WARNING! SPOILER ALERT!
By now, many of you have read at least one review of The Hunger Games movie, either through a blog or newspaper or some other media outlet. I’m about to add one more to the pot. Be warned. There are some book and plot spoilers so if you don’t want to know what happens…don’t read.
First, kudos to Gary Ross for pulling off what I didn’t think could be done, at least as well as he did it. Suzanne Collins had so many plots and subplots in this novel that I didn’t think there was any way anyone could do this novel justice in 2 – 2 ½ hours. I was pleasantly surprised at how close this movie followed the storyline. You can tell the film was handled with love and with the respect the story deserved. It definitely gets your pulse racing.
Let’s get to the technicalities first.
The film is excellently cast. Jennifer Lawrence is superb and Katniss and I couldn’t think of a better Cinna than Lenny Kravitz. Donald Sutherland pulls off the role of President Snow as only Donald Sutherland can. Gale, (Liam Hemsworth) looks exactly as I pictured him in the book, and Josh Hutcherson pulls off an amazing Peeta Mellark. I was a little apprehensive over Woody Harrelson as Kaymitch, but he pulls off the roll very well.
Ve Neill (Pirates of the Carribbean, Edward Scissorhands, Sweeney Todd and SyFy co-host of Face Off), and her team of 41 make-up artists outdo themselves with the make-up. Seneca Crane, played by Wes Bentley and Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket probably wear the most artistically construed makeup designs in the entire film. The blood, the gore, Katniss’ and Peeta’s wounds are well done without being overdone. I was prepared for a lot of blood since the books are riddled with it, but I was pleasantly surprised by how well the brutality was handled. It wasn’t too hard on the younger crowd and left the older viewers feeling they hadn’t been completely cheated.
Let’s also give a round of applause to costume designer Judianna Makovsky. To quote Booth Moore, from the Los Angeles Times: “The Hunger Games” is a visual smorgasbord of a movie, a cast of hundreds dressed in everything from utilitarian garb with Depression-era grit to glam-gone-grotesque Gaga get-ups inspired by the latest haute couture. Then there’s that dress worn by the young heroine Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) that goes up in flames.” Ms. Makovsky excels in portraying the poverty of the districts and the clownish, pomposity of Panem.
This review would not be complete without a massive shout-out to set designer Larry Dias and the hundreds who worked in the areas of art design, special and visual effects, and all the other departments who made this film work as a whole. People tend to forget about those folks in the wardrobe department, casting, animation, that contribute so much and go unrecognized for their amazing contributions to films. I applaud each and everyone one of them for their hard work to bring this story to life.
Okay, onto the storyline.
Overall, I was impressed with how well the movie script stuck to the storyline, and never once did it become cheesy or flippant. There were no added scenes (like they did with Harry Potter) and it definitely left you feeling as if you were spinning off your axis.
There were several things I didn’t like that I thought should have been made better. The love triangle between Gale, Peeta and Katniss should have been fleshed out more. It is vitally important to the storyline. I remember at the end of Mockingjay wishing and praying and hoping beyond all hope that Katniss would end up with Gale, but when she returns to District 12 and finds out Gale has moved on to District 4, my heart broke into a million pieces. Up until then, I had a sneaking suspicion she was going to end up with Peeta but that’s not the way I wanted it to end. Neither did millions of others. We wanted the perfect ending. Suzanne Collins doesn’t deliver. This film doesn’t explore the depth of either of Katniss’ relationships with Peeta or Gale. There are hints , but the emotion is lacking. When Gale sees Katniss and Peeta kiss, we don’t get the hurt, the anger, the betrayal he feels. We don’t see that Katniss is only participating in the kiss for the sponsors. I understand that there are many subplots and not every one could be explored in the course of time that was given, but this was a vital piece of information that is now missing. There is no ‘Team Peeta’ or ‘Team Gale’ and there should be. There HAS to be, for Mockingjay to work. Thumbs down to the writers, including Ms. Collins, for not giving more weight to this.
I thought Haymitch’s drunkenness was resolved way too soon. Then again, we only have 2 ½ hours to plug in so much information. I will forgive the writers for this one.
The chariot scene (the famous girl on fire) seemed to be missing something. Either the shots were too close or too far away. They didn’t seem to hit the perfect spot.
Many of the other characters were not fleshed out enough, either, especially Cato’s. His character is so pivotal. In the end, when Katniss and Peeta and Cato are fighting on the cornucopia and the dogs forged from the souls of the dead tributes were ready to tear them apart, I wanted to see more of Cato’s desperation. I wanted to cry with him. I had the same feeling when I watched the last Harry Potter film and I was looking at Draco thinking, I want to feel sorry for him. This wasn’t his choice. He didn’t want to be this way. Same thing with Cato. He’d been trained to be a killer, and in his final moments of life, I wanted to feel sorrow for him. I didn’t get it. There was the brief second, though, when I said to myself, Katniss, please, please end his pain. Now. And she did. Well done, but I wanted the tear. It didn’t come.
There was one other character issue I had and that was with Rue. She, too, wasn’t developed enough. That doesn’t mean I didn’t sob. I did. I cried my eyes out when she died. Could the scene have been better done? Yes. Could her character have been fleshed out more? Yes. Again, there was only so much time to work with and I thought the writers did well considering the time they had. I forgive the writers for these small issues.
There were some small changes that I thought were kind of silly to make. The main one goes back to fleshing out the relationship between Peeta and Katniss. Peeta’s love for her started when they were kids and Peeta burns the bread, is hit for it and then instructed to throw the bread to the pigs. The flashback to this scene unfolds differently than the novel, thus taking away the emotionality that existed then and now between Katniss and Peeta. Katniss doesn’t come off as the starving kid from District 12. She’s older and Peeta tosses the bread to her like she’s a pig. How hard would it have been to show the scene the way it really happened? It would have added so much more depth and held true to the book.
The other thing was that I didn’t leave the film feeling devastated. The book left me devastated. These are kids that are dying for the amusement of the government and citizens of Panem. For me, I didn’t think the film gave that horror, that sadness to me, that 22 other children died. I think it was because I read the books first. I knew what was coming and I was trying to get a film to make me feel what I read. I should know better. After talking to some folks afterward who hadn’t read the books, their take was much different than mine. They said they felt completely devastated, angry and disturbed by the message of the film. YES! That’s exactly what Suzanne Collins wanted us to feel when we read the novel. If that message came across to movie-goers, then Gary Ross and this cinema team did an excellent job!
As a viewer, taking in the comment from those who hadn’t read the books, this movie gets an A – A+. For someone who has read the books (I’m sorry, I can’t help but compare), I give the film a B+ to an A-, primarily for the lack of development of the relationship between Peeta, Katniss and Gale. It was just too important to hop over it like they did. Will I see it again? Probably not in theaters (because tickets are so expensive), but it is on my DVD list of ‘must buy’ when it’s released.
Conclusion: Amazing film. Well worth every cent of the cost of admission. Fans of the books will not be disappointed. Check it out. You’ll be glad you did.