Tuesday, March 27, 2012
[Movie Review] The Hunger Games
For my review of The Hunger Games [novel] click here.
The Hunger Games is the first book I reviewed here at I Write, I Read, I Review. Heck, back then my blog didn't actually have a name. It's title was just My name. To say that the book has a special place in my heart was an understatement. I was really excited when I heard that the book was going to be turned into a movie. While movies tend to have different goals then books, and therefore an adaptation does not always meet a reader's expectations, I felt hopeful that The Hunger Games would make a successful transition from page to screen.
Please be aware that the following review will likely contain spoilers if you have not read the book. Another thing to note is that I am not a huge 'movie person'. You aren't going to hear actor names here or anything like that. Between writing, reading and gaming, film often gets the short end of the stick with me unless something really grabs my attention. But I think I've delayed it long enough. Let's get to the heart of the matter.
"Where's the plot description?"
The answer to that is simple: if you need me to tell you what the story is about, your on the wrong page. Please see my review of the novel. For those of you who *are* familiar with The Hunger Games lets get this started.
Considering the amount of time that a movie spans, and the amount of detail that a book generally contains, I think that the people who made the movie did a fantastic job. The very subdued coloration of the setting and clothing in district twelve -- the way that Katniss' blue dress stood out and looked very plain at the same time -- and the way that the lushness of the woods popped in contrast, all set things off at a good start. I think that the use of visual contrasts throughout the movie, especially as we moved from district 12, to the Capital, to the arena, is one of the greatest strengths of the book to film treatment overall.
I like the fact that everything was timed so well. What do I mean? We did not get to dally in places, such as district 12 or throutgh every detail of the Capital (my brother was mad the part with the Avox wasn't there), but at the same time I felt that the majority of the core elements of the book were covered and accounted for. The desperation of the people of district twelve. The resolve of the peacekeepers. The otherworldliness of the Capital with it's crazy fashion and (to Katniss and Peeta especially) foreign technologies.
One of my biggest fears was that the pre-arena aspect of the book would suffer in an attempt to masculinize the experience to increase box office sales, but this was not the case. The interactions between Katniss and Cinna were great, as were her and Peeta's moments with Haymitch and Effie. The chariot scene, the scene where Katniss shoots the apple and the interview scene were all really cool too. (Although Shawn felt that the interview scene was lacking some bite or tension for some reason. I'd need to re-read that section of the book to really comment.)
And that long, tension filled sequence leading up to the start of the games themselves ... I was afraid I was going to start trying to dig my toes into my shoes. I was sitting there on the edge of my theatre seat just *waiting* for things to get underway. That was exceptionally well done.
The movie was rated PG and I think that with this in mind that the direction taken for the content of the games was both appropriate to the movie and to the vision of the book. One thing that I think is important to mention, and I will do it here, is that unlike the book where we are purely in first person, in the movie they were not afraid to switch POV when it would strengthen the plot and make what is happening make more sense. I thought the solution chosen -- showing not only the games but the gamemakers effecting the outcome of them -- was very smart. It fixed what would have otherwise been some very strange plot holes and it also showed how cruel and malicious the world these characters live in is. There is a particular scene between Seneca Crane and Haymitch that had me nodding my head and going, "Yes, I could see it happening that way." Which one? You'll need to watch the movie for that.
I have heard some people feeling disappointed that Katniss did not clarify to Peeta that she was 'pretending' to be interested in him by the end of the games the way she did in the novel. I think this was actually a good choice for the movie. Movie-goers want different things then book purists and when this does raise its head when / if we get the next movie (which I hope we do) it will be interesting to see how people react.
The first thing that I will say here is that while I am not a movie buff who is going to name off a roll call of actors so I can critique them one by one, I was very pleased with the performances of those who took part in the film. I felt like I was, in many ways, getting to see the film play out for real in front of my eyes the way it did in my head when I read the novel. I never felt a moment of "No, no, no! You have that all wrong!"
I believe the actress playing Katniss was Jennifer Lawrence? (Please let me know if I have her name wrong.) She did an absolutely stunning job of portraying the character. Katniss, in my opinion, would not be the easiest character to act out because she is often dealing with what she is "showing" and what she is actually "feeling". It isn't too hard to express this in a book, especially not if we are inside the character's head, but to show all of this on a screen seems like it would be harder. I was very convinced by her performance.
I thought that the actors playing Peeta and Gale did a great job, too. Peeta is (in my opinion) such a warm character, where Gale is more 'fiery'. I like the fact that each had chances to show (or at least hint) at these things. While Peeta does get more screen time then Gale here, I think they did a good job at showing the fact that Katniss has known Gale a long time (for instance, the fact that he takes Prim when she volunteers) whereas we are seeing Peeta and Katniss get to know each other. (Peeta's confession of love and when the two are talking in the cave.)
Effie was a perfect contrast between crazy clothes and yet a very controlled, prim (ignore the obvious pun here) and mannered attitude that contrasted to her outfits. Haymitch started out drunk and indifferent, but I think the movie really carried across how he grew more concerned about Peeta and Katniss as the story continued, which is *really* important.
Cinna. Great in the book. Great in the movie. When I heard Lenny Kravitz was playing him I was a bit worried (I really don't buy into people getting into more then one art, personally.) He did a fantastic job, though. Cinna, while not a *huge* character, was one of my favorites from the books and I was happy to see I had been worried for nothing.
I cried during Rue's death scene. A lot.
Last, I want to say that I was thrilled at the humanity we get to see in Cato at his death scene. This was so important, so well done, so heartbreaking and so spot on. We get to see someone who was, essentially, a 'working' cog in the Capital's machine not only realize but actually verbally admit to his own broken-ness, reminding us that every one of these competitors, no matter how deranged they became in the arena, initially was a human being at the core.
It's very hard to talk about the romantic aspect of The Hunger Games because there are multiple things going on at the same time. Gale's very subtle feelings regarding Katniss and the fact that in the book we get to hear her think about him / her feelings toward him. How do you translate that into a film where the guy isn't really in the thing 80% of the time? I think that showing his reaction every time she and Peeta were kissing or cuddling, since they were on TV, was a good call. I also think the actor did a fantastic job with his expression as he came up to them at the end with Prim on his shoulders. As in "I am here for you, I kept my promise to you, but you have some explaining to do."
Then there is Peeta, who has secretly been in love with Katniss forever. I think that this was well done, and it went well with the overall "goodness" of his character. His silent acceptance of being chosen. His cheerful smile as he waved to people as the train pulled into the station. The fact that he seemed to accept Katniss anger after his public confession, the worry in his eyes as the career group surrounded the tree she was camping in. The part where he tells her he should have *brought* her the bread, not simply thrown it to her. I was already hugely in love with Peeta from the book, and the movie has only made that grow.
Last, of course, we have Katniss herself. From word go we know she is adverse to getting mixed up in these kind of things, because she tells Gale she intends to never have children. But the mind and the heart are two different things. I wish that it had been a little more clear that she had some interest in Gale, even if it was secret / quietly. I didn't get that from the movie, which is a bit of a shame because while the scenes with him seeing her and Peeta showed *his* reaction well, I did not feel that they expressed hers clearly enough.
I *did* feel a distancing from her when she was with Peeta. This had to be challenging for the actors, because they had to have this and yet still show that there could *be* chemistry between the two, otherwise one of the core aspects of the book would be lost. That even love can be manipulated, corrupted and used as a battleground. Overall I thought this was "good enough" but that it was a little bit hazy and that the underlying elements might be missed by someone unfamiliar with the book, which is a shame.
As a member of the book blogging community, I feel that The Hunger Games delivered above and beyond expectations. This is one of, if not the absolute best, book to movie adaptations that I have ever seen. I was thoroughly impressed. While I feel that those who have not read the book will be missing certain things here, this was going to be the case regardless, and the movie will still provide a well told story with interesting characters regardless, which is what ultimately matters.
I look forward to seeing what they will do with Catching Fire. If they can continue to show this level of dedication to providing a quality representation of the books, I feel that The Hunger Games trology could raise the bar for book to movie adaptions as a whole. I look forward to (hopefully) seeing this in theatres again, and will likely be buying a copy on DVD the day it releases.