By Charlotte Rosenfield '15, Design Editor It seems that whenever I hear that a favorite novel of mine will get a movie adaptation, a small cringe of doubt sneaks in among even my most excited expectations. Our interpretation of these admired stories is the clos- est to a perfect visual experience we will ever get. There are only a handful of books that get a near perfect rendition of their source material, and even a smaller group of films that adapt an entire trilogy or saga of books, such as the Harry Potter franchise. In my opinion, The Hunger Games, from the novel by Suzanne Collins of the same name, has earned its spot as one of the next best adapted book-to-film series.
For those of you who are somehow unfamiliar with the recent YA phenomenon, I’ll humor you for a moment. In a dystopian future, the capi- tal city of Panem and its outlying districts are held under the suppressive thumb of President Snow. Years ago, the districts rose up in revolution. Once the government calmed the worst of the rebellion, the Hunger Games were established: an annual arena battle to the death that requires the par- ticipation of two young representatives (or tributes) from each district—one male and one female. Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) finds herself as a tribute for District 12; Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), District 12’s male tribute, joins her, and they are sent to Panem to participate in a tele- vised brawl against their District peers.
From the start, Jennifer Lawrence has seemed like the perfect choice for Katniss. The lead character is incredibly complicated—she has to be likeable by the audience, but she has a hard time making people like her within the story. She isn’t a butch, powerhouse-type figure, but instead a young girl who has some survival skills and is overwhelmed by the sever- ity of her situation. The novel includes a lot of her internal monologue and thought process, which is commonly lost when converting to film. Yet Lawrence manages to communicate all of it to the audience with subtle glances, uncomfortable body language, and a ferocious approach to some of the movie’s stunts. But she isn’t the only solid contributor to the film. Many of the fellow tributes, from District 2’s powerhouse Cato (Alexander Ludwig) to the pe- tite Rue (Amandla Stenberg) from District 11, live up to their mentioned ferocity, ruthlessness, and cunning. Stanley Tucci is a treat as the Panem television celebrity Caesar Flickerman, Elizabeth Banks is a perfect fit as the superficial Effie Trinket, and Wes Bentley brings to life the game designer Seneca Crane in a way the novel never expressed.
Most local fans of the series agree that, while The Hunger Games’ all-star cast does not disappoint, a few key players could have been far more developed. Two fan favorites, mentor and former Hunger Games winner Haymitch Abbernathy (Woody Harrelson) and Katniss’ stylist and advisor Cinna (Lenny Kravitz), were given very little time in the limelight and, in my opinion, felt very flat and one dimensional. Many concur that the time constraints of the film explain this deficiency, but it was frustrating all the same.
Director Gary Ross brings some interesting choices into play as both its writer and director. While the novel’s narrative is told from Katniss’ per- spective, the film’s narrative spreads out to events beyond what’s going on in the arena. We see conversations between Game Designer Seneca Crane and President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and reactions to what’s going on in the games within the districts. We hear Caesar Flickerman reveal infor- mation about the contestants and obstacles within the arena. Most of these scenes provide a foundation for future chapters and necessary expository information, but it does alter the scope of the story.
From a cinematographic view, Ross enhances Katniss’ situation with shaky, erratic camera movements and interesting sound design, filtering out sounds and blurring things during Katniss’s more stressful moments. It is a really effective approach to the story most of the time, although the camera work gets a little too frenetic during certain action sequences. I understand what Ross is trying to do with the shaky-cam work, and he does a better job with it than many other directors do, but it still ends up being too much in the end. It tends to be more effective during dramatic sequences.
As a die-hard fan, I was extremely satisfied with The Hunger Games as a movie. I think it’s a great example of a book adaptation where it helps to have the book under your belt for context and background information, but it is certainly not required. There are some changes and deviations from the original story that I don’t agree with, and I could do without so much shaky-cam work, but for the most part the movie does a good job of bring- ing an exciting story to a new medium. I appreciate Ross and Lionsgate for not forcing it into a Twilight mold, rather letting it be the story it was meant to be: that of a fascinating heroine who still has a long journey ahead of her.