Or, “How I Procrastinate on Studying for My Exit Exams”
I try to remain open-minded when a book or story I like makes it to Hollywood. I’m much less likely than my friends to rip on the movie for not being wholly accurate or for a few instances of silly acting.
That being said, I actually enjoyed the Hunger Games when I saw it last weekend. Jennifer Lawrence and Elizabeth Banks were spot on, and I love how they showed a little bit of the game control room. I thought that making Seneca Crane a bigger player was great for his character. And thank god, they did Rue right! Some of my friends were much harder on it for the changes that were made — changing the significance of the Mockingjay pin, cutting out small events that really affect character development — but while I can agree that I wasn’t happy with those things, either, they weren’t complete deal breakers for me.
BUT. There was a deal breaker.
I’ve been a writer for more than a decade now. (I’ve known I wanted to publish since eighth grade.) More importantly, I’ve been a reader since before I can remember. So while I may not be able to do basic math problems or explain the political causes of high gas prices during an election year, I do know something about how to tell a story.
A GOOD story.
Now, the Hunger Games movie does achieve some good story-telling. Most of the scenes in the arena were done really well — I’ll give it a check mark for “good action story.”
Good suspense story.
Good coming-of-age story.
Hell, good socio-political commentary.
NOT a good love story. And I mean love on any level. In the book, we know that Katniss loves her sister, but can’t bring herself to forgive her mom or to love anyone else. Now, let’s forget, for the moment, about the whole bread scene — which lacked all the context that made it important!!! — and focus on the cave scene. It’s clear that Katniss likes Peeta, but until this scene she refuses to let herself get close to him. And even then, she won’t admit her feelings to herself. In the book, we can clearly see the difference between
1) Katniss making the audience believe she’s in love with Peeta,
2) Katniss actually beginning to fall in love with Peeta, and
3) Katniss making herself believe she is not in love with Peeta.
This triad makes the cave scene one of the most important moments of character development in the whole novel. And yet somehow in the movie the whole scene just looks like a big jumble of “OMG Peeta suddenly I LURV you!” with 1 and 2 smashed together and none of the subtlety of 3.
In fact it’s SO bad that we don’t even get the gut punch at the end of the movie when Peeta realizes she’s just been ACTING all this time, and Katniss realizes HE’S not been. In fact, as far as the audience can tell, they’re a couple… Maybe? There may be a sense that something is off, or I could just be perceiving tension that isn’t there because I know it should be. In any case, the development of Katniss as a human being and an adult with romantic emotions just doesn’t seem happen, and that whole internal struggle gets left out. And guess what that means for Peeta’s character? He doesn’t get one. He effectively becomes an Object.
Again, this may just be me, but it looks like Twishite tropes are worming their way into the Hollywood subconscious.
At this point, I can’t think of a way this bad story-telling can be fixed in the second movie. As a friend of mine said, it’s not even a time issue; thirty seconds here and there can do a LOT for character development, and the movie wouldn’t be that much longer. And if it is? Take one more action that can make this a better love story: cut out the random shots of Gale. Because, frankly, those should have been shots of Prim — you know, the only person Katniss is sure she loves? The one she sacrificed herself for in her first defining scene as a character?
I’m not saying that fixing these bits would have made the movie perfect, but it definitely would have been far better. As it was, I left the theater thinking that a good job had been done, but also that there was just something off. And I’m willing to bet that even viewers who haven’t read the book felt that, too. That’s exactly what happens with bad storytelling: everything seems alright on a technical level but there’s just something you can’t put your finger on.
What do you think, lovely readers? Have you seen the movie/read the book/both? I’d love to hear your opinions!