Friday, March 23, 2012

The Hunger Games in Theaters Today

Yes. I'm one of the crazy fans who went to the midnight showing. And if you are a fan of the books but couldn't make it last night, skip this review for now and see the movie yourself without another's biased opinion to raise or lower your expectations. If I was on your end, that's what I'd do. But then again, I'm not on your end because I can't stand to have things spoiled for me, whether it be the last page of a book or the interpretation of a beloved book on the movie screen. So, I went to the first showing I could. And except for the previews, which I couldn't hear at all, my audience of teens and tweens behaved very well and silently, and I am extremely grateful.

I think it helped that the movie started out rather non-conventionally for this type of film. After the previews, it went abruptly to words on a black screen and no music. Then, continuing with no music, it went straight to an interview between the TV host/MC of the games and the Head Game Maker. It was obviously, almost eerily, silent, setting up a somber mood that arrested our attention and fit the story well.

Briefly, if you haven't read the books, here is the plot premise. Katniss lives in District 12, one of the poorest of 12 districts ruled by those in the capitol. Years ago, the districts rebelled, and in order to keep them in check, the Hunger Games were invented. Each year, one boy and one girl from each district either volunteer (Districts 1 and 2) or are selected by drawing (all the others) to fight to the death in a televised spectacle. Katniss becomes the female tribute for her district and is thrust into a society that pampers and beautifies her in preparation for the TV event of her life, literally. Rated PG-13 for violence and disturbing images. This is a book and movie for teens, not kids. Let your tweens read/watch at your own discretion.

Now, I haven't read the books in years. And I haven't read the first one since before it was published (you know, those advance reader's copies I get?). Since I was going into the movie without a lot of fresh details, I think this review will more accurately reflect the movie by itself and not just as a comparison to the book. But I will say that the movie made me want to read the books again. The wealth of detail provided by the author just can't be made to fit onto the screen. As someone familiar with the story, you have a fuller understanding of what's going on, for instance, in the scene with the mutts. If you haven't read the book, that part will not seem nearly as creepy in the movie, though it's still intense.

But though the movie is stripped down from the book, I don't think it's lacking. Though I didn't remember details from the book, I was impressed by how closely the movie followed the major plotline. Very small details were changed here and there, but I hardly noticed them.

As I have already mentioned, music (or the lack of it in places) really set the mood, and that probably struck me the most at first. Second to that, my attention was arrested most by Katniss herself. I'd seen Jennifer Lawrence in Winter's Bone (read my review here), and though I hated that movie, she did a fine job and I knew she would fit Katniss because the characters are somewhat similar. Gale was in the movie for such a short time that all I can say about him is that he fits the role of "good-looking best buddy who could be more if circumstances were different." As for Peeta, I wasn't sure before I saw the movie. He seemed too short, and he doesn't have a typical screen face. At the same time, he does have the face of a baker, certainly not chubby but kind of soft. He grew on me. But I don't think two hours was enough time to really get to like him. You have to read the book for that. Effie and Haymitch were brilliant, and Cinna was sweet and perfect. President Snow was not quite what I'd expected at first (he seemed too old), but he pulled off the creepy character who will emerge more in the following movies.

I loved the costumes. The capitol was chaotic with color and style, as it should have been. Cinna's costumes for Katniss, though not quite what I'd pictured in the book, met expectations. Loved the fire outfits!

I loved the way the Reaping was filmed. No music. Hardly any sound, even with all the people there. Perfect. And the best part is still Katniss screaming, "I volunteer! I volunteer!" That always made me emotional when watching the preview, which I must say is one of the best previews I've ever seen. But maybe it was so emotional because I was familiar with the book.

It's hard to get across the sense that the Hunger Games arena is engineered and man-made. It just seems like a regular forest most of the time. I did love the glimpses into the Game Makers' room, watching them decide to change things and using the cool tech.

I think the only thing I didn't like about the movie was that parts of it are filmed Bourne-movie-style. You know what I mean? Jerky camera movements that don't let you focus on one thing at a time and make you dizzy. It happened quite a bit near the beginning of the movie, and I was worried that the whole thing was filmed that way. But it wasn't. And I don't think the parts that were, at least at the beginning, needed to be. I can see using that style a bit in the arena, and I understand why they did it at the beginning, to create a bigger sense that the world is off-kilter, but I find it a bit of a cheap tool.

When the movie was over, I could hardly comment on it. I loved it and wanted to see it again, but I had to let it sit and my feelings percolate through my expectations. My mind was full of images, and I wanted to just remember and remember. But if a movie makes you want to see it again as soon as you are done as well as read the books again, I'd say: success!

As a totally unrelated sidenote: the Breaking Dawn 2 preview supposed to be premiering on The Hunger Games can hardly be called a teaser, let alone a preview. Not a good reason to go see the movie if that's all you're interested in. Very disappointing.

Overall, I was impressed at my viewing. The movie has a weightiness to it. It takes itself seriously but also has these punchy little moments of humor. It didn't feel too long, but it didn't rush by either. See this one in theaters, and if you haven't read the books, do that first.

And for those of you who are interested but don't really understand the hype yet (you will!), here is the short review I wrote for the book long before it became popular: The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins.


  1. I think you felt the way you did after seeing the movie because it was almost 3AM! You were probably exhausted.

    1. True. It was late, and I wasn't ready to think anymore that night. Nonetheless, I think I still would have wanted to see it again, even having watched it at an earlier hour, not because I missed stuff but because there were parts I absolutely loved!


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