Review of The Hungers Games Movie

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I finally went out to see The Hunger Games with my Dad yesterday. After reading the books by Suzanne Collins right when they came out, I was excited to hear the manuscripts would be hitting the silver screen.

As a fan of such works as Brave New World, 1984, and Lord of the Flies, I’ve thought THG’s off-beat premise is one of the more compelling in the last few years. I admire stories that seem to have their own gravitational pull, not just because of their characters, but their absurdly outlandish yet dangerously plausible scenarios. It’s fiction enough that you feel safe for the time being, but inwardly you’re thinking, “Dang, I sure hope this never happens to me.”

Given that Collins wrote THG in first-person present – not only the hardest point of view to write from, but also the most grueling tense – I had even higher hopes for the film. Yet how often have we all been disappointed by the on-screen adaptation?

Early screen shots released on the Internet last year had me worried. It looked like it was shaping up to be a made-for-TV movie, not a piece of cinema. But fortunately that was the marketing firm’s fault. Within the first thirty seconds I knew I was in for a good show.

If anything, my only complaint was that the film employed too many close ups, not enough wide shots, and the Director of Photography and his crew had IV’s of Jolt as the camera shaking was a little over the top. Granted, I got they were trying to build intensity and probably capture Collins’ first-person present POV; but when things are distracting and not complimentary, the art is missing the point. It could have been toned down and still gotten the same message across. Hungry? I was starving for the steady, wide shots when they finally came.

Having Collins on as one of the Producers ensured the story stayed true to the book – an absolute must for a piece like this. It also made sure the casting was impeccable.

Jennifer Lawrence (Katniss Everdeen) was feminine enough that she was beautiful, yet not so dainty that you didn’t fully believe she could hold her own and survive in the woods. Peta was exactly as I pictured him, as we’re Rue, Kato, Glimmer and others. And I thought bringing in Donald Sutherland, Lenny Kravitz, Woody Harrelson, and Elizabeth Banks were all great touches.

My dad poignantly commented that the score (James Newton Howard, T-Bone Burnett) was understated, a welcomed change to many hyped-up flicks, and exuded the naturally tendencies of the tribal, the hunt, and the melancholy. Strings, drums, and Celtic-folk undercurrents were extremely complimentary.

Obviously the movie had to cut out a lot. But on our ride home, hearing my father bring up a lot of the exact emotions I’d experienced while reading the first book lead me to know Collins had helped invoke her same intensity into the film versions of her story as well.

For those concerned about the content or premise: yes, THG aren’t for everyone. But I found the themes of self-sacrifice, overcoming tyranny, confronting personal demons, and the mob-lust of a pleasure-saturated and flamboyant elite society all strikingly relevant. Not just entertaining, these are reminders that our culture needs to hear.

ch:

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  • Richard Welch

    Anna and I just saw it last night having not read the books but only heard the hype. In general we enjoyed the movie for entertainment value. I agree with a lot of your points but I think the film was lacking a lot in character and plot development. It seemed almost as if they had a time slot they were set on cutting to and took out about a half hour too much of telling you who people were, illustrating their relationships, and providing depth and continuity to the events. I think a lot of that won’t be as noticeable to people who have read the books recently and thus have the gaps already filled in their minds.

    Things that come to mind are: more background on why everyone is being starved and how they justify it/incorporate it into the games would have been nice; the relationship with her and Lenny Kravitz, it just was deep and meaningful all of a sudden without much other than he was helpful and who wouldn’t like to be buddies with Lenny; they hardly showed anything of them actually learning anything in the training and didn’t incorporate any of it in the movie; they made huge hype about the sponsors, but didn’t really follow through with them having much significance other than a little magic balm and some soup which seemed very peripheral; the development of the other tributes was minimal including the most significant ones so you had little connection or feeling towards any of them other than she’s good, he’s bad; half the people were dead instantly and then the others just got picked off in undeveloped, unconnected, random events for the most part, which gave it a lot of a choppy/rushed feel, even the planned sequences like with blowing up the food weren’t well explained or developed to allow you to feel connected with what they were trying to do or the significance of it; a lot of this made it seem incredibly easy for them to get to be the last couple alive which had seemed like it was going to be a daunting two-week, thick, and heavy plot instead of a frenetic, three-day weekend; they didn’t really illustrate her feelings toward Peta, it seemed like she was just acting for the sake of the game, but it wasn’t entirely clear or natural either way; and probably several other things I’m not thinking of. (Don’t in any way look at this as my attempt to structure a sentence.)

    Again, overall, I enjoyed it. I think some more wider angle shots would have definitely helped like you were saying. I also think the characters were all quite believable and fit their roles well. I’m not sure at this point if the books will make my reading list but I think it would be helpful before seeing the other movies when they come out. Overall I’d say maybe B-

    • http://www.christopherhopper.com Christopher Hopper

      Great points!

      “I think a lot of that won’t be as noticeable to people who have read the books recently and thus have the gaps already filled in their minds.” For having not read the books, this is quite an accurate assessment, something I’m definitely guilty of!

      I would actually recommend the books, because you’re intuitively asking the very questions that the books answer in spades. In fact, I’m kind of wondering how a film could encapsulate so much unspoken content. Granted, LOTR did it on some levels (as Peter Jackson is the man), but I can totally see what you’re talking about in trying to fit everything into a short time period. I also noticed the end felt rushed and skipped over so much of what the books depicted – especially Katniss’ torn emotions. But how could it not have? It would need to be a 4 hour long film I estimate.

      Thanks for the additional feed back for my readers.

  • Billy Jepma

    Great review CH! You should do these more often. I went and saw the movie at the midnight opening with the Meeks family and thought it was really good. But like you, thought the shaky camera was waaayyy overused. I understand that they had to tone down the violence, but not being able to see what is happening is just frustrating. Besides that and a few nitpicks here and there I thoroughly enjoyed it and am looking forward to Catching Fire next fall. :)

    • http://www.christopherhopper.com Christopher Hopper

      I look forward to seeing the next one too! I’ll be interested to see how they incorporate feedback from this one on the production level.

  • Jarvis Flavius

    I’m rather worried that Catching Fire will be R-rated…the book version I believe was more emotionally intense/more violent.
    On the same note…
    What would you compare the violence to?
    Lord of the Rings?
    RED?
    The Eagle?

    • Billy Jepma

      I would say the violence was similar to that of The Eagle’s. As said, the shaky camera conceals the worst of the violence besides a few blood squirts. I would say the movie is more intense than violent, but there are a few scenes that are more violent than others.

  • Ben

    Awesome that you did this! I read the books and loved them, read them in about 4 days. Then went out and saw the movie at the midnight showing. Overall I thought the movie was very good. I loved that they kept it so close to the books. I would have to agree with the negatives both you and Richard brought up. The biggest one being the “rushed” feeling of the movie. Even knowing all the background the character development in the movie was lacking, and I didn’t feel the emotional connection with many of the characters as I did in the books. I feel like the actual games were a good example of this. In the books, by the end of the games and even throughout there was a almost exhausted, tortured feeling that Katniss and even Peeta were feeling, you were almost exhausted just reading what they were going through. The movie didn’t really grab me the same way. Almost as if the win in the games was too easy for them. I didn’t feel very emotionally drained as I was while reading the book.
    All the being said, still loved the casting and the movie as a whole and seeing it come to life. Can’t wait for the next one!

  • John Carter

    Yes, the shaking camera syndrome is now the status quo. JJ Abrams thanks you!

    I agree Christopher, it looks great sometimes, but can be overdone. The “epicness” of the panoramic is needed and gives context in the mind of the viewer. If your up close and that personal all the time, I tend to feel like the movie is smaller.

    John

  • http://realmofhearts.blogspot.com/ RyanPaigeHoward (RyanHeart)

    Nice review Mr.Hopper. Thanks for sharing. I went with my fam to the midnight showing last month along, with all the other crazy people in my small town. It was a lot of fun and I did enjoy the movie, but not as much as I did the book.

    Here is my review on the movie that I posted on my blog last month. This is just my opinion on it all. :-)

    My only disappointment in it was Peeta. They (in my opinion) made his character dull, compared to what I saw him in the book. His demeanor was just different and almost unlikable. I think they also missed on putting in some big key elements of him and Katniss, that would make you understand and see their friendship build better. In my opinion, I think they did a really poor job on that. I like the actor who played Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), and I really don’t blame him for it, more to whoever wrote his parts.

    My mom who didn’t read the book (she does it after seeing the movie) thought the flash backs of the bread scene was him being a jerk and the reason for Katniss being a little hostile towards him. That was a sweet scene in the book, not the way they betrayed it in the movie. My mom thought Peeta was a bad character, until all of a sudden Katniss was nice to him. I got it, though it bugged me, but she didn’t. And one BIG thing with him at the end, which I won’t say, but it deals with his leg. They made that end happier and wrote in a very different scene… ha, ha. But that was something that I felt was pretty touching in the book… so I sort of missed it, even though the movie version was happier.

    I think they did an excellent job at not making it too gory, which it really could of been. It was just enough were you got it and was sad, but not enough to make you want to turn your head. I liked that! I’m really glad they didn’t get into too much details of characters killing each other. I know that is the theme of the story. They in my opinion did it in a satisfying way. Too much would of ruined the movie and the bigger story. I still highly recommended being a mature 12 year old or older to see it. PG-13 is a good rating for it. We need to be cautious with what we see. DON’T bring your younger sibling or child to see it. Too disturbing for a young mind to understand, yet this is just my opinion…

    The actors were great, especially Jennifer Lawrence who played Katniss. I’m not a fan of hers, but I think she did a beautiful job. I really felt and saw her emotions. She truly put a lot of work into her part and it really showed. Also she had a natural prettiness about her.

    Do I recommend this movie… yes! I’m going to buy it when it comes out on dvd and I really look forward to the sequel :-)

  • Ciara

    I liked the way the camera shook, because it cut down on a lot of the blood and gore. Like at the beginning, after they step off their platforms, the blood is literally flying around (yeuch), but you don’t see it so much because of the shaky camera.

    I loved the movie, though. My dad saw it and is now going to borrow the book from my sister :P

  • Estelwen

    I saw the movie with a friend a few weeks ago. I have never read the books, nor had I even heard of them before the trailer came out. So these are my thoughts of the movie as a movie, not as a book adaption.

    Like everyone else, I found the camera shaking to be very obnoxious. Both my friend and I had headaches before Katniss was even chosen for the games. I understand their use of shaking, it lessens the violence and makes the movie a little less sickening. However they used it at the beginning, when Katniss is walking through her village we see shots of the poverty stricken villagers. These shots shook, but there was no violence, no blood, so why was the camera shaking?

    My second complaint was the lack of dialogue. Katniss spent most of the movie alone or in absolute silence. I never knew what was going through her head. Throughout the movie I never knew what anyone was feeling. I was never drawn into a character. When Rue died I cried, but it wasn’t sympathy for Katniss, or a feeling of loss for Rue. It was horror at a young life ending in such a fashion. I felt like a bystander, rather than a participant.

    My initial impression wasn’t favorable. However I am reserve final judgement until I have seen it a few more times. It is quite possible that there were subtler themes and character points that flew over my head the first time around and after I have seen it a few more times then it will all become clear.

    • Taisia

      The reason Katniss is silent is that’s just how she was in the book.

  • Taisia

    I’ve read and seen The Hunger Games. The book is very well written compared to some of the other teen books out there and they did a great job of sticking to the book when they made the movie. They picked the perfect actors/actresses for it! I noticed that they jogged the camera a lot too. That bugged me. I can’t wait for J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit to come out in December (not that it has much to do with The Hunger Games)! :)

  • http://www.enterthedoorwithin.blogspot.com Wayne Thomas Batson

    Never read the books. Honestly, once I heard the premise, I chose not to read them. Ever since I became a dad, I can hardly bear to watch movies where children are hurt. This sounded like too much. Nonetheless, I took my son to see it. He read the book in three days, a major accomplishment for him. And, from the movie, I got the feeling that this author really had a major message for a disturbed world: enough is enough. We have become a world enamored with violence. Video games have taken on such realism that we are completely desensitized to death. When I hear 10-12 year olds cheering, “Dude, awesome headshot!” while playing Call of Duty or some such, it makes me cringe. One screenshot of that ultra realistic portrayal of death would have given a teenager nightmares thirty years ago. Now, not so much. I’ve seen some Christian reviewers bash the Hunger Games as committing the very sins it preaches against. Actually, I think that kind of review shows the lack of sophistication of the reviewer. The author here uses shock-tactics to TRY to wake us up to where we’re heading, and in some ways, where we already are. WAKE UP people. Death is nothing to giggle about.

  • http://www.belgexan.com Destiny Vandeput

    Loved the movie but I agree with you on the shaking camera thing. It was really annoying at times. Especially during the fight scenes – particularly with Cato at the end.
    The only other thing I didn’t like about it was that I didn’t feel the “angst” of Katniss not really knowing what she felt about Peeta. I felt that they spent so much time leading up to the games that they could have developed their camaraderie a bit more. However I went and saw it a second time and loved it even more because I was less critical (being a big fan of the books) and just enjoyed the movie.
    Looking forward to how they will develop Catching Fire as I just read that the guy who directed the first one didn’t sign on for the second. Hoping that doesn’t mean anything bad for movie 2 because that was my favorite book!

  • Julie Ange

    After reading books on the dystopian society theme, I really wanted to watch the movie when I heard it and saw the trailer.

    I LOVED IT.

    I haven’t read the book so some things were a bit confusing, like the relationship between Peeta and Katniss. I mean, we didn’t really feel the relationship growing..? And Peeta seemed a little weak..? Though him saying he wanted to die and still be himself showed he was deep. I think I’m going to read the books now to get a clearer picture and feel of the story. All in all, great acting, scenery, and loved the fact that though the theme was gory, the movie artistically portrayed gore in a non-gore way. Hum. hope I’m making sense.

    • http://www.christopherhopper.com Christopher Hopper

      Made perfect sense.

      I think you’d really like the books if those are kinds of questions you’re asking.