The Hunger Games – Movie Review

Since I read the book my objective is simple: to compare the two mediums and to assess how Hollywood did in their translation of the story to the big screen from the written page. If you haven’t yet, please read my review of The Hunger Games trilogy here. This movie review is intended for those of you familiar with either the book and/or the movie.

Let’s jump right into my opinions.

Casting

There was a lot of discussion leading up to the movie as to whether or not those cast in significant roles would be able to pull it off. Woody Harrelson was a big question mark for me as Haymitch, but I have to say that I thought he was great. It’s probably been since Cheers that I liked anything by Mr. Harrelson, yet his Haymitch, whose dependence on his beverages until Katniss and Peeta needed him for coaching and for securing donations while they were in the arena was convincing. I expect his significance to grow with the next movie and I now believe Mr. Harrelson to be up to the challenge.

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen, Amandla Stenberg as Rue, Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mellark and Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket all brought a depth to their characters I found refreshing and surprising. The opening scenes of the reaping are especially poignant and Jennifer Lawrence’s performance at the onset of the movie sets the tone for her deep commitment to Katniss’ indomitable spirit and determination to survive for the principles, and the people, she believes to be true.

Stanley Tucci deserves a separate shout-out for his role as Caesar Flickerman. I adore Stanley Tucci and will go see a movie just because he’s in it and he did not disappoint as the convincing moderator of the Games. With his blue hair, exceptionally perfect smile, and emotionally-charged questions for the tributes, it’s no wonder he’s a favorite with everyone watching the Games, myself included.

Adaptation

In my opinion, this is one of the best book to movie adaptations in recent memory. It was faithful to Ms. Collins’ book down to exact words and phrases used, and the interpretation of Panem and its Capitol citizens was accurate and engaging for the visual senses. Certainly the written material provided a lot of latitude to go crazy on the set and still have reasonable boundaries. The stark differences between life in the outlying districts and within the Capitol walls were effectively depicted. However, I found it amusingly odd that in such a high-tech world as the Capitol that they should still be so reliant on coal mining – reminiscent of circa 1940 when you jump into Katniss’ District 12.

I really really appreciated the transition between the arena of the Games and the control center for the Games. This was not done in the book, but an excellent addition for the benefit of movie plot advancement. By creating this new visual, the true manipulation of the tributes’ lives by the Gamemakers is overtly shown, as well as the manipulation of Seneca Crane, head Gamemaker, by President Snow, leaving nothing to the imagination where the book sometimes lacked in meaningful structure.

Violence is the premise of the story. And not just normal violence, either. Kill or be killed. 12-18 year-olds fighting to the death for the ultimate prize: a lifetime of luxury in the face of extreme poverty all in exchange for their youth, their mental stability, and their freedom. It was the graphic depictions of the killings that left me so unsettled in the book, and yet the translation to the big screen was masterfully done. There was plenty of blood shown, and we usually knew the method used for said heinous acts, but we weren’t subjected to watching, to waiting, to listening, as we were in the book, which at times felt a bit sadistic on the part of Ms. Collins. Shifting the focus away from the violent nature of the tributes’ eliminations provided the larger movie framework of meaning and purpose and intent behind the Games; a framework I never felt the book accurately provided.

The Movie Experience

During our 2 1/2 hours with a full theatre what surprised me most were the reactions of the live audience members. There were literal cheers of jubilation and triumph throughout the theatre when tributes were slaughtered. This is particularly interesting because the movie did not build up nearly enough emotional engagement with the other tributes to have warranted such an emotional response. Clearly viewers brought these feelings with them and were reacting on a visceral level to what they had related to in the book.

Given the subject matter, this disturbed me, and even caused me to question out loud, “Really?” at one particular such group outburst. At what point do we culturally draw the line between art and life? Do our youth not see the correlation to war as a game? Did we completely miss the mark and are so accustomed to violence against one another that the tragic loss of any life is no longer regarded as valuable as long as there is a modicum of entertainment value included? While I respect the fact that in our subconscious attempt to understand war and violence we seek after it in some sort of perverted way. But to outright dismiss its impact on those directly involved, their families, and even ourselves is to become one with the art and game of war as we step into our defined roles as citizens of the Capitol, whose only perspective is self-serving and morally corrupt.

Verdict

I can think of no other time in my movie-watching history that this has happened, but I liked the movie better than I did the book. There are other book to movie adaptations that are excellent and allow me to enjoy either version, but never one in which I prefer the movie. I think for many of the reasons I tried to illuminate above, but mainly for the framework of reason The Hunger Games movie creates – and the ability they provided to draw out emotions not well-represented in the book – did I feel this way. I’d love to know your opinion of the movie, and how you liked it compared to the book.

The Hunger Games Trilogy – A Review

The Hunger Games, published 2008

Catching Fire, published 2009

Mockingjay, published 2010

I’m going to treat my review of these three books as a collective whole, as I do not see them as separate stories, but rather as one contiguous tale told with two lengthy bathroom breaks. Please be forewarned, there are SPOILERS.

It’s about: Set in a not-so-futuristic North America, where controlled deprivation of basic human needs and fear of the reigning political power: The Capitol, are normal, Katniss Everdeen is a self-reliant 16-year-old, who voluntarily takes the place of her younger sister to participate in the annual nationally-televised Hunger Games. Only two options exist in the Games: survive or die, and it’s Katniss against 23 other youth. Having survived the Games as the reigning champion, Katniss makes the obligatory victory tour of the districts, only to discover she has become the unwilling symbol of political unrest across the nation. Forced to go back into the Games as a contender for the second year in a row, Katniss joins forces with the other contestants, and openly revolts against The Capitol, and an all-out revolution unfolds. The final showdown against The Capitol places Katniss once again in an arena, where life and death are seemingly just a game.

I thought:

The books were extremely difficult to put down, but I’m still pondering over the reasons why. I liked Katniss. A lot. I think she’s a great strong female protagonist, and to the best of her character’s developed ability, she is focused on principle foundations – or at least what she thinks are her foundations. Ultimately, the books allow her to explore (although at a rather elementary level) her guiding principles and how emotions affect and impact her in that process. Love interest #2, Peeta, was my favorite from Go, although I am unsure if my affection for him is actually my brain’s inability to acknowledge the antonym at play with pita bread, and my deep and abiding love for this flat bread marvel of the Mediterranean. Yet another mystery I will likely never solve. Love interest #1, Gale, was shallow, underdeveloped as a character, and never had enough screen time to become a true player in the overall story.

But why couldn’t I put down the books? I think it was because of the anticipation that something good had to come out of so much bad, but it never did, and here’s where I come completely clean about this story, and hopefully enable many of you to question your own publicly-proclaimed “love” for these books. Let’s be honest. I thought these books were horrific and gratuitously violent. I was shocked and riveted to my seat in disbelief because the target audience is young adults. For a story whose basic premise is “kill or be killed,” weaving a poorly-constructed love triangle throughout its pages is a lame excuse for young adult fiction. The plot is always at its weakest when we are not in the arena of the Games, and we are not in the arena a lot in books two and three, although Mockingjay (Book Three) had the most lulls in the storyline, and could have been whittled down significantly (I’m talking entire chapters here), and not lost anything against the plot.

Look, I don’t always need a happy ending to be satisfied, and I was tacitly content with the story’s conclusion. Where else was Collins going to go with the story, anyway? She’d pretty much painted herself into that corner. I just felt like there were loose ends, plot developments that ran out of steam somewhere along the way, and characters whose person could have been more richly developed. That’s all.

  1. What political statement was Suzanne Collins hoping to make?
  2. What overall message is she sending to her young adult readers?
  3. Is this book about war as a game?
  4. Katniss, Peeta, and the other “champions” of the Games clearly suffered from PTSD, yet no one took their suffering seriously. Is this a statement about how we as a society treat war veterans enduring this serious side effect of war?
  5. Was this a comment on us as The Capitol citizens? (Cause we’ve got sooo many “first world problems,” people.)
  6. Was this really just a love story and I’m over-thinking the entire thing?
  7. If you proclaimed to “love” these books, will you please tell me why?

Verdict: Read it once, but don’t worry that you’re missing out on something amazing if you never get around to them, and would rather reread Harry Potter for the tenth time, instead.

Reading Recommendation: If your young adult has already read the books, you’ll definitely want to read them, too, so you can discuss them together. If not, many many adults have been captivated by the story, and perhaps you will, too.

Warnings: With a nod to the YA label: Extreme violence, graphic death scenes, discomfiting moral dilemmas, weakly-attempted love story.