“Welcome Tributes to the 74th Annual Hunger Games.”
This was what greeted us on the theater marquee as I went into my midnight showing of The Hunger Games this morning. I’ve always wanted to check out a midnight opening of a major blockbuster, so when I didn’t have to go into work on Friday I decided that The Hunger Games was my opportunity (Missing from this thought process – the reason I had the day off was because I had an 8 am appointment at the garage for my car. Once again – top notch decision making by me). Apparently midnight movies are a young person’s game, since the crowd demographic skewed young. Very young. As in if the Hunger Games actually happened, I think I was the only person in the theater who would have been too old to participate.
I was eagerly anticipating this movie as I really enjoyed the books. There is always a certain degree of difficultly in adapting a popular book. Those who have already enjoyed the books know the story and have preconceived notions of how characters and things should look based on the pictures that they have in their head, yet you also have to appeal to newbies who require more exposition (while not boring the veterans). The results can be mixed: on one end of the spectrum are the terrible Twilight movies (seriously – they are dreadful) and on the other end is the Game of Thrones adaptation on HBO, which is so good that I actually stopped reading the first book so as to not spoil the TV show. When does that happen? The majority fall somewhere in the middle .
I’m relieved to say that The Hunger Games is a solid adaptation of the first book in Suzanne Collins’ trilogy. It isn’t particularly flashy, but it is enjoyable and I think fans of the series will be pleased.
The Hunger Games, for the uninitiated, takes place in a dystopian society where, as punishment for an uprising against the government, there is a yearly competition where each district is forced to send two children (one boy and one girl) to compete to the death in the Hunger Games. The last child alive is the winner and gets to return home. The brutal slaughter is televised, primarily for the enjoyment of the wealthy residents of the Capitol.
The main strength of the film is its cast. They really did a fantastic job in selecting actors who could bring these characters to life. I was initially concerned when it was announced that Jennifer Lawrence was playing Katniss Everdeen, since at 21 I thought she was too old to be playing a 16 year old. However, the upside is that Lawrence is a very talented young actress and she does an excellent job of portraying the story’s heroine. They do what they can to make Lawrence look younger and are partially successful – she doesn’t look 21, but she doesn’t necessarily look 16 either. Josh Hutcherson was not exactly how I pictured Peeta either, but he was also able to overcome my initial concerns. The supporting cast of Elizabeth Banks (Effie Trinket), Stanley Tucci (Cesear), Woody Harrelson (Haymitch), Lenny Kravitz (Cinna) and the always fabulous Donald Sutherland (President Snow) all knocked it out of the park as well. The casting director really did a fine job and all the performances are top notch.
Though a book almost always has to be condensed when being transitioned to film, I think they did a good job of hitting most of the key moments. I can’t think of much of substance that they missed, though I am sure more rabid fans will find some omissions more troubling. My yardstick was how well they handled to Rue subplot. Though it was not as fully developed as in the book, I think they did that storyline justice and captured all the emotion involved. There were quite a few sniffles during some of the key moments, myself included.
The film also helped me visualize some of the things that I had trouble picturing in the book. Katniss is referred to as “The Girl on Fire” because of her outfits at the Tribute parade and her interview. I always had a tough time understanding what that actually looked like. The symbolism was apparent to me, but I struggled to put an image in my head that matched the words on the page. The movie interpretation of her costumes was very helpful in helping me grasp what it might actually have looked like.
All this praise is not to say that the movie is flawless. I did have some issues, primarily with the action sequences. The Hunger Games may be a fight to the death, but they are a PG-13 fight to death, which means that it isn’t particularly gory and much of the murder and brutality is done off screen or in a series of shots that obscures the actual mayhem. I understand that the intended audience for the books and the film is the young adult market, but I would have enjoyed a little more action and violence. If you are going to have children participating in a murderous fight for survival, you might as well go for it.
I also wish that they would have fleshed out Peeta a bit more. This is Katniss’ story, but the books do a better job of describing Peeta as a three dimensional person. The Peeta of the books may not be the most dashing or athletic of the participants, but he is charming and funny and very likable. You get hints of that in the movie, but I wish they had done more to make him a more fully realized character.
My biggest issue with the film is that I think that they did a disservice to whole revolution back story and the true iron fist with which the Capitol rules. This is of course a bigger issue in the later part of the trilogy, but I thought that the film failed to capture how truly horrific the Capitol and their rules were beyond The Hunger Games and the unrest that was simmering in the Districts. Don’t get me wrong – they do acknowledge some aspects of this in the film, but it is such an important theme and lays the groundwork for the inevitable sequels that I thought it deserved more development, especially for the viewers who haven’t read the books.
Some random observations:
- One of the reasons I wanted to go to a midnight movie was I thought that there would be some die hard fans that were there in costume. That didn’t seem to be the vibe for the crowd at my showing (though there were 3 other screenings going on at the same time so I may have missed some). When I was leaving there were a group of girls who I though might be parodying the over the top style of the residents of the Capitol, but they may have also just been terrible dressers.
- He just makes a cameo appearance, but Buttercup the cat does make it into the film
- We hit a major snag last night when they had problems showing the film in my theater. We wound up sitting there for at least 30 minutes before they finally moved us to another room, which meant I didn’t get home until 3 am. I felt really bad for the kids who had shown up early to get the best seats because that meant that they were in the theater for a very long time. We got a free pass for another movie for our trouble, but it made for a long night and a cranky audience. As I quipped on Twitter, the odds were not in our favor.
- I tried to eavesdrop on the reaction of people as they were leaving to see what they thought of the film. Most people seemed pretty happy, except for one girl who was REALLY upset about something. I’m guessing she’s read the books a few times. It was amusing to listen to her rant.
- I’m REALLY interested to see what people who haven’t read the books think of the film. If you fall into this category, post your impressions. I couldn’t realistically separate the film from the books in my head, so I’d like to hear your perspective.
Despite a few quibbles, I enjoyed The Hunger Games a lot. For those fans that were worried about how loyal they were to the books, I think you will be satisfied. I would have preferred a bit more violence and political commentary, but was otherwise pleased. Let me know what you think.