The Hunger Games: dystopia and dissapointment

By Jenny Ledig

While late to jump on The Hunger Games bandwagon, I fit the cliché profile of the rabid fan who read the books in a matter of days, staying up late to finish one book only to want to begin the next installment of the saga. I had high hopes for the movie adaptation, although after previous disappointments like The Princess Diaries under my belt, I should’ve known better. At the midnight premiere, I spent two and half hours writhing in pain at each deviation from the book. Granted you cannot fit all the detail of a 350 page book into a feature length film (although I’m sure the diehard fans wouldn’t mind a longer movie, intermission and all, like the epic films of yore or the mini-series style á la BBC version of Pride and Prejudice) I was surprised and often upset by what was left out or added in. Upon a second viewing of the film, I actually liked it more, but I was still able to come up with five pages of notes surreptitiously scrawled in the theater of things they should’ve done differently. These are my main gripes with the film: The tone and setting don’t capture the depravity and desperateness of the book. The tributes and residents of the outlying districts don’t look malnourished enough and too well dressed (Katniss’s leather hunting jacket) to aptly portray the truly bleak state of affairs. For example, the movie doesn’t capture the extreme poverty of District 12 as well as the classist undertones between the Seam and the Town. Instead, it kind of just looked like a mining town in Appalachia, and this is something that could have been dramatized and intensified visually. Also, there wasn’t a strong enough emphasis on the food and the famine or extravagance disparity. The way Katniss acquires the mocking jay pin is completely wrong. I understand that introducing two characters just to give Katniss the pin might have been tricky for a movie that had to be so careful about what they devoted time to, but the manner they present ignores the importance it will play in later books. Katniss was always destitute and on the brink of starvation; she couldn’t afford to be anything but practical and frugal, so she would not be perusing frivolous items. She wasn’t going to the Hob’s equivalent of Claire’s to buy accessories. In the film a mere acquaintance gives her the pin after Katniss displays some interest in it. This undermines the idea that everyone in the Seam can only look out for their own self-interests. In contrast, Peeta’s act of kindness is a rarity in her world which makes it all the more meaningful. Plus, they could have designed it so that her mom gave her the pin, explaining it was the broach of a childhood friend of hers, which would reduce the need to introduce “periphery” characters while still maintaining the significance of the pin and the symbol for later books. One scene that I had many issues with was the interview segment. Stanley Tucci did a fantastic job, but A) all the contestants should’ve been on stage for the entire show, which is especially important for when Peeta drops the bomb that he’s in love with Katniss. B) The contestants would never reveal all their talents in the interview like is done with Rue. C) Katniss was supposed to have done a mediocre job in her interview. It was small changes in her character like Katniss voluntarily spinning around showing off for the crowd that diluted her original presence. There’s supposed to be a strong contrast between Katniss who struggles to mask her bitter resentment of the Capital and its frivolity and Peeta, who can turn on the charm easily and bury his distaste for injustice. Katniss’s nonchalant, almost smug, reaction after the shooting the apple in the pig incident is completely incorrect. She’s supposed to regret her rash decision and be gravely concerned about the repercussions for her family. In the book this goes to show the impotence the citizens feel and demonstrate how unpredictable and unforgiving the capital is. Not enough parallels were established between Rue and Prim. This is something that the movie could have easily visualized by cutting between shots of Prim and Rue. This whole relationship seems rushed, and those that haven’t read the book don’t have time to form as deep of an attachment to Rue. Also, as their friendship blossoms, Rue imparts some vital information about what life in her district is like, which not only gives more context and a fuller picture of Panem, but is also crucial for understanding the later books. This also underscores how little the districts know of each other (intentionally of course, by the Capital) and how different the circumstances are in the various districts. The riot scene after Rue’s death is so wrong. Tributes are always killed in The Hunger Games, and especially in a district like District 11 that has such heavy peacekeeper presence, the death of a tribute (no matter how tragic or moving) like that of Rue, would not instantaneously provoke a riot. Instead, the subtle yet effective form of subversion, sending the traditional bread of District 11, better keeps with the tone and signals that something is brewing and shows the unprecedented growing solidarity among the districts, without giving away what’s to come in the following book. Additionally, this makes the solely movie viewer question why a rebellion wasn’t sparked earlier if this alone triggered a revolution. Katniss is supposed to yell out Peeta’s name when she learns that two tributes from the same district can win. She recklessly does so, soon realizing that this made her vulnerable, but it’s one of the first times the audience sees Katniss caring for Peeta. The movie dedicates too much screen time to President Snow, which humanizes him. In the books A) everything is from Katniss’s perspective, so we don’t see President Snow or Seneca Crane outside of direct interactions with Katniss B) Snow is supposed to be this elusive yet ever-present and menacing man, but his mere presence on screen makes him more accessible. Also, unlike other portrayals of villains, he’s not seen doing particularly evil things, but rather daintily pruning his white roses, which yes is eerie, but goes to underscore the argument that the “PG-13 rating sanitized the story and do we really want a more palatable depiction of kids killing kids?” argument. Additionally, considering the special effects available, the mutant dog scene was ineffective. The truly horrifying aspect about the dogs is that they have the eyes of the fallen tributes, yet the movie lacks that haunting quality. And while, granted, I did jump out of my seat when the dogs come out of the woods, because the game makers are filmed, they literally announce, now we will send out the dogs, which definitely takes away from the suspense. Also, the berry scene paints a very different picture in the movie. In the book when the rule is reversed, Peeta grabs a knife and Katniss immediately reacts as if Peeta is trying to eliminate her, only to find he was attempting to sacrifice himself to save her. This is one of the most shameful moments for Katniss and it gives her character more depth rather than presenting her as this saint that makes perfect choices all the time. It’s only when she realizes that they would each rather sacrifice themselves to let the other win, that she decides to deprive the Capital of a happy ending and a victor to parade around by both consuming the nightlock. Ultimately, the ending is completely wrong. In the book, things between Peeta, Katniss, and Gale are in a very bad place. Katniss alludes to playing up their romance for the cameras, which devastates Peeta, and Gale is working in the mines and furious about what he perceived to be a real romance that developed in the arena. Despite the drama with her love life, Katniss thinks the worst is over and she’s finally safe and she and the reader both breathe a sigh of relief. The movie loses the suspense of the second installment by ending with a shot of Snow which signals that Katniss is still in danger. There were definitely
parts I liked about the film, but mainly I was disappointed by the lack of grit and despair that the sanitizing of the adaptation resulted in. In order to get the lucrative PG-13 rating, the directors cleaned things up: made kills less gruesome and poverty less depressing, to name a few. This takes away from the original punch of The Hunger Games, but hopefully the next film will better capture the tone and nuances of the book.