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abookaweek 2012: week twelve

2012 March 25

The Hunger Games trilogy (1, 2, 3), by Suzanne Collins

Category: Dystopian / speculative fiction

Story: The Hunger Games trilogy takes place in an unidentified future time period after the destruction of the current nations of North America, in a nation known as “Panem.” Panem consists of a rich Capitol, located in what used to be Rocky Mountains, and twelve surrounding, poorer districts which cater to the Capitol’s needs. As punishment for a previous rebellion against the Capitol wherein twelve of the districts were defeated and the thirteenth destroyed, every year one boy and one girl from each of the remaining twelve districts, between the ages of twelve and eighteen, are selected by lottery and forced to participate in the “Hunger Games.” The Games are a televised event where the participants, called “tributes,” must fight to the death in a dangerous outdoor arena until only one remains. (N.B.: I ripped this from Wikipedia because I have too many thoughts clouding up my brain to write a good synopsis.)

Opinion: I’ve posted half-assed/haiku reviews of these books before, so I won’t review them again except to say that I feel exactly the same about this trilogy as I did the first time I read it. The first book is amazing, and though the writing itself isn’t groundbreaking the story and characters more than make up for that — it draws me in every time. The second book is still great, but because the setting is a bit more familiar by then it doesn’t have quite the emotional impact that the first one does. The third is a bit of a let-down but was still hard to put down.

Instead of writing about the rollercoaster of emotions I went through while re-reading this, I’ll tell you why I re-read it in the first place; I went to see the premiere of the movie this week with my FYA book clubbers. To tell you the truth I felt embarrassed about how excited I was to see this movie, but that’s one for my future shrink to figure out.

I’m conflicted about the movie; I love it, but it also has some major flaws, which I’ll get to. On the positive side the story stays fairly true to the book, so it is a good adaptation. The casting is great, apart from Woody Harrelson who could have been so fantastic but whose acting is impaired by the ridiculous wig on his head. Jennifer Lawrence fits my image of Katniss, even if she is a bit too curvy for someone who has to eat squirrels in order not to starve. The highlight, though, is Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman, the interviewer and presenter of the televised games:

Elizabeth Banks also steals the show as Effie Trinket, who is plain delightful. I can’t wait to see these two in the sequels.

The sets and stages are amazing, with the lavish Capitol as an obvious stand-out. It doesn’t all match the images I dreamed up while reading the books, but it is very well designed.

The biggest problem the movie has is that the story is too big to fit into a 140-minute film. Because of that, we don’t get to see enough of District 12’s poverty, Katniss’s friendship with Gale, the lavish lifestyle of the Capitol, and the will-they-won’t-they tension between Katniss and Peeta. But most importantly it really reduces the violent battle that takes place in the arena. The games themselves are my favorite part in the book, and I really don’t think the movie does it any justice. The opening scene at the cornucopia is over in the blink of an eye, made worse by the shaky camera and MTV-style fragmented cuts. The final scene at the cornucopia, with Cato and the mutts, again takes less than 5 minutes, where in the book they can hear Cato fighting the mutts all night.

But most disappointingly, Katniss and Peeta’s time spent in the cave is made extremely insignificant. While the book describes days of physical and emotional agony and insecurity, in the film the couple aren’t given enough time to light that spark, and are instead sent on their way with some kind of miracle medicine.

If you love the books this is worth seeing, but be prepared to fill in the gaps, and to miss out on a lot of arena action.

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