Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Hunger Games: The Movie.

I haven't been very subtle about how I consider 2012 a really great year for movies, nor have I held anything back about how much I liked The Hunger Games, so it was only inevitable that I would write about the movies.
I'm gonna be discussing spoilers here, so if you care you can go read the books, then watch the movie, and then come back. Don't worry, I'll still be here.
First impressions were that they skipped a lot. Be ready for me to go on at length about the cuts they made.
I actually wound up recording a commentary track with my family, because we'd all read the book and we were running on at length about the changes they'd made. For a two hour, twenty minute movie it seems like it moved really fast. A little too fast. They hacked out all of the things that made the world come alive within the first twenty minutes of the movie. It starts off with some text that tells you sort of why The Games happen, but that's pretty much it. What I really hated about the first twenty minutes was the shaky-cam. It's not repeated throughout the rest of the movie, so it leads to a tone of inconsistency that's spread throughout the whole film.
Again, within the first twenty minutes there was a lot of world-building that got sliced. At the market, they cut out the Mayors daughter and just had a merchant giving Katniss the pin. That cuts out a whole character, and makes zero sense in the context of the world. Why would you just give away a solid-gold pin when you could probably get several meals out of it? And Gale is made out to be a jerk in a way that completely compromises his character. Although, there were a few scenes in the beginning that were close to the book. Unfortunately, they cut out Katniss's inner monologue and that removes most of the dialogue that fleshes the reality of the situation out. Some things can be explained through showing, not telling, but they didn't bother showing a lot of the things that got cut out. The fact that they cut out the mayor and his daughter means that the end of Catching Fire is going to have a lot less impact. The Harry Potter movies had this same problem, where they just started cutting things out irrespective of their relation to the plot. Considering this movie came out two whole years after Mockingjay hit the shelves that's just outright inexcusable.
A good example of a great adaptation is The Hobbit. They knew they couldn't fit it all into one movie, so they didn't bother to compress the plot any, and so far it's been much better for it. THIS IS FROM THE SAME COMPANY. Lionsgate made this movie, The Lord of the Rings, and The Hobbit. What is wrong with this picture? No seriously, I want to know what happened during the creation of this movie to make it come out so anemic? Were they trying to hook people on for Catching Fire and Mockingjay? If so, they didn't do a good job of it. If I'd paid money to see it I'd have been disappointed. It's not a bad movie by any means. It's got a strong soundtrack, great visual effects, and some decent acting in it. It's the direction and editing I have a problem with. The chariot scene was completely focused on Katniss and Peeta, and while that worked in the book, we're not seeing things from Katniss's perspective any more. They should have taken time to pan over every chariot and every contender in the Hunger Games. They had a great opportunity to show off some amazing costume design and the only time that we ever see any of the other contenders is a far-off shot where everyone looks like ants and a glace at the Careers after the scene was over, barely giving us a look at their Romanesque garb. Something else I need to mention is that the culture shock that Katniss and Peeta experience is reduced to one scene. I hear that they expanded upon that in the second movie, but that's a flimsy excuse. The culture shock was a major part of the plot, and by cutting it out they also cut out a fairly important character, and with her some crucial development for Katniss.
Not to mention that the film is padded up with pointless scenes that either ruin massive plot-points, or just waste time. How can a movie that's way too short be padded that much?
My dad said after we were done watching the movie that they could have easily just made a film about Katniss's life up until the reaping, and I'm heavily inclined to agree. They cut out so much in the beginning that they skimmed over why Katniss knew Peeta, relegating it to a pair of flashbacks that don't do much in the way of explaining what was going on, and also do a poor job of making them look like they're eleven. That's how old they were when Peeta gave Katniss, who was almost on the verge of starving to death several loaves of bread that he'd purposefully let fall into the fire so his mother would tell him to get rid of them.
Cutting out so much of Katniss's life means she comes off as kind of flat at times. It leaves us without knowledge of her motivations, and without context for a lot of actions. For instance, they didn't even mention that Katniss's mother went catatonic after her father's death, nor did they show that Peeta giving her the bread happened a while later. There's so much disconnect in the timeline that for all we know this could have taken place a week ago! Her mothers' mental breakdown is talked about once, in a throwaway line that makes no sense without knowing that her mother was catatonic for years on end when Katniss is talking to her mother and Prim before she and Peeta go off to Capitol. And they also cut out Peeta's father giving Katniss freshly baked cookies, and all of the scenes where she's questioning his motivations, although since this was all internal that's pretty much par for the course. There's a lot of things that could have been fixed by having Jennifer Lawrence do some kind of voice-over.
Speaking of removing context, Cinna had most of his screen-time cut, and what little he did get was left without Katniss thinking about what his motivations might be. He comes off as a nice enough guy, but not someone we should care about, which is inevitably going to lead to issues in the second movie. I've said this several times before, but removing Katniss's train of thought leads to her actions seeming a bit random at times. Again, Harry Potter had this same problem in the later movies. During the actual Games, they cut down the amount of time spent on survival and foraging, as well as quite a few of the action scenes as well, but to a lesser extent for the latter. Something I noticed throughout was that they all looked a little too well-fed for people who'd been starving for the better part of a week. It's not like a little bit of CGI and some makeup wouldn't have fixed that.
Now, the Reaping. It's taken me a while to get to it, but The Reaping is one of the most important scenes in the entire series, since it sets the whole story in motion. And they botched it. It didn't have the dense, surreal effect that the same scene in the book had. Some music and audio distortion could have fixed that. Or just straight-up audio distortion.
The time spent in the arena appears to have been cut down immensely as well. It would seem that less than a week had passed by the end of it all, when I'd have reckoned that it was at least two or three weeks in the book. A lot of that was character development between Katniss and Rue. That led to less sympathy for her character. Everything that showed us that she was a real person, with a life back at home and a loving family waiting for her was sliced out. And that made her death all the less sad. It was still a sad, shocking moment, but it wasn't as heart-shatteringly, tear-yankingly painful as it was in the book. They almost made up for it with Katniss's memorial to her, but them cutting out the hovercraft coming to pick up the body wasn't exactly called for.
Something I haven't mentioned is that throughout The Games, they spliced in segments of the people in the control-room doing stuff nobody cares about, and this breaks flow rather jarringly. And they do this over and over again! It serves to replace Katniss's narration, and it does so rather poorly. It either ruins the twists, or it just doesn't fit.
Other things that got added that just fill screen-time are scenes that show people watching The Games. Her mother and sister, Gale, people from the other districts, etc. Showing their reactions is something that ruins the uncertainty of Katniss's separation from them. Not to mention the fact that they added in a segment from Catching Fire and removed a (Again, rather important) scene in its place. While we're on that subject, they also show Gale watching as Katniss kisses Peeta. The thing that made the books so interesting was that we didn't know where they had cameras and microphones, who was watching when, or what their reactions were. Depending on each individuals interpretation, Gale could either be shaking in rage, completely nonplussed, or he could have guessed that it was an act designed to keep them both alive and well until the end of the games.
And when Katniss finds Peeta, they spend a lot of time in the cave. Unfortunately, (Say it with me) they cut out most of the development between them and also cut out the life-threatening nature of Peeta's leg-wound. It's appears to be a rather shallow cut. Some creative editing could have made it seem worse. They cut out the infection, they cut out Katniss telling him stories about her life, they cut out her having to put on some kind of romance with him to keep him alive, and they cut out her getting the sleep-syrup from Haymitch and using it to keep Peeta asleep while she went to get the medicine needed to keep his blood-poisoning from killing him.
Now, you remember how I said that they inter-cut scenes inside the control room and with the announcers? Well they gave Seneca Crane a huge ton of screen-time, and yet we never even learned his name. Not once. The didn't mention it in the entire film except for the credits. They also show the method by which he was executed, which just ruins that. What is real can never live up to what's imagined, and saying that they killed Crane by poisoning him with Nightlock berries is symbolic, certainly, but us knowing how he died takes away from the potential imagined horror of what happened to him. For all we know, they could have shot him, left him to rot in a prison cell far below the Capitol, or left him with no clothes and no food in the middle of nowhere so he could die of exposure.
Another thing, in the book it was customary for the Tributes to have a token from their respective districts, and they make it out like Cinna was breaking some kind of rule by letting Katniss have the Mockingjay pin.
Moving onto the interview. The interview scenes were massively cut down as well (Although by now that's not much of a surprise) and while they could have spent time with each of the Tributes, getting to know them, their motivations etc (Not the greatest approach), or they could have just spent a chunk of time on Peeta and Katniss's interviews, the way it went in the book. The interviews revealed far too much about the characters that weren't Peeta and Katniss, even though they were only a few seconds long. The interviews were part of the culture shock, and removing a massive chunk of them removed a lot of character development on the part of Katniss as well as Peeta.
Now, onto President Snow. Snow was barely mentioned in the first book, and they focus way too much on him in this. His presence takes screen-time away from The Hunger Games itself. Also, nothing against Donald Sutherland, but I was picturing Malcom Mcdowell as Snow throughout Catching Fire and Mockingjay.
Haymitch, Haymitch, Haymitch, Haymitch.... Woody Harrelson plays Haymitch, and for a character that had his screen-time cut at the beginning of the movie, they sure made up for it with pointless scenes between him and sponsors and him and Crane. More completely unnecessary things that took away from the action, character development, survival, and overall flow of the movie.
They also cut out a good deal at the very end. The post-game interview is a few seconds long, and they're not even sitting in the right kind of chair. And one very important thing. They cut out Peeta's amputation. Towards the end of the book, he was attacked by Mutt wolves and they had to put a tourniquet on his leg to keep him from bleeding out. While it was mentioned a grand total of two times in the next two books, I can't find a single reason why you would cut something like that out. It makes no sense. In addition, they cut out Katniss's partial deafness after she detonated the land-mines to destroy the Career's supplies, which is going to have an impact on the plot of the Catching Fire movie.
Speaking of which, cutting out her inner monologue ruined that scene entirely. How did they reactivate the mines? How'd they dig them up without killing themselves? These questions are answered in the book.
All in all, I'll bet you that in ten to twenty years they're gonna release a five hour extended edition for an outrageous amount of money. Or a prequel, detailing Katniss's life up until the Reaping.
Watching the credits, I found that Suzanne Collins was not only an Executive Producer, but also a contributor to the screenplay! Without being an insider on the production, there's no definitive way to know how much influence she had on the production of the film. I'd love to think that she had very little input because if she wrote the entire screenplay and micromanaged the film, that would mean that I'd have to put the quality of the books into question. Were they just flukes or am I misinterpreting their quality?
Personally, I say that if you want to experience the good bits of the movie, then just listen to the soundtrack while reading the books. That's actually something I did. I'll bet someone out there has a guide as to what track to play when. I've spent two and a half hours doing worse things than watching an anemic movie trying to be awesome and epic and shocking and sad and horrifying. Even after all of this, I'd still recommend watching it, because even though it's heavily abridged and shallower then the source material, it's still a good movie. Not as good as the book, but still pretty good. A more vindictive person might use this as an opportunity to say "I called it, it should have been a game" and shove it into everyone's faces and make an idiot about saying he was right. Not me. While I don't feel it transferred well to film, that was just mainly because of bad editing, rather than an inherent incompatibility with the medium of film. The same things that made this less enjoyable a film would have made a game based on this less enjoyable to play.
But then again, who am I to be talking about how this movie miss-stepped when it made back almost ten times its budget and it's been two years since it came out? A teenage boy with a blog, who's spent a lot of time yammering about how Hollywood ruined something he liked. Although I like to think I've got more credibility then that.
Check out my reviews of the books.