Hunger Games movie review

The Hunger Games movie has already proved to be a great success with audiences. It had the 5th-best opening day ever, and the best ever for a non-sequel. Only the last Harry Potter movie and the 3 Twilight sequels made more money in the first 24 hours. I got to see it in that first 24 hours, so I guess I helped give it that record, although I also helped the other top 4 films achieve their opening day glory. I like going to movies on opening weekend. I don’t mind the crowds because they’re full of a fan’s intensity. I really enjoyed the movie and would recommend it to anyone older than 12.

I have seen enough of my favorite books made into movies to expect by now that they will be condensed, and the action will at times feel rushed. The Hunger Games is no exception. In the arena, things moved quickly from one conflict to the next, and good scenes of Katniss interacting with Rue and Peeta got cut. I wish more books got made into series like True Blood or Dexter, so that a whole book could spread out over 10+ hours instead of being jammed into 2 or 3. It allows so much more room to explore the plot’s twists and turns, and the minor characters get a chance to expand and shine. We’re in a golden age for TV now, so hopefully this model of adaptation will catch on.

My biggest complaint with the movie is that one of Katniss’s many layers seemed to be missing. Her actions in the arena weren’t shown to be performative the way they are in the book. In the book, she is aware of how her actions are seen by others and adjusts accordingly and strategically. But without her inner monologue, movie viewers don’t really get that she’s putting on a show to save her life when she acts like she’s in love with Peeta. Movie Katniss is softer than book Katniss; you can see her opening herself up to Peeta more and more. There is at least one totally spontaneous and heartfelt kiss that I don’t remember from the book at all. Book Katniss is too scared to open up, and only pretends to in order to please the cameras. She puts aside the question of whether or not she feels anything for Peeta; it’s so irrelevant in comparison to her survival that she doesn’t even have the capacity to begin to figure out how she was feeling. It doesn’t even register. In the scheme of things, this is not a major issue, and the later movies could correct this by making the performative nature of all her public actions more clear.

Even though Katniss was softened and simplified somewhat, the focus of the story remained on survival rather than romance. The movie probably has more romance than the book, and the movie’s publicity had even more than that, as much much romance as Twilight. Thankfully, the director did not make The Hunger Games into Twilight. Katniss’s victory is not getting the guy; it’s surviving and undermining the Capitol.

I don’t generally like handheld camerawork, and this movie used a good deal of it. The worst was the cornocopia scene at the very beginning of the Games. It’s jarring to watch and the viewer gets little information. All this camera style communicates to me is: “OMG CHAOS! WTF IS EVEN GOING ON? THE CHARACTERS DON’T KNOW AND NEITHER DO YOU!” The style is appropriate sometimes, but that doesn’t mean I like it. Handheld camerawork leaves me a bit queasy and wondering if I missed something important.

The movie did a great job showing what happens behind the scenes of the Hunger Games, facts that Katniss as participant is not privy to because she’s too busy in the arena, so this information was not in the first-person-narrated book. It established the way the gamemakers were in complete control of everything that happened in the arena. Toggling between the forest and the white room with its fancy computer interface clarified why some of the action happened, and why the gamemakers did what they did.

I disagree with this critic who said that the deaths of the tributes had no moral weight in the film. I do agree that if it had not been for the necessity of a PG-13 rating, the murders would have been shown in more detail, and that would have made them more horrifying, and had a deeper effect on the audience. That would have been a better movie, but one that would not have broken box office records. Despite the reduced violence, at no point did we feel anything more positive than relief at a tribute’s death. The music didn’t tell us to feel triumph, it told us to feel sad and disturbed. Most often, the emotion was pity. Even vicious Cato was humanized at the end. If people left the theater happy, it was because they had already processed their disturbed emotions after reading the book and knew what to expect, or because the focus was after all on Katniss and Peeta and they did escape, not because the audience had become like the people of the Capitol, desensitized to violence and the loss of young life.

The death of Seneca Crane is just as chilling as those of the tributes. The little scenes between him and Snow were not in the book, but gave good background, especially for newcomers, so that they could understand the stakes of the game and the Capitol’s motivation for staging them in the first place, why they couldn’t let Katniss and Peeta pull a Romeo and Juliet.

With the exception of Seneca Crane’s beard and Cinna’s gold eyeliner, Capitol fashions looked ridiculous in the movie, not decadent. I don’t think they translated well to screen. In my imagination, people from the Capitol were glamorous and ostentatious, like movie stars on the red carpet every day of their lives, even though I’m sure that exact descriptions of the outfits from the book were used by the costume designers to make clothes that came out just looking silly.

I loved the shots of the District 11 riot. It was good that the movie included that because it showed the effect of the deaths of the tributes on their home districts and why Katniss was potentially dangerous to the Capitol and its tight control on the districts. I was sad that this scene made me think of Trayvon Martin: a community calling for justice for the murder of a child.

The last exchange sets up the next movie well: “What next?” “We try to forget.” “I don’t want to forget.” Peeta wants a relationship, and Katniss doesn’t know what she wants and is still traumatized by the violence she saw and participated in. Neither of them will get what they want. Scary to say, but things only get more brutal from here.

5 thoughts on “Hunger Games movie review

  1. The killings were obviously less than gory in order to get a PG-13 rating, but to me this is ok because I think it’s important for younger audiences to be allowed to see the movie. Of course, most young people have been exposed to much more gratuitous violence. But, I disagree with those who characterize “Hunger Games” as a movie only for young people. Several people in line were talking about this, but there many older people in the audience. I, for one, had eagerly looked forward to seeing it. To me, it’s encouraging that the “Hunger Games” books seem to have developed universal appeal and aren’t directed toward just one segment of readers.

    I don’t think most viewers take away a sense of simply being entertained and I truly don’t understand those who view this movie as mere entertainment.

    I, too, missed the book’s deeper relationship between Rue and Katniss and truly couldn’t hear (my fault) Cato’s last words.

    Your comments about the difficulty of translating Katniss’s inner thoughts – I can imagine how difficult this aspect of any book to movie adaptation is for film makers.

  2. I found the handheld camera work also seemed like a tool for adapting a first person narrative novel into a film… Katniss’ distress and confusion was communicated during those scenes where we weren’t getting more than flashes of terrified faces or half-seen murders. It did make my husband queasy, though!

    I had the hardest time with the emotional ground that was lost in the film, too (even though I think they can definitely play catch up in Catching Fire). Not only isn’t it clear what Katniss is really feeling (or refusing to feel), if I hadn’t read the novel I wouldn’t know that Peeta is being sincere from the start, and that he’s devastated in the end. I also really, really missed his fevered requests for kisses when he’s hurt :)

  3. Pingback: A Camera-Eye View of the Hunger Games | Tales of the Marvelous

  4. I thought the additions of the backstage politics was an improvement on the book. We could not, of course, have seen the scenes of Pres. Snow and Seneca Crain in a completely first-person book. But they introduce the real political struggle earlier in the film narrative than is made clear in the book narrative.

  5. I’m glad you liked the post, Pat! The series definitely has intergenerational appeal! You’re right about how hard it is to put an inner monologue on screen. A voiceover is the most usual method, and it would not have worked well in this movie.

    I agree, Jillian, the cave scenes were a little less juicy than in the book, which is surprising based on how much I expected the movie to amp up the romance. And movie Peeta seemed like he could potentially have been making up his feelings in an elaborate scheme to survive, especially in that interview. It was almost like he got to be performative instead of Katniss.

    Yes, Gruntled, the new scenes foregrounded the politics in a way that the book’s structure made impossible. That’s a definite strength of the movie POV for a story like this. You can spread out the explanations and exposition. The politics are so central important to the whole series that the extra info really helps understanding, especially for newbies. This movie was a lot kinder and more welcoming for viewers who hadn’t read the books than the Harry Potter movies, for example. One reason for that is because the whole series is already published, so the director and screenwriters know what has to be in the first movie for the sake of the third movie.

    One other thing that I just remembered getting cut was a gift from District 11, a food parachute or something, showing gratitude to Katniss for what she did for Rue. That was a touching moment, but I guess I can understand some things have to get cut.

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