Last weekend The Hunger Games opened in the US (and in many international markets) to the biggest weekend box office of the year so far. Usually I try to avoid discussing a films’ revenue or expenditures because I believe that neither of those elements actually indicate how good a film truly is. As the artistic merits of a film is objective it’s always been defaulted for journalists (especially those who aren’t critics) to rely on the masses reaction to a film by their vote at the box office, hence our obsession with such statistics. Which is why to this day we still talk about Gone With The Wind, Titanic and Avatar (ok maybe I was a bit harsh there with Gone With the Wind).
So, as I was saying, I saw The Hunger Games last week and I was less than please with the film when I posted my full review. Since my blog isn’t very well trafficked I didn’t dread any backlash (bring it on trolls), but some of my followers on twitter came at me for the review. One passionate follower of mine (@Liddles15) decided to respond with some very critical remarks. One of which came down to the idea that one must do his due diligence whenever reviewing a film.
Now since this was in reference to The Hunger Games it was pointing out the fact that I had (like I have with many adaptations) not read the source material. So, the question I have on my mind is whether or not this supposed “due diligence” is required for me to review the film?
I’ve always had the belief that a film is a film and a book is a book. A film can be great, a book horrendous, and the opposite also be a possibility. If that stands to reason then why does the strength of the source material matter in the resulting product? Sometimes the fact that a film is “based on” a book (or any other sort of source material) becomes so thinly veiled an idea that it barely deserves bothering to even mention the source and just enjoy the film (or hate on it) for what it is.
I guess to answer one of my own questions: the source does matter at times. It’s easy for a bad source to generate a horrendous final product, but at times difficult for a great source to produce a bad film (even though it’s been accomplished time and time again). So when I leave a film based on a beloved book and all I get in my ear is about how it took the book and made it so well and I find myself left with a deep seated feeling that glaring gaps were left out of the plot that I received then I don’t know how people can be upset with me whenever I ask questions they decide that content from the source that wasn’t properly translated into the film wasn’t there and they wrap up their thoughts with a nice tidy “it’s for the fans” comment. As if to say that they’re some form of an elite squad of geek that is only allowed to enjoy this commodity.
While I’m not against niche groups of fans and finding ways of being able to point out a true fan by seeing those people who just “get it” whenever it comes to certain genre-bending cinema, that doesn’t make me better than those who end up standing out in the rain looking at the warm fireplace that me and my film geek friends are curling around telling tales of how the first rule of …
One of my favourite examples to deal with great adaptations of the last few years has to be Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (yes I like books with lots of pictures). While Edgar Wright wrote the script before the series was actually complete he found a way to grab the tone of the books and convey the points and themes across so well that the changes and omissions didn’t even phase me, no matter how hardcore a fan I was.
When you’re given a source which is 300+ pages long (I don’t know how long The Hunger Games is) and have to condense that all into a two hour long film things are going to go missing. A more popular choice is to have characters amalgamate so as to try and keep getting points important to the story come across somewhat organically. The silent rebellion was quietly executed in the film in a way that was continually disrupted by the sloppy action and romance and the film truly never recovered from that for me, but who am I but just another guy with a keyboard handy.
But then again, stepping back from this instance, the question still remains.
Do critics need to have consumed a film’s source material in order to properly review the film?