Friday, March 23, 2012

The Hunger Games: Movie Review

You may not know this about me, but I have connections. Namely, this guy. Thanks to his press status (he's the movie critic for our local newspaper), he scored two press passes to see The Hunger Games on Wednesday.  I know we usually stick to books here at STACKED, but I figured this film was big enough to merit a review.

Overall: I really, really liked it. This is one of the better movie adaptations of a novel that I've seen. It stays true enough to the book to please most fans, but it doesn't follow it so closely that it becomes awkward or tedious. Film and paper are two very different media formats, and changes need to be made from one to the other to make a successful adaptation. Luckily, the Hunger Games does it right.

Perhaps the "change" that I most appreciated in the movie is the inclusion of the gamemakers' actions during the Games themselves. Due to Katniss' first-person narration in the novel, we're unable to see what it is exactly that the gamemakers are doing. Sure, Katniss tells us a little bit of what must be going on, but it's not the same as seeing it. In the movie, the camera will often cut away from the Games to show us the gamemakers at work: creating fireballs to hurtle at Katniss, engineering vicious dogs to sic on the tributes, placing a tree in Katniss' path. It gives the moviegoer a chance to see some very cool futuristic technology that isn't as present in the book.

This is a slick production. The sets, costumes, and special effects are all very lavish and very detailed. It all screams "blockbuster" - as it should. The first shots of the Capitol are nearly breathtaking, as Peeta remarks. The costumes on the Capitol's denizens are just the right amount of ridiculous. The "girl on fire" costume that Katniss wears during the tribute parade is perhaps not as amazing as I was hoping, but it was still pretty neat to look at. The arena - filmed in exotic Asheville, North Carolina - is beautiful, too, in a very deadly way. The Hunger Games is a pretty film with much to draw the eye.

I think what most people will be talking about after seeing the film, though, is the acting. The two male leads are kind of duds (mediocre, but inoffensive), but Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss was an inspired casting choice. She channels a bit of her character Ree from Winter's Bone, frequently remaining silent but able to communicate a lot through her face and body language without making it seem like she's emoting. Thanks to the book's first-person POV, we get inside Katniss' head very easily there; Lawrence is able to do the same thing to the viewing audience without the benefit of an inner monologue, which is mighty impressive.

The supporting cast does a terrific job too. The roles of Seneca Crane and President Snow have both been beefed up for the film, which I liked. Crane was almost a nonentity to the me in the book, so much so that I didn't even remember what his role was when I read Catching Fire. Here, he is interesting. He gets a few key scenes with President Snow that help demonstrate his own motivations as well as Snow's.

Effie is mainly there for comic relief, which isn't a bad thing. Elizabeth Banks is a scene-stealer. She's got some really funny lines that keep the movie from being completely depressing, which I always appreciate. I've read some people complain about Haymitch, but I thought he was solidly portrayed as well. Lenny Kravitz as Cinna is equally good. And Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman has the most batshit insane camera smile you will ever see.

And Rue. Oh Rue. She's adorable and easy to like, and her death is wrenching. It hurts to see her die and to see Katniss' reaction to it, but the full impact of it isn't felt until we see District 11 rioting over it, fighting the peacekeepers, prompted by a man whom I assume is Rue's father.

The only thing that I really disliked about the film was its overuse of the "shaky cam" technique. It's used consistently during the Games themselves, and I assume it was done at least in part to keep the rating PG-13. If the camera remained still, the audience would get a much better view of the violence. As it is, though, it was sometimes difficult to tell exactly what was going on. And the technique was also used as the potential tributes walked to the Reaping ceremony - not necessary for rating purposes. It got to the point where I wanted to look away until the camera was steadied again. I am not a fan of this technique.

I have to mention just one more thing that has nothing to do with the film, really, but instead the audience's reaction to it. I was in a packed theater full of fans, and they were all very enthusiastic. So it makes sense that they would cheer when something good happens to Katniss, yes? There were cheers when Thresh saved Katniss by taking out another tribute, when Cato finally kicked it, and when Katniss and Peeta won the Games. Cheering and applauding for the death of children is nice, isn't it? Doesn't it make you think a little bit of the spectators in the Capitol, choosing favorites, making bets, cheering and booing the tributes? Doesn't it make you feel a little bit like the audience is just another pawn in the Games?

(That was your deep thought for the day. I hope you appreciate it.)

20 comments:

  1. I absolutely HATE when audiences cheer and clap at movies. HATE IT WITH A PASSION.

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  2. Great review! I can't wait to see this movie now. Good thing spring break starts this afternoon

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  3. Is it your impression that the director deliberately wanted the audience to have that reaction--to find themselves clapping at the death of children? That it was a meaningful commentary on how easy it is to fall prey to the Capitol's ulterior motive of the Games, rather than remain resolutely horrified throughout? I haven't seen the movie yet, but I wonder if you felt like that thought was too deep for this production. I see no evidence, for instance, that the nail polish and makeup merchandise tie-ins are anything but genuine marketing, when they should actually be subtle commentary. (P.S. I watched X-Men: First Blood last night and Jennifer Lawrence's performance was abysmal, but to be fair, the writing didn't give her much to work with. Still, I wonder whether she actually does better with relatively little dialogue, as in Winter's Bone.)

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    1. Elizabeth, I don't think that was intentional. The scenes during the actual Games didn't seem "sensationalized" enough to make it seem like the moviemakers were going for something like that.

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  4. Regarding your last paragraph, I think that's why I could never really get into liking the book while I was reading it -- I remained horrified throughout, it did not entertain me. I'm one of those people that read books to be entertained, not to delve into the human psyche.

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  5. My screening audience cheered to. It was...unsettling.

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    1. I saw it again tonight and the audience didn't clap or cheer. The little girl sitting next to me was unfazed by most of the violence (she jumped at the animal but that's about it), but she covered her eyes during the kissing in the cave. It was pretty hilarious.

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  6. So it makes sense that they would cheer when something good happens to Katniss, yes? There were cheers when Thresh saved Katniss by taking out another tribute, when Cato finally kicked it, and when Katniss and Peeta won the Games. Cheering and applauding for the death of children is nice, isn't it? Doesn't it make you think a little bit of the spectators in the Capitol, choosing favorites, making bets, cheering and booing the tributes? Doesn't it make you feel a little bit like the audience is just another pawn in the Games?

    I felt this way when I read the first book and did not read the second two, as I knew how it would go. The whole idea of it and how young readers talk about it is unsettling to me and I write dark stuff.

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  7. When my book club of adults discussed The Hunger Games, several members commented that they were looking forward to seeing the dresses, costumes, and make-up. I asked, "Doesn't that make us Capitol citizens?" My friends shrugged and acknowledged, "Yeah." Adults are aware of and happily buying into the marketing, consumerism, and entertainment. My concern is when children and teenagers aren't aware of being Capitol citizens.

    As an aside, the only time I've felt that audience reaction significantly enhanced the movie experience was when I watched one of the Rush Hour films. I kid you not when I report that the audience was mostly comprised of Asian-Americans and African-Americans (about evenly split), presumably there to see Jackie Chan and Chris Rock, respectively. The hooting and hollering at the screen during that movie were HILARIOUS and nobody in the theatre seemed annoyed at the audience participation. I doubt I would've enjoyed the movie nearly as much without the peanut gallery.

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    1. I think kids and teens are more aware of it than most people think.

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  8. What a great thought! I had never thought of it like that before but you're right!!

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  9. Amazing review. Probably the best movie review I've ever read - professional or blogger. I obviously already want to see the movie, but you made me even more anxious to see it tomorrow.

    I'm still nervous about the shaky cam though. Had the same issue with the movie The Bourne Ultimatum a few years ago and ended up making me feel dizzy and nauseous.

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    1. Thank you! That's a really nice compliment!

      The shaky cam only *really* bothered me in a couple scenes. I actually prefer not to see much gore/blood so I kind of appreciated it during the Games, but during the other scenes it added nothing, in my opinion.

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  10. So with you on the jumpy camera. It didn't bother me much during the violent scenes, I got why they were doing it. But when Katniss was just running through the woods, even back in District 12? Just too much jumpy and it made me kind of queasy.

    I went to an afternoon screening and there was no cheering. Some clapping as the credits came up but that was it. It would have disturbed me if they had clapped and cheered during the deaths of the other tributes.

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  11. Because I'm typically clueless, I had no idea that Jennifer Laurence was the actress from Winter's Bone, which I loved.

    I'm going to see this tomorrow. I don't know if I would prefer a large cheering audience or not. I have trouble blaming people for their initial response to something like this, especially among a large crowd. I have cheered too often at movies which basically tend to be "it's a happy ending if the good looking people survive." I think those who are fans of the book, it's an emotional experience to see something you love come to life. Hopefully, later they will think about what they were cheering.

    I'm going to take my 60 year old mother to see the movie. She never read the book, so I'm quite interested in her response. Most people I have talked to about it were fans of the book.

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  12. Maybe it's just because I love Gale so much, but I thought he was well-cast. He just didn't get much screen time.

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  13. I too hated the shaky-cam in the District 12 scenes, but I didn't notice it much in the Games. Love your notice of the movie putting us into the role of the Capitol citizens! My audience was also very enthusiastic which I liked but argh - the cell phones, kids talking, walking around, etc. was difficult. I haven't been in a theater chock full of tweens in... well forever as best I can remember! And I full plan with movies 2 and 3 to follow through with my original plan and NOT see it opening weekend - which was my plan with this movie too but a friend changed my mind and it was fun, but I don't want to repeat.

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  14. I must be the only one, but I really enjoyed the shaky cam. I thought it gave it a "reality tv" feel to the movie, which is what I thought they were going for with it.

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  15. That's SUCH a cool observation about the audience. I was just standing in the back, hoping my tiny sleeping six month old, asleep in my Ergo, didn't wake up during the two hours and twenty minutes. Yes, I went to see it Friday with an infant...I have issues...but I really just HAD to go!

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