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I liked the Hunger Games for their no-frills, low-style approach to telling a story of adventure and individual courage. You had a story of a girl in distress, pretty helpless at first, bounced about by her low-privileged background, finding her strength later, but dissatisfied that she has to. The first book, on which this film is based, is the strongest in this respect, because it deals with a motive that I very much appreciate in movies and books: take regular person, throw that person into a very irregular situation, and observe how (s)he reacts. Stephen King’s books often work like that, and that is my best point of reference.

In order to do that, and to be able to assess and appreciate the development of a character (should I call it pretentiously a “Bildungsroman”? Maybe a bit too ambitious a term for many such settings, but in the end, yes, that’s what it is) you need to paint the tapestry in as much detail as possible, show the everyday life, show the characters that surround our hero, and how all that constitutes the “normality” from which the lead character will be ripped later on. The “Hunger Games” book does that rather well, despite its slim volume, we are familiarised with the lives and times of what we get to know as “District 13” folk. Later on, we learn about the opponents in the Battle Royale (sorry, but it IS too obvious a parallel to not be mentioned), about their districts, their individual strengths and weaknesses, their aims and strategies.

Now: almost all that is missing in the film… while it starts off with nicely shot, gritty and earthy impressions of Dickensian age of labour and despair, as soon as Katniss Everdeen hops on the train to the Capital, all background painting stops. The Capital city, its population, the other districts, her mentor, her outfit consultant, her opponents and partners in battle are just there, but we don’t know them. The love story with her compatriot combatant, staged to begin with, confusing later on, cannot be understood unless you have read it. The role of her not-quite boyfriend back home is limited to a couple of edits where he is allowed to look disgruntled. That is a shame, because for what it’s worth, the emotional upheaval of a 16-year-old girl can be interesting in the context of a movie about a 16-year-old girl.

The film is strong where it allows Jennifer Lawrence (a great actress, no doubt, and star of “Winter’s Bone”, which still lingers on the top spot of my favourite movies of the last couple of years) to be confused, disoriented, and without strategy. As damsel in distress, she is perfect, she brings the looks and posture of somebody who is not a hero, nor aspires to be one, but can grow into a fierce opponent if forced to. Falling off trees, stumbling across meadows and sitting and waiting is  what she is very good at, and what the film manages to create as her modus operandi to win this battle.

Another example of a movie taking away all the spirit of a novel? Not really, as I found the film pretty entertaining nonetheless. But the opportunity has come and gone to take this first instalment of the story and get me involved. I will certainly be an interested observer in what’s happening next, but no more than that.

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/the_hunger_games/

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  1. […] Games – Catching Fire” continues where the first part ended: with hopes of being shown a dystopian adventure quickly shattered (the hopes. The world too, […]

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