Suzanne Collins’s bestselling young adult series made its feature film debut and iOS arcade game release a week ago. It’s taken me this long to see the movie, and play the game. I had other stuff going on. But now here I am, with the three sitting loosely in my head together. Which has always been the intent of transmedia. Yes, another game conference buzzword dredged up from yesterday, that rarely sees reality. Yet here it is, nice and shiny, like Cinna’s eyeliner. Let’s take a look at all three, and see how they fit.
Written in the first person, present tense, the book instantly places the reader into the emotions of a teenaged girl, facing gladiatorial combat in a post-post apocalyptic future. The characters are strong, the life and death struggle extremely immediate and meaningful, although the premise is somewhat implausible. I never suspended disbelief. The idea that any society would willingly continue to send its children to death, in a reality TV orgy for 74 years doesn’t make sense to me. Nor does it make sense to me that the victor in a civil war would seek to keep the wound open and fresh, inciting the inevitable future rebellion. If there were religion involved, then I’d find this more believable. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the book. Three fingers up.
As with most book adaptations, much is cut from the film. However, the performances all seem true to the characters, which is fairly rare for adaptations. Jennifer Lawrence, as Katniss Everdeen, is right on the money. She’s at once oddly familiar and unsettling, perhaps due in part to her playing young Mystique in X-Men: First Class, but largely because she projects the delicate balance of practicality and passion inherent to the character. Yet, so much depth is gone, so much of her inner voice. Granted, there’s only 2 hours 22 minutes to present the full story, which is the constant challenge in digesting any novel into a videobite. Giving her a voiceover wouldn’t have been right, it certainly was jarring in Dune and the theatrical release of Blade Runner. And then there’s Peter Jackson’s solution which is to go the full 3 hours, and add in Special Edition content later.
But other choices are unrelated to this seemingly unsurmountable challenge, for example, <SPOILER> the fact that Katniss doesn’t have the berries in her mouth, seems to limit the risk of the scene. </SPOILER> On the plus side, since this a visual medium, we get a lot of visual treats, like the science fictiony goodness of The Capitol’s hovercraft and cityscapes, the hilarious costuming of Caesar Flickerman, and Seneca Crane’s curlicue trimmed beard. The opulent look of The Capitol seems to almost invite a rap number in the middle of the film, to offset the pervasive tone of gloom throughout the film. You know, “Yo, this be the Hunger Games, don’t turn your back on nobody, for rilla, Cinna.” But maybe that wouldn’t be quite right. It might have woken up the guy sitting next to me though. In the end, while gloomy, the film seems less intense and laden with consequence. Two fingers up.
Developed by Adam Saltzman, the creator of the original retro sidescrolling runner Canabalt, The Hunger Games: Girl on Fire hit iOS when the movie came out. I held off on playing, waiting to see the movie, under the mistaken impression that I would limit my surprise and enjoyment of the filmmakers interpretation of the book. As it turns out, the low-fi look of the game means you don’t really see much detail at all. The game is a retro, sidescrolling runner again, but without the ideologically pure austerity of Canabalt. Instead, this looks like a forgettable NES title, with you playing Katniss running along, jumping between two levels, shooting tracker jackers with her bow and arrows. But even with this simplistic a game, it’s just not playable, due to confusing controls. It’s just too easy to jump when you mean to shoot. This lasted all of five minutes. The game is completely free, no microtransactions. One finger up.
Transmedia is supposed to focus attention on the combination of products, and enhance the selling of all of them. As for the game, it’s purely designed to focus on the film, it’s just an advertisement. Frankly, it’s more of a turn off than anything else. I’m deleting it at the next opportunity. It was a wasted opportunity. The film studio would have been better served by a Temple Run style game, if they were set on this being a runner, or maybe some kind of archery game. And have it make money on its own, so that you actually attribute value to it – the you being the studio, the developer, and the player. The movie was good enough, it’s making a lot of money, and it sets up the inevitable sequel. I will actually see it, for science, so I can see how this team works with the second book. I even have a hope that they will tweak the third and have it fit better with the trilogy. So I would say the film adaptation was a success.
However, through this whole Hunger Games barrage, the thing I’m most compelled to spend money on, is seeing Snow White and the Huntsmen, which is Universal’s more serious high fantasy retelling of the Snow White story. I saw the trailer for it, and it looks utterly dark and lovely. I don’t think I’ll have to suspend disbelief much, except in the case of the mirror’s judgment. Since it’s truly implausible to say that sullen Kristen Stewart is more beautiful than spectacular Charlize Theron.
SF: I knocked out the Hunger Games series in a couple of days a few months ago after hearing the suggestion from a friend. I found the books pretty straightforward with a hit you over the head emotional manipulation that I typically expect from rom-coms. I’m all for apocalypse scenarios, but I have a hard time getting into the young adult category. I think it’s the same problem I had with Harry Potter – the books are driven by characters and the plot just isn’t carefully thought through. I thought the movie was fine, but I’m not naming my kid Katniss. Lenny Kravitz carried the movie as Cinna.
As for the other transmedia. Videogame tie-ins are almost always a fail. They typically get the green light way to late in the process and suffer as a result. I think a lot of it comes from the fact that the movie industry typically views these tie-ins as another marketing device rather than a valuable stand alone product. It breaks my heart.