Saturday, March 24, 2012

Review: The Hunger Games

Unless you live under a rock and/or consume no form of media, you're probably fairly up to speed with The Hunger Games (and if not, we've got a guide for you right here). As an avid fan of the books I'd been counting down the days til it was time to see the big screen adaption. Good? Bad? Read on to find out.

Now, just to preface, when I say I'm an 'avid fan' of these books, I mean I love them like a fat kid loves cake. I dragged out reading the third book because I just didn't want my time in Panem to end. Despite that, while obviously super excited about the movie coming out, I was very realistic in my expectations. I'd read a quote from author Suzanne Collins where she praised the film-makers on the job they did constructing the world. Given that no other area of the film was addressed it did set a few alarm bells going, but I was going into this movie ready to forgive many a flaw.

The first 3/4 of the movie was everything I could have hoped for and more. District 12 looked exactly as I'd pictured, the reaping made me feel ill even though I knew exactly what was going to happen. Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss was very believable (despite her looking far more well-fed than anyone should be in a starving slum), and the relationship between her and younger sister Primrose was solid. Her relationship with Gale (Liam Hemsworth) was less obvious, but given that the connection between the sisters was more immediately important to the story, it was understandably rushed through a bit. As much as I love Gale in the books, I felt he was cast way too 'jock', and Hem Jr isn't overly great at 'using his acting' so I didn't actually mind them glossing over his parts. Mostly. As for Josh Hutcherson as Peeta...I'm still really torn. I really didn't like Peeta in the book, but was expecting to have my opinion changed. It, er, wasn't. If anything it was reinforced. I just don't know if Hutcherson did a good job and played him so true to the character that I was appropriately annoyed, or if I was annoyed because he did a crap job.

This is his 'sad while holding bread' pose.

My favourite part of the movie was probably the training portion in (and en route to) the Capitol. It's the first time we see the other tributes, the first time we see the Capitol in all its splendour, and the first time we meet Haymitch and Cinna. I was concerned about Woody Harrelson as Haymitch, but he ended up being my favourite thing about the movie. He played him a little more 'sarcastic asshole' than 'abrasive alcoholic' but it really worked. I'm going to be using his sarcastic thumbs-up in all life situations from now on. I was initially very excited about Lenny Kravitz being cast as Cinna, but it was hard to shut down the 'I'm watching Lenny Kravitz in a movie' awareness. He was ok, and pulled through for arguably Cinna's most important scene; his last moments with Katniss before she is ejected into the arena. The tension is something this adaption excelled at. The tension at the reaping was hanging like a cloud, the tension as the tributes counted down the days before battle was a slow creep, and the fear the in eyes of both Katniss and Cinna as she stepped into her chute bound for the arena was a gut-punch.

Strangely enough, once the tributes were in the arena it was all kind of downhill from there. The anticipation was almost better than the event. The opening scramble for supplies was well done and exciting, but after that it felt a little underwhelming. It was all trotting along ok, with (SPOILERS) Rue's death as a 'highlight', but once there was the announcement that two tributes could win as long as they were from the same district, it was gone.

My greatest fear with this movie is that they were going to turn it into Twilight. Sure, there's a love triangle, but it's not the focus. It's something that just happens amidst all the stabbing and throat-slitting and explosions. The scene in the cave was a bit *groan groan* in the book, but at least you had Katniss's inner monologue setting you straight. In the movie, there's none of that. In the book you clearly know her intentions are strategic. If people think she and Peeta are in love, they have a better chance of surviving. If they can both make it out, then she won't have his blood on her hands and she can return home and face his family without guilt. In the movie it's all smoochy-smoochy love-face 'No Peeta don't eat the berries OMG what would I do without you OMG' with no clarification. Frankly, it really annoyed me, and if I'd written this review immediately following the movie it would have been a gigantic rant about how it was the worst thing I'd ever seen and that I award it NO STARS. Even after they make it back to the Capitol at the end, there's a sense that she's not overly keen on keeping up the charade, but at no point does she lay the smack down and go 'Look Peeta, it was all an act. Sorry I've ruined you forever' (like she does in the book). Admittedly throughout the book she does question if perhaps the line has been blurred and she has developed real feelings, but the fact the film-makers made that conscious decision to not clarify the bulk of it as being a strategic move really pissed me off. IT'S NOT A LOVE STORY, YOU GUYS.

Unless we're talking about Wes Bentley and his beard. Then it's totally a love story.
But on a positive note, some of the other things they changed actually worked really well. Changing the source of the Mockingjay pin really trimmed a lot of unnecessary fat, and showing the start of the riots in District 11 was a wonderful little teaser for future events. I really really wish it had been more violent, but getting some of the stuff that happened in the books past the censors was going to be tough. Cato's death in the book was a huge psychological trauma but he was shown a whole lot of mercy in the movie. The only small change that did irk me a bit was the fact that Gale mentioned that he had 42 entries in the reaping, but then there was no mention of how he got so many, or the process, or anything. The people are starving, they put their name in the reaping ballot extra times in order to get food. It's driven by hunger. Thus why it's called the Hunger Games. Should that not have been a thing that was mentioned?

We're so hungry we just have to lie down...all over each other
I could go on about the good and the bad of this movie for years and there's a lot of stuff I haven't touched on, but I'll spare you. In short, do go and see it. I'm being overly precious about some areas due to being a fan, but I can only assume it was the same for Harry Potter fans over the last few years. While the books didn't feel 100% targeted at teenagers, the movie really does, which I think is important for non-teenaged fans to keep in the back of their mind when they see it. The adaption hits it's marks really very well, and if you can excuse the occasional lapses in acting ability from the young cast, and don't mind romancey things, you will be very entertained.


  1. Oh, the one major thing I left out that makes up for all the pain:

    Peeta & Katniss's 'couple name'. Peeniss. Oh yeah it is.

  2. Great review! I concur, and you bring up some really pertinent stuff that I'd forgotten from the book in regard to the end.

    Just got back from seeing it myself and I thought it was incredibly well done but agree that it had less impact towards the end. I especially would have liked to have seen more reactions to some if the final twists and turns especially - it felt a little nonchalant and empty.

  3. My favourite review of the movie was 'The blonde one should have just eaten the berries'.

    The only thing I did like about the ending was Seneca being taken into the room with the bowl of berries. I'm trying to remember if they actually came out and said in the second book that he was killed, or if they just said that he was 'replaced'. Poor Seneca.

  4. Awesome review - yeah, I obviously just saw it as well, and I was actually quite impressed with Peeta. He was low key, but I thought he was in the book as well. VERY impressed with Lawrence,thought I was a little leery of how likeable/sweet she looked when she's obviously in the books a total bitch. I also appreciate that I didn't think the "love triangle" thing was even there in the movie. I thought they were amping it up for promotional material, but it never impinged on my enjoyment of the movie or intruded on what I was watching.

    Big call, but I think I enjoyed the movie more than the book.

  5. Every time there was a Katniss/Peeta moment and they cut back to Gale for a 'reaction shot' our row groaned in pain. Bah.

    I think it was the details in the book that keeps it on top for me. They left out the part where District 11 sends Katniss bread as a thankyou for Rue. That's one of my favourite moments in the book!