Finding the ways to fill the time
The Hunger Games is an amazing story. Suzanne Collins’ books are, in the best possible sense, substance over style. Straight storytelling, emotionally addictive and a believable rendition of the ‘love against all odds’ archetype. She uses words so efficiently but every piece of information given to the reader means something.
I was so excited to go see the movie. I liked the casting and I think the set design and costumes were spot on. However, the director tried so hard to be stylish, he let it overwhelm the story and made a movie difficult to enjoy watching. I think I’m one of very few people who hold this view.
Reason 1: Stomach-turning cinematography
Dubbed ‘queasy-cam’ by David Stratton, handheld cameras were used in almost every scene: close up, long, wide angle, whenever. The effect is sickening: shaky shots of Katniss running in the distance, or jerkily leaping after her over river rocks. Entering their Capitol apartment, the camera pans but is blurry and your eyes get only a moment to focus before it cuts away to another fuzzy shot. A dying Rue stares up at an unfocused, spinning sky. Katniss’s tracker-jacker sting induced hallucination was just so choppy I had to close my eyes.
Frequent tight, close ups of faces and mouths, especially Effie Trinket’s speech in District 12, also made for uncomfortably claustrophobic viewing.
Reason 2: Editing
I understand no movie can be completely faithful to a book and not every scene can be included. I have no problem with Madge being cut, though some explanation of the mockingjay pin’s significance would have been nice rather than, “Here Prim, as long as you have this, nothing bad will happen to you. I promise. ” which is an exposition void and the kind of false hope I don’t really think ever practical Katniss trades in.
Her prep-team were another sad but reasonable sacrifice. What was weird was the time wasted in the prepping scene of Katniss getting waxed followed by a few minutes of her confusedly asking, “What was that? What was that? “. Flavius: “Oh you need to be hosed down again. ” Cut to Cinna’s entrance: “That was the bravest thing I’ve ever seen. ” Well we, the audience, saw very little.
Time is also spent on long CGI scenes of the Capitol and its freakish denizens, which to be fair probably spent a substantial portion of the movie’s budget.
Exposition meanwhile is spotty. Information is half provided or thrown around without context in a way that people who’ve read the book could fill in the blanks, whereas those who haven’t might simply ignore the comment as irrelevant.
For example: Haymitch explains out of the blue they will prepare separately from now on, but the without the audience knowing they had decided to work as a team previous to that statement, or showing them preparing for the interview. This is an important scene, IMHO, which highlights a lot about Katniss and Haymitch, their initial antagonism and similarity of personality.
All comments about Capitol food are excised dropping a thread that continues through to when a hijacked Peeta remembers Katniss’ love of the plum lamb stew, the first, best signal of his recovery. Was it so hard to shoehorn into an eating scene? (instead, frequently our starving District kids ‘weren’t hungry’)
Some scenes were altered in way that took the oomph from them, for example: Peeta asking mild questions about how to find shelter replaced him decking Haymitch, an act of desperation which, along with Katniss almost stabbing Haymich (included) earned them the respect of their mentor.
The hallucination scene in the movie tells the audience, for the first time, how Katniss’ father died and about her mother’s depression but is made artily obscure.
The greatest sin though is the total alteration of the ending.
It’s the hardest thing to read: Haymitch congratulating them on their act; Katniss admitting they are in trouble with the Capitol and only allowed to live in the pretense of their deep, crazy-making love; Peeta’s final, cutting realisation that Katniss is confused where he is certain and she feels him distancing himself emotionally, losing the boy who threw her the bread. Even then he turns to her and says, ‘One more time, for the audience. ”
THAT’S the emotional centre of the story. His willingness to protect her, even if she never returns his love.
Movie version: They look out a window. P: “What now?” K: “I want to forget. ” P: “I don’t. ” Cut to them in front of the cameras and her looking at Prim and Gale. Emotion fail.
Other annoying moments: What the hell was Cato saying while holding Peeta hostage? Was Peeta meant to be mouthing, “Shoot.” or just puckering his lips? If he signaled to Katniss to shoot Cato’s hand, it was really unclear.
Most dismaying moment: The horrible, cheap-looking effect of Katniss and Peeta trailing a bit of weak looking fire in a huge, CGI stadium. I
Reason 3: Where are the characters?
This is a story about characters and we saw little of any of them.
Katniss is a suspicious person, a product of her world. She doesn’t believe Peeta is trying to help her, she believes it’s all part of the game to keep them alive. She almost shoots him when Templesmith decrees only one victor will survive. A great deal of the enjoyment of the story is her slow realisation and trust in others, first in Cinna, then slowly in Peeta and Haymitch.
Peeta, meanwhile, truly loves Katniss, though we see everything from her perspective so, as readers, only get hints of this, usually dropped by Haymitch to Katniss. Movie viewers get a Peeta that’s a little creepy. “I watched you walk home everyday. EVERY DAY. ”
He explains how he fell in love, “I saw you the first day of school. The teacher asked who knew the ‘meadow song’ and your hand shot up. ” But then left out the important bit: “And when you sang, the birds stopped to listen. ” That’s what he loved… not the fact she knew a song.
Cinna has about 3 lines. Prim screams a lot. Apart from Rue none of the other Tributes have a personality (oh, Cato makes smirky faces), not helped by having music playing over their interviews. In fact, music, otherwise absent from the background, plays over a lot of moments of dialogue.
The most true to character ones were President Snow and Effie Trinket. Seneca Crane’s part, entirely invented by the scriptwriters, probably was as well rounded as Haymitch.
The book is great. Depressing, but with genuine humour and 3D characters I love and believe in. I reread the series just before watching the movie, and will read it again in the future, just as I will rewatch movies that moved me. If it wasn’t for the spinning, jerky camera, I probably could overlook the neutered story, but as it is I don’t think I will ever willing watch The Hunger Games movie again.