Rosebloggers, I regret to inform you, that your normal, fearless, reviewing leader, Kate Rohr was away for “The Hunger Games” opening weekend. Feeling such a duty to you, her reader, she felt such a momentous occasion as “The Hunger Games” could not pass without a review. So here I am to fill her (figuratively) very large shoes. I’ll warn you now, this is a Himes sized review. If you don’t have time to read it all, see my bottom line at the end. And then come back later to read the whole thing and bask in my verbosity. So without further ado…
“Welcome, welcome!!” If you’ve seen the trailer you know the haunting call of “The Hunger Games.” This post-apocalyptic film follows Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), a 16 year-old girl struggling to survive in a dystopian North America, called Panem. Twelve districts divide the country, and each must offer up one boy and one girl each year to participate in the Hunger Games. These 24, all between the ages of 12 and 18, are placed in an arena and must kill one another until one emerges victorious. Katniss hunts with her friend who is an attractive male, Gale, to put food on the table for her mother and younger sister, after her father died in a mining accident. Life’s hard enough until Katniss volunteers to take her 12 year-old sister, Prim’s, place in the Hunger Games. Add to that stress the knowledge that her district, 12, hardly ever wins the competition, and the fact that the boy going with her, Peeta Mallark, is someone who saved her from starvation a few years before.
We follow Katniss and Peeta as they arrive at the capitol, filled with people who live in luxury while the rest of the country starves (think one percent on steroids). They train and see how deadly their competition is, while trying to get advice from their mentor Haymitch (a weirdly wigged Woody Harrelson) on how to survive. Then the games begin. We watch children kill each other and fight for their lives.
If you’ve been living in a well-equipped fallout shelter, “The Hunger Games” film is an adaptation of a book series of the same name by Suzanne Collins. I have read the book and am a huge fan. In my not humble opinion, Katniss is one of the greatest, widespread, modern day heroines in literature. She’s strong, level-headed, a fighter in every sense of the word. Jennifer Lawrence, (who if you don’t know her from “Winter’s Bone,” you should first punch yourself for me, and then go rent the movie), plays Katniss so perfectly, you wonder how Katniss has come to life and agreed to do a movie based on her life. She conveys so much delicate emotion with only her body language, or subtle facial shifts.
But let’s get one thing straight – if you are one of those people who expect every movie that is based on a book to be an exact replica of the source material, be prepared for disappointment, not only in this film, but life. Not everyone can do what Kenneth Branagh did with “Hamlet” people. It is interpretation of the material. It is a new perspective, with some fresh ideas from actors, directors, screenwriters etc. You want the full blown thing? That’s what your imagination is for while you read. It comes to life in your head. Tangent over.
That being said, this is an excellent adaptation. Book lovers won’t be disappointed; the tone of the novel is captured, the characters ring mostly true to the page, and a great deal of the events from the book are brought winningly to screen.
Fear not newbies! This movie is completely for you as well. There is plenty of context, and explanation to make sure you are not lost while watching the film. The characters engage you with their quirky traits and relatable emotions. I asked my 16-year-old brother who saw the film with me what he thought (having never read the books) – turns out he loved it.
It’s not perfect, however. It takes a long time for the actual games to start. There’s a lot of set up in Katniss’ home and adjusting to Capital life. Those scenes could have been condensed, even for non-book readers, to give more time to the games themselves. And beware, if you are not a fan of shaky, hand-held camera action, you may have a rough time of it for part of the film. I’m all for a gritty realism this technique provides, but some scenes with it are just unnecessary. The relationship development between Peeta and Katniss could have been much stronger. By the end of the film, you don’t feel the pain or emotional turbulence they are supposedly going through. Elizabeth Banks, as the freakish Effie Trinket, doesn’t show the same softening and sympathy her character shows in the books (I know, I know, but it’s an important detail!).
On the plus side, Katniss’ relationships with her stylist Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) and young ally in the arena, Rue (Amandla Stenburg), show the heartbreaking attachment and devotion that can form so quickly but strongly. The filmmakers also do a masterful job of keeping a PG-13 rating but still giving violent glimpses, conveying the horror of children being murdered. I also never found myself looking at my watch. Two and a half hours never went faster.
Bottom Line: The movie is good, but not great. It’s a well-developed for an action movie, but too underwhelming to be a drama. It doesn’t combine to make the action packed drama it could have been. Overall – 8.2. My plea to any person reading this – please, please, PLEASE go read the books. They have a beautifully eloquent narrative that the movie just can’t replicate. It’s fairly quick to read, and I can’t remember the last time I encountered a book that I literally could not stop reading and made me go buy the sequels the next day.