I’m not usually the reviewing type, as I can’t get a feel for most movies that come out these days. That said, the books were recommended to me a month ago, I read them all in a matter of a couple weeks (which is good for me in for recent years), and for the first time in a while there was anticipation about an upcoming movie tingling deep inside, although even deeper down I was pretty sure of inevitable disappointment. We managed to score some okay seats in a non-packed theatre, so that was nice. I imagine there are some SPOILERS below, so don’t read this review if you haven’t read the books/seen the movie. They are pretty much the same thing though, and you won’t spoil much by reading my review if you have only read them and not seen the film.
PLOT – 4/5
For those who have not read the book, this is perhaps the worst review ever, because I can’t tell you what the story lacks or if the movie stands independently on its own. A guess can be made that most of it was explained well, but without the depth and grip of the book, which is darker and more introspective and told in a first-person narrative. I think Katniss’s narration might have added some of that dark emotion to the movie, as well as maybe some insight into what will ultimately consume much of the second book’s movie (Peeta/Gale). Gale is written into the movie as much as needed, but maybe not enough to give the right impression of how important he is to Katniss – part of why a narrator would have enhanced this movie, but still, it’s not necessary. Aside from that, it never strays too far from the plot of the book.
The movie begins in District 12, home of Katniss and Gale, on the day of the Reaping. A mockingjay pin is given by Greasy Sae to Katniss after she sells her some wild game she has hunted. This diverts from the mayor’s daughter and friend to Katniss, Madge, gifting her the pin in the book. Madge never serves as a very relevant character except maybe to show that Katniss is capable of making friends after all, so I can see why they omit this in the book for a character who pertains more to Katniss’s family’s benefit. This was really the only major thing I noticed that was largely different, except maybe that the Capitol stylist team is not introduced for more than a split second, where in the book they are a shallow group which eventually in the series would give us a glimpse of their humanity. “No biggie!”
Also, we never see such things as Katniss nearly dying of dehydration in her search for water, or the river drying up and driving her and Peeta to have to seek out the lake (and a battle upon the arrival of all the other parched Tributes) for water. There are only so many hours in this movie, however, so I can understand this. One addition that might have been included was Katniss’s left ear being deafened by the explosion of the pyramid of food and supplies at the Cornucopia. This, for me, would have demonstrated that she is not unscathed and immediately sponsored and healed every time she is hurt in the arena, which would have added some reality to a situation where teenagers are trying to kill one another.
CASTING – 3.75/5
The movie is well cast, although Gale could have been less a pretty boy than a rugged hunter type than Liam Hemsworth offers. Elizabeth Banks as Effie turns out to be a good and comical choice. Haymitch is played by Woody Harrelson, a great pick in my opinion. I’m not sure there’s another actor right now in his age group who could demonstrate the dynamic of angry drunk/caring mentor without seeming forced (let’s forget Owen Wilson in Drillbit Taylor momentarily). I wasn’t sure on Donald Sutherland as President Snow, as I had pictured him taller, leaner, younger, and more cosmetically-altered as he is President of Panem and lives in the Capitol. It turns out, though, he might work well and, of course, his voice adds a touch of the grandiose, if not a reminder of the curator at the Jebediah Springfield Museum and many television commercials. Sweet, sweet Peeta is played by Josh Hutcherson, and makes a whole lot easier the decision of which boy in Katniss’s life she should stick to. I am Team Peeta, but only after watching the movie. In the books I was torn only because Gale seems to watch out for Katniss and has that bad boy attitude that girls seem to love even when it’s destructive. Jennifer Lawrence is a great pick for the role of Katniss. She is just dark enough to keep Hollywood’s attention, and although it really shouldn’t be about that, let’s face it, it is. They could have selected a much darker and perhaps plainer girl as self-described in the books, but then we can also consider that she described herself much in the way that any non-materialistic person might, beautiful on the outside or not. She has a bit of an edge to her personality which is apparent without the audience needing to hear her every thought, and that is exactly what this role required.
Great casting also goes to the roles of Rue, who looked incredibly as I had imagined, and to that of Cinna. I never thought I’d like Lenny Kravitz as an actor, but a better Cinna cannot be dreamed up by me. Not many men or women can pull off gold eyeliner, either. Kudos to him. The girl who played Foxface was very fox-faced and quick, so that worked. Cato, played by Alexander Ludwig, is a believable jock, but I’m not sure if he’s the most believable Career. He doesn’t give the impression of a person who wants to murder everyone else and win, and the humility shown at the end of the movie by him seems strange and maybe kind of rushed. Seems like a nice kid in interviews, however.
PACE – 5/5
Like the books, I didn’t feel any time was wasted and all that was shown was pertinent to the plot. Although the Games do not start until half way through the movie, the setup was important to establish the characters. It feels long in that much of the important parts of the book are touched on, but quick as a movie that runs two and a half hours.
OTHER – 3.5/5
Much of the question before the release of the Hunger Games movie was “How will they show children killing each other?” I think they did a job appropriate to the task. Consider first, blood/guts/gore action is not my favourite genre, and morals and influence on the kids watching and idolizing the character ranks highly in a movie where millions upon millions of them will be watching. The killing was not graphic, usually a flash or a quick cut so you knew what was happening but lame enough so that the sick people who get their kicks watching kids brutally murder one another wouldn’t be influenced at all by it. If one could say so, the murdering in this movie was portrayed in as decently a way as possible, while still somewhat, maybe 65% of the way, displaying the gravity of the effect of each death. Sad, but not with the great impact written into the books, except for the death of Rue which felt tragic (although if I’m to be honest, I felt a lot more moved while reading than while watching).
I liked the naive portrayal of the people of the Capitol. It was done colourfully and well, and exemplified everything the Capitol was said to value: Money, mountains of food, ridiculous decor, fancy clothes, cosmetic surgery, waxed legs, general stupidity, a seeming unawareness of the reality of the Games their children (if they even had any) would never have to partake in.
WORTH SEEING? 4/5
Especially if you’ve read the books, I would recommend the movie. As a movie, I believe it stands alone but I am much happier I think having read the books than I would have been without. If you haven’t read them, know that it kept the interest of a nearly-full theatre of people, at least three of whom I am aware of did not read any of the books beforehand, for two and a half hours and I did not hear one complaint as we left. No one seemed disappointed, which is hard to come by. I fully anticipated some disappointment myself, but I was pleasantly surprised and would watch it a few times over. To those who know me, that says a lot. Watch it.