Warning: This review will contain spoilers. If you haven't read the book you might not want to read this review until after you've seen the movie.
Thursay night I dragged my almost 40-year-old body to the theaters for the 12:01 a.m. showing of The Hunger Games along with a sold out theatre of teens, adults, parents and children. I was nervous that there would be no way that the film could live up to the huge hype it had created or to the books that I devoured in days. Thankfully I was wrong. It was well worth the sleep deprivation.
It is almost the norm that film adaptations rarely live up to the quality of the book that it's adapted from. I won't argue that The Hunger Games the movie was as good as The Hunger Games the book, but I do think that Gary Ross did incredible job in bringing Suzanne Collins' vision to the big screen. I'm not sure if I would have felt the same if I watched the movie without having first read the books but knowing the entire back story was a definite advantage, especially when it came to character development. But what Gary Ross does brilliantly is paint the picture of the brutality that is The Hunger Games. At no point in the film do you 'root' for anyone because you never forget how incredibly sick and tragic The Games really are.
Debra Zane was the casting director and she hit the nail on the head with each and every character -- from the leads all the way down to the nameless tributes. Let's start with the supporting characters. I was initially very hesitant about the casting of Woody Harrelson as Haymitch, but was very pleasantly surprised at how much I loved him. But Woody's Haymitch is different than the Haymitch in the book -- I think mostly because in the confines of two and a half hours we needed to see more of Haymitch working behind the scenes and less of Haymitch falling down drunk. Lenny Kravitz was so good as Cinna, but Elizabeth Banks was perfection as Effie Trinket. She captured Effie's personality perfectly in each and every scene she was in. Donald Sutherland can do no wrong in my eyes and played President Snow with a quiet eeriness that made you, as the viewer, squirm. Stanley Tucci was not what I pictured as Caesar Flickerman but was fantastic in his role as the talk show host who seemed to delight in turning a game about children fighting to the death into a ratings winner. Wes Bentley might have been my only complaint in the film. Wes played head gamemaker Seneca Crane and he is a character that I don't remember much of in the book but he seemed to have a rather large role in the film. To be honest I would have preferred less of Seneca in favour of more character development of the mains. Props to the tributes as well -- even though they were limited in their screen time their casting made them exactly who you pictured them to be. Alexander Ludwig's Cato was scary and sad at the same time.
Liam Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson and Jennifer Lawrence were the ideal casting choices to play their characters of Gale, Peeta and Katniss. I know that there's a lot of you who didn't like the casting of Josh Hutcherson as Peeta because when comparing Hutcherson to Hemsworth it's hard to believe that one would choose Hutcherson. But I liked his casting from the beginning and although Hemsworth is really good as Gale, I liked Hutcherson. A lot. But make no mistake, this is Jennifer Lawrence's movie. Her portrayal of Katniss is spot on and at no point do you ever doubt that you are watching exactly the character that you imagined in your head after staying up all night reading about. Jennifer was Katniss Everdeen in this movie and portrayed her exactly the way you wanted to see her -- strong, resilient and a survivor.
I do think that in the movie the relationship development seemed rushed. But I get that in the confines of two and a half hours something has to give, and the creators must have relied heavily on the fact that the majority of their audience will have read the book so they could fill in the missing pieces for themselves. Like I said before, the entire Haymitch storyline was a bit different, mostly because I assume the writers had to ensure that we knew what Haymitch's role in The Hunger Games was. There was no time to waste on scenes of him falling down drunk while he was supposed to be securing sponsor donations for his tributes. So in the book where we slowly realize that he has been playing the game all along, there is no time for that in the movie. Lenny Kravitz, for all the hype of him being Cinna, was also in very few scenes --- although the scene in which he says goodbye to Katniss was probably the best and most intense in the entire movie. The same with Rue -- the Rue/Katniss relationship felt a little rushed and I wonder if those who saw the movie without reading the book would really understand the connection.
And then there was Katniss and Peeta. Let it be known that after reading the book I was firmly on Team Peeta, but Liam Hemsworth's strong portrayal of Gale definitely made me waiver on that. I know that some people thought that the cave scene between Katniss and Peeta -- the one that is so pivotal in the book -- was rushed in the movie, and the relationship that developed didn't seem authentic. But I think that's the point. It isn't authentic and to the main characters they're just putting on a show and trying to make everyone believe that they're the star crossed lovers that they really aren't. I was ok with it, and I was ok with Hutcherson as Peeta.
The set designers do a fantastic job creating the bleakness and despair of District 12 and contrasting it well with the gaucheness and excess of the Capital. But the arena was not what I had imagined. The Cornucopia was not at all what I had pictured in my mind and I found myself distracted by it. There were also a few scenes of The Capital where the CGI was a bit too blatant for my liking but understandable when you consider what they're trying to convey.
For all the hype that The Hunger Games has created for itself I am very happy to say that it did not disappoint, and I am very happy that I sacrificed sleep and attended the midnight showing. It was definitely worth it. And you will leave that theater eagerly anticipating Catching Fire, I promise.
I give The Hunger Games 4.5 out of 5 daisies.
So did you go? Did you watch? Let me know what you think!
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