Movie Review: The Hunger Games

David and I saw The Hunger Games last Monday. We then proceeded to re-read the entire series. Then we saw the movie again. In the midst of these things, we also had multiple late-night conversations about the books, Suzanne Collins, and the movie. (We told you we were nerds.)

Our original feeling after the movie was that it wasn’t terrible (read: not as bad as Order of the Phoenix). Let’s start with the things I liked.

I really enjoyed the addition of the commentary by Caesar and Claudius. One thing the movie really did for me was portray The Hunger Games as a reality show. The books do a great job of describing them, but seeing the interviews, commentary, behind the scenes, and the audience reactions really drove home that this is a reality show and it really made the books come alive the second time I read them.

I loved Jennifer Lawrence. (Duh.) She did an amazing job just like I knew she would. You could tell she was committed to the role from the very beginning, and I loved that. I almost wonder what she would say about the final cut of the movie. Was she a little upset by the way her scenes were cut? Was she disappointed with the lack of relationships built? Did she wish they had portrayed her as deeper or darker? I can’t help but think that she did her absolute best work and that maybe even she was disappointed with what they edited out. I would love to know if she thought the movie stayed true to the book. But I’m sure she’ll never be allowed to give her honest opinion about that on record (cue creepy “the Capitol censors everything” feeling).

Other things I feel were captured well by the movie: Caesar Flickerman (loved loved loved his stage), District 12 (hello, Asheville!), the reaping (minus the weird blood thing), and Effie Trinkett (I mean, Elizabeth Banks was absolutely perfect).

I think all of my problems with the movie can be boiled down to the fact that they didn’t commit. They didn’t commit to an old enough age group. They didn’t commit to the darkness and creepiness that you feel when you read the book. They didn’t commit to the horrors that are to come. (Without spoiling the books for those who haven’t read them, I have a simple question for those of you that have. Do you think they have any idea what they’ve gotten themselves into if they make the last two movies?)

A lot of people I’ve talked to and reviews I’ve read felt the movie was just the right amount of violent. Fine, I’ll accept that (I readily acknowledge I’ve probably been desensitized, but I could have easily accepted Kill Bill or Kick Ass amounts of violence, because I feel the book warrants that). But there wasn’t enough of anything else. There wasn’t enough background. I didn’t believe Peeta had been in love with Katniss his whole life. I didn’t believe Katniss was confused about her feelings for Peeta. I didn’t believe Katniss was trying her best to fool all of the Capitol into thinking she was in love with Peeta. I didn’t feel like Haymitch and Katniss had any sort of special relationship. I didn’t believe Haymitch cared about Peeta and Katniss. I didn’t feel like Cinna was prepared to do anything for Katniss. I didn’t feel like the audience was in love with Katniss or Peeta. I didn’t feel like the Capitol had stolen Rue’s life. All of these things are crucial to the next part of the story.

I understand that when adapting a book to film, one must give up certain things (lamb stew), and I appreciate that they had to leave a few things out of this adaptation to fill in some gaps for the audience (with the commentary). But I will always be saddened that the things that were close to my heart in the book weren’t in the movie. Madge is important, people! So is the prep team! So is the lamb stew! So is the avox! So are the tokens! So are the sponsor’s gifts!

David and I have spent hours talking about films that are book adaptations. Why is it so hard? Why does it seem we are the only people who are never satisfied? Why is it so easy for some to separate the two experiences? Why should we be expected to separate them? I want the film to compliment the book, bring it to life, awe me. Maybe our expectations are too high. Most believe they are. But I think I’m okay with it. Maybe somewhere in Hollywood someone is striving to make a beautiful adaptation that will never disappoint. I can keep hoping.

My biggest problem with the lack of commitment was that it detracted from the movie. The most obvious instance is in Rue’s death. In the movie, you feel sad when Rue dies. In the book, you feel devastated. You feel broken. You feel furious. You feel like you must right this injustice. Because the movie tried to skirt around the violence, because they didn’t build the relationship between Katniss and Rue well, you didn’t know the depth of Katniss’ love for her. Her desire to protect her. Her thought that Rue reminded her of Prim, and her promise to win the games. In the book, Katniss covers Rue in flowers to defy the Capitol, to show Panem how beautiful and innocent she was, and to hold them accountable for killing innocent children. That doesn’t come across in the movie. Much of the defiance, passion, and fear is lost in the movie because of their lack of commitment.

Lastly, some casting/character concerns. Why did they cast Josh Hutcherson as Peeta? Sure, it was a good thought, but once they brought on powerhouse Jennifer Lawrence, Josh just didn’t cut it anymore. He’s not tall enough, strong enough, big enough, or blonde enough. I think they did Josh, Jennifer, and the movie a disservice by expecting him to be able to play Peeta successfully. (I have nothing against Josh, he just didn’t work for the roll.) Woody Harrelson was the perfect actor for Haymitch Abernathy, but they completely mishandled his character. Woody could have done so much so well with this roll, but they left him flat and lacking. Sad. The first words out of Liam Hemsworth’s mouth made me cringe. Maybe he’ll get better with time. (Sidenote, his brother Chris [Thor] would be a great Finnick.)

But, like I said, we didn’t leave the movie furious. Maybe it’s because we no longer expect them to get it right. Maybe it’s because we loved Jennifer Lawrence so much. Who knows. I’m very interested to see what the next movies bring.