Review of The Hunger Games Film
Typically, I can enjoy most film adaptations of beloved books, as long as they stay true to the essence of the story they are translating. I’m not so nit-picky to quibble about height or weight (a phenomenon right now my feminist brain can’t process), though if certain physical attributes are important (brunette to blonde) I require that detail to remain. I really just hope some of my favorite book scenes are unfolded before my eyes, maybe even improving on the prose and my imagination, but, overall, I want to be entertained.
I attended a midnight showing of The Hunger Games in part because there is no better way to watch with crazy fans (like me) but also because it renders the next day spoiler free (when I can then read every review that I ignored until that point). Reviews are always tricky because they tend to, ever so quietly, describe something that maybe you wanted to preserve for your virgin viewing, so I am going to do my best to review spoiler- and suggestive- free.
I loved The Hunger Games, let me start there. From the casting to the scenery to getting so many things right, I loved it. I loved the blue hue during the reaping versus how much crisper things looked by contrast at the Capitol. I’m sometimes bothered by CGI, but The Capitol and its inhabitants (lacquered to the rainbow hilt) went beyond what I imagined – in the best ways possible. Seeing the food made me hungry, seeing the clothes made me want to shop, and even feeling the panic made me want to run to the Cornucopia to grab a bag for my own survival. Above all else, I felt the same emotions I did when I read the book – I mourned the same deaths, held my breath, cried. The only thing I couldn’t do was put the book aside when it had pushed too many buttons. Like the inhabitants of Panem, I couldn’t help but watch.
When talks about the casting began – once it was officially announced the film would be made – I had soft spots for certain people. Hailee Steinfeld blew me away in True Grit, so I wanted her for Katniss, as well as Cillian Murphy for Cinna and Robert Downey Jr. for Haymitch. None of those wishes came true (though Elizabeth Banks did get Effie, which I could cheer for). I did rally for Jennifer Lawrence, especially because she had been so phenomenal in Winter’s Bone, I was relieved that it wasn’t some bimbo starlet. Lawrence gets the role exactly right, strong and forced into the matriarchal protective role in her family, confused by the need to play to the media, determined to play the game (both to the death and in the media) but not concentrating on winning but surviving, Her moral compass isn’t shattered – she helps those she feels need help, because it’s the right thing to do, not the best play to make. I loved Katniss for that in the book, and I loved Lawrence for bringing that to the film in a raw and honest way, as with Liam Hemsworth as Gale (a minor presence here, but a grounded one) and Josh Hutcherson as Peeta (now really understanding why he went after this role so hard – he knew exactly how to play it).
I often forget what a mesmerizing actor Woody Harrelson is until I see him in a performance. His Haymitch couldn’t be more ripped-from-the-page perfect while also being Harrelson’s own incarnation. I liked him more and sympathized with him more in the film – maybe because I’ve read the complete series and know Haymitch beyond this, but I still attribute it to what Harrelson did with the character.
I admit I was most disappointed at Lenny Kravitz’ getting Cinna, and I have to say I was pleasantly put in my place. He brings a dignity to the role that I had forgotten is what Cinna embodies. He may be part of the Capitol, but his heart is not owned by it, and that I evident his soft spoken delivery. The way he speaks to Katniss is ever so loving and I felt an even greater connection between the two than the book gave me.
As far as the details, I knew going in about some of the changes, so I’d had the opportunity to adapt to the loss of Madge as a character (and the keeper of the Mockingjay pin) as well as other things, as I understood the logic of condensing a 300+ page book into a 2 hour+ movie. I think it also helps me as the reader that I don’t re-read the book right before the film, so that the details can be a little hazy and thus refocused by the visual medium. While people in my movie-going group did scoff at some omissions, I personally didn’t feel a loss of them. Instead, director Gary Ross and Co. deftly delivered a film that honored everything that I loved about the book. It wasn’t a Battle Royale knock-off, or even Hunger Games (book) one. It was a film that I could love as much as the book, and whet my appetite for the two others to come.