“The Hunger Games” are upon us at last. In the land of Panem, this would not be news worth celebrating. In our day and age of modern movie-going, however, the arrival of Gary Ross’ cinematic take on Suzanne Collins’ dystopian novel is anything but bad.
Indeed, “The Hunger Games” is more than “not bad” — it’s great. It might even be exceptional. In fact, I’m ready to call it: Respectfully, I strongly feel the “Hunger Games” movie is better than the “Hunger Games” book. Before you kill me, hear me out, and I’ll try to walk you through my reasons.
» In the movie, you see everything. Though the book unfolds entirely through the perspective of bow-wielding heroine Katniss Everdeen, the “Hunger Games” film is free of that point of view and allowed to explore other characters operating much further away from our lead. If you were wondering how Haymitch wrangled sponsors in favor of Katniss during the games, wonder no more — the movie has the answer. What’s Gale up to while Katniss is busy fighting for her life? You’ll see. Cutting free from the Katniss POV allows for a freer story, opening the already huge world of “Hunger Games” in an even huger way.
» Purists, don’t sweat it; you won’t miss Katniss’ narration. Yes, experiencing everything from your front-row seat inside Katniss’ mind is a huge draw in the books, and it works in that medium. Here, we get our Katniss fix by different means that make more sense on film — namely, through Jennifer Lawrence’s performance. An amazing, emotional, impactful performance, I might add. Initial controversy aside, the decision to hire an Oscar-nominated actress to play the lead role in this young-adult action/adventure was the greatest call made by the “Hunger Games” team. Lawrence lets you into Katniss without ever once telling you exactly what’s on her mind. She plays the character in such a way that you see her brilliant moves coming but are still surprised to see how her actions unfold. Lawrence is Katniss, and she becomes her without revealing a single thought out loud. It’s impressive stuff. Also, the Katniss perspective — her overwhelming emotions and thoughts and experiences — still comes through, not just by way of Lawrence’s work, but also Ross’ ability to weave different elements together, from sound to cinematography and beyond. Katniss’ experience is a dizzying one, and even without her thoughts beside you, you’ll experience plenty of that same dizziness firsthand.
» Katniss aside, the real human star here just might be Seneca Crane. Wes Bentley delivers a great turn as the gamemaker, who has a smaller role in the “Hunger Games” novel, but a crucial, movie-opening part to play in Ross’ film. Without Katniss’ perspective, we’re allowed to spend time with Seneca not just in the control room — which is completely awesome and another point in the movie’s favor, by the by — but also opposite President Snow. Bentley and Donald Sutherland share several scenes that do not exist in Collins’ novel. Including these moments in the movie helps pave the way for what’s to come in subsequent “Hunger Games” movies like “Catching Fire” and the rumored two-part “Mockingjay.” In other words, Seneca’s increased screen time is a huge boost for the overall “Hunger Games” mythology. It also doesn’t hurt that he has the greatest beard in the history of the universe.
» The Capitol. The Cornucopia. Rue’s song. The cave scene. Heck, even the muttations, weird as they are. All of these things, written about vividly in the books, come to startling life in Ross’ hands. You get all the familiar beats and scenes and interactions from Collins’ fantastic tale, faithfully rendered to the letter. But the subtlety in the director’s adaptation, helped along greatly by the cool score from James Newton Howard and T-Bone Burnett, elevates what was great about the source material to brand-new heights. That’s what you want from an adaptation — elevation, enhancement — and to that end, “Hunger Games” succeeds fantastically, in ways “Twilight” and even “Harry Potter” never fully achieved.
» It also comes down to personal preference. I don’t worship the book the way others do, but I’m definitely a fan. For me, the movie just popped in a way that Collins’ original narrative did not. “The Hunger Games” brings the world you fell in love with to the big screen and proceeds to bust it wide open in unexpectedly beautiful and tragic ways. All of it stems from a great book, yes — but it all builds to an even better movie, in my humble opinion.
Do you think the “Hunger Games” movie is better than the book? See what our panel of experts thought in this week’s “Talk Nerdy,” and hit me up with your own thoughts in the comments or on Twitter @roundhoward!
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