Thursday, April 05, 2012

The Hunger Games

I have a secret: I tried to read The Hunger games back in 2008 when the first book was all there was. And I didn't enjoy it. I boiled down to two things I generally always dislike: first person POV and a love triangle. Some stories can overcome that for me, but if your entire book is going to be in one character's head it better be the best place you can possibly be.

In The Hunger Games, from inside Katniss' head was not the best place to tell that story. It was a good place to be sometimes, but I think the film version proved to me without a shadow of a doubt that the real meat of the world of Panem was outside with the Game Makers. The movie also proved that the narrative didn't suffer at all from toning down the romance aspects. In fact, it made Katniss a stronger and better heroine by doing both things.

Obviously, as little as I enjoyed the book, I actually really enjoyed the movie. I thought it took the promise of the premise and made it stronger. The film had a better delivery of the world that we were given. We really SAW what it was like to take this to extreme levels. We were witnesses to the Game Makers gleefully sending disasters after the tributes, and when you combine the marketing and the film itself the movie did something the book never managed: it forced us to face the fact that we are all, in a way, citizens of the Capitol.

Now I do want to get one problem out of the way. You see, only twice in my life have I ever actually spoken out loud in an "outdoor" voice in a movie theater. I just don't do it, I'm a filmmaker, I respect the film in front of me no matter what. But when the film is first showing us scenes of District 12 and the camera can't stay still for ONE SINGLE SECOND to actually give us an idea of what we're looking at, I said "Oh COME ON, stop moving the camera!" I doubt anybody outside a two foot radius heard me, but still, I couldn't help myself because it was that annoying.

If the movie had continued that way throughout, I probably would have ended up walking out. Or been simply miserable and hated everything about it. It was an artistic choice made for the right reasons, but used in a terrible way at the worst possible time. How could anybody really get a sense of the poverty and horrible conditions in District 12 if they can't see anything? I don't care if you were trying to replicate Katniss' point of view, it was detrimental to the film and to the purpose of the scene. Later on when a similar technique was used during the Cornucopia scene, it was used to good effect and it was perfectly chosen. But in the opening? That's bad camera work kids, don't do that at home. Or on set. Or ever again, please. I'm begging you.

Comic from Rock, Paper, Cynic, 02-08-2010

With that out of the way, as I said, I really thought that the film version surpassed it's source material in a major way. First and foremost with the casting choice of Jennifer Lawrence. While I recognize that certain things were mishandled during the casting process, they chose very well for Katniss. The character became the embodiment of the film ideal of "show, don't tell." We weren't in her head completely like in the book, but Lawrence brought out the emotions and the turmoil perfectly. In doing so, she also allowed the audience to put some of their own feelings and reactions into the character, making her more personalized and interesting.

By making Seneca Crane a character, we were also able to really explore what everybody says the books are about: reality television. As a filmmaker, I'm fascinated by how things are made. How do they put together this broadcast? How is it done? Who is in charge? How many people does it take? Do they follow their ratings? Are they entertainment professionals or government officials? The film answered these questions, and they gave us a real look into how strange and messed up Panem really is. These people have watched The Games their entire lives, this is the world to them, they don't know the difference. And that is the most terrifying thing in the entire story. The film brought that out in a new way.

Lastly, I'll briefly touch on the toning down of the romance. All I can say is "thank goodness." Isn't it about time we had a heroine who isn't actually all that distracted by boys? As much as we've praised this story for being about a capable and kick-ass female protagonist, you can't deny that in the book she spends an inordinate amount of her time worrying about Gale and Peeta. But in the film, she's not that stereotypical. It's Peeta who is love struck and who makes bad decisions because of his emotions, which was a nice change.

I'm very grateful that the film changed that, because it made Katniss' a stronger female character, a more identifiable one, and one that would be an easier sell across various demographics. Which means better return on marketing dollars, which means more money for similar projects, which is a win for everybody.

Plus it just made me like her better, which made me enjoy the film.