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.

Comments

  1. says

    Word! Seeing this movie in the theater was such an interesting (and disturbing) cultural experience. I’ve talked to a few other people who saw it this weekend, and none of them reported the same inappropriate applause we witnessed. I’m a little relieved, but not totally. I just can’t handle the fact that people don’t GET these books.
    Here’s another review I liked: http://www.deadendfollies.com/2012/03/hunger-games-2012.html

    Thanks again for inviting us to join you and L! I’m so glad we went, and I’m way more eager to see the next two movies than I thought I would be. Days later I still can’t get over how PERFECTLY the Capital was presented. The costume/set design throughout the movie was just so fantastic. I wonder whether they’ll keep the same director. Have you heard anything about that?

    • says

      I did hear that both the director and Jennifer Lawrence are signed on for the second movie. I haven’t heard about any of the other cast members, but I can’t imagine any of them NOT recommitting, can you?

      Thank you for the link for the other review; she really mirrors my opinions, as well! For me the lingering thought since I saw the movie was how perfectly Jennifer Lawrence captured my personal image of Katniss: strong, independent, survivor, protective, and an individual. I’m still grateful for a female protagonist in whom I can be proud.

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