Monday 2 April 2012

Movie Monday: The Hunger Games

Contains spoilers

As I'm sure I don't need to tell you, The Hunger Games has been one of the year's most eagerly-anticipated films, and is surely the biggest book-to-film adaptation since the final installment of the Harry Potter series. (Breaking Dawn, part 1, by contrast barely registered on my radar.) I'm probably the last blogger to write about the film. The blogosphere has been buzzing since the first casting, with countdowns galore and every bit of news examined under microscopes. We've all been holding our breath for this film - but with such hype, could it possibly live up to expectations?

I'm going to come out and possibly make myself very unpopular, but for me, no it didn't. It was a good film. Some parts were very good indeed. But the book had taken such a hold of my imagination that the film just could not match up.

The casting was flawless - well, nearly flawless (Donald Sutherland as President Snow was good, but not how I imagined him.) I had no complaint with any of the actors. Even, perhaps especially, the youngest members of the main cast, were many times better in their small roles than the stars of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. Leading the cast was Jennifer Lawrence, who was Katniss Everdeen. Considering how much of the book is made up of her internal monologue, Lawrence was able to convey much of this without saying a word. Her eyes! I could not fault her for a moment, expressing just the right amounts of toughness, tenderness and attitude.

I loved Cinna: the sole calm, sane, genuine person to see
through the hysteria of the Hunger Games.
My favourite parts of the film were the scenes shot in the Capitol. It was fascinating to see it visualised, with the weird costumes, and the mixture of science-fiction city and Hollywood. The film highlighted the jarring contrast with the cruel reality of what lay in wait for the tributes with the way it was being presented to the audience, which made me think of the endless adverts for the London 2012 Olympics we had to sit through beforehand. This is sick, I thought. The fact that we, too, were sitting here watching, for entertainment, a film about people watching kids killing each other for their entertaiment, brought me one stage closer to the reality of Panem. It was fascinating, and very well done, but uncomfortable viewing. I think it it hadn't been uncomfortable it would have failed.

I won't spoil the effect for you.
I loved the Girl On Fire dresses. The first was awesome, though rather what I had expected. The second, on Caesar Flickerman's show, I was not expecting. I had seen clips and photos of Katniss in her red dress, but had managed to be unspoiled for her big twirl, with her skirt looking like flames. That was stunning, breathtaking.

My favourite scenes were the assessment, in which Katniss, disgusted that the gamemakers weren't even watching her, fires an arrow straight at their table. I loved Effie Trinket's horrified reaction afterwards, and worry about her "bad manners."

I had been sure, reading the book, that I would lose interest during the games themselves. Great, long scenes of Katniss, alone, with little interaction with any others, surviving in the woods, shouldn't interest me, but I kept my attention. During the film, on the other hand, I did find my mind wandering. Maybe it was because I knew exactly what was going to happen, or perhaps action scenes just don't interest me much. Without Katniss' narration, I felt disconnected from what was going on. We were watching as spectators, rather than as tributes. One way we did benefit from the lack of first-person-narration was that we were shown behind the scenes of the Hunger Games, watching the Gamemakers at work, the President discussing with Head Gamemaker Seneca Crane the politics of the Games, and the commentary by TV host Caesar Flickerman - useful for exposition.

Rue. Sweet, wonderful little Rue. 
I had wondered how on earth they would keep this true to the book and yet keep it as a 12A certificate (PG-13 in the USA.*) The violence was shown very fast, with jittery camerawork, so that although you get a rush of images, they are too much of a blur to take in anything graphic. Still, with the relentless killing, the cast numbers ever decreasing, I felt heartsick. When I had sat through the tracker-jackers - without throwing up or running from the cinema (I am terrified of wasps) - Rue's death, Cato's murder of the boy who let him down as well as the occasion offscreen scream or thump of the cannons, and realised there were still 5 tributes left, I thought enough. 

So much is made of the "romance" between Katniss and Peeta, but in the movie, it seemed tacked on unnecessarily. Of course it was necessary to the plot, but because they spend so little time apart, I wasn't convinced in the slightest. It all seemed to come from nowhere, with the pair showing no sign that they even liked each other very much. They'd say the right words but I didn't see them as anything other than strangers who had recently become acquaintances. Katniss spent so much time alone in the arena that when she was reunited with Peeta, it seemed like they were meeting for the first time all over again. They hadn't a steady interaction to build up to attraction, even faked. Their task for Catching Fire? "Convince me."

Seneca Crane's beard. Come on!
As I felt when I first read the book, the ending was bittersweet. Katniss and Peeta's victory was a hollow one. They had survived, but nothing had changed and the world was as heavy and oppressive as ever. If this were a stand-alone movie, I would find it a very depressing ending indeed. Weirdly, the fact that the last scenes foreshadowed even worse to come were what saved it from being irredeemably gloomy. Things must get worse before they get better, after all.  I was very impressed by the added scene that showed the eventual fate of Seneca Crane (and his incredible beard!) It seemed so fitting considering how this futuristic, science-fictional world evokes the ancient civilisations. Clever.

Overall, The Hunger Games was a very faithful adaptation of the novels, but perhaps it was too faithful. I think that a film needs to complement its original material rather than copying it, in order to give it more depth and dimensions. Still, it was a well-made and thought-provoking movie. To actually see the youth of the tributes and hear the jubilant cheers of the Capitol citizens helped to bring the story to life. It was a dark, rather sombre film, even more so than I had expected from reading the books, but I think it had to be. This is not a story to be treated lightly, and the Hunger Games movie was intelligent and respectful of its source material, as well as a decent film in its own right.

*Apparently 7 seconds were cut from the UK edition. Those 7 seconds were apparently suitable for a 13-year-old to watch unaccompanied, but not a 12-year-old.


  1. Good to read your thoughts on this. I have to say I was surprised to earn that some 12 year olds had actually walked out of the movie saying it was too violent. Not a film I'll be watching at the cinema, I'll wait for it to come out on DVD.

  2. Interesting review. I like how you broke it down and you weren't just omg I loved it like so many others. It seems like they did a good job with it.
    I loved the books but I haven't seen the movie yet.

  3. What a thoughtful post, thank you! I was supposed to be going to see the film a week or two ago, but sadly my sister got sick so we spent the day at home watching 'The Princess Bride' instead... (Not that I can complain too much, it IS wonderful!) I've been very curious to see how 'The Hunger Games' book and film compare, and I think your post might be the closest I get until the DVD comes out! I like the pictures from the movie too - there's a couple here that I haven't seen before. Like Karen said, it's nice to read a considered response amongst the wave of rave fangirling! :)


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