I’ve been seeing a lot of movies over the past couple of months. One of the big chains here offered a deal in early Jan that you could buy $7.50 tickets (way cheaper than usual), which could then be used up until the end of March. I decided to get in on this in a big way, buying 20 tickets to be used in eight weeks. The deal is due to end on Wednesday (28th), but I’m pleased to say that as of Sunday afternoon, I (with the assistance of various friends), have made it through all 20.
While I’ve mainly enjoyed this, I know the reason they did it was because they knew it would be a quiet couple of months and were just desperate to get people through the doors. This means that while I’ve seen some good films, I’ve also seen some that were crap, and some from which I expected a lot more from than they were able to deliver (THE GREY).
Anyways, what I wanted to focus on today is some thoughts coming out of my experience on the weekend. I, along with three friends (and hordes of teenage girls) went and saw THE HUNGER GAMES. Three of us had read the books, while the fourth hadn’t, and it was really interesting to see how our responses to it differed.
Hollywood’s desperation for new, different or marketable stories means that the translation of books to movies will be an ongoing topic for discussion in the community. Realistically, this is nothing new, with the Academy Awards having included a prize for Best Adapted Screenplay since their inception in 1929 (for those who are interested, the winner was Benjamin Glazer for SEVENTH HEAVEN).
Where this becomes tricky however is when you have a book or series of books that have a highly devoted following in print, who have certain expectations of the film based on their reading of the story. Where this is done well, you have films that shatter box office records, and become instant classics. Perfect examples of this are the LORD OF THE RINGS films, and more recently the TWILIGHT phenomenon. Whilst I must admit that I haven’t seen any of the TWILIGHT films, my girlfriend is obsessed and won’t hear a word said against them!
The difficulty for filmmakers and studios is when the adaptation is felt to stray from the original material. I’m an avid reader of the Jack Reacher novels, and there has been a lot of discussion among fans about the casting of Tom Cruise to play a 6 foot 5, 250 pound former military policeman... to the extent that Lee Child has had to come out and provide both the rationale behind as well as his support for the casting decision (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-14246226).
That weird casting choice aside, one of the reasons why the translation of novels to films is so tough is because of the level of detail generally evident in books, as well as the ability to explain a character’s mental state or cognitive processes without them needing to verbalise it. The 90-120 minute running time generally available to a film means that directors generally won’t be able to include all of the elements from the book, having to compress or cut characters or scenes for expediency. While, as I mentioned above, LORD OF THE RINGS was massive, there were people complaining about elements of the book that got removed. This is also one of the reasons why THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO, one of the greatest stories I’ve ever read, has not been satisfactorily turned into a movie. The best way to treat these is often as a TV mini-series or similar, because that gives a director the time to fill out the detail, and explain the back-story of the different characters and events.
All of which brings us back to THE HUNGER GAMES. As I said, three of us had read the books before seeing the film, and while we all enjoyed it, we agreed that there were elements of the book that weren’t included that gave us a better understanding of what was going on, which actions were relevant or meaningful, and why certain characters acted the way they did. Although my friend who hadn’t read the books was able to enjoy the film on a surface level, I think he was limited by his lack of context, and I feel this is a shame.
With that said, the fact that HUNGER GAMES has globally taken $214.25 million on its opening weekend (including a monstrous $9 million weekend in Australia), guarantees the sequels will be with us as promised. This should hopefully give the director the opportunity to bring in some of the broader back stories, and introduce characters who were missed out in this first episode.
In summary, a cool film to see, enjoying a very strong cast (Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson, Elizabeth Banks and Woody Harrellson all play their characters brilliantly), and I’ll definitely be heading back to see CATCHING FIRE when it’s released (currently scheduled for 22 Nov 2013). My one suggestion would be to read the book before heading along. I think that makes for a much richer experience, and will let you sit back and just enjoy seeing some great characters brought to life!