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.)