Friday, March 30, 2012

What I missed from the Hunger Games movie

On Wednesday, I went with some friends to the theater to see The Hunger Games. We skipped opening weekend to avoid the crowds, but it was still impressively crowded for a Wednesday night. I thought they did a great job with the movie--my boyfriend, who hadn't read the book, loved it as well and thought it all made sense--but I couldn't help but miss a lot of things from the book that got left out. I understand the necessity of cutting things down for a movie adaptation. Nothing that was in the movie stood out to me as unnecessary, and the movie is already 142 minutes long. I doubt it could have gotten away with a Lord-of-the-Rings runtime. But would it have hurt to flesh out just a few of these things?

Over on io9 they have a good post on Everything The Hunger Games Movie Left Out. They don't exactly get everything, and many of the things they mention I'm OK with being left out. Here I'll share the things that I really missed--the things I wanted to tell my boyfriend all about until he shut me up by saying he might still read the book. So, if like him you've only seen the movie but are considering reading the book, these might be considered slight SPOILERS. Really, if you liked the movie and haven't read the book, I highly recommend it. There's a lot you haven't seen that's worth seeing.

If you haven't read the books OR seen the movie, then these DEFINITELY contain SPOILERS.

Capitol living
In spite of the audience being treated to secret conversations between President Snow and head gamemaker Seneca Crane, I feel we get much less of a sense of what life is like for residents of the Capitol. Elizabeth Banks is great as Effie, but we could have used more of her. They could have added a couple lines here and there explaining how she feels about being the escort for District 12, rather than some nicer district that produces more victors. Not only would it have cleared up exactly what her role is for the District 12 tributes (not obvious in the movie), but it would have further highlighted how silly and self-centered most residents of the Capitol are. Giving Octavia, Flavius, and Venia just one short session with Katniss where they got to blab about their frivolous parties would have helped, too. Those characters get a little more to do in the next two books, so I wonder whether the movies are going to continue to leave them out entirely. If so, I'll definitely miss them.

Life in District 11 and Rue bonding time
They had to budget their runtime, but I still was disappointed by how brief the Rue alliance was in the movie. There was no time for them to discuss what life was like at home--how Rue worked in the orchards and could climb to the highest branches, and even though they grow the food they are just as starving as the residents of District 12. Panem keeps the districts completely isolated from each other, since it helps them maintain control, so this is really Katniss's first look into life in another district. It enriches her relationship with Rue, making it all the more poignant when Rue is killed, Katniss sings (because we know how Rue loves music), and she gets the bread. Yes, I missed the bread on a parachute, but I think they were right to cut it out. It would have required a random scene of Peeta explaining district bread types, and Katniss was still able to salute the people of District 11 without it.

Warming up to Cinna
Spending more time with Cinna, and the preparations before the games in general, would have slowed the movie down, but I still wished there were a little more with Cinna. Saying "I'm sorry" was enough to make Katniss like him? Really? I missed the scene where he acknowledges that Katniss must find them (in the Capitol) disgusting for having more food than they could ever need, while the outlying districts struggle to avoid starvation. It's through a series of similar interactions that he finally wins Katniss's appreciation. It was also his idea for Peeta and Katniss to hold hands in the chariot, which really paved the way to their success leading up to the Games.

It's complicated with Peeta
The Katniss-Peeta relationship is really important to this story. Not being able to read Katniss's thoughts made it much harder to explain, but it was also cut down a lot by time constraints of the movie. Haymitch made it very clear to Katniss that her best chance for sponsors was to play the Peeta romance angle. After a little peck in the cave, she is rewarded with hot broth (this happens in the movie). When she really opens up to Peeta, they get a feast (this is skipped). This progression is largely lost in the movie. The few days Katniss spends with Peeta hiding out in the cave are when the line starts to blur between what she's doing for the sponsors, for her district (if she lets Peeta die, they'll never forgive her), and for what might actually be genuine love for Peeta.

I was really bothered by the movie flashback scene in which Peeta throws the bread, because they seemed to change it, or at the very least left out a significant bit. In the movie, Peeta and Katniss don't look any younger (maybe just a problem with the medium), and he kind of callously tosses a burnt roll into a puddle for her. She's drenched, but it's not clear if she's starving or just sad. I wonder how someone who hasn't read the book interpreted this. In the book, they were only 11 at the time. It's after her father died, and she's absolutely starving. If she doesn't get something for her and her family to eat, they may die--today. She's rooting through the trash, and Peeta's mother tells her to get lost. Peeta purposely burns a couple loaves of bread, even though he knows it will mean a slap from his mother, so that he can go out to throw the bread "to the pigs". He really throws them to Katniss, who has collapsed from hunger and exhaustion. It's this renewed hope that Peeta brought that allows Katniss to turn her life around, start hunting in the woods and providing for her family. He didn't just feed her--he saved her life. How much of this came across in the movie?

Their decision not to have Peeta lose part of his leg certainly simplified things, but it also removed the urgency and drama from the end of the arena portion of the story. They need to get out of the arena FAST or Peeta will bleed out, leading to her rash decision with the berries. When they get lifted into the hovercraft (which I think are unseen in the arena in the movie), and they're separated as medics tend to Peeta, Katniss goes crazy. It's heart-wrenching and suspenseful, and I missed it. Lastly, they decided to leave out the bit where Haymitch tells Katniss that her feigned relationship with Peeta can't stop when they get back to District 12. This is a big plot point that is important for the second book. I guess they'll have to mention it at the beginning of the second movie, but I don't know why they didn't just stick in a line from Haymitch at the end of this one.

A couple other things
Did they ever explain what a mockingjay was? I don't know when they would have, but since it becomes such an important symbol, they'll have to explain it some time.

io9 makes a good point about the movie downplaying the hunger in the Hunger Games. You see how excited Katniss is when Gale pulls out a roll of bread, then you see all the pastries laid out on the train, but that's really all you have to go on to understand just how different the food situation is between the Capitol and the poorer districts. It's really important, and they could have done more here.

Those were the main things I felt I missed. All that said, there was one thing the movie included that was not in the book that I absolutely loved: The quick, wordless scene at the end with Seneca Crane. In the second book, we find out after the fact that Crane was executed (not clear how) due to his failure with the Games. In the movie, we see him escorted to then locked in a beautiful room with a beautiful bowl of beautiful purple berries. So. Perfect.

They got a lot right in the movie. I really enjoyed it, and they did as well as I had hoped. Their depiction of District 12 and the Capitol and the arena were great, and they got the essentials of the story across. But I'm still glad I read the book.

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