The Hunger Games movie review
This post will be spoiler heavy. If you would like to avoid spoilers, click away now, but promise you’ll come back after you’ve seen the movie.
FINAL SPOILER CAUTION.
There’s a lot they get right in The Hunger Games. Most of it is right. Almost all of it is right. One important element however is not right at all.
Let’s start with the great parts, ok?
The “world” they’ve created, or recreated, or imagined from Suzanne Collins’s story is perfect. District 12 is perfect. The house Katniss shares with her mother and Prim is exactly how I imagined it. I know you’ve seen the trailers of the scenes from the Reaping but when you watch it in full scale, it’s profoundly disturbing, awesome in its attention to detail, and further complements the terrible events that unfold there.
Then there’s the Capitol. I won’t say more about the Capitol and what happens in the Capitol because I think you should enjoy it for yourself. I promise you’ll enjoy it. I promise your eyes will explode. I promise you’ll enjoy Cesar Flickerman SO MUCH and you will grow a boner for Wes Bentley’s Seneca Crane. Welcome back. And welcome to the Five List. (It’s currently broken. You can sh-t on Jacek for that.)
I’ll be interested to hear your thoughts on the two extra scenes that were written for President Snow played by Donald Sutherland. To me the inclusion was necessary to fill in narrative that is difficult to transfer from word to screen. It allows those in the theatre with no appreciation of the source material - and I was sitting with several of them during the screening - to better appreciate the agenda of Capitol as illustrated through The Hunger Games.
You will no doubt have a lot to say about how they’ve tweaked Haymitch. I’ll warn you: this is a softer, less drunk Haymitch. This is also a much more active Haymitch. Because in a movie that adheres strictly to the source, we can’t get to know Haymitch’s motivations through Katniss’s thoughts. A voiceover wouldn’t cut it. A visual then becomes necessary. As such, we have to “see” Haymitch manoeuvring behind the scenes while Katniss and Peeta are trying to survive in the Arena. Haymitch at work is something new where the movie departs subtly from the book. This worked for me, totally. But the consequence of it, the consequence of showing us how hard Haymitch hustled to keep his players alive is that they had to humanise him more as a result. You can’t have him showing up drunk all the time in several scenes only to cut to him caring, SO MUCH, about his tributes and lobbying for gifts with the Capitol residents. In a two hour movie, it doesn’t hold up.
Two and a half, almost.
At times it does feel long. The second act moves much too slowly. Thankfully it is saved by the final third, and to give you an example of how intensely it builds, I was sitting with a friend, MB, who’d not read the books, knew nothing of the story, and he was moved forward, right to the top of his seat, his hand gripping both arm rests on the side, rocking back and forth from the stress. That’s when you know you’re really into it, right?
What MB was not into was, um, Katniss and Peeta. I guess it all depends on how you read it. I read Peeta as really sweet and kind, but not pitiful. I didn’t feel sorry for my imaginary Peeta. I didn’t exhale and roll my eyes every time my imaginary Peeta needed to be helped and saved. I didn’t feel squeamish when my imaginary Peeta held Katniss. Peeta’s greatest, sexiest attribute is his integrity. This is how he avoids being a Victim.
The problem, for me at least, is that the first person we meet in the movie, like the book, is Gale. And this Gale is... impressive. Sorry. But you need to get over Miley Cyrus and look at Liam Hemsworth who is a f-cking STUD. And then a little brother comes along in the form of Josh Hutcherson who isn’t as much the contemporary of Katniss and Gale but more like a friend of Prim’s who’s been tragically booked along for the ride. The whole time I thought I was watching Katniss babysit one of her sister’s classmates. So that when it came time for the kiss, it was like a 17 year old girl kissing at 13 year old boy.
If that’s how it went down for you in your mind when you were reading - great. You’ll have no problem. But this is not how it went down for me in my mind when I was reading. Whether it be by necessity or by strategy, by selfish manipulation or compassionate regard, literary Peeta wasn’t a child. In the movie, he’s made to be a child. Or at least I saw him as a child. When they connected on an emotional level in the book, I could understand Katniss’s attraction. Here was a man on the way who had sacrificed for her. Here was someone she finally knew she could trust. Here was someone she was growing to love out of respect - for his courage, for his conviction, for what qualities she lacked that he could bring to their relationship and stand with her on the same level.
What transpires instead, on film, in my mind, is not so much a meeting of different equals, but the bonding of a caregiver for a weaker ward that she must govern. I’m not saying it’s a dealbreaker. But I won’t lie to you and tell you that Peeta delivers. And I like Josh Hutcherson SO MUCH as a person, this is not an easy criticism. I wanted him to succeed so badly. I wanted him to prove the doubters (me!) wrong. I felt angry and possessive and hurt when MB, beside me, snickered through the kiss, muttering under his breath that, “damn, that was so corny”. Because it’s not supposed to be corny! Because I am such a fan of The Hunger Games, I feel invested, almost desperately so, in its success. And still...Hutcherson couldn’t convince me. That said, I don’t think it’s necessarily over and that he can’t still do it in Catching Fire and Mockingjay, but here, as a first effort, it’s a little short, no pun intended.
That shouldn’t however shatter your expectations for the movie. Because, as you know, the movie hinges on HER. And what matters most is whether or not this story can be trusted in the abilities of Jennifer Lawrence.
SO MUCH F-CKING YES.
She is extraordinary. She IS everything. She makes all of it. She makes up for the lull in the second act. She makes up for the parts in the book that they couldn’t translate to film (like when the dogs take on the personalities and eyes of the each of the preceding deceased tributes). She makes up even for what’s not there with Peeta.
I’ve already written about Jennifer Lawrence’s skill in becoming Katniss in previous articles here and here. Katniss, as I’ve mentioned several times the last couple of weeks, is perfect. Jennifer Lawrence gets her exactly. At times she’s kinda badly directed but for the most part, at the critical times, I can’t picture anyone else. There is no question that she captures the most important elements of who Katniss is. So, since I’ve already discussed that area of her performance, for the purposes of this review, I’d like to focus on the physical. Because the physical has some significance to this role.
And here I’m going to defend her body, which is a kind of a gross thing to do so let’s call is praise instead because there were so many people who were like - oh she’s not emaciated enough - and there will be those who will be all - how come she wasn’t skinny? after they see the movie that I want to make this point:
That Hollywood actors, especially of Jennifer Lawrence’s age, are always, ALWAYS required to lose weight, and I don’t have to tell you the f-cked up sh-t that results in that kind of imagery. So why aren’t we celebrating the fact that Gary Ross didn’t require her to?
Lawrence has a small waist (because strength comes from your core) and a full ass (because our girl can run like a champion). She has strong athletic arms that can let go of arrows...and accurately. (Have you ever tried archery? Kate f-cking Bosworth isn’t doing archery any time soon, put it that way.) She has legs that can climb. She has a face full of youth, the kind of natural roundness in her cheeks that Ashley Judd tried to recreate with a sinus infection. Katniss’s is not the kind of body you see at the movies anymore, and certainly not in your garden variety lead actress. This Katniss is not a wisp of a girl. She can actually win the games by endurance AND intelligence. Let that be the Katniss that your children worship.
Here’s what we’ll do because you may have more questions. We’ll do a Hunger Games liveblog TOMORROW. Then line up and go see it. See it twice. I’ll be seeing it for the second time this weekend too. We’ll liveblog about it again next week. Talk to you then?
Attached - Hutcherson and Hemsworth at various events promoting The Hunger Games last night.