Thursday, March 29, 2012

Guest Post by Valerie Estelle Frankel

I recently reviewed Katniss the Cattail by Valerie Estelle Frankel, which is a guide to the names and symbols in The Hunger Games trilogy. I, like most of America, saw The Hunger Games movie this week. After seeing the movie and reading Valerie's book, I was curious on her reaction to the movie vs. the book. She has kindly written a guest post!

The Hunger Games has arrived in the third largest opening weekend ever—first largest that wasn’t a sequel or starring a male lead. It seems, following the successes of strong girls in the Narnia franchise and the charm of stand-alone movies like Coraline, (we won’t discuss a certain vampire series), girls have finally conquered the big screen. The fan community is building up like Harry Potter’s, but all at once—conferences, costumes, fan art, fanfiction, and websites have taken over. The merchandising is everywhere—companion books, replica backpacks, and of course, the mockingjay pin. But is the movie worthy of all this hype? Like most fans, I loved the first person, action-packed prose of the book, but the emotions on screen became wonderfully real (as did the special effects and fashions of course). Since we had to lose the prose and prune some characters, I think they did more than a decent job bringing our favorite book to life.

Many new to the story winced at the blatantly teenagerish Romeo-and-Juliet style mutual suicide attempt. But Katniss is no clingy Bella Swan. She’s not in a typical teen romance, but a ploy to stay alive by appearing likeable, something Haymitch stresses in a few pithy phrases. Katniss shoots, plans, and takes care of herself. She makes herself a wonderful girl-power icon, though casting Donald Sutherland as her archnemesis is an interesting twist, considering that a decade ago, we watched him sacrifice his life to protect Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Some emotional things are brought home more strongly in the movie--the youth of all the tributes who die at the cornucopia. The career tributes are such a contrast--they laugh and joke as they walk, clearly afraid of nothing including killing others. I was touched by how open Josh Hutcherson as Peeta was—he went from crying when he was chosen as a tribute to boyishly earnest, amazed by the Capitol, puzzled by the showers, and many more endearing emotions. Meanwhile, the movie made it so clear that Haymitch and Cinna really get it--that the kids are condemned to death--while Effie with her "manners" remains oblivious, like the other Capitol citizens.

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss likewise does a fine job making single lines count for a lot—her mimicking Effie’s “may the odds be ever in your favor” and her casual “I’ll still cook you” to Buttercup the cat are perfect.

The somewhat 1940s clothes in District 12 were interesting—as the District was occupied by soldiers and its citizens lined up, the place got a real World War II refugee camp vibe. The propaganda film likewise helped set the scene. The moviemakers also did a good example of showing the widespread hunger—clean picked bones and despair in District 12, Katniss’s amazement at bakery bread. At the same time, they failed to indicate this was earth’s future, rather than an alternate reality or alien colony. A few words in the typed introduction would have cleared that up.

Switching out of Katniss’s limited perspective gave the film a bit more scope with which to experiment. We now have new scenes—Haymitch’s determination to charm the sponsors, Seneca Crane and President Snow planning their strategy. We even see Haymitch approach Crane to suggest the star crossed lovers concept. And the gamemakers seem like bullies throwing obstacles at computer game characters to make them squirm: No sympathy, no heart, just cruel constructions. Since we can no longer access Katniss’s thoughts, Haymitch’s snarky written notes are perfect as he tells her how to survive. While Katniss is naive about any rebellion or political influence she’s staring in book one (and two for that matter), we see her having a larger impact on the world as she salutes the camera and district eleven responds with an uprising.

So did The Hunger Games movie do a decent job as an adaptation? It did. The costumes and special effects were well-thought out and appropriate, bringing a foreign world to life and yet echoing our own in the book’s disturbing metaphor that the uncaring, wasteful Capitol citizens are really ourselves. We had clever moments not in the book that successfully transferred Katniss’s thoughts to screen, as Haymitch writes “Call that a kiss?” and Peeta hilariously offers to go hunting. As a racially diverse show with a powerful independent butt kicking heroine, it beats Twilight, Harry Potter, and most other franchises by a lot.

You can visit Valerie's website for more information on her book! I highly recommend Katniss the Cattail for all Hunger Games fans! Thank you so much Valerie!!

Happy Reading!


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