This Just in From PanEm

On Monday, I went to see The Hunger Games with the kids. If you’ve read (and liked) the books, you should go see it; I can’t think of a better movie as a companion to a book. Oh, and if you haven’t read the books, you should…sure, it says “young adult” on the cover and it’s kind of cheesy in parts, but it’s a decent read, with some very well-defined characters.

I don’t think there’s any spoilers below but read at your own risk.

This man is the debbil...the DEBBIL!!!

Note that I said “companion” to the book. I think you can get enough of an idea of the story just from the movie. But to really appreciate what they did in the movie, you have to read the books first. I’m not talking about little Easter egg shout-outs or stuff you’d only understand from the books (though there is a little bit of that). I mean, you are able to understand exactly what’s going on in Katniss’ head (the main character) because A) you remember that part of the book, a book that happens in her head, from her point of view; and B) you can see it written all over Jennifer Lawrence’s face (glance…frown…resolve…glance back…you know what decision she’s just made).

The same goes for most of the actors in this movie. Everyone does a great job conveying their character’s thoughts just using their faces, or their body language. The standouts: Jennifer Lawrence, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland (that man conveys the pure menace and evil of a deadly cobra simply by glancing with hooded eyes), Liam Hemsworth. Honorable mention: Woody Harrelson, Josh Hutcherson, Elizabeth Banks, knife-girl. If there’s an Oscar for casting, this movie should get it.

This movie could serve as a textbook example of Book-to-Movie Adaptation 101: where the book spends paragraphs describing, say, the contrast of haves & have-nots in the Capitol and District 12, the movie does the sane with cleverly intercut picture-only scenes…no lengthy voiceovers exist. Some things explained in the book (the three-fingered kiss to the dead) are left as simple, powerful images; no character bothers to explain what, in that future culture, is an accepted practice (imagine someone in a movie set in today’s world expending useless dialogue to explain air-quotes or a thumbs-up).

Probably the best part of the adaptation are the scenes added into the movie. These are not done simply to give a prominent actor some more screen time; they are only added in to fill out what happened outside of Katniss’ perspective in the book. She may have been told later what happened, or see the effect, but where it works, they’ve put it in (see: every scene with Donald Sutherland, especially his final “message” to the hapless Gamesmaster…OK, technically, his President Snow wasn’t actually in the scene, but you could feel his evil presence).

Yes, kids die in this movie…the whole point is that the Capitol culture is degenerate and greedy, to the extreme. But the deaths manage to occur just off-camera…and still manage to affect the viewer. In today’s TV culture, seeing violent death is no big thing (but God forbid someone see a nipple!!!) so it was good to see the director walk the fine line between PG-13 and R without losing the necessary punch of kids killing kids (or the psychotic ‘professional’ tributes, either).

So, in short, read (or re-read, if its been a while) the books…and go see this movie. If you don’t, you’ll be kicking yourself when the Oscars roll around and this “young adult” movie picks up a few golden statuettes.

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