Hunger Games Review: “Destroying Things is Much Easier Than Making Them.”


Like a lot of passionate fans of Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy, I approached the inevitable movie with trepidation. Sure, the books were written in a spare, cinematic style that lends itself to film. But that hasn’t prevented some spectacular fails of the book-to-movie variety. (Dune, The League of Extraordinary Gentleman and Kubrick’s version of The Shining, I’m looking at you. And where in all of kingdom come is a film version of Ender’s Game? And Wonder Woman?)

And the trailers didn’t help, making the drama look hokey and Jennifer Lawrence too tremulous to play the tough-skinned Katniss.

 

 

 

 

 

So I tried to lower my hopes like a skinny Tribute and I ended up loving the film.

Jennifer Lawrence plays Katniss with the right combination of calculating hardness and unwilling vulnerability that make her such a memorable character. Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth pull off the boys in Katniss’s life, despite early concern that their hair color was all wrong. Woody Harrelson, Lenny Kravitz, Stanley Tucci, and Elizabeth Banks all provide fine support. The look and feel of the book’s Ancient Roman-like future are just right.

Director Gary Ross uses a handheld camera effect to keep the grandeur in perspective and also convey Katniss’s disorientation as she navigates the brave new world of the Games. The directing, like Collin’s writing, is spare and effective. Ross lets us glimpse the horrors of teens killing teens without losing sight of what the story is really about; courage in the face of the odds being never in your favor, as well as how to maintain your humanity when all around you have lost theirs.

No adaptation is without quibbles and these are mine. Haymitch is too nice too soon. His and Katniss’s adversarial relationship is one of the joys of the books, and they let Katniss’s drunken mentor get a little too mushy here. And now wading into the shallow end of the pool: In the book, Peeta’s only assets going into the Games were strength and size. Joel Hutcherson pulls off Peeta’s steadfast goodness, but his slight build is sometimes distracting.

And I hated the soundtrack. (Disclaimer: not a Country Western fan). Something more propulsive and intense would have suited the story better than the limp, mournful selections here. Sorry, Arcade Fire, the Decemberists, and Kid Cudi, who I like. This was a big fail for me.

But these don’t detract from the central truth of my movie experience. Even though I knew what was coming, I found myself nervous and excited for the Hunger Games all over again. A very successful film adaptation of a terrific book.

 

5 out of 5 stars

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2 Responses to Hunger Games Review: “Destroying Things is Much Easier Than Making Them.”

  1. Rachael says:

    I really liked the sound track, but I hated Gale. I wanted to punch him in the face. He sounded like a redneck or something. I was never a huge fan of Gale in the books, but the movie version took just about any sympathy I had for him and destroyed it. I think it was the acting, though the scaring the deer away bit didn’t help either. Gale wouldn’t do that.

    I like the way the movie was able to veer away from Katniss’ point of view and show how the games were playing out in the Capital, how Haymitch was able to sweet talk sponsers and the little instructive bits from Caesar throughout. That was helpful, since a movie can’t show her inner dialog like the book did.

    Mostly though, my only complaint is that it went too fast, but that’s often my complaint with movies. I like TV so much because it has so much more time to develop plots and characters, to really revel in the small moments. This movie just zipped along like one of the Capital’s trains. We missed so many nice things, and some parts weren’t as moving as they could have been because they weren’t developed…for example Rue’s death or the very end of the games where they outsmart everyone with the berries. I thought the most moving part was actually the beginning. I was tearing up at the reaping scene, but after that everything went way too fast for my taste. Too bad it could have been turned into a series of 6 movies instead of 4. Oh well.

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    • Chris Devlin says:

      I think it must just be me that didn’t like the soundtrack. The two people I saw it with really liked it, too. Just didn’t fit my mood, I guess, or the mood of the movie for me.

      Hm, I was kind of relieved that Gale came off as well as he did, because pictures of the guy didn’t fit my image of Gale at all. Maybe I’m just shallow, but I thought they gave us a credible third in the triangle. And I didn’t notice the deer as being out of character, but now that you mention it, it was. I guess they were trying to use the moment to go into a conversation about how Katniss sells to the Peacekeepers, trying to set up life in District 12 as efficiently as possible.

      Yeah, I agree. They did good with cutting away for little moments that couldn’t be conveyed through Katniss without being really contrived.

      The pacing worked really well for me. I don’t know that I could have taken more of Rue’s death scene. ;-( But I thought the pacing matched the Games and Katniss’s perception of time really well.

      But now I’m picturing ‘The Hunger Games” on tv. “Visit Panem every week for a new round of contestants!” That’s probably not what you meant, though.

      Hey, it’s cool that you got to see it in English with Turkish subtitles, instead of the other way around.

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