Ok, just this one post, and then I’ll stop going on about The Hunger Games.
The film is good. Very good. Visually stunning, perfectly cast, and tightly plotted, without (as far as I could tell) changing any of the major scenes or introducing audience-friendly filler that didn’t need to be there (*cough* Harry Potter *cough*). Everything on-screen was exactly how I’d imagined it. Involving Suzanne Collins as screenwriter obviously kept it as faithful to the page as it could’ve been.
But the film doesn’t really capture the shock-factor of the book, and that’s down to how the imagination works, and how it doesn’t.
We spend nearly half the movie building up to the moment the Hunger Games begin, and it’s time well spent, establishing the contrasting worlds of the oppressed, starving districts and the pampered, effete Capitol. In punishment for a long-distant rebellion, the Capitol keeps the districts in grinding poverty, where everything comes in grey and probably tastes of sawdust, come to think of it. As if that weren’t bad enough, once a year it throws two children from each district into an arena and makes them fight to the death for entertainment. The people of the Capitol, over-frilled, over-filled and garish with makeup, cheer on this blood sport like it’s Strictly Come Execution.
That this works so well onscreen is mostly down to the visuals and casting. Jennifer Lawrence makes a wonderfully sympathetic, resilient Katniss. You believe she could stick an arrow in your throat from ten metres away, but that she’d do anything possible to avoid it. Josh Hutcherson is underwritten as Peeta, but grows on you. Woody Harrelson is an appealing Haymitch, and Donald Sutherland lisps it up as the cold and tyrannical President Snow.
Ah, but the Games. The Games, and that 12A certificate the filmmakers were desperate to keep hold of. In the book, the decadence of the Capitol is disgusting because of the brutality of the Games. Death is shocking, and violent death for someone’s entertainment even more so. In the book, people die, horribly, and other people watch them on screens, cut together and narrated for their enjoyment. But on a page, that’s ok. The beauty of the imagination is that it’s tailored to your own head. A twelve-year-old reads a violent scene and cobbles together something from what they’ve seen around them. A twenty-seven-year-old does the same, but has more extreme material to work with.
In a film, you have one interpretation and it’s right there in front of you. So people don’t really die, in The Hunger Games, and they certainly don’t bleed: they run around a bit and then lie on the ground with their eyes open. With every confrontation, the camera cuts away at just the right moment, as though modestly averting its eyes. It’s the same elsewhere: Haymitch isn’t a nasty drunk, and the people in District 12 aren’t starving to death, just coal-dusty and in need of a good hairbrush.
We’re not supposed to be averting our eyes from scenes like this. The point of the Games is that the world is watching. It’s the watching that shocks, that repulses, that makes the reader and the viewer, in the end, complicit with the empty-headed audience. It’s not often I’d consider more gore to be a good thing, but you can’t paint an audience as bloodthirsty when you forgot to include the blood.
UPDATED because I remembered how much I loved the fact that Collins spelled ‘Peeta’ so it has to be said with an English accent. They all sounded like they were trying for a part in Downton Abbey.