Bidula’s Last Word: The Hunger Games

I was given the Hunger Games Trilogy a few months ago by a very good friend of mine.  She told me that I had to have all three finished by March 23 because that’s when the movie comes out and we are definitely going.

In this modern age of distraction, I’ve been terrible with books.  I always feel as though there is no time and have had trouble making room for reading in my daily schedule.  It was fortunate that, at the time, I was sort of at the end of my rope with playing video games and was looking for another source of entertainment.  Why not, then, pick up these books which were so emphatically being thrust in front of me?  But, three whole books by March 23?  How could I get there?  I could barely finish one in a month with whatever precursor to ADD I have inside me.  I’d never meet her deadline.

Open book, page one, devour.  Killed all three books within a week.  Loved every minute of it.  Well, most minutes of it, but that’s another discussion (I was sorta Team Gale).

The Hunger Games brought me back to reading in a way that only Harry Potter and Stephen King’s Dark Tower had before.  These were the only other two series I pounded through with unrelenting force, that is until I reached the end of the current book and was forced to wait what felt like a lifetime (almost literally in the case of the Dark Tower series) for the next installment.  And, as the previous series before, I was sad when The Hunger Games trilogy was over, though satisfied with its conclusion.

Needless to say, it was with much enthusiasm that I pre-purchased a ticket and was there opening night (not the midnight show, I’m not insane) for The Hunger Games, the movie adaptation of the first book in the titular trilogy.  Due to the popularity of this series (which I didn’t realize was so fevered until shortly before post-time) much airspace was proliferated with propaganda regarding the movie and I deconstructed every morsel; looking for the smallest detail and grumbling when something didn’t’ catch my fancy or wasn’t the way I’d pictured it while reading.

I took an almost curmudgeonly skeptical attitude toward this because, though the narrative was strong and would likely stand on its own, this is modern-day Hollywood, where beloved works of fiction are burnt to the ground at which point their ashes are pissed on by production houses and directors just looking to make a buck.  Sometimes, you have things like the colossal bomb of John Carter where a sci-fi story beloved by generations is thrown to the 3-D CG wolves and left to fester in the sun as a $200 Million loss to their studio.  Paper is delicate and, if transferred improperly to the screen, can be ruined forever.

Even up to the last minute, when the theater was growing dark and I had just shut my phone down after perusing a review which said they’d pared the novel down to around two hours, cutting much from the original source material, I was nervous.

From the opening bell, however, I was pleasantly surprised.

Though the novels are wonderful and stand on their own, I failed to realize how much fat could actually be trimmed for the screen.  I failed to realized that pages upon pages were dedicated to incidental characters who, in the large scheme of things, really didn’t matter.  There were paragraphs describing food and the taste of food.  Passages described the excesses of the Capital as compared to the poverty of the Districts, painting distinct pictures in one’s imagination and, importantly, leaving much to Katniss’ own interpretation or opinion due to the book’s rapid-fire first-person present-tense style.

You remember quickly that this is a movie.  There’s no need to describe what the people in the Capitol look like or act like, because you can show it in a five second clip and get the same general idea.  Often I forget this fact and it is such a simple one.  I rail against turning five-hundred pages into two measly hours but am slow to realize that 200 of those pages were spent on description.

The first-person present-tense of the book is almost entirely retained by the cinematography and  the direction.  Much like the novels, you’re with Katniss every step of the way, experiencing exactly what she is experiencing.  There are very few shots with which she is not involved.  Jennifer Lawrence (Katniss) certainly had her work cut out for her in becoming her character, studying climbing, archery, and hand-to-hand combat in order to prepare for her role, then being the absolute central character in the movie.  I was very pleased with this aspect the same as I was with the Harry Potter films.  Both series rely on the perspective of their respective protagonists and the movies preserved that except where absolutely necessary.

Woody Harrelson turns in an exemplary performance as (my series favorite character) Haymitch Abernathy and plays perfectly with Lawrence’s Katniss as their relationship grows from hatred to mutual respect.  Elizabeth Banks is a dead-on Effie Trinket and Donald Sutherland turned out to be a better President Snow than I anticipated (I always pictured Malcolm McDowell).

Oh, and Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman?  Genius.  He made the character very reminiscent of Richard Dawson in The Running Man – surprisingly appropriate for the situation.

Liam Hemsworth (Gale) and Josh Hutcherson (Peeta) get the job done, but are drastically outshined by the rest of the cast.  The other tributes in the Games (as they were in the book) are played by throwaway actors, though it is nice to see them sketched out roughly as I pictured them for the brief time they’re known.  Even Rue didn’t overly impress me, but then again, she had about all of ten minutes of screen time before SPOILERS.  Most of the tertiary cast were meh, but you can’t get too attached, now can you?

One surprise was Toby Jones as Claudius Templesmith, the Gamesmaker, whose role was largely downplayed in the book but of whom we get more than an eyeful due to the movie’s slight peek behind the scenes of how the games actually work.  To me, this was incredible fan service (to see what the Gamesmakers are actually doing while it’s all going on!) and also serves to better illustrate some of the more complicated and long-winded plot points regarding how things function in the games.

I believe that this may be one of the best adaptions from book-to-screen without any sort of graphical reference.  It trims ALL the fat where necessary and leaves us with a lean, predatory movie, fierce in its convictions and its storytelling.  Poised and ready to strike when the time comes for the sequels.  It does so well at cutting the parts that unless you’ve read the book fifteen times or you have an exceptional memory (myself the latter), you won’t even wonder where those entire passages went.

This movie does incredible service to the book, the fans, and everyone involved.  It was a compelling thrill ride with very few dead spots and is certainly the work of a master surgeon when it came to editing the necessaries to make this into a film.

Bidula’s Last Word: 9/10.  TL;DR, Very enjoyable, highly recommended, you don’t need to read the books first though I still strongly recommend checking them out.  If you don’t devour them within two weeks you’re either extremely slow at reading or you’re just not trying.

Keep fighting the good fight.

—end transmission—

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