Wednesday, January 4, 2012

'The Hunger Games' is literary masterpiece, but will it translate to the big screen?

(There are going to be book spoilers here. You are forewarned.)

I know I’m late to ‘The Hunger Games’ party – but let’s just say now that I’ve arrived I’m ready for the buffet.

I downloaded all three of Suzanne Collins’ much lauded books in ‘The Hunger Games’ trilogy about a year ago – mainly based on word-of-mouth of friends and family. This past New Year’s Eve, I had an hour to burn before bed and I finally tuned in to the first book.

I was immediately enthralled in the dark and dreary world of Katniss Everdeen and surprised at the visceral horror ‘The Hunger Games’ produced. I started the first book at 10 p.m. Saturday night and finished the third at 10:30 p.m. Monday night. I worked an eight-hour shift in there, too, but other than that I pretty much devoured the three books.

I’m actually surprised that these are termed “young adult” novels. They’re really quite adult in their scope and I’m not sure how many kids and teens would be aware of the political commentary they contain.

In ‘The Hunger Games,’ we’re introduced to a dark world where there are 12 districts – all mired in varying degrees of poverty – with people fighting starvation and hopelessness. While this is going on in the outlying districts, the people in the Capitol are enjoying feasts and parties every night – seemingly uncaring about the huddled masses outside of the Capitol walls.

Every year, the country hosts ‘The Hunger Games’ – where a teenage boy and girl tribute are chosen from each district to be taken to the Capitol where they all will fight to the death. The last remaining tribute then earns riches and food for their own family and district for the following year.

Our heroine, Katniss, gains immediate attention not because she’s chosen for ‘The Hunger Games’ but because she volunteers to take the place of her 12-year-old sister, Prim.

I’m not going to give everything away in ‘The Hunger Games’ – but let’s just say it’s fairly obvious that the heroine survives the first book – otherwise there would be no reason to have a second or a third book.

While the first book is brutal in the horror of the society, it’s the second book where politics come into play. This society is essentially a communist society where the government controls all the wealth and they see that a select few get to participate in it.

Katniss realizes early on in the second book that her actions at the end of the first book – rigging the game so both she and another contestant can both survive – will have consequences. Those consequences essentially force her into a second hunger games scenario. This time, though, there are a lot of people working to keep her safe because she has become a symbol of rebellion for the downtrodden districts which are starting to rise in revolt.

The third book actually encompasses the war itself – and, while I liked the all three books, I was a little underwhelmed at the last two chapters in the final book and the ending of the story.

Don’t get me wrong, I was happy with the love interest Katniss ended up with and I was glad that the veil was pulled off the new government leaders who were being put into office – essentially proving that just exchanging one blood thirsty government for another isn’t an improvement.

However, I thought Katniss’ bleak life would be somewhat alleviated in the end and I was wrong. Maybe it’s the child in me who wanted her to have a happy ending. I guess the only thing I could walk away from the books saying is that she didn’t have a tragic ending.
Katniss is everything in a heroine that 'Twilight's' Bella Swan is not. She's strong. She's self-sufficient. She doesn't get her own self worth through what her love interests see in her. For example, you would never see Katniss throwing herself off a cliff because Peeta broke up with her after two weeks. Katniss is a heroine that young girls should want to emulate -- and I guess that's truly why I wanted her to have some blissed out ending. When I think about it, though, that wouldn't have been true to the story or the world that Katniss lived in.

It’s no surprise, given the popularity of the books, that they would eventually be turned into movies. ‘The Hunger Games’ comes to theaters on March 23.

When I was looking over the cast I was torn. These books created such a dynamic picture in my head that some of the casting kind of baffles me.

On the good side you have Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss, Elizabeth Banks as Effie, Woody Harrelson as Haymitch and Donald Sutherland as the abhorrent President Snow. Lawrence will have to carry the movie as the central heroine – but she’s more than proven in the past that she’s up to the task.

On the flip side, though, you have Josh Hutcherson as Peeta and Liam Hemsworth as Gale – the two men who will vie for Katniss’ affection throughout the three stories. While they are not as important as Katniss to the overall story, they are important to her growth as a character and the uncertainness that always surrounds her.

I don’t know anything about Hutcherson. The only thing I remember seeing him in was ‘Journey to the Center of the Earth’ a few years back – and that movie was an unmitigated disaster. He wasn’t the weakest link in that movie, though, so I guess I’ll refrain from totally dismissing him as a choice until I see his performance.

On the flip side, though, Hemsworth as Gale is the worst spot of casting in the entire movie.  If the producers were set on a Hemsworth, they should have went with the vastly more talented Chris Hemsworth (Liam’s older brother).

The appeal of ‘The Hunger Games’ was that both love interests were viable choices throughout the entire run of the series. I think one of my problems with the final book is how one of the men is kind of thrown under the bus (figuratively, not literally) to prop the other in the waning minutes. I think it was an easy out so Katniss really never had to make a choice.

I honestly don’t believe Hemsworth has the acting chops to pull off the complexities of the Gale character – especially if the second and third books get made into movies (which I’m sure they will).

Hemsworth’s bad casting aside, however, I really can’t wait until the end of March so I can see if the dark and dreary world Collins created translates to the big screen as well as I think it will.


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