On the surface, Hunger Games shouldn’t be difficult to adapt. It’s a well-plotted story that easily falls into three acts. The protagonist, Katniss, has a clear objective with consequences, facing hurdles and moral dilemmas to keep her from her goal. What’s more, dystopian stories are filmic, as would-be obligatory shots provide detail and texture to foreign lands. Plus, it’s a blood sport.
The story really
hits its stride during the Games. The opening charge to the Cornucopia, the
fireballs, the wasp nest, and others will make great action scenes. But you can
get action anywhere. It’s most engaging in tracing her logic through each
hurdle, watching her make firm choices, knowing what a misstep could yield.
Like when she hesitates to saw through a branch, waiting for the anthem to dull
the noise. Or when she figures out a way to communicate with Haymitch. Yeah,
she’s great with a bow and arrow, but she’s a great character for her
And that’s the
biggest challenge in this adaptation: how do you film a thought process?
Answer 1.) You
can’t, don’t try.
Right, she can be
badass with a bow and a crush. This isn’t Shakespeare. Just make it an action
movie. Why overcomplicate things?
unless you have a great character. Katniss is a great character. It's worth a try.
2.) A friend.
She can be less
solitary and has someone to talk to, someone to present a good idea, only to be
rebuffed by her intelligence. Perhaps Rue enters closer to the start of
The thing is, much
of Katniss’ internal monologue is devoted to outsmarting the audience for
sponsorship. Even in rare instances she has the chance to speak her dialogue is
subverting; we know because her thoughts provide the context. The story’s
convention prohibits her cunning from being verbalized. That won’t work.
3.) Voice Over.
necessarily sloppy, nor will it weaken a character if it’s
well-written (Sin City).
The key to voice over is consistency, be it every ten minutes in Shawshank, the beginning and end of Annie Hall, or throughout Goodfellas. Here, it’s only needed in the middle. Story
elements would need to be changed to prevent it from being clunky. Still, it’s an
He’s strong in the
novel, but omnipresent during the games. Katniss knows he watches over her with
good intentions and uses that to her advantage. In the movie, Haymitch could be
more in the frame. It could play like this:
Katniss falls to the
ground, pleading for water, and then we cut to Haymitch shaking his head; we
cut back to her, confused, then back to him saying, “C’mon…”; then, we see a
realization on her face; she springs up, moves forward and finds a lake; then
we cut back to him, a proud mentor.
In that sense, he’s the narrator. Like Ben Kingsley in Searching for Bobby
Fischer, translating for us what an eight-year-old chess prodigy is really doing with his moves. Haymitch could be a
post we lean on without taking any credit away from Katniss.
need to be restricted to that role. He can even have his own subplot,
something to cut away to during lulls in action. After all, he, not unlike
Katniss, is underappreciated with something to prove.
I vote 4. (I'm mainly lobbying for more Woody Harrelson...not really)
Even if the
filmmakers go another direction, I expect Haymitch to be more present in the
film. I actually expect all major characters NOT in the Games to have a
Because the next
issue is that the action and tension decrease in the
second half of the Games. It works fine on paper but won’t translate on screen,
no matter how much chemistry the leads have. The obvious solution is to write
more action scenes, which will happen.
But losing the
novel’s first-person perspective allows the possibility of subplots. The most
important non-tribute characters are Katniss’ father, mother, and sister, Gale,
and Haymitch. Each serves an important function while existing (for the most
part) in her head. We can get flashbacks of Katniss learning to hunt with her
father (which are sort of in the novel anyway). Perhaps after Katniss is taken
away, her mother breaks down again, only to regain her strength when she
becomes a contender (thus increasing the stakes). Katniss wonders when she
kisses Peeta what Gale is thinking. Now we can see his reaction.
I write that having
not read the second or third installments. Perhaps the integrity of the trilogy
demands certain things remain off screen. Fair enough.
filmmakers had options. Gary Ross is a talented filmmaker who has penned some
great scripts (Big, Dave, and Pleasantville being my favorites). He recruited the author
(and fellow NYU Dramatic Writing alum) Suzanne Collins for the screenplay. It’s
an asset, provided she was willing to kill her babies (given the subject
matter, that shouldn’t be a problem).
A few other thoughts
on the adaptation:
- The novel did a
poor job establishing the populations of the districts. The film should clear
this up rather easily.
- The irony of
Katniss and Peeta’s relationship is a credit to the author. Katniss starts out
questioning his motives
which prove genuine, but her
actions end up being more calculated and therefore less genuine... and she
doesn’t even realize it. Bravo! I hope it’s as well done in the film.
- The more she gets
in touch with her feelings, the more human she becomes, the more it weakens
her. They could throw more threats at her to strengthen the theme especially
since, again, the second half needs action.
- The antagonism
will need more of a face. Cato seems the likely candidate. Part of me wonders
if they’ll change his sidekick? Foxface was one of the more interesting
tributes though barely explored.
- Lenny Kravitz?
SPOILERS... (more than before, anyway)
- There’s really
only one big problem I had with the novel: Katniss is let off the hook too
easily. I felt that her biggest moral dilemma would be to kill one of her
friends. Two are killed by other tributes. Fine. But when the voice of the
Games announced that two tributes from the same district could win - that
Katniss and Peeta are in effect on the same team – I rolled my eyes.
Yeah, OK, the logic
holds up: the star-crossed lover story entertained the Capitol, and District 2
also had both tributes remaining. But the machinery is too apparent. Collins
doesn’t start the Games with that stipulation because at that point we’re still
questioning Peeta’s motives; we wouldn’t have to with he and Katniss on the
same team. After he saves her and the tension is alleviated, she knows the
amendment won’t spoil the tension.
filmmakers won’t find Peeta’s ambiguity that important. They really should,
given the twist previously mentioned. No, Katniss shouldn’t slaughter Rue. I
don’t know the right choice. I’m also not being paid millions to figure it out.
- Oh, one other
problem: the character names. They don’t read well, God knows how they’ll sound
coming from a tween. A quick IMDB search shows that the names will remain.
Maybe post-introduction, the leads will be referred
to as Lover Boy and Girl on Fire? (I almost typed ‘Flaming Girl’ but it’s
probably not the effect the filmmakers are looking for.)