Saturday, 24 March 2012

The Misleadingly Titled Games

In our world that is running ever short of good ideas for new, original movies, producers often turn to books. It's no secret that if you write a successful teenage-aimed book series, you are almost certainly going to be offered a film adaptation. We saw it with Harry Potter, with Twilight, and some of us are waiting eagerly for more formal news on the Cherub series, but there's something different about this series of books. The following is more of a cult following rather than mainstream. The plot is devastating and horrifying rather than joyous or loving. There's very little fun involved. It's The Hunger Games.

Some time in the future, North America has collapsed. War and poverty overran it and now it is a whole new country known as Panem. Panem is ruled by the Capitol which is surrounded by thirteen districts. District Thirteen, however, was destroyed after an uprising - known as the Dark Days in the novels - and as a constant reminder to the citizens of the other districts of the Capitol's power, a boy and a girl are selected from each district every year to fight to the death live on television for all to see. It is the year of the 74th annual Hunger Games (which have very little to do about hunger) and in District 12, Primrose Everdeen (Willow Shields) is selected as the female tribute. Horrified, her sister, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence), volunteers as tribute. After much crying an screaming, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) is selected as the male tribute. The two of them are taken by Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) to the Capitol where they will be interviewed by Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci), made pretty by Cinna (Lenny Kravitz), trained by Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), and thrown into the arena by President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and Seneca Crane (Wes Bentley) with 22 other contestants. With plenty of twists and turns along the way, the District 12 tributes will have to fight for their survival against tributes who have trained their whole life for this.

In a post-apocalyptic society, TV is really dull.

Starting straight away, the acting in this film was pretty much spot on. As a fan of the books, I could see more or less all of the characters. Admittedly, there was a lack of developing, but that's simply because films cannot capture everything. Someone who had not read the books would not know the difference. Jennifer Lawrence is fantastic as Katniss. Her fear is portrayed in both the most subtle of ways - like when she is trembling in the tube before the games - and in the plain obvious - when Primrose is selected as tribute. She truly nailed the image I had of Katniss. The cold, distrusting approach to people but her caring heart hidden behind that. Josh Hutcherson, as the male lead, is also great. I've heard some people claim that he lacked charisma and he seemed too young, but he is meant to be sixteen. He is young. And lack of charisma? The interview between Peeta and Caesar is enough charisma for three people. I think he really captured Peeta's soft and gentle side as well as his more outgoing side. Stanley Tucci was superb as Caesar with his flamboyance and confidence that a chat show host needs and Donald Sutherland, while not at all how I imagined President Snow, perfected the character. Seemingly harmless but more deadly than nightlock berries.

'Come on, Katniss. Give us your rendition of 'Hound Dog''

The technical elements of the film were brilliant. The soundtrack was perfectly orchestrated to create the right atmosphere for the movie. Even more so, the lack of sound at moments in the film were used even better than the moments with sound. The sound editing really captured the moments portrayed on screen and jumped between heartbreaking and joyous with excellent balance. The cinematography was really good as well, though far from perfect. There were some shots that were outstanding but the overuse of close-ups and shaking camera shots near the beginning was a little tiring. Now onto one of the most crucial things in an adaptation: the script. The writing was excellent. Considering the book is written from a first person perspective, there were plenty of completely necessary changes that needed to be made. For example, the reader would only know as much as Katniss would know, but that would get boring on screen. The viewer is treated to behind the scene conversations with Snow and Crane as well as seeing how the games are pieced together. Bits and pieces were jiggled to make it more suitable for screen but they didn't really annoy me that much. That being said, some moments really got to me. (See Spoiler section at the end for details. That's where most of the negative elements of the film will be)

I included this photo simply because I think Jennifer Lawrence is beautiful.

Overall, a fantastic adaptation from a brilliant book. Handled very cleverly as they didn't include things that would make the film reliant on a sequel, but did enough to make you want to know more. That is how to handle a book series intelligently. It blows other adaptations out of the water but, in all honesty, I would love to see an R/18 rated version of this movie. While it captured the atmosphere around the games, the nightmarish world of the games was lost due to the PG-13 killings. It is impossible to make a film about brutally murdering teenagers as good as it can be without showing the brutal murders. Though I completely understand why they did it, I hope there might be a special edition DVD that is slightly more gruesome.

Best Bit? There were lots of good bits. My favourite bits in the novel (the tracker jackers, the muttations) were slightly anti-climatic because of how dark they are in the books and how that can't be recreated on screen for a young teen audience. So my best bit is Jennifer Lawrence. Just her. With brown hair. I think she is fantastic and beautiful in every way. But in all seriousness, I had tingles when the tributes arrived in their chariots. When Peeta and Katniss held their hands in the air, I was captivated. Good film making.

SPOILER SECTION (Read on at your own peril (Contains book spoilers too))

There was very little I disliked about the film. I didn't mind the slight changes in plot in order to make it less reliant on a sequel. However, I did mind how badly the muttations were handled. I saw a review were the reviewer, having not read the book, thought that they had been inserted digitally. Of course, in the book, the real horror of the Mutts is that they are made from the dead tributes (Glimmers eyes are what Katniss notices) and that is a horrifying concept. Without that, they are just big dogs and that's a bit boring. Also, I didn't like the way such important information was so skimmed over. The Mockingjay pin is crucial in the next two books and yet we only see it in the beginning and end of the movie, and Madge was cut out all together. Still, that can be recovered in a sequel if need be.

It was a long film, though it didn't seem it and I just wanted another 20 minutes or so to explain things like the Mutts, or Gale and Katniss' relationship. (To anyone who didn't know, the cut aways to Gale seemed cheesy and unexplained. I honestly found them too 'Twilight love triangle') And the injuries sustained by Katniss and Peeta are minimal. Peeta should lose a leg! Katniss should be deaf in one ear! The games are a lot less nightmarish without this. And what about Peeta claiming his real love for Katniss? And Katniss shooting him down on the train home? While the relationship was handled well, I wanted that bit, that crucial, crucial and heartbreaking bit.

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