Suzanne Collins’ book The Hunger Games was met with positive critical reception, and it gained a big fan following. Naturally, the success of the book and its two sequels garnered a film adaption. The news that a film adaption was on the way excited a lot of fans, but as more news came out about the movie, like the cast list and the rating, fans started to lower their expectations. Even through this, The Hunger Games does well by the fans, but at the cost of slightly blowing off newcomers.
In case there are still some of you out there that have not read the book, I am going to try to keep this as spoiler free as possible. The story follows the book closely, attributed to the fact that Collins co-wrote the screenplay for the film. There are some minor changes to what happens in the story, and I have not read the other two books yet, but since Collins is behind it, I am not too worried about the changes made between the books and film. The story stays well-paced, even in the beginning before the games, and the changes between the action and more somber and desperate tones are dispersed at just the right intervals.
The actors are all very good and feel fluid in their characters. My favorite character moment is when Peeta, portrayed by Josh Hutcherson, is called as a tribute and for the rest of the scene and the few after, he doesn’t have any lines, but just has this look on his face where you really think he is about to throw up. Its little emotions like these that show up throughout the movie and really set the mood more than any line of dialogue. Jennifer Lawrence works wonders as Katniss, really getting emotions across when her character is supposed to, but is also able to switch to an emotionless shell on the fly. Woody Harrelson and Lenny Kravitz play Haymitch (Katniss and Peeta’s mentor) and Cinna (Katniss’s stylist), respectively, and they were probably my favorite characters next to Katniss, even though you don’t see much of them.
One of the problems that rises up, especially throughout the first half before the Games actually start, is that the movie relies on the fact that most people have read the book. The overall story isn’t hurt by this, but there are a lot of references to things that happen in the book, that are never explained in the movie. This is a shame because there are a good amount of people that are going to be seeing this movie before reading the book.
The camera work compliments the feel of the movie very well, especially since the story is supposed to be from Katniss’ point of view. The camera is purposefully shaky whenever Katniss is around, which gives a nice touch of craziness of the world going on. One of my favorite camera effects come through Katniss’ LSD trip, which isn’t handled like how I would have imagined it from the book, but it is done in an interesting and jarring way.
Despite the worries about the PG-13 rating, the violence is not a problem. It is still violent but remains tasteful without being graphic. I was actually surprised with some of the things they did get away with, especially with some of the youngest people being slaughtered are twelve, but the film succeeds in never becoming over-the-top. The intensity once again comes through the emotions displayed on characters faces instead of relying on graphic violence.
One addition that they did add to the movie that is never touched on in the book is the “behind the scenes.” The film gives you glimpses into the control room for the Games, and shows you how the events are set up and planned, which was an interesting insight that you never get from the book.
Most of the movie comes together and flows very well, except for about the last thirty minutes, when everything starts to feel rushed due to time constraints. The acting is great all across the board, even in the smaller roles of the other tributes, and the camera work, writing, and sets all complement each other. I can definitely say fans of the book have nothing to worry about here, especially with Collins at the helm of writing, so go out and see it, if anything just to watch two and a half hours of Jennifer Lawrence.
Second opinion: Matthew Milewski
It’s been a while since I’ve experienced as varied a range of emotions prior to a movie release as that for The Hunger Games. First came excitement as the initial trailer rolled out and appeared to be delivering an experience worthy of the book’s name. This was followed by disappointment as the marketing seemed to indicate a focus on the book’s love triangle plot line; I eventually settled into a state of apathy about the movie as this marketing trend continued. Fortunately, my fears about the Hunger Games were largely negligible aspects of the film as whole; unfortunately, other problems appear in other areas.
Let’s start with what the film did right. For one, Jennifer Lawrence easily delivers the standout role of the movie, seemingly effortlessly able to keep a balance between vulnerable and strong-willed. The pervading atmosphere of the film is also really great, if a bit over-exaggerated; for example, District 12 is little short of a dump while Panem has a distinctly hollow, if neat appearance. A number of cool scenes also appear, particularly the really well-done death sequences. These aren’t overly dramatic or bloody, but instead strike an expert balance between the two.
Problems arise with the execution of the film, which largely fails on a technical level. The entire film is shot in a shaky cam style with frequent close-ups, which feels odd and out of place. Gary Ross’s inexperience with fight sequences is also plain, because the few that are present are chaotic and difficult to follow. Perhaps worst of all of these issues is the editing, which is haphazardly done and seems to avoid shots that are held for more than five seconds. Issues also arise in the story department when certain issues (primarily Katniss’s relationship with her parents) aren’t touched on nearly long enough for those that haven’t read the books to properly understand.
This isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy my time with the Hunger Games, but when an entire film feels disconcerting and even nauseating at points, it’s difficult to appreciate it quite as much as I would like to be able to.