I’ll start by saying I’m a huge fan of the Hunger Games books, so obviously my entire perception of this movie is colored by that fact. It would be ridiculous for me to even attempt to talk about the movie as a stand-alone feature; I watched it through the lens of my experiences with the book and comparisons are inevitable.
With that said, I thought this movie was good, though not great. It’s a solid adaptation. My biggest fear with something like this is that Hollywood will take a book I love and totally ruin it (I’m looking at you, creators of One Day. I still haven’t recovered from hearing Anne Hathaway’s “British” accent). And that’s decidedly not the case here. This is a good film. They did the book proud.
However, while the movie was faithful to the book, I still felt it was missing something. It’s hard for me to describe, but there was something about the movie that was a little off; it was lacking some intangible magic. It was a good re-creation, but it never transcended beyond being a good re-creation and into being a great movie. Something in the…spirit of the book, for lack of a better word, was missing.
One problem I had with the movie is that, even though it was a fairly long film (140 minutes, give or take), it felt fast. I could feel the filmmakers trying to get in every detail, and while that’s nice, it made some parts feel rushed. For example, I would have liked more development of the Katniss/Rue alliance (it goes by SO quickly in the movie!), and a little more Katniss/Peeta cave time. A more Harry Potter-like approach might have been good here. What I mean is that, especially with the last few books (maybe from book 3 on), the Harry Potter films didn’t feel the need to cram in every detail, instead choosing the most essential pieces and changing things slightly, where necessary for cinematic effect. As a result, the Harry Potter movies capture the aforementioned “spirit” of the novels, which is where the Hunger Games struggled.
One thing I loved about the movie was that you get all the outside perspectives that are missing from the novel (which only focuses on Katniss’s point of view). You get to see the game-makers at work, Haymitch bargaining with sponsors, and a bit of the reactions in the districts. This was particularly effective when they showed the uprising in District 11 after Rue died. That part really got me (yes, I cried). I would have liked to see more in District 12 though – like how Katniss’s mom, Prim, and Gale were handling her being in the games. We got a few glimpses of them, but on the whole, the film gave them little to do. I would argue they could have done more, given the structure of the movie.
Every casting decision in this movie was eagerly-awaited and much debated by fans, and I would say they got each part right. Everything hinges on Jennifer Lawrence, and I loved her in this role. Every time the camera cut to her after a big moment, her facial expression was just spot on. I have one quibble, and this is not with Lawrence, but rather with the makeup department: she looked way too healthy and strong! Wasn’t there something they could have done with makeup to make her look more like a semi-starved, impoverished girl at the beginning? She looked so healthy and radiant.
I also liked Josh Hutcherson a lot – he does a good job with what he’s given, but the character of Peeta is more sharply-defined in the book. For instance, the book gives you a deeper sense of the extent of Peeta’s feelings for Katniss, and a clearer picture of how hard he worked to save her life in the arena, teaming up with the careers and such. Hutcherson also seemed to play Peeta more solemn and contemplative, which was fine, but I wanted to see more of the Peeta who won the crowd over with his charisma and humor.
As for the rest: Liam Hemsworth didn’t annoy me (which was better than I expected). It will be interesting to see how he fares, acting-wise, in later movies, where Gale has a much more prominent role. Stanley Tucci was a gem, and you could just tell that as an actor, he was totally into this. I also thought Elizabeth Banks and Woody Harrelson were great, although Haymitch wasn’t what I imagined from the books. I feel you get a much better sense of who Haymitch is, and why Haymitch is the way he is, in the books (as opposed to here, where he’s mostly the funny drunk guy). In the books you also get a better sense of the Katniss/Haymitch dynamic and how they’re able to communicate with each other so well when she’s in the arena. That was lacking here.
All in all, I liked this movie. Though I hate to throw in another Harry Potter comparison, my hope for the Hunger Games series is that it follows the trajectory of Harry Potter. The HP films, in the beginning, were more about being scene-by-scene replicas of the books. Over time, the filmmakers became more confident and creative and, as a result, the later HP films are just excellent. I hope that happens with the Hunger Games, too, and that the second and third movies are even better than the first. I think they’ve got the right bunch of actors here, so they could definitely pull it off.
My Grade: B+