A Camera-Eye View of the Hunger Games

If you’ve been paying attention to entertainment news at all (and maybe if you haven’t), then you know that the Hunger Games movie came out this past weekend.  Having read the trilogy, I was eager to see it!

If you’d like, you can read my reviews of the three books, Hunger Games, Catching Fire and Mockingjay.  The short version is that I LOVED The Hunger Games, enjoyed Catching Fire but had some issues, and was ultimately disappointed by Mockingjay.  Fortunately, I was not disappointed by the movie!

If you’ve really not been paying attention to entertainment news, here’s the quick plot: in a future dystopian society, one wealthy Capital rules over twelve impoverished districts.  As punishment for a past rebellion, the districts must each offer up two tributes, male and female, between the ages of 12 and 18, every year for the Hunger Games.  The tributes fight to the death in an elaborate arena: 23 will die, one will survive and receive riches.  It’s all filmed; in the Capital it’s an exciting sporting event, and in the districts watching is part of the punishment.

The heroine, sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, has been taking care of her little sister, Prim, ever since their father died and their mother had a breakdown.  When Prim’s name is drawn to be sent to the Hunger Games, Katniss desperately volunteers.  She’s whisked away to the terrifyingly flamboyant capital, and then thrust into the terrifyingly brutal arena, where everything is further complicated by uncertain feelings about Peeta, the boy sent from her district.

I felt in my book review and I feel again that it’s hard to give a good plot summary of this story!  It’s too complicated with too many layers.

The first question everyone has about this movie is how intense it is.  I was a little hesitant at first about seeing it (but then the trailers drew me in).  I thought some moments were more intense in the book–others were harder in the movie.  The gore was not too bad–it’s there, definitely, but I have a low threshold for gore and I wasn’t too disturbed.  The worst is probably when Katniss burns her leg.  People die swiftly, and the filmmakers weren’t too graphic about the battles.  I’m trying to avoid spoilers, but I will say they seriously toned-down the last tribute’s death, which I found to be far and away the most disturbing part of the book; it’s accurate to the book, but the creepiest parts are taken out.  It was still a very heavy, very intense movie, though.  If you read the book and were okay, I think you’ll be okay with the movie.  But if you’re doubtful, don’t say I didn’t warn you!

The first question for me on adaptations is how faithful they were to the original, and I thought The Hunger Games did very well.  Minor changes here and there to fit into the movie format, and they did change how Katniss got her mockingjay pin, but that was really the biggest change I noticed (and I understand why they did that, as it involved a very minor character).

The characters were excellent, especially Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence).  She was wonderful in the first book, and it all carried onto the screen.  She has some issues (well-justified mistrust, for one), but if I had a teenage daughter I’d rather she read about Katniss Everdeen than Bella Swan (actually, I’d want her to read about Alanna, but that’s another review).  Suffice to say Katniss is tough and courageous without being unfeeling or without sentiment.  Her kindness to Rue, another tribute who’s only twelve, is one of my favorite things about the story.  Katniss’ relationships with Prim and her best friend Gale were beautifully handled.  Like in the book, they’re out of it very quickly, but it was still very well-established in those few scenes.  Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) was good too–he just radiated sincerity and good intentions, in the middle of horrible situations.  Apart from Rue, who was lovely, the other tributes didn’t get the same development they did in the book, but in a compressed movie I can’t really fault the filmmakers for that.  And there was enough.  It worked.

With the possible exception of Katniss, my favorite on-screen portrayal was Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman, the announcer for the Hunger Games.  He was incredible, hitting just the right note of delight but not sadism.  It’s hard to explain, except that he talks about kids killing each other in the same voice every sports announcer uses, makes some of the same kinds of comments and it was brilliant.  I thought in the book it was a little more clear that he had some kind of sympathy for the tributes, at least to the extent of trying to make them all look their best when he interviews them.  That wasn’t so clear, but it was still absolutely wonderful.  Awful, of course, but wonderfully done.

The only portrayal I was disappointed by was Haymitch, Katniss and Peeta’s mentor.  In the book I pictured him as a scraggly, overweight alcoholic with deep-seated problems; in the movie he was a reasonably-together man, somewhat cynical and liking to drink.  Not really the same thing, although they may have felt they needed to change him to make some of the narrative clearer.

There were points when I thought this would have benefited from a voiceover from Katniss.  Her relationship with Peeta is very complicated in the book and I don’t think it all showed.  On the other hand, I thought they completely conveyed her relationship with Rue, even though it was brief.

After all this about what was good, I do have to mention my one big problem–and it was one I can’t remember having with any other movie.  I didn’t like the cinematography.  I think that’s the right term–the camera angles, and the way the camera moved.  Particularly at the beginning of the movie, the camera wouldn’t focus on anything for more than a second before it swooped off.  And it didn’t blink to something else, it actually moved, and it moved too fast.  So suddenly everything goes blurry as it moves and my eyes are struggling to make sense of everything.

People keep telling me that this was a deliberate choice to express Katniss’ confusion, the chaos of the arena, and to avoid being too graphic with the battles.  I’ll buy all of that, except that they were doing this in the first ten minutes of the movie, long before she got to the arena; they actually stopped doing it as much (or I got used to it) once she was in the actual games.  It did seem like a good choice during one battle in the arena, but in most moments it didn’t.  I want to see this movie again on DVD, because I think this might actually be a case where a movie looks better on a smaller screen.

That was my one big problem, and it was an annoying one…although it did seem to ease off farther into the movie, and I still really loved the movie overall.  I am having an astonishing string of good movies made from books I love, which normally is so unusual.  But I’d put The Hunger Games in with John Carter and Arrietty–all excellent movies from excellent books.  The books are still better in all three cases…but these were very good movies too.

Movie Site: http://www.thehungergamesmovie.com
Author’s Site: http://www.thehungergames.co.uk

Other reviews:
Book Journey
Tor.com (in comics, with spoilers)
MeReader (also with spoilers)
AbeBooks.com
The Whole Sort of General Mish Mash
The Bookworm Chronicles
Books Without Any Pictures
And I’m sure a Google search will find you HUNDREDS more…  If you want, tell me about yours!

About cherylmahoney

I'm a book review blogger and Fantasy writer. I have published two novels, The Wanderers; and The Storyteller and Her Sisters. Both can be found on Amazon as an ebook or paperback. In my day job, I lead the marketing team for UniversalGiving™. Find me on Twitter (@MarvelousTales) and GoodReads (MarvelousTales).
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14 Responses to A Camera-Eye View of the Hunger Games

  1. gfilicetti says:

    I totally agree with you about the movie. I don’t think they really portrayed all that Katniss is feeling about Peeta. In the movie it just seems that she randomly started liking him and there were no conflicting feelings.
    I also noticed the camera problems. Towards the end when there are only 3 tributes left (i’m trying not to give out spoilers) I wish they would have shown a birds eye view or one from the side instead of constantly moving around and making the scene hard to see expecially since it was already so dark.

    • Exactly–there were complexities to Katniss’ feelings towards Peeta (do I like him? does he like me? how much is real? how much is acting?) that just weren’t clear in the movie. But it’s so hard to do without hearing the character’s thoughts!

      That scene with three tributes left…hmm, not sure how much I want to see that clearly! But on the whole, my eyes would have appreciated far less movement and blurriness.

  2. I just finished reading The Hunger Games trilogy last month, and was so excited about seeing the film which I did on Monday. I felt exactly the same as you about the books, loved the first book, enjoyed the second book, but was pretty let down by the final book although I did still like it.

    Also like you have some issues about seeing the film, had an awful feeling it would end up another poor teen adapted film but I am happy to say I actually really enjoyed this film. Can’t say I really noticed the camera angles and use as being good or bad maybe something to look out for in a second viewing.

    Here is my review: http://thebookwormchronicles.wordpress.com/2012/03/28/the-hunger-games-2012/

  3. Mary Jo says:

    Thanks for the pingback! You’ve written a good, thorough review here! I just put Song of the Lioness on my to-read list. I don’t know how that one eluded me in my preteen years, though.

  4. dianem57 says:

    The cinematography problem sounds unique. I don’t usually notice such things in a movie, either, so it must’ve been BAD for you to notice it so much. Guess this makes you appreciate what the cameramen do when they do a good job of filming the scenes. Glad to hear the camera angles and film shots didn’t detract that much from the substance of the movie for you.

    • Grace says:

      My friends and I saw it this weekend and all had splitting headaches afterward. The cinematography was just bad with the shakey camera.

      • I’m not surprised by the headaches! One of my friends actually left partway through because she was feeling sick. She blames the nachos, but I suspect the camera.

        • Grace says:

          We were sitting relatively close to the front of the theater, too, which probably made things worse. I think the movie itself had a lot of potential, but the camera pretty much ruined it for me. I understand why they did it; it did allow them to show a lot of gorey scenes without actually focusing on the gore. At the same time, it was just too much.

    • That’s true–good camera angles are something I rarely appreciate as much as I probably should!

  5. I, too, thought it was a good movie and faithful to the book, though I still like the book better. (And I have you to thank for having actually read the series.)

    Hmmm… I liked Haymitch’s portrayal, and he was pretty much what I pictured, but I think he was a little too good-looking. And maybe he could have been a little more drunk in the beginning. Ha… What I really enjoyed was seeing him politicking behind the scenes to garner sponsors and seeing him change from “Oh God I have to watch these kids die” to “Hey, maybe I can get them through this.” It was interesting that they showed the “two tributes from one district” idea as originally belonging to Haymitch. It was a cool bit of insight, and I hadn’t ever considered it might have been at his urging, but I can totally see him advocating for it.

    Another cool addition was the game room. It wasn’t something that could have been seen in the book because of the first person narrative, but it was real neat to see.

    And I agree with the camera… very annoying. Not a good idea to bug me with that during the first ten minutes of the film. Sets a bad tone that’s hard to get over.

    • Hooray, I’m glad I inspired you to read the trilogy. And even more glad that you liked it! Haymitch was drunk enough at the beginning :) just not quite falling-apart-enough for me. The scenes with him behind the scenes were pretty cool though, and I did love seeing the Gamemakers at work. It made it even clearer how they were manipulating everything.

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