The Hunger Games is one of those rare movies that are not only equal to but outdo the books they are based upon. The material is nearly handled with perfection here.
I suppose I could claim to be a bit of a Hunger Games hipster.
I don’t remember where I first heard of the book, probably a blog site, but it was accompanied by a claim that it was “One of the Best Books of 2008.” If I was skeptical of the claim, the concept at least sounded interesting, so I got it from my public library.
In June 2009, I read it in one day. It’s an easy yet gripping read, so I’m sure many others have had a similar experience. I groaned out loud at the end of the book. It was just so good, and I was more than a little in love with Peeta Mellark…
Has anyone else read this book? Does anyone else love it? I wondered. Yes, there were the obligatory fansites. A search on Facebook only showed that the sister of one of my friends listed it among her favorite books. None of my other friends had even heard of it.
Flashforward 2.5 years and 2 sequels later. Somehow, back when I was reading the book on my grandma’s couch on that sticky summer day, I never predicted I’d be waiting in line at the theater at midnight dressed as Foxface (a character choice based entirely on my vaguely-reddish hair color, I assure you). I went mainly to have fun with my friends and to make up for the fact that I had sadly never been to a Harry Potter midnight premiere. My two close friends, who I shall dub Blonde and Brunette, went as Effie Trinket and Katniss, respectively. Brunette sewed Blonde an outrageous magenta dress, complete with fake flowers. It was over-the-top and completely perfect as far as I was concerned.
The theater was packed full of teenage girls dressed as Katniss or wearing “Team Peeta” T-shirts. They seemed to pay rapt attention to the screen, except when necessary to giggle like crazy at any hint of romance or to sob without inhibitions (those who have read the book, you know exactly which part I’m talking about). Aside from some of the silliness, I enjoyed seeing a movie with such an engaged audience.
That’s Cool, But Get to the Review Already
So, how was the movie itself? It was great. I count it among those rare films that are not only equal to but outdo the books they are based upon. The material is nearly handled with perfection here. The movie follows the book very closely, but is able to escape the constraints of Katniss’s first-person narration. We see the devious Gamemakers at work in their high-tech control room, unleashing misery upon the contestants. Haymitch courts sponsors, and Seneca Crane interacts with President Snow. Backstory is revealed in well-placed flashbacks. Overall, the book was well-adapted for the screen.
The acting largely exceeded my expectations. If I had one complaint about Jennifer Lawrence, it is that she looks (and her low voice sounds) a little too old for the part. It’s a small qualm, as she is excellent as Katniss, making her into the sympathetic character she is in the first book. Initially, I was not happy to hear that Josh Hutcherson was going to play Peeta, but he grew on me as the film progressed. He didn’t blow me away, but he did a very adequate job. The Capital characters (Caesar, Effie, Cinna) and the tributes all felt note-perfect.
The beginning gets off to a slow start, opening with brief, jerky camera shots of District 12, a filming style that threatened to give me a headache. However, things swiftly pick up once Katniss and Peeta reach the Capital. All the environments feel like they should, from poverty-stricken District 12 to the outlandish colors of the Capital’s citizens. The tension builds as the tributes prepare to enter the arena and the action takes off at breakneck speed and rarely slows down. For some reason, the end feels slightly anticlimactic, and the resolution is rather paltry as though the filmmakers were running out of time. Like the book, the ending leaves room for the second installment, though in the film the characters’ situation ends on a (very) slightly more upbeat note.
The portrayal of violence was a pretty crucial element to the film, and it’s clear the director had this firmly in mind. A lot of the killing is shown in quick, shaky cutaway shots. The final conflict was also much more violent in the book, but was toned down for the screen, which I didn’t mind one bit. It’s clear the intent was to stay in the PG-13 zone, and also not to glorify the violence (which would be an epic case of missing the point). What violence is shown more directly made me feel shocked, sad, or slightly sick – which was exactly what it was meant to do. However, I was slightly disturbed at one point by the audience reaction. When one evil tribute was brutally killed by another tribute, many in the audience applauded. It alarmed me that people thought any of the killings deserved applause, even the death of a cruel tribute.
The Hunger Games is a very dark series, and the movie is no different. I like to spend most of my time in less dire fictional universes (i.e. Harry Potter and Star Wars, for a start). However, THG is an interesting place to visit whether on the page or on the screen, and you’ll no doubt leave with a few things to ponder about our own world.