Earlier this week, I had the good fortune to attend an exclusive press screening of The Hunger Games. I am a big fan of the series, particularly the first book, and had been eagerly awaiting the movie. A hearty thanks to @Fyodor Fish for the invitation.
Before I move on to my thoughts, I should note that this is not so much a review as a comment on the adaptation. As such, if you haven’t read the books and don’t want to be spoiled, stop reading!
Basically, I liked it, but didn’t love it. However, this may just be the inevitable disappointment of anticipating the film for so long and liking the book so much.
Of course, it’s to be expected that a great deal will be left out of any adaptation, but the devil is in the details of this series and, while they didn’t make too many egregious changes, I think there was too much missing for the spirit and morality of the books to come through for non-readers. In fact, they may come away with a very different idea of the story, due to the strong shift in focus from the perspective of the heroine to the world of reality television.
The casting: Aside from Peeta and Gale (both of whom seemed awkward to me), the acting was spot on. Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss was excellent. I liked this Prim, played by Willow Shields, far more than the one in the book. Shields was great at conveying the relationship of the sisters and emotion of the reaping. Rue (Amandla Stenberg) was adorable. I particularly liked Stanley Tucci as Claudius Templesmith and Woody Harrelson as Haymitch, and I didn’t think I would. If they make the rest of this series, I can’t wait to see Haymitch in action. Lenny Kravitz was perfect as Cinna. There could have been more Cinna.
The mockingjay pin: The story of the pin made far more sense in the film than in the book. This is a perfect example of adaptation done well.
The representation of District 12: The art direction here borrows straight from old WPA photographs and really sets the mood and provides a sense of place.
The two dresses: I thought it would be very difficult to pull off Cinna’s outfits and the costume designers did a great job with them.
Technology: The technology of this world is much more prevalent in the movie than in the book. I think they chose to play up the reality TV show angle a bit too much; however, showing the behind-the-scenes technology involved in the production may benefit the films as the series continues. One of my biggest problems with Mockingjay is the large disconnect between the world presented in the first volume and that of the third book—this presentation goes a long way to alleviate that.
The opening interview clip: The text provided was an effective introduction to the history and concept of the games, and I think the words alone, perhaps with some sort of uber-dramatic music, would have been much more powerful. This series is not about Claudius and Seneca and they shouldn’t have been the first thing we see.
The pacing of the earlier sections: While the portrayal of the reaping was effective, it could have been trimmed, along with the hunting and training scenes. I would have traded much of those for more of Katniss’s alliance with Rue, or the presentation of the muttations. The concept of the muttations are the ultimate punch in the gut for the reader; losing that strips away some of the horror of the book. Also? Enough with the shaky camera already.
Reality TV: Playing up the Hunger Games as reality show was an interesting idea, and maybe even a necessity, considering the need to move away from just Katniss’s perspective, but I think they went a bit too far, especially with the overemphasis on sponsors. It comes off as everyone being complicit in the Hunger Games, which is far from the truth.
No contest. Seneca Crane’s beard. That thing was the true horror of The Hunger Games.