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