The Hunger Games: A Movie Review that Doesn't Say Too Much (No Real Spoilers)

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 8.442% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

So here’s the thing about the Hunger Games movie: there’s not a lot to say.  They did such a good job converting an already movie-friendly book that it’s hard to find much to complain about.  It’s got incredibly tense action scenes, it pretty much has the same plot, it’s well-acted.  If you liked the books, you’ll probably at least like the movie and there’s a better-than-even chance you’ll love it.  The end.
Okay, if you’re a big fan of the books, you may be asking about Woody Harrelson as Haymitch and Lenny Kravitz as Cinna, two casting choices that raised some fannish eyebrows.  And rightly so.  In my mind’s eye, Haymitch was fatter and more out of sorts, perfect for a Walter Matthau sort, less obviously effective.  And Cinna was a more flamboyant designer type, much crazier.
For me, watching these two roles are like hearing a really good cover of a song you liked.  Were they what I imagined?  No.  But can I buy them?  Sure.  Kravitz’ interpretation of Cinna has a gravitas that really shines in the scene just before a terrified Katniss heads up to fight to her death, and while this Haymitch is far more obviously a good and effective fighter, Woody Harrelson sells the drunken asshole with such charm that sure.  I’ll go with this.
It hasn’t replaced the casting in my head the way Harry Potter movies did, but I’ll go with this.
Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss, on the other hand, absolutely owns this movie.  Her terror and need to survive comes across in every scene, and it’s a fine acting.  As Gini noted, most people tend to approach this sort of role with either an overstated bravado or a fainting collapse, but Jennifer walks that middle line perfectly.  She’s scared, so we’re scared.  But she’s not going to let that stop her.  (And Rue.  Oh, Rue.)
Stanley Tucci as Caesar, however, is spot-on perfect.  His talk-show host schtick is a pleasure to watch.
Visually, well, the movie’s irritating in the way that it mistakes shakycam for grit.  The entire opening in District 12 is shot by a trembling drunk, the camera jittering like it’s trying to tapdance.  This style settles down, but kicks up again in a couple of the fight scenes to the point where I wanted to say, “Hey, it’s cool to let us know what’s happening.  You don’t have to hide your fight-scene blocking behind a wall of blur.”
That said, the visuals of District 12 were exactly as I envisioned them.  Some wags said that for a movie called the Hunger Games, everyone seemed remarkably well-fed… but aside from the stars, District 12 looks properly miserable and downtrodden. Bart Calendar complained that the audiences back home weren’t being held at obvious gunpoint, but those opening sequences show us that they’re watching to find out what happens to their friends, and not out of genuine enthusiasm.
And I loved the outfits at the capital, because the severe over-the-top nature of everyone’s outfits has looped back around to the sort of garish garb that people in 1970s sci-fi movies thought of as The Future.  The folks in the Capitol could easily walk into Logan’s Run and start partying, which I very much enjoy.
But overall, there’s a couple of carps – I wanted more flame in the flaming coal outfits, Peeta’s camouflage is too movie-perfect, and I missed the note of ambiguity at the end as to Peeta’s true motives – but the Hunger Games’ power is evident more than ever here.  There are scenes we watch as Peeta and Katniss fall in love, and we think this is great fun to watch.  Then we realize that the TV viewers back home are also thinking it’s great fun to watch, and we feel a little voyeuristic and slimy for watching.  Yet we don’t stop, either.
As it should be.  It’s a good film.  If you liked the books, it’s a no-brainer to go see.

1 Comment

  1. Carolyn Mansager
    Mar 25, 2012

    Sorry, but I disagree. I read and liked the books. Thank goodness I read the book before viewing the film “The Hunger Games!” At least, because I read the book, my brain could fill in the intentions of author Suzanne Collins where any intention or purpose was clearly lacking. This movie was completely devoid of the build of any “soul” or real relationships from the beginning to the end. Even the symbol of the mocking jay itself was destroyed and changed the relationship of the meaning and the characters. How are they going to dig themselves out of that one in sequels 2 and 3, when Madge doesn’t appear, so her father isn’t mayor, and Katniss’s mother wasn’t friends with Madge’s mom and the mayor’s wife, who lost her life during the Hunger Games when they were younger, oh and she wore the mocking jay as her token during The Hunger Games where she lost her life? Nope. None of that. We’ll just give it to you for free while you’re shopping one day, Katniss. You can give it to your sister, who doesn’t go to The Hunger Games and it didn’t do a good job of protecting her- since her name was drawn at the Reaping- but she gives it to you. Huh? That will be a sticky wicket later on with the revolution with the mocking jay as a meaningful symbol and how they pull that off as anything other than “See my pretty pin?” That’s just for starters! We only see the people in the Capitol watching The Hunger Games once, when Rue dies and we think that the reason for the riot isn’t about Katniss, or the F’d “Games” but that Rue died. Katniss doesn’t convince me that she has feelings of more than friendship for Gale or Peeta and that her inner conflict doesn’t ever translate on-screen. That will continue to be a problem. There is no direction of both Katniss and Peeta of the “Star-crossed lovers” that they HAVE TO play. None. The betting is only referenced once. The role of “Cinna” is so convoluted as to make the acting job given to Kravitz meaningless. We do not ever hear that he chose District 12, or why. There is no “setup” for anything he says, or does, later. There are so many sequences in The Hunger Games that I kept waiting for any kind of SOUL, and was disappointed- every time. The only thing we agree on is the fact that the beginning scenes were filmed by a drunken camera operator with an unsteady hand.

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