Hunger Games Review: A Rushed Book Adaptation

My 22 year old girlfriend wanted to see “The Hunger Games” last weekend, so we went. I am a fan of teen fiction ever since I was a teen. But the books that caught my imagination back in the day were things like “The Dark is Rising” by Susan Cooper, “A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeline L’Engle .

They were sweeping stories that stimulated the imagination. And from the success of the “Hunger Games” book series, I can only suppose that these books are the same. My gf read the first 3 books in 3 days and was psyched to see the movie. She loved it.

I did not.

“Lord of the Rings” is the benchmark for taking a 1000 page book and turning it into a rich stand alone cinematic experience. This movie had the feeling of a rush, compressed, let’s make some quick dough production. And it’s probably why Gary Ross, the director, isn’t coming back for the sequel.

The story, in case you’ve been living under a rock for the last 3 months, is about life in the former US after some kind of rebellion and war. There’s no food and as punishment for the uprising the government has an American Idol esque event where 2 young people from each district are offered as “tribute” to fight to the death in the “Hunger Games”.

The heroine is the pretty and strong Katness played by Jennifer Lawrence; who was plucked from obscurity to become a movie star. She’s great, much better than the material. (If you want to see her really acting in a similar tough young girl up against huge odds role, go see “Winter’s Bone”).

The movie starts with a lottery where all the starving ish people put their names in a raffle and get chosen.

Unfortunately, all of the extras in the movie look like people who live in LA, San Fernando, or Orange Country wearing some ratty clothes. They don’t look hungry, or starving. They look like the Assistant Diretor said “okay people, now look sad!”

Seriously. With all the CGI available today, they couldn’t make these people look a little hungrier? Even in a world with no food starving people in the US look fatter than their counterparts in Asia.

Then the raffle is conducted by a weirdo wearing whiteface and a wig. Watching Elizabeth Banks strut around in 19th century makeup brought of flashbacks of “The Running Man” with Arnie. Campiness and weirdness taking the place of good CGI or a real sense of the “future world”.

Even in Michael Bay’s “Armageddon” there is a sense of a BIG world. Shots of the whole planet, big crowds, but also nicely planned shots of families (some overly glossy shots of the American Flag, etc.) But it feels BIG. In “The Hunger Games” we get a few interiors of a game show set and then the spend the rest of the movie running through the woods.

There are a couple of wide shots of a parade, but during the games we don’t even get an “American Idol” sense of people watching the games with any kind of reaction.

After talking with my gf I learned about all the subtle nuances from the book missing in the movie. Like the fact that the people’s makeup in the future is supposed to be even more intense, full body tattoos..etc. not costumes from a bad musical. And more info on Lenny Kravtitz’s character, that Katness isn’t really into Peeta, and all sorts of other things that are the hallmark of Hollywood assufucking a good story.

I give Gary Ross for dropping out of #2 not because the books are bad, but because they clearly are rushing things to ride a wave of popular indulgence. “Lord of the Rings” had years of tender care and pre production before filming. This did not.

I’m not a hater of teen hits. I actually enjoyed the first “Twilight” movie very much. Same with most of the “Harry Potter” movies. Jennifer Lawrence could probably act in a toothpaste commercial and make it engaging; but this movie doesn’t do justice to the book it came from.

If you want to see some really good book adaptations into movies check out “Jaws”, “Fried Green Tomatoes”, “Die Hard”, or “Out of Sight.”



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