I took the boys to see The Hunger Games movie a week ago, and am just now finding time to sit down and write my reaction. In spite of a week to gather my thoughts, I’m afraid they’re still all over the place, so I’ll try to organize them into some sort of coherence. I did want to mention that as we were leaving, Noah, my 13-year-old, turned to me and said, “Mom, I think that’s just about the best movie made from a book that I’ve ever seen.” This from a kid who adores the Harry Potter series and thought they were awesome – until we listened to the audiobooks together, and he discovered for himself why I’d been saying, “But, they left so much OUT!”
Okay, on to The Hunger Games. For a quick summary: I loved it. Was it perfect? No. Did it meet my expectations? Yes – and more. Here’s why:
Spoiler warnings galore!
When the film was first being cast, I was one of the doubters. I didn’t doubt Jennifer Lawrence could pull off Katniss, but I didn’t get the Peeta and Gale casting, nor Hamitch or Cinna. I will gladly eat my words, because this movie was perfectly cast. Jennifer Lawrence BECAME Katniss on the screen – she was brilliant. She pulled off the full range of emotions – and I am SO glad they didn’t change her into some bad-*ss bow-wielding super-heroine who can’t wait to get into the arena and kick some Hunger Games butt. The scene where she’s ascending in the tube right before the games start and she is so afraid she’s shaking; Rue’s death – especially after she leaves Rue’s body and sits down against the log to cry…. I could go on and on. I loved her as Katniss.
Josh Hutcherson took a while to grow on me as Peeta, but had won me over by the end of the film. I will withhold judgment on Liam Hemsworth, as we don’t get much of Gale in the first movie. This was a disappointment to some friends of mine, but they realized that everything we know from Gale in the first book comes from Katniss’s thoughts, and would have been difficult to portray on film.
Woody Harrelson was terrific as Haymitch, although I wish the writers hadn’t sobered him up quite so soon. But I loved the way you could see how he “gets” Katniss, and the scenes of him wheeling and dealing with sponsors behind the scenes were a great addition. Lenny Kravitz completely won my heart as Cinna. He wasn’t at all how I imagined him but he will now live as Cinna in my mind. Every single scene between him and Katniss broke my heart. Elizabeth Banks was great as Effie, although we didn’t get as much of her character as I’d expected.
I went into the movie knowing that there were going to be some changes, mainly stemming from the fact that the book is completely told in first person by Katniss, and so a lot of what we know about her and the other characters comes from her thoughts. It is not easy to portray a lot of that on screen – as evident in the flashback scene in which Peeta gives her the bread. I don’t think that scene was fleshed out enough – there was really no evidence of how starving Katniss was, or how much that act of kindness from Peeta meant to her. Also, there was a lack of explanation as to why Peeta was running with the Careers at the beginning of the Games – I wish they would have dedicated a couple of minutes to explanation of that issue.
So, knowing that they were going to change things a bit to broaden the story, I think I was more prepared than some people. I had friends who I honestly thought would love the movie who were disappointed. They wanted more – more of those feelings from the book that made you love Katniss. But with the movie already clocking in at 2 hours 20 minutes, I don’t know what else they could have done.
My biggest disappointment with the story was the fact that they did not show how desperate the people in District Twelve were for food. I’m glad for the actors’ sakes that they didn’t make them starve themselves into gauntness, but why didn’t they show the scenes on the train when Katniss and Peeta react to having so much food placed in front of them? There are other ways they could have shown their extreme hunger and deprivation without actually making them lose a ton of weight and look unhealthy, and the director chose not to go there, for whatever reason.
The best thing about broadening the story from Katniss’s point of view was the scenes with the Gamemakers as they were running the games. The fact that they manipulated the Games so directly, and that it was really all just a GAME to them… It was chilling. It was horrifying watching them gleefully move players around on the “game board” in order to try to kill kids, and truly added to the overall horror of what the Games are and what the Capitol has done.
While there were some things that I wish the director had done, there were also some nice little directorial touches that I loved. When Prim is about to walk up to the platform at the reaping, right before Katniss volunteers, she reaches behind her to tuck her shirt in. As Peeta and Katniss are about to take the poison berries, he reaches out and tenderly takes her braid into his hand. Those little “bits of business” as we would have called them in acting class added such depth to the characters. Maybe these came from the actors, but I have a feeling the director’s hand was on those spots.
I was also impressed with how much they were able to convey about Katniss’s relationship with her mother, given the time given. The flashback scene to her father’s mine accident, as well as Katniss’s goodbye to her mother as she’s leaving for the Games, telling her that she can’t check out again but must take care of Prim, were both well-done and gave that necessary background to the audience.
There was so much to love about the way this book translated onto film. In spite of its few imperfections, I believe they honored the story and characters in a way not many book to film adaptations ever do. I hate the fact that we have to wait a year and a half for Catching Fire!