After months of waiting, I was finally able to see The Hunger Games last night. As a fan of the books, it was rewarding to see characters and settings I had heretofore only imagined in my mind come suddenly to life. The costumes, makeup, and set design were superb. The world of Panem–and especially its ostentatious Capitol–came to life in brilliant high definition.
The actors selected for the various roles were uniformly quite good, with Jennifer Lawrence a real standout as the lead character Katniss Everdeen. Lawrence has already proved her acting chops elsewhere, and she is more than capable to carry this franchise
on her shoulders. Amandla Stenberg was also brilliant as the actress who plays the young Tribute Rue. Additional kudos to the often hilarious yet nuanced performances of Woody Harrelson as Haymitch Abernathy and an unrecognizable Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket. I was impressed not only by the casting decisions made here, but also the many great performances in the film. Twilight should stand up and take notice!
For a fan of the novel, no movie adaptation could ever do The Hunger Games justice. The pacing of the film was, for whatever reason, too quick for me. I missed the psychological depth of the books and at times felt that we were forced too quickly through the various dramatic setpieces of the drama. Much like the early Harry Potter film adaptations, too much attention may have been given to faithfully replicating scenes from the book and not enough to artistically interpreting the source material. For instance, I felt the film could have done more to establish the depressed state of District 12, build up the Katniss/Rue relationship a bit more, and make the “berry” scene as powerful as it could have been.
This said, I may be asking the film to do too much. The basic story is compelling enough by itself, and the movie tells it quite directly. Further, nestled within the cinematic narrative are some deeply powerful moments: 1) Katniss calling out her mother on behalf of her sister and telling her to never again slip into the debilitating depression that almost destroyed their family in the past, 2) the wordless scene where a painfully oblivious Capitol family allows their ignorant children to play at “Hunger Games” with fake swords, and 3) the scenes regarding Katniss, Rue, floral arrangements, and District 11 (you’ll have to read the books or watch the movie to understand this one). The extra screen time for President Snow was also a plus, as was the ever-present and magnificent beard of Seneca Crane.
All in all the film is a good one, and by most accounts will do very well for itself. I look forward to the sequels continuing this powerful story of emerging adulthood, oppression, and freedom, and loss. Hopefully in the midst of this now multimillion dollar enterprise, the deeper questions at the heart of the story will continue to resonate with teens and adults for some time to come.
I highly recommend the Hunger Games and encourage you to see it soon!
Grade: B+ (great performances, excellent design, and compelling story; marked down only for its pacing and the fact that nothing could ever live up to the book!)