Being a recently converted Hunger Games fanatic, I went to see the midnight showing of the film last night with my siblings and best friend. There are bound to be a million reviews about the movie and it’s relation to the book, but I figured I’d throw my two cents in anyway.
Before I go any further, I have to say that I am reviewing the movie as a companion piece to the book. It is frankly, impossible for me to do otherwise having read the series so recently and being such a fan. Were I to review the movie idependently, I might be more critical (it faced many of the problems that movies adapted from books have to deal with, such as reduced character development, because it assumes most viewers have read the novel(s)).
My verdict: it’s probably the best adaptation of a book I’ve seen. As long as you come in understanding that they have to cut and condense parts of the novel in order to fit everything into a ~2hour movie without sacrificing quality, you should be pretty pleased.
(SPOILER ALERT – Don’t read on unless you’ve read the book AND scene the movie)
What I didn’t like:
In the process of cutting and condensing, they significantly lessened the mortal peril faced by Katniss and Peeta. Katniss is hardly injured by the explosion of the Career’s food supply, Peeta’s injury is healed rather quickly, and the cut Katniss sustains while getting Peeta’s medicine is not serious. Considering that the film does a good job of conveying the brutality of the games when it comes to all of the other tributes (without getting too gory) I was disappointed by this. I think more could have been done to make you seriously fear for their lives (or well-being) as you do in the novel. I still remember thinking that Katniss was going to have to survive without hearing in her left ear forever (and was, perhaps naïvely, surprised when The Capitol healed this). In addition, Peeta being in mortal peril for a shorter period of time meant he and Katniss were together for a shorter period of time, and I would have liked to see more of them together to more firmly establish their relationship. The New York Times review somewhat echoes my critique: the film “rarely suggests the terrors Katniss faces.” (Read the full review here.)
The segment of the film I had the biggest issue with was the ending. Through the fight with the mutts (which are not as depicted in the book, because really, how would they possibly accurately convey the terror of the fact that they had the eyes of the fallen tributes?) I was very happy with how the film was going. Then the announcement came that there could only be one winner. In the book, Peeta goes to throw his knife away and Katniss misinterprets his movement, putting a bow to his heart. This, to me, was a heartbreaking scene that clued the reader (and, I thought, President Snow) into Katniss and Peeta’s true relationship: despite Katniss’ growing feelings for Peeta, she is not in love with him as he is with her. This short moment is skipped in the film, and I didn’t understand why.
Then, right before the end of the novel Peeta and Katniss have a fight before their public appearance in District 12, as Katniss reveals she has been playing a part and is not really in love with Peeta. This fight never happens in the movie. There is an exchange of dialogue:
Peeta: What happens now?
Katniss: We try to forget this ever happened.
Peeta: I don’t want to forget what happened.
(Or something like that).
Then it cuts to them standing in front of a crowd at District 12. This, in addition to the short amount of time Katniss spends with Peeta in the movie overall means that the film gives a slightly different picture of the Katniss-Peeta relationship than the novel does. [EDIT: In retrospect, I realize they may have been saving this fight (or something like it) for the opening of Catching Fire, which would make sense to me.]
The moments between these scenes are drastically shortened as well – we see very little of the final interview between Katniss and Peeta, and the interview is quite different from the novel version, which I think is much stronger. Of course, one is almost always going to prefer the book to the movie, but the instances where I can’t understand why the changes were made bother me the most.
However, as I said at the beginning, I really enjoyed the movie! These problems I had all occurred within the last ten minutes of the film. So now, what I really liked:
The tone of the film was beautifully matched to the book, and the fact that it was from Katniss’ perspective was conveyed better than I could have expected. There are lovely, short and sweet flashbacks to her father’s death, her mother’s withdrawl, and Peeta giving her the bread. I’ve heard complaints about these from people who haven’t read the books, but again, I’m looking at the movie as a companion piece. After Katniss is stung by the tracker jackers the film is disoriented to give the audience a sense of what she is feeling. Moments before the games have muted sound that covey the numbness Katniss is feeling as she tries to come to terms with whats happening, or her stage fright during her first interview. After the explosion in the games, there are a couple of minutes where the only noise is the ringing in Katniss’ ears. As I said above, I never felt like Katniss and Peeta were in danger the way I did in the novel, though my anxiety for them before the games was greater than it had been in the novel. The violence of the games outside of these two characters is showcased well without glorification (or anything that would have endangered the PG-13 rating).
The casting was great – not only for the leading three, but for all of the supporting characters. Tthough I’m not on the Jenniffer Lawrence train, I wouldn’t go as far as the NYT did and call her performance “bland” – I thought she did a fine job. Liam Hemsworth (Gale) honestly didn’t really get enough screen time to seriuosly judge his acting chops, but again, a fine performance. The winner of the three leads was for me, Josh Hutcherson (Peeta), who I thought completely embodied his character. However, the cast of supporting actors was especially superb – Elizabeth Banks makes a wonderfully comedic Effie, Donald Sutherland (one of my favorite actors) makes a chillingly calculating and brutal President Snow, Woody Harelson is a perfect fit for Haymitch, Lenny Kravitz is captivating as Cinna, Stanley Tucci is hilarious and completely convincing as the host of the games, and the added character, the game master, Seneca Crane, is well done by Wes Bentley. The child actors who play Rue and Primrose (Amandla Stenberg and Willow Shields) also do a fine job (a relief, since it can sometimes be especially difficult to find adequate child actors).
Though the Capitol was not as I pictured it, I think it was beautiful and wonderfully done, and true to the novel. The same goes for the other settings: District 12 and the setting for the games themselves. Perhaps nothing could have accurately replicated the beautiful costumes Katniss and Peeta wear before the games, but the movie made a good effort.
I loved that the movie version allowed us to go places we couldn’t in the novel, such as the room where the game maker controls the games, which looked like a futuristic NASA control room. I also loved the incorporation of a couple of events that do happen during the time frame of the first novel but that the reader doesn’t find out about until Catching Fire (riots in District 11, the death of the game master on the President’s orders).
Some specific scenes I enjoyed that I haven’t yet mentioned:
I was surprised at how well the cave scene was done. Though it may verge on cliché even in the novel it is actually somewhat better handled in the movie because it is shorter. Katniss first kisses Peeta on the cheek and it seems tentative and forced, prompting a note from Haymitch: “You call that a kiss?” The second kiss is a result of this prompting but perhaps something more. Then when Peeta tells the story of his crush on Katniss, he rushes through it in an earnest, desperate way that is very believable, considering he thinks he may soon die and wants Katniss to understand the truth (and they are still teenagers – they can be melodramatic if they want, though I’m not sure what’s melodrama in a literal fight to the death).
(There is a later scene in the cave not in the books where Peeta is applying salve to Katniss’ head – not such a fan of this, as it’s painfully awkward in a bad way, but it’s thankfully its a short scene.)
The moment between Katniss and Peeta that I really loved was after his recovery when they are hunting/gathering. Peeta makes a joke about taking Katniss’ arrow. It takes her a moment to understand he is kidding, but then she smiles, which is rare in the movie and rarer during the games, and it’s great to see that Peeta can bring that out of her. Then there is the moment when Katniss thinks Peeta has died, and she yells at him for scaring her and picking the nightlock. Though Katniss may not be in love with him, she has certainly come to care for him, and this scene is well done and conveys that information.
Finally, Rue’s death was beautifully done. Katniss’ distraught afterward is harrowing, and this is probably the highlight of the movie in terms of Lawrence’s acting.
I’m so excited for Catching Fire, but in the meantime I’m definitely planning on seeing the move again (and then probably re-reading Catching Fire and Mockingjay).
Happy Hunger Games!