Some of the Hunger Is Missing from "The Hunger Games"

Screenshot from The Hunger GamesWarning: Here be spoilers of book and film. Turn back lest ye be spoiled. Seriously. I mean it.

I saw the Hunger Games. I didn’t see it twice in the same weekend like I did with Star Trek, because, alas, I’m not quite the nerd I used to be. However, I did take a road trip, with my mother in tow, to view this now-verified hit with my equally obsessed out-of-state family. The Hunger Games grossed $155 million at the box office this weekend, by the way. NPR commentators said those are the largest opening-weekend earnings ever for a  movie that wasn’t a sequel. People stood in line for hours outside the theater to catch the midnight showings on Thursday. My family waited until  Sunday, although everyone insisted that we get there almost an hour before the movie started. The majority of them have read all three books and followed the film’s production closely. With my control group in place we waited with bated breath.

So how was it? A bit of a mixed bag, to be honest. Some of our concerns were nitpicks: “Why wasn’t the cornucopia golden?” and “Peeta is so short! We want a new Peeta!” The filmmakers resisted the urge to put lifts in Josh Hutcherson’s shoes and I’m glad they did. Peeta is not supposed to stand out physically, especially not against Gale, who received hearty approval from the aunts and cousins. Other issues we had were more important—the Mockingjay pin, for instance. In the book, this important symbol is given to Katniss by a friend and readers later learn that the original owner was a competitor in an earlier Hunger Games. In the film Katniss picks it up a market. For free. (It was tossed in with her twine purchase.) To be fair, films have limited running times and certain characters have to be cut out and some backstories left in the background. But that pin and its origin were important to show how the games affected everyone, even crossing the fragile class divides in the outer districts.

In fact, a few of the small but notable physical symbols were removed entirely to make room for more dramatic visual storylines, including the plot upgrade of Seneca Crane, the head game-maker. This is where it becomes clear that film is simply a different animal from the book. Seneca Crane is a minor character in the series, confined to book 1 and mentioned briefly in book 2 as a victim of the President Snow’s post–Hunger Games rage. In the film he’s like an orchestra conductor, standing in a sterile television control room, adding surprises for the tributes, worrying about ratings, and crafting stories from the chaos and wreckage of tributes killing one another. He confers with President Snow, discusses storylines with Haymitch, and even grants interviews to Cesar Flickerman. Crane becomes the symbol of the games, and the failing of the Snow’s carefully constructed hope-tinged and terror-soaked rule. This was a smart move: by playing up the reality TV aspects, the film reached even further into our current climate of entertainment.

The casting was solid with a few scene-stealers: Fox Face was a favorite with my family and everyone shed tears for Rue. Jennifer Lawrence made Katniss as strong and admirable as the character in the novel while still providing a vulnerability that occasionally Collin’s Katniss lacked. (The general consensus was Fox Face would have probably won if she hadn’t eaten the berries.) The sets and costumes were dead-on, both in the fabulously over-the-top Capitol and the muted, poverty-stricken District Twelve with its echoes of the Great Depression.

Everything in the film was accounted for except for one thing: the visceral, human pain that came through so clearly in Collins’ novel never really shows up in the film. Sure there were flesh wounds, and tons of effective and tastefully filmed “kills” during the Games. But the dehydration, the sense of impending death inside and outside of the arena, and yes, the constant overwhelming hunger, both as a tool of subjugation and a fixture of poverty, never quite surfaced. We never see Katniss and Peeta shoving the rich Capitol food in their mouths once they learn to appreciate it. The real depth of Katniss and Peeta’s bond never quite gets to the nuisances we find in the novel, because we don’t get the sense that Katniss was about to die when Peeta tossed her the burnt bread she needed all those years ago to go on, to help kindle in her the survivor’s spirit which in turn gets them both through the games. This is the one thing keep me and my little group from total satisfaction with this well-crafted, and respectfully handled film.

After a show of hands we decided that overall it was a good film. We enjoyed it, and would recommend it to others, but as diehard fans we’d have to wait and see what the next three movies bring to table as far as character and relationship development are concerned. I guess we walked from the film hungry for a little more.

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