out completly, butchering the story even more.  The other thing that left a lot to be desired was the dogs.  Sure they were in the movie, but they looked like pit bulls on steroids, not the terrible mutations that would later haunt Katniss and give her even more depth as a character.

BG:  Okay.  I want to leave you with a couple of thoughts.  There is a way to get The Hunger Games back. Go re-read the book.  And this.  It's from a poem by Yeats.

What master made the lash.
Whence had they come,
The hand and lash that beat down frigid Rome?


GirlfromtheBronx said...

Excellent dialogue critique here! Go KG! Great points. To follow up on one here: At the risk of hodgepodging this post with another....

KG makes a great point (and I am not even familiar with this book) that when he decided to give up the symbol of the mockingjay, this proved a serious lapse for the story line. If KG finds this a serious omission, one has to wonder how such a decision came about. What kinds of credentials does a director need in order to accomplish something like this. It's the age old problem.

I can't help thinking Schubert/Goethe or Brahms/medicore poetry

They both come up with masterpieces, but made clear choice about the material they used.

Billy says good directors shied away from the script. That's interesting. Sounds like Ross should have consulted with KG first. At least, he'd have had the insight of someone who appreciated the aspects of the book that were non-negotiable.

Too bad.....

KG said...

Thanks, I think that second--rate directors should stay away from really good books.

Billy Glad said...

Collins has to share in the blame. She involved herself in the script. Dropping characters on the way to the screen does tend to simplify -- read dilute -- the richness of a book.

GirlfromtheBronx said...

" I think that second--rate directors should stay away from really good books."

From your mouth to their ears, KG!

There should be a pill people should take if they have no objectivity about their own talent. You take it and then poof, you know immediately: Oops, that project is beyond my present capabilities; or Oops, I think I need to change majors! We could call it the "I call em as I see em" pill! Nah, I guess even if there were such a thing, most people wouldn't use it.

Maybe there's a movie in there. Kind of like a Minority Report for artists. You could have precogs or the pill telling you the outcome of your creative process and then it's up to the creative police to come in and save you from your misery or let die the slow death of experiencing your own failure.

I've never understood why it is so difficult for some people to know the limits of what they can and can't do.

Billy Glad said...

Ross may know his limits. Actually, he may have been a good choice to deliver a PG-13 movie, based on a book that is the best selling teenage dystopian novel of all time -- on the verge of becoming the best selling dystopian novel for any age group of all time. Blockbuster attendance was guaranteed. Why take a chance on alienating that vast audience by delivering the emotional impact of the book, when all you have to do is give a fairly accurate rendition of the plot and characters? The project was clearly in the hands of the producers all the way. Ross is probably a journeyman with a reputation for delivering slick movies on time and on budget. The more interesting question to me now is why The Hunger Games seems destined to be one of those stories we never get tired of. What is it about the story that I want to hear it over and over? And is there something to understand about how The Hunger Games was created that might be useful to The Hive? Can we learn how to make a buck here?

Quinn the Eskimo said...

Anybody here read or seen "Battle Royale?"

Relevant to Billy's question, I think it might help us figure out why this book and film "worked."

Billy Glad said...

I haven't seen it, but the NYT reviewer, Manohla Dargis, talks about it.

"Fans of the Japanese cult film 'Battle Royale' may see some overlap with its allegory about students sent to an island to fight to the death, and others may be reminded of Orson Scott Card’s science-fiction novel 'Ender’s Game,' about children trained to battle an alien species. If you’ve seen the pint-size assassins in the recent action flicks 'Kick-Ass' and 'Hanna,' which feature prepubescent girls who lock, load and shoot without batting a lash, you may think you’ve also seen it before. You haven’t, not really. Although the girls in those movies are vaguely sexualized, their age exempts them from the narrative burdens of heterosexual romance. They don’t have to bat those lashes at the boys, and they don’t need to be saved by them either, as in the 'Twilight' series.

Quinn the Eskimo said...

Battle Royale - which my nephews bought me for Christmas - has a fair chunk in Wiki. Which talks about major similarities with Hunger Games.... being enormously popular in Japan.... being made into a movie with one of the Top Ten grosses ever in Japan.... but then it failing to even get distributed in North America, partly perhaps because of Columbine.... but largely because it was "too violent," an unsanitized Hunger Games... but in the last few months, it's started being shown.

Anyway - if we're looking at how the Hunger Games was made and what made it successful - it's useful to have a very close variant, which was also very successful, but in another culture. Perhaps the shared and different features would help explain its success.

Billy Glad said...

Apropos pastiche and KG's discovery of echoes of Tolkien in Rowling, I wonder if there is a formulaic way to create pop culture by deconstructing a classic work into its components, then finding analogs for each component and reconstructing the work. Wizard, boy hero, quest, sidekick, Dark Lord, etc. I think Hollywood plays this kind of "what if?" game all the time. What if the hero were a teenage girl? What if this? What if that? But do writers like Collins play it?

Tom Manoff said...

You all are too smart for me. I'm reading fast.


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