March 25, 2012
I’m not an early adopter so it’s not surprising that I didn’t jump on the Hunger Games bandwagon until 5 days prior to the movie’s release. Thankfully, it’s a quick read so I was finished with the book in under 6 hours and ready to see it come to life on the screen on Friday.
To be sure, people who read a book before the movie comes out are a huge critic of the film. But people who read the book, can’t put it down and LOVE it are the biggest critics of all. That would be me. And bunches of other people.
First, let’s talk about all of the things done right in the Hunger Games movie. There are a lot.
- The movie is extremely faithful to the book; some of the dialogue is verbatim and with very few exceptions, the plot follows the book precisely.
- I found it much easier to sympathize with and understand Haymitch in the film. You get a pretty clear sense that he became an alcoholic and sarcastically nasty because he’s lost every pair of Tributes he’s ever worked with. He’s built up a wall of liquor and surliness to protect himself from getting too attached to these kids. I liked that we got to see his behind the scenes efforts to get sponsors and help for Katniss and Peeta.
- The creativity behind the presentation of the Gamemakers’ control room was incredible. It was a futuristic, sci-fi-NASA hotbed of brilliantly twisted manipulators. It was a little hard to imagine how the Gamemakers worked their evil madness in the book, but it really came to life on the screen.
- The movie kept my attention, and the 2-1/2 hours flew by. The pace was fast, the action was relentless, and the tension was high for much of the film, as it should have been.
- The performances and casting choices were all on target: Katniss, Peeta, Haymitch, Effie, President Snow, Seneca and Caesar were all perfect. Rue couldn’t have been more precious and precocious. But I would have liked even more Cinna!
- The makeup and special effects were well done, the cinematography was beautiful, and the depiction of the Capitol was fascinating. We saw how horrendous life was in the Districts, and how ridiculously extravagant life was in the Capitol.
- The costumes were perfection. The District attire was muted depressed grays and blues, while Capitol garb was over the top in the craziest way imaginable. Effie’s matching makeup, nails and clothing were very creepy Alice-In-Wonderland-ish. And the flaming costumes Peeta and Katniss wore into the Games were stunning.
I do have some criticisms though, and once again, as a book-lover I’m uber-sensitive to things that a non-book-reader would probably not even notice.
- I think they would notice the camera gimmicks though. I found the shaky camera work to be very distracting and it actually made my eyes hurt. I can see that the gimmicks make sense in some scenes, showing the frenzy of the moment, as in the Tracker Jacker attack. But for me they were generally annoying, and detracted from my theater experience overall.
- My biggest complaint is that the edge was taken off the story; I suppose to maintain the PG-13 rating and to allow kids to see the film since it started out as a teen book. In my opinion, anyone younger than 13 or 14 shouldn’t read the book anyway, much less see the movie because of the violent subject matter. An R rating would have been easy to achieve, but I think the raw quality of the story could have been maintained without heading into R territory.
We didn’t get a sense of how truly brutal the Games were, how beaten up the Tributes were, how intense the final cornucopia arena scene was, how tender the cave scenes were, or how heartbreaking the final train scene was. I think the key themes of the book were a little glossed over, and that the director was afraid to “go there”. We didn’t see the main characters starving, freezing cold, burning hot, panic-stricken and near death.
For example, when Katniss suffered a serious knife wound to the head, it barely bled. In the real world, a head cut will bleed profusely, and hers didn’t even dribble into her eyebrow. I once had a cut over my eyebrow, and even my shoes were ruined from the amount of blood that I lost. I think this kind of missed detail just detracted from the realism of the story.
And call me gruesome, but I really wanted to see the haunted human eyes of the Muttations, and a little more detail in the Tracker Jackers.
- The characters weren’t developed deeply enough for me, other than Haymitch. I don’t think we saw just how good Peeta was or how tough and distrustful Katniss was, or how much disdain she had for the angle of the star-crossed lovers. I know we don’t have the benefit of knowing Katniss’ thoughts as we did in first-person print, but I think we could have been shown more of who they were without that and without adding a lot of scenes to the already lengthy running time.
- One personal little nitpick: I imagined that music would be featured as a beautiful, magical and stark contrast to a ruthlessly brutal environment. In the book, music was a continuing theme: with Katniss’ father, with Prim and Katniss, and in Rue’s love of music and how the Mockingjays played into that. I think that highlighting that theme more prominently would have been stunning. Perhaps it will be in one of the future movies?
- And one last minor note, Gale seemed way too clean and fancy among the dirty downtrodden swarm of District folks. Where’d he get that nice haircut?
Overall, I would give the film a score of a “B+”. If the camera hadn’t been so irritating, and if the highs were a bit higher and the lows a touch lower, I would definitely give it an “A”.
In spite of my criticisms, I actually did love the movie, and would see it again. I’m looking forward to reading the next two books and seeing the other movies when they come out. To anyone older than 12, I highly recommend reading these books!
* All photos are the property of LionsGate Films.