As you may or may not know, I have been looking forward to the premiere of the Hunger Games for a long time now, and I was extremely excited when I got to see it last Thursday night. I should say right now that this review will be mostly me gushing about how much I loved the movie, because to be honest I have little, if anything, to complain about. I have long since learned to separate the book from the movie (very necessary after years of Harry Potter) but I feel that this adaptation did the source material justice without limiting the movie’s potential in order to get everything crammed in.
Let’s start with the acting. I was always on board with the cast, so no one had to win me over once the movie started. However, they had to live up to my expectations, and for the most part they did. Jennifer Lawrence is the perfect Katniss. I think she managed to bring across the strength and determination Katniss feels when in the game, and her need to protect her family, while also conveying her vulnerability. Since the movie does not have the advantage of telling us everything that’s going on inside of her head, Lawrence had to bring that across in her reactions and the way she handled herself, and she did so very well. While she did an excellent job in the overtly emotional moments, such as after Rue’s death and when she thought Peeta was dead, she truly amazed me in the more subtle moments when she was acting strong while clearly scared on the inside.
Josh Hutcherson was just like I imagined Peeta. Actually, every other cast member was pretty much like I had envisioned them in my head, with the exception of Liam Hemsworth. Putting aside my feelings for Gale, which admittedly might affect my view of the actor, I just thought he was bland the whole way through. He didn’t have much to do, but he didn’t do much with what he had either. Hutcherson portrayed the vulnerability of Peeta really well, but still managed to capture the people-person he is and the humour he had in the novel as well.
When writing about adaptations like this one, you can’t get away from comparing it to its source material and pointing out the changes. While I want adaptations to stay as true to the source material as possible, this movie managed to make the changes work in its favour much more than any other I’ve seen. The most notable change was that we got to see what happened outside the arena as the games progressed. If the book has one limitation it is that it never gave much information about how the game makers steered the game or how the cameras managed to pick up everything. The movie gives us that information, and it’s fascinating to see how they come up with the idea of making Katniss and Peeta pretend to be in love for the sake of gaining sponsors. In addition there are the added scenes that were not even alluded to in the book, and all of them bring something to the story in a positive way. The talk between Seneca and President Snow brings up the notion of hope and a contained spark, which will be important throughout the rest of the series. The trained eye will also pick up that Snow is handling a rose in the scene, something which also will be important later. We also have the scene where we see the rebellion take a hold of district eleven, a sequence that truly amazed me as I watched it. Lastly there are the ending shots of Seneca locking his door and going in to find the bowl of nightlock berries. It’s subtle and doesn’t answer anything, but that along with Snow walking ominously out of the control room tells us that something is going to happen.
As for the more technical aspects of the movie I have to say that I loved how it looked and felt. I was afraid that since the movie is so hyped up and basically a blockbuster the whole thing would be overproduced and feel fake. The use of handheld cameras while following Katniss around makes the whole thing feel much simpler and ‘artsy’, and I can’t say how thankful I am for that. The only problem with this approach is during the fight sequences. I don’t have as much of a problem with this as a lot of real critics have, but I tend to agree that it’s messy at times. That said it’s mostly because they don’t want the violence to lift the ratings, something which I can respect, and it’s really nothing to keep me from loving the movie as a whole.
Like I said before, I could go on and on about things I loved about the movie, and when I have watched it again next week I’ll probably have even more to say, but I will try to finish now. Before I do, though, I have to express my relief over the fact that they didn’t overplay the love aspect of the story. If anything, it was underplayed. They managed to get across the point that Katniss, despite caring for Peeta, is not in love with him. It comes across through both the notes from Haymich and the actions of Katniss that she is doing this in order for them both to survive. At the same time it is made clear that the feelings are real from Peeta’s side and the very short scene at the end where he says he doesn’t want to forget goes a long way in telling us how sad he is that it’s not reciprocated. As for Gale, I was ok with the few shots of his reactions. I don’t think they had to be there, but at the same time it was not overkill and did establish that there is some tension coming up. I honestly love the bond between Katniss and Peeta, romantic or not, so I wouldn’t have minded more of that, but I am also ok with what ended up being the result. I don’t want another Twilight type Team Peeta vs Team Gale situation, and the movie did little to promote that. And just to clarify, even though my heart will always lean towards Peeta, I am team Katniss all the way. Credit to Suzanne Collins for creating a heroine who doesn’t let her decisions be swayed by which boy she should choose to marry.