28 March, 2012

The Hunger Games

So I was in Denver for work when this was released, and the friend I went to see it with said, "Isn't it cool that we're in The Capitol going to see The Capitol?" It took me a minute, but then in made perfect sense... The Capitol is described as being through the Rockies, and in a setting similar to Denver; plus there were a few restaurants and whatnot called The Capitol, spelled that way... it was convincing! How appropriate!

Also, Seneca Crane and Ceasar Flickerman were in the audience of my screening.... they were die-hard fans with really authentic costumes. Seneca even shaved his beard appropriately. I salute that sort of effort.

So here I will give a quick overview of my thoughts on The Hunger Games, directed by Gary Ross based on Suzanne Collins's novel (but if you don't know that already, where have you been? Painted into a rock lying in a riverbed?), and then I'll provide a bit of analysis and discussion on elements of the adaptation, the adaptation process, and personal thoughts on what I loved, what I didn't love, and what was missed in the film.

The Hunger Games-- I was quite nervous about this adaptation. I spoke to some of the development team ages ago when it was just going into the script, and I was frustrated that I didn't get to work with them for long. However, I don't think I had to worry as I did... I was very sceptical, I was nervous, I didn't trust them, I didn't think they understood the span of their fandom and the power that they could wield over the financial returns of the film...

.... but I really shouldn't have worried so much because I think this was a well done adaptation, and a good film in its own right.  It's faithful enough to not upset the fans, it has necessary additional scenes to expand the narrative from the text to the screen without alienating the existing story and to provide enough information for those encountering the story for the first time, the elements of the book that were removed are regrettable (Madge, lamb stew), but I wouldn't have changed much in the film in order to get more of those elements, and at nearly two and a half hours, there wasn't a lot that could be added; the stuff that was there worked; the performances brilliant for the most part; costume, set, and makeup phenomenal, the camera worked as its own narrative tool, the CG while cheesy at times (the flames in the chariot springs to mind) was pretty effective overall (particularly with the tracker jackers and the fire), and I loved the music. I would have added a few things (time with Peeta mostly to develop that emotional relationship), however, but overall I was greatly pleased!

While I liked it at first, after my first viewing, I found myself wanting. I was at a bit of a loss, and slightly perturbed and unsatisfied by the film. However, I'm learning to accept that this is my go-to state after a first viewing. This is the viewing where I'm sitting with a note pad in my lap, marking moments that I have a thought I want to explore later, which may relate to my thesis, which may relate to a script I read last week or a book I'm considering optioning, which repeatedly takes me out of the narrative and into an analytical mindset instead of just watching and experiencing the film, and it's this viewing where the film is complementing or replacing the images in my head from the reading. This is why I wait for after multiple viewing to delve into analysis (I'm on 3; 4 will happen on Thursday when I'm back in Wales).

I left that first viewing feeling a bit angry that I didn't have more Katniss and Peeta affection time, and their relationship I still think is the one that could have used more attention.  I was also quite bothered that in the end of the games they weren't more torn up than they were.  In the book they're on the edge of death, and it was that tear-down to the will to survive, the bringing of the characters to base zero where their continued existence is in question, that really brings home the brutality of the Hunger Games for me. When they are lifted out of the arena in the novel, we don't even know if Peeta is going to live he's lost so much blood.  In this one they've got a few scratches, they're never bordering on dying of thirst or hunger, Katniss seems to still have a functioning ear, they're pretty much always pretty, and Peeta has both legs.

I don't mind detail changes, and encourage them when they don't fit into the film's narrative (like I missed the reference to the mutts' eyes, but it didn't need to be there; the focus of that scene was on running away and surviving; it's a regrettable loss, but not a pivotal one); changes must happen with a media shift like a book to film adaptation, but the emotional change for me was in seeing them brought to near death, The Capitol bringing them back within days and then parading them around for show. It shows the brutality of The Capitol-- their power to save, and yet their refusal to save; only to allow children to kill, and it bonded Katniss and Peeta in a way that no one else would understand; not even past victors because they could never share the experience. Like a war buddy and a lover in one, Katniss and Peeta are bonded by their near-death experiences in the arena, and I missed that in the film.

My favorite moments of Katniss and Peeta, where I think you can see the most natural chemistry and affection is 1) When she thinks that Peeta has died after eating nightlock, and she finds him, hits him, yells at him, swears at him, and then hugs him with relief. It was a genuine reaction of affection, and 2) Right before they're about to eat the nightlock at the end when Peeta touches her braid. It's so sweet and sincere; I really do think that's their most intimate moment because it's not a game, it's not due to any commentary on Haymitch, and seemed a natural movement for Peeta. I wanted it to be the kiss in the cave, but it wasn't for me.

So that's my major complaint of the film; not enough of the emotional development of Peeta and Katniss. Seeds are planted, yes, but Peeta is supposed to be head over heels, crazy mad in love with her, and I could never sense his sincerity; Katniss is possibly playing the game and is uncertain of her feelings, so that's understandable, but the chemistry was still there in the novels, even if the certainty on her side wasn't; the certainty and the chemistry was always on Peeta's side, so I'm sorry that didn't showcase in the film for me.

Additions: They gave more cut back scenes to Gale, keeping him ever in our minds, particularly as these cut backs were almost always in conjunction with a kiss between Peeta and Katniss, illustrating the love triangle.

They also gave more scenes to President Snow, which I think was a very smart move. Donald Sutherland on The Today Show yesterday said that Suzanne Collins (a credited executive producer and part of the screenwriting team) supported the additions so that they gave additional weight to President Snow's threats, thus also illustrating the author's blessing upon the changes from the source text.  We have pages and pages to read about Katniss's internalizations of Snow's treachery and 'rule them all' attitude in the book, but in the film we don't get that kind of access to Katniss's head. Therefore we need more moments with Snow threatening Seneca, ripping apart roses, commenting on containing and defeating the spark of rebellion, and purposefully manipulating people's emotions by giving them hope and then killing it. He was wretched...which is just what he's supposed to be, so well done for those extra scenes. It also cut Seneca a bit of slack, in my mind. He was just a cog in the machine, and not a horrible guy, but raised by a horrible system to commit horrible crimes. Overall he too succumbed to The Capitol and to President Snow's maliciousness.

There were also a few small additions that I appreciated, one in particular was Katniss switching the window in her Capitol room into a forest-- you immediately saw her alienation in this strange, weirdly decorated Capitol filled with gadgets and weird colors. The forest put her back on familiar ground and gave us one of the first glimpses of the human, shaken, and threatened Katniss.

I'm going to depart from my normal pros/cons for this one and discuss it thematically, and a little chronologically instead, as that's how my notes, my head, and my thoughts are rolling!


Opening music and titles- I would have chosen a different font (it was a bit too friendly; yes, a font can be friendly), but the information was concise, and projected the overlying serious tone of this film-- uprising = children fighting to the death.

Opening scene in the capitol and switching immediately to the grim District 12 gives immediate contrast to the divide between the Haves and the Have Nots; the rich and those that make them so.

Prim is a very good screamer; terrified and innocent and sincere all at the same time; we hear it again at the reaping-- it's a soul-crushing, heart wrenching scream; I too wanted to protect her.

Gale and Katniss:  I like their ease; in the books its so natural and comfortable; we also have the benefit of learning how long it took them to trust each other and the time put into the friendship to become a partnership; however it's clear that relationship is there in the film with the nicknames, the playing to Katniss's shooting strengths, the suggestion of running away together, and the sharing of the bread... all elements from the novel, but ones that illustrate the unity and partnership of Gale and Katniss. It isn't romantic, it's functional... but it's also affectionate. I always saw brother with Gale, not lover, but that's just me....

Katniss and her Mother: Wow. Way to put it to her that Katniss has been running this family, is strong, in control, the provider, protective (telling Prim what she wants to hear, singing her the lullaby, bringing in the food etc.), and the strong, directive tone to her mother "Don't tune out again... you can't." was really effective.

The Hob- smaller than I'd pictured it, and Greasy Sae was a bit more kind that imagined (I pictured her tough as nails, hard ass), but perhaps a little gentleness was needed in such a harsh atmosphere as District 12, and as we lost Madge, it was nice having the Mockingjay pin come out of a moment of kindness; a glimmer of the goodness still apparent in humanity.

The Reaping- the film at The Reaping was a good filmic device to provide information to those that were not previous fans of the books. It gives insight as to what happened in the past, and the Capitol's rationale in creating the Hunger Games. Gale's mouthing of the words and Effie's miming of them illustrates the repeated use of this film as part of the ceremony, thus giving information to the viewer, but also showing the Capitol's control and exercises of domination over the districts. This is also the first time we see Peeta...

Peeta:  We first see him as a scared, shorter-than expected guy, but with a baby face that fit my imaginings of him.  Peeta was a slow burn for me. I didn't like the casting decision early on as I only knew Josh from 'Little Manhattan' and 'Vampire's Assistant,' and I thought him too small... I'm still slightly miffed by a few elements of the script and performance as it felt like a lot of the time he fulfilled the 'Hermione Role' in that he fills in script information. "Katniss, Haymitch is our mentor, we should try to work with him..." he's there to provide information which can come across as 'convenient' at times. However, I'm fully crushing on Peeta. I don't mind admitting it. Josh worked his way into my psyche and has taken over the visual role of Peeta fully in my imagination now.

Color- The color throughout the film is brilliant. Very effective and telling. In District 12, everything is muted. Grays, blues, whites, faded clothes and nothing is outstanding. The red of the banners and the influx of the Capitol stands out against the faded dreariness of the district. Then when we see Effie Trinket for the first time... holy Capitol difference .... bright fuchsia and those gold lips against the stark gray and blue of 12-- it certainly separates Effie as a far, far, FAR cry from 12.

12: Grays, blues, whites, dreary, faded
Capitol: Bright, primary colors and high-intensity and high-saturation colors; also a lot of block colors. There are very few patterns.
Arena: earthy; browns, greens, hiking boots, army green trousers... it's strange that the most 'created' thing, the arena, is the most 'natural.'

Music (and sound below)- I noticed the specific use of the music first in The Reaping, and then again throughout-- first of all, the score is gorgeous. I love James Newton Howard ever since I first heard 'Flying' from 2003's Peter Pan. He weaves a story with sound so well, and I love that he's not afraid to mix medias-- strings, electronic, voices, percussion-- it all knits together very well to create a specific tone for the image it matches. In Hunger Games, I noticed the use of music as a narrative tool more frequently than I have in other films.  Often the sound stops, or the dialogue stops, and music takes over; music can project a feeling so strongly, and this score with its strong base tones (listen to 'The Cave' on the score soundtrack; there is a constant tone across the bottom register... it's almost a buzz it continues so thoroughly that you don't notice it after a few bars. This tone is apparent in a few of the songs, and ties the narrative together, whilst allowing the melodies, the tones and the beats to take on specific actions.

The Capitol anthem starts and we seize up for all that it embodies; the four-note tone of Rue's call appears and I get chills (you can even download the tone for free from iTunes or amazon-- message alert tone anyone? Yes.), or one of my favorites are the uses of percussion for Katniss's decision or for Snow's impact-- I'm thinking of the scene in the cave where Peeta gets worse and she decides to go to the feast for his medicine. She's serenely staring at him, worried and active, but quiet, and then the drums start (same track as above, it comes in at 2:24) and the first bow stroke and drum beat she is up and decisively moving. The music shift marks her decision and empowers her movements.

Similarly, when Seneca walks into the palace room after the games finish and that crystal bowl of Nightlock berries are there to greet him... then the drums/beats start (that bit doesn't seem to have made the cut to the soundtrack, but it's in the film right after we see the berries). It punctuates the scene and moves the story forward.

And this is just the score... then there's discussion on the lullaby (which has been stuck in my head since I saw it the first time, let alone after three viewings... it's stuck in there now for good!) and the soundtrack itself which I'm a fan of. A few songs feel superfluous (Kid Cudi), but overall the score and the soundtrack give a tonal feel to the film of folk, with acoustic, country, blues artists but also mixed in with new age/electronic/even punk feelings with mixed media instrumentation and edgy artists like Arcade Fire participating. Love, love, love the music. Sometimes I think a score can really make or break my experience with a film...

Sound- Along with the music, there's the overall sound profile of the film with interesting moments to notice.  The silence during The Reaping-- no music, no sounds, little dialogue, and the stunned silence after Katniss takes Prim's place, and District 12 gives the salute.  Again, there is no sound as Katniss and Peeta are taken to the train by Effie; she starts prattering on about washing up and the dialogue recedes, and the music swells, the emotion replacing the dialogue.  It is here that they board the train, and after seeing the disbelief of Katniss when Gale pulled out real bread, or the bath in a bucket, the worn clothes, and the twine as payment for fresh game, we then have the contrast to the sickening decadence of The Capitol. During viewing number three my mother leaned over to me in this scene and said "That's sick." And it was. It was a good shock, showing the inhumanity of The Capitol's 1%. I love that no words were needed; we had Katniss's and Peeta's faces, and the swelling, haunting, and descriptive music.

Similarly with Caesar Flickerman on stage when Katniss first comes out; she's shocked by the size and sound of the crowd, and we hear the muffled, foggy cheers that she hears, effectively putting the audience in her place. There was also silence after Katniss blew up the food and it was silent, then we all got our hearing 'back' only to hear the high pitched buzz, which may represent Katniss's destroyed ear, again putting the audience in Katniss's place. And another at Rue's death, similar to Sirius's death in Harry Potter: OOTP, Harry silently screamed as Lupin held him back; the music took the place of that emotion, and it did the same here with Rue. Katniss falls over her body and mourns her, but silently as the music swells. I also loved this moment how she had arranged the flowers around Rue, and then looked directly into the cameras, as an accusation-- "Look what you did!!" And then the brilliant salute to Rue, and the rebellion in District 11 as the music continues (about 3:00 to the end of that track) to take over; there's no dialogue in that entire section.

Camera- along with the sound, the camera greatly assisted in putting the audience member in the place of Katniss/the tributes.  There was a LOT of hand-held camera work. To the point that I got a bit dizzy at times, especially at the Cornucopia blood bath, and Katniss's fight with Clove. This put us in the games, added to the confusion of who was killed, where, and when, and often gave us Katniss's view as she ran through the woods, or even Rue's view as her vision turned to white in the woods and she passed away.

Supporting Cast: Ooo phenomenal. Particularly Elizabeth Banks who I think got some of the best lines of the film and illustrated really good comedic timing. Plus, she got the best outfits. And I will love Stanley Tucci in nearly anything he ever does. He was a perfect choice for Caesar Flickerman. The hair, the over the top smile, the supportive and encouraging interview style-- it read well on the page, and was performed well on screen. It gives him a role as an entertainment personality, but then you remember it's for a battle to the death of children; someone so kind and welcoming is still ultimately supporting a society of fascism. I even didn't mind Lenny Kravitz. He's not the best actor, and his delivery was a smidge wooden, but he fit the part, I love the retention of just his gold eyeliner as his Capitol garb, and his sincerity works, although I think that's mostly due to Jennifer Lawrence's performance.

I really enjoyed how little the trailer gave away. We had quick flashes to the characters of Cato, Rue, etc. but with none of the expansion of their role in the story. We got to get to know them organically and naturally through the film.  Rue in the nets on the ceiling of the training center, Thresh laughing with her, Cato stirring up trouble and being a bully from the very beginning, and Clove's deadly knives and deadly attitude. It was nice to have all of that revealed for the first time via the film, and not have all revealed in the trailer.

Jennifer Lawrence: How have I not mentioned her yet? She's brilliant. I think her performance was spot on; anger, confusion, frustration, quick-temper but also resourceful, loving, loyal and calculating. She added a gravitas to the film, and a sophistication to the role that is needed for the character. It's not a frivolous one; there are a lot of layers-- Katniss embodies SO much, even though she doesn't realize it, she does. She is freedom, defiance, rebellion etc. She doesn't embrace these desciptors nor does she consciously act on them-- everything she does is from her own motivations, not political ones. However she needs to be able to also become a symbol; we need to see what the other citizens of Panem see-- The Mockingjay, and the embodiment of the hope needed to overcome the regime.

Plus I want her boots, her hair, and her kick-ass nature...

The Love Story (stories): There was also very little of the love story (stories) explored in the trailer. We got to have that drama introduced during the film.

I have to say I wasn't over thrilled by the love story of Katniss and Peeta in the film as I said above. I've never been overly focused on the relationships; I'm not Team Peeta or Team Gale, I'm team Katniss. She rules, and why does a main focus of the story have to be her choice of man? However, I still have enough cheesy teenage girl in me that I loved the flutter of love, and crushed on Peeta throughout the three books.  For the film, however, I was initially somewhat disappointed by Peeta, I didn't believe his love for Katniss, there wasn't enough kissing, the sincerity of the attraction wasn't convincing, but I like the relationship so well from the book I can't help but still be crushing on Josh, purely because he embodies Peeta. It's a lot like the Twilight effect, as my friend Ashley pointed out. The script was rough, the performances a bit forced, but you want them to succeed so much because you too crushed on a sparkly vampire that you're willing to overlook the cheesy lines, the overly-delivered performances, and the crush perpetuates.

Hence why I can't stop looking at this:

Moments I loved:
"Thank you for your consideration"

"Loosen your corset, and have a drink."

"He made you look desirable, sweetheart..."

Katniss's anger at Peeta after the Caeser interview and her slamming him into the wall-- great performance, great emotion, and good apology later.

As Ashley said, "Holy tracker jacker jesus...." great scene

The cut to the Gamemakers right after Katniss and Peeta put the medicine on each other; it's a lovely moment, and they cut immediately to the Gamemakers who are in a trance; rapt attention whilst watching this moment with the rest of Panem. It's as if they've captured the Gamemakers, putting the power into Katniss and Peeta's hands.

The rebellion scene in District 11; I found it even more emotional than Rue's immediate death because you could see the effect of the games... and recognize the pain they all feel, but are generally unable to show due to The Capitol's wrath.

Things I missed:
The inner dialogue of Katniss. It wouldn't have worked on film; I acknowledge this, but it was hard to attribute just how calculating and bright Katniss is when you only have visuals to work with. They did a great job showing the extended hunting scene in the beginning; figuring out the wind was blowing her scent to the deer, her skill with a bow, her strength of character taking care of her family... that was a lot of exposition and character development accomplished visually, but I still did miss the inner dialogue and the discussion we had access to as readers.

Katniss screaming Peeta's name the second that they announce partners are allowed. I loved that moment in the book; her complete abandonment of safety, and an honest reaction that gives the reader (and would have given the viewer) a hint as to her potential affection for Peeta.

Right... surely that's enough for now... I'll keep mulling stuff over, I see a scene-analysis in my future, and I know I had some questions from my Hunger Games trailer analysis post that I'll get to answering as well, but this should be enough to be getting on with. I welcome any and all comments!

I'm lecturing at Arcadia University tomorrow, then flying back to Wales tomorrow night and will have a few days of relaxation in my cottage in the valley, with thesis-writing, script-reading, pony-patting, and Peeta-dreaming.

Happy Hunger Games!

The cast all sorts of healthy and happy... and clean, from their Vanity Fair photo shoot!

which looks suspiciously like the Twilight shoot from awhile ago...


Roxie said...

They shortchanged Rue and her relationship with Katniss. Movie!Rue is just a hairs breath away from being a "Magical Negro" who is only there to help Katniss heal & become a more sympathetic character.

IN THE BOOK, Rue & Katniss have a much more symbiotic relationship. They talk about each other's districts and this is mentioned how this simple act would be considered transgressive. We get to know more about Rue and the district she comes from and how it very much seems to mirror the slave south.

While I still felt the tenderness between the two while on screen, I wish they would've fleshed that out so that non-book readers could feel it too.
It was SO VERY IMPORTANT to so many to see Rue, Thresh, & Cinna existing that we want to give them every bit.

I just wish they'd made it 3hrs! or 15 minutes longer...

Roxie said...

I meant, "Help Katniss become a more sympathetic character".

Also, this isn't to say Rue's death was any less effecting. At the press screening I attended, everyone sniffled!
Also, I liked the revolt shown in response to Rue's death. Some felt it was stereotypical portrayal of a violent POC, but I felt it was righteous. It gave me chills.

Sebastian Schindzielorz said...

That was a really long reading but i enjoyed it very much,thanks.