The Trouble with Quibbles: The Hunger Games

A dystopian tale of 24 kids from 12 separate districts forced to fight to the death, The Hunger Games is breaking box office records and driving up Lionsgate’s stock. Now, Adam and I discuss whether the adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ best-selling book is any good?

ADAM: I’m kinda on the fence about this movie. I didn’t love it. I didn’t hate it. I just watched it… and thought, “Well, that happened.”

BRYAN: Interesting. And you’ve read the books?

ADAM: I’ve read the first book, which I also didn’t love, but still enjoyed more than the movie. For Young Adult fiction, the book is good.

BRYAN: I think for fiction-fiction, the book is good.

ADAM: Your bar must be very low.

BRYAN: I didn’t say great, but it is a very fun book. Was there something in particular about the movie that made you not like it as much as the book?

ADAM: Well, like most movies adapted from books, The Hunger Games felt really rushed, especially at the end.

BRYAN: Even at 2 1/2 hours?

ADAM: Even at 2 1/2 hours. Once we get into the arena, it felt like the filmmakers were in a big hurry.

BRYAN: I didn’t really sense that. If anything, not that they should have, they could have chopped off a lot of pre-arena stuff. I will say, that they could have established the famine and poverty of District 12 a little better.

ADAM: Why?

BRYAN: As is, there’s no real reason for it to be called “Hunger” games

ADAM: They rush through everything else, so I don’t think it ultimately matters. Basically, what I got from watching the film compared to the book is, I would have rather seen a Hunger Games mini-series. That’s what reading the book was like, with all those cliffhanger endings.

BRYAN: I think the movie works better than that. I keep coming up against die-hard fans upset about changes here and there or characters not looking like how they thought they should. Did anything like that bug you?

ADAM: Nope, I had no real issues with casting. Again, with the general rushed feeling, I didn’t spend enough time with the characters in the film to really compare them to the way they were written in the book. If anything, some characters seemed obsolete. As he appears in the film, I would have cut Cinna out completely, probably Effie too. Actually, that does bring me to a problem, I didn’t need all the stuff with Wes Bentley. I would’ve rather spent more time in the arena. I didn’t need the behind the scenes stuff.

BRYAN: Yeah. In the book, it’s all her perspective, so you never cut away to see the behind the scenes or people watching. I think that was something they felt they had to do to explain some things and take us outside of her head. I prefer it the other way, but it worked in the movie.

ADAM: I think it just bloated the running time.

BRYAN: For me, when I read a book, I don’t really pay much attention to physical descriptions. So, I felt like everyone in the movie was perfectly cast because their actions and emotions felt like what I read, whether they looked perfect or not.

ADAM: Clearly, you’re not the only one who doesn’t pay much attention to physical descriptions… don’t even get me started on all the assholes complaining about Rue and Thresh and Cinna being black.

BRYAN: Honestly, I skipped over that while reading. I’m sure they’re suppose to, but that’s not how I thought of them. I don’t see race Adam, my regular skin toned friend.

ADAM: Casual racism aside… I thought the cast was great. If anything, I would’ve liked to see more of them. Especially, Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks. See, I’m so torn.

BRYAN: They’re great. And Stanley Tucci always makes everything better, as I’ve said before.

ADAM: I was so looking forward to Harrelson as Haymitch, drunkenly taking the stage at the Reaping. Yes, Stanley Tucci, also great.

BRYAN: It is a movie and not a book, so stuff must be cut.

ADAM: Yeah, well they didn’t need to add stuff too. Can you seriously tell me that nothing felt rushed to you? Not even the end?

BRYAN: Nope

ADAM: You’re on crack.

BRYAN: Let’s talk positive. I was impressed with how tension filled the pre-reaping scene was… and the pre-arena scene. For two scenes where we knew what was going to happen, they made them pretty intense.

ADAM: Ok. I’m positive that ending was rushed.

BRYAN: Ignoring you. Also, Jennifer Lawrence is amazing as Katniss. My feeling was that whenever there was something that wasn’t working (or perhaps rushed), her powerful performance carried the film through any rough patches.

ADAM: Why do I feel like we’re talking about two different movies?

BRYAN: It is weird. Everyone seems to agree it wasn’t a piece of crap blockbuster entertainment, but everyone is divided on how much so.

ADAM: It’s not a piece of crap, but it is just a popcorn picture.

BRYAN: Just like the book. I thought it was a pretty faithful adaptation, which also means the problems I had in the book are the same as in the movie. For instance, some stuff is just goofy, two examples being the dogs and the bees.

ADAM: They were wasps. And I’m fine with that.

BRYAN: They were Tracker Jackers…

ADAM: Yeah, a kind of wasp.

BRYAN: …and they were random in the book and they’re random here. I feel like something better could have been used. The filmmakers could have thought up some cooler way to kill people.

ADAM: I have no problem with Tracker Jackers. The dogs in the book were kinda outta left field.

BRYAN: It’s a little random. It’s a bit silly. Also, there could have been more action in the arena. And the final fight isn’t staged that well.

ADAM: Was it the staging or the editing? I thought that “finale” looked like shit.

BRYAN: Since the editors are amazing, I’m guessing staging. Action not Ross’ strong suit… BUT! I was still okay with this stuff because of the acting and the emotion from the characters. Not enough action, okay, I’m still very invested in Katniss and whatever she’s doing with Peeta. Not too many YA films or studio blockbusters take as much time to have you care about its characters, or to even maturely approach this type of material. So, kudos to them for that.

ADAM: I think you’re giving the film far too much credit. You were already invested in the characters from reading the book. I didn’t feel that they did much development at all. If anything, it felt kinda lazy, relying on people’s impressions from the book.

BRYAN: I think it comes across. It’s underplayed, but it’s there.

ADAM: You read the book, so you’re opinion on the matter isn’t valid. We need a control, who hasn’t read the books.

BRYAN: If you think so.

ADAM: That’s just science. It’s not my opinion, it’s fact. You always need a control.

BRYAN: Speaking of science, this is sci-fi that actually has something to say and not just Robots fighting or vampires in love.

ADAM: Vampires aren’t sci-fi; that’s fantasy/horror.

BRYAN: You know what I mean.

ADAM: You mean The Hunger Games is better than Transformers and Twilight. And yes, it is.

BRYAN: That’s too obvious.

ADAM: But it’s true.

BRYAN: I mean, a big studio film for kids actually took time to put ideas in it. It’s not mindless, but it’s still entertaining

ADAM: Again, the ideas were in the book… that wasn’t the studio.

BRYAN: They didn’t cut them out is what I mean. It could have been 90-mins of badass action and blood, with no characters and no point.

ADAM: It’s sad that you feel the need to give people credit for not shitting on the premise of source material. In general.

BRYAN: True, but still, true. Age we live in. Did you not think Lawrence was great? Or what were some other things you liked/hated?

ADAM: I think Jennifer Lawrence is a capable actor, but I’m still not convinced that her performance in Winter’s Bone was anything more than a fluke. That was a great performance. Haven’t seen her do anything else close to that.

BRYAN: Harsh. Like whoa man… whoa. I am looking forward to the sequels. A lot of interesting stuff yet to happen.

ADAM: I’m not. Now I’m ambivalent. Before, I thought The Hunger Games looked kinda stupid. Now that I’ve read the first book and seen the first film, I appreciate them a bit more. But, I can’t say that I really care.

BRYAN: Sounds like talking about it more has you disliking it more than before.

ADAM: No, that’s the thing, I don’t dislike it. I’m just ambivalent. It is what it is. It’s entertaining, but nothing amazing. It is neither the worst, nor the best thing in the world. And I’d watch The Hunger Games again, maybe even an extended cut. It’s an OK movie based on an OK book. If you’ve read the book, it might seem rushed; if you haven’t read the book, it might seem long. Grade: C+
(Part of me just wants to say: The Hunger Games, it’s a movie, you should see it, or don’t. Grade: meh+)

BRYAN: I really liked it. It has plenty of missteps and a few goofy moments, but I love the performances and I dig that character comes first. Stage a few scenes better and smooth over the edges and I’d be a lot more impressed. But yes, I was entertained and would love to watch it again, or even revisit the books. I guess I have no way of knowing what a non-reader will make of it, but this feels like a good movie regardless of my previous knowledge. Grade: B+

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3 responses to “The Trouble with Quibbles: The Hunger Games

  1. I am nestled right in between you two, like a nerdy Katie sandwich. It was better than meh+, but I think they relied too heavily on the audience already knowing the story going in. Like, the love triangle thing was almost nonexistent–you never would have known she was faking it (I think part of that would have been remedied by Cinna being the one to make them hold hands). And for chrissakes, I almost had a seizure in the beginning with the terrible camerawork. But overall I found it faithful to the story, and thought Jennifer Lawrence did a great job. She has the best scared face since the little girl from Jurassic Park.

  2. Now I’m wishing I never read the books, so I could better judge how much they relied on prior knowledge.

    I felt they only relied on it a few times, otherwise, these things are there but not obvious. Like the Love triangle. I never saw it as a triangle in the book, and I thought her indifference comes across. Like she’s not even thinking about boys, but she knows she has to play the game.

    I’ve heard some people say “Did she love him or not?” and I think that’s exactly what you should be thinking. The cutaways to Gale aren’t about, oh man she’s cheating on Gale, it’s about oh man Gale likes her but she doesn’t even realize.

    And yes, I didn’t mention it, but the camera work in the beginning section was out of control, but it leveled out, thank god.

  3. I couldn’t disagree more about Adam’s assessment of Lawrence, the work she did in this film is way above and beyond what you would ever expect from a supposed “Young adult film.” I think he must have been thinking about something else because she is exceptional here, deeply connected to every scene partner she shares time with and emotionally invested in her circumstances in a way that makes us believe she is experiencing them to her core.

    I thought this was a really solid film. I would also love to truly know what it felt like to watch the movie without the knowledge of the books but I can’t. I know that nice little details from the books like taking the tesserae in exchange for entries into the reaping were left out for time and I would have loved to see more exposition on both district 12 and her relationship/friendship/mutual reliance for survival with Gale. I may be the only person that loved the early shaky camera work, I understand why others didn’t and I would have struggled as well if it would have continued too long but I really liked the way this set a “documentary” and voyeuristic feel. I felt like it helped make this seem less like a distant impossible future and more like something that could be taking place.

    I do agree that some of the internal dilemma’s that she faced were difficult to achieve in the same way as in the books regarding the cat and mouse with Haymitch and rewarding him with her affections for Peeta but overall it didn’t distract from the premise and progression of the relationships and story. I suspect it will be played more like a genuine love triangle moving forward than it was in the book.

    I wasn’t crazy about the look of a few of the special effects, the chariot scene and the dogs in particular, I think that short cuts were taken for budget considerations and I would guess we will see a touch more polish there in the subsequent films although I hope this serious never devolves into overly slick looking blockbuster territory.

    All in all I just found the experience extremely satisfying as a fan of the book and can’t wait to see the 2nd one… And can’t wait to see more Jennifer Lawrence films, there is an uncommon talent to what she is doing compared with most other actresses and I’d love to see it in more films.

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