The Hunger Games

"May the odds be ever in your favor."

Incredibly faithful adaptations are a mixed blessing, especially if it's from a book that you've read and loved. For me I tend to tick off a checklist of my favorite moments; what did they get right, what did they get wrong, and so forth. With The Hunger Games, it became such a problem for me to try and figure out how I felt that I had to see it a second time. Thankfully, the second time around I got a much better grasp on my opinion.

This movie was really powerful and really engaging, but it doesn't explain itself very well. The main gist of the plot makes sense, don't get me wrong. Unfortunately, the details pertaining to why certain moments have significance are not related well enough. That can be a problem with a story that has so many subtle setups for the rest of the series. My only hope is that they fill in those details in future sequels. They even had a mechanism that allowed for that kind of exposition. That isn't my only problem with the film, but it is my biggest gripe.

The other problem I had was with a plot detail that I don't want to get into in this review. Suffice it to say there was a scene that didn't have quite as much creepy menace as it should have. Which is probably due to the overall reduction in violence compared to the book. Although I'm honestly not sure they could put in everything from the book on the screen without an R rating. But I want to be clear that I really loved this movie. It was extremely faithful, and I walked away from it with a real anticipation for the next one.

The good aspects were really good. Jennifer Lawrence's performance was subtle and powerful. Katniss is a wonderful heroine, she's strong as well as vulnerable. Lawrence was able to convey that conflicted determination really well, which is good thing because she is in practically every scene. Thankfully she isn't the only one that did a great job. Almost all the supporting cast delivered solid performances. From the bit parts of the other tributes, to the adults that play the political side of this story, they were all memorable and effective.

The strange thing is that this didn't feel like a big budget film. That might be a bit of a criticism, but I really liked the choices they made. It felt real. Even the extreme and outrageous looks of the people of the capital were done in interesting way. They looked ridiculous, like a costume party on LSD, yet it wasn't some glossy Hollywood attempt at futuristic fashion. It felt like they took modern fashion sideways with surgical manipulation and a bit of color blindness. I do wish some of the CGI was a little more effective in the final act, but I've forgiven slightly shoddy effects work before.

Overall, I think this was a great start to a great trilogy. I got all the things I wanted to see, even if I wish they spent more time with some of the details.

3 out of 4 genetically altered wasps that give you hallucinations when they sting you.

J.D. Balthazar is a confirmed nerd who loves most things sci-fi or fantasy-related.

21 comments:

Josie Kafka said...

J.D., great review! I'm excited to see this.

Juliette said...

I loved it. There were scenes that didn't quite match the images in my head, especially towards the end, and I felt it was a bit too faithful - everything was so much straight from the book that there was nothing to make me sit up and take notice. But overall it was great - loved it!

J.D. Balthazar said...

Juliette, that's why I had to see it twice, so that I could view the movie as its own entity instead of trying to match it to the book. It was very faithful, which is both good and bad. I wonder if maybe they should've strayed from the source material just a little. But at the same time I was incredibly satisfied with the final result. In other words, I'm a bit torn. :)

Josie, did you get a chance to read the series? If you haven't I'd be curious what your opinion is from an outsider's point of view. Actually I'd like to hear from anyone who has seen the movie but hasn't read the book

JD

Jess Lynde said...

Sorry, I can't help you on that last one, JD. :)

I thought this was a wonderful adaptation. I loved it. Jennifer Lawrence was fantastic and the rest of the casting was really terrific --- even some of the choices I questioned turned out great. The whole production really captured the feel and the essence of the story for me. In particular, I found the Reaping incredibly tense and emotional, and thought it (and many moments throughout) did a really excellent job of communicating the sheer horror of what the Capitol required of the Districts and the emotional toll it takes on the citizens. Particularly the young ones.

SPOILERS: My only complaint is that the loss of Katniss's internal dialogue made some key moments play bit differently. In the book, she had a lot of conflicting emotions re: her developing dynamic with Peeta, but at times, it was clear her actions were motivated by a desire to play to the camera and to the audience, simply because she wanted both of them to survive and go home. In the movie, that element was far less clear, and it seemed like she was genuinely falling for him and purely motivated by a newly discovered love, rather than her playing on the "story" he set up for them. It made elements of the end feel more like a love story and less like her turning the tools of the Powers that Be against them for the purpose of rebelling against them.

celticmarc said...

I've read a lot of newspaper articles about the movie. And I've just finished watching the 6 clips on apple.com.

Eager to see it.

A lot of people are saying that this a copycat of the Japanese movie Battle Royale.

Nah ! Only the premise is similar

Mario said...

JD What you said makes complete sense... I read the books too and was relieved when the movie was (mostly) faithful to the books. I was also pleasantly surprised that we got to see the gamemakers do their thing. The narrative of the book made that impossible. But the thing about taking away the narrative in a book that's so enfused with morality and concepts of justice and tyranny is that you lose some of that punch. Thankfully, the actors were able to bring forth some of that angst on screen.
My 2 biggest gripes are:
A- the mockingjays and their immense significance were left out.
B- The mutts...were not faithful to their book-copunterparts... let's leave it at that :P

Other than that, JD said everything i wanted to say. Now the long wait to november 2013 begins.

J.D. Balthazar said...

Mario,

Totally agree with A & B gripes. In fact those are some of the problems I alluded to in my review.

Celticmarc,

I've seen pieces of Battleroyale, and I know the premise. Those people that are saying this is a rip off are just trying to take away from the hype. The same themes will come up again and again, it is how they are done that matters.

Bea said...

Ok, don't get me wrong, 'cause I'm not trying to start anything here.

I've read The Hunger Games trilogy and seen the movie, and enjoyed both of them with their merits and their faults.

BUT, I have also read and watched Battle Royale, waaay before The Hunger Games even became a thing. And, I must say, while The Hunger Games does take things in a different way, is aimed at a younger public (as in, is way more sugar coated for its themes) and is different enough from BR that it can't be called a copy, there are also enough similarities that BR can be called an inspiration.

Truth be told, I think BR fans are pissed of because Suzanne Collins refused to aknowledge any sort of conection to BR when the premise, while taken in different directions, is entirely too similar from that on BR.

Still, they can both be enjoyed and should be respected in their own genres.

If you want a personal opinion, though, and want a much grittier and adult take on a similar premise, give the BR book a chance. Like, really. Go buy it.

Anyway.

As I said, The Hunger Games is a nice, fun trilogy and I think it translates better to a movie than BR did.

Also. Jennifer Lawrence. She's awesome.

J.D. Balthazar said...

I totally agree that it could've been an inspiration. However, I also think that parallel ideas occur all the time. It's possible, no matter how likely or unlikely, that Suzanne Collins never encountered any reference to BR before she sat down to write "The Hunger Games". I'm not saying that she did or didn't, but I've personally had ideas that I found out later were already done.

Just a thought, I have no interest in starting an argument or defending or attacking criticism, I think everyone is entitled to an opinion, and the benefit of the doubt. :)

JD

PS. While I agree that the movie was sugar coated a little, the book was brutal. I know BR was far more graphic, but this is definitely an adult themed story. Or at least it is in IMHO.

Bea said...

Oh, no, I do agree that The Hunger Games had an adult theme. What I mean is that you can tell that the target audience is young adult.

While it tackles some very adult material (and I think it gets darker as the story progresses towards book 3) it does so in a way that you can still look at your heroine through sympathetic eyes. As in, during book 1, you don't really know the other tributes so much that you actually want them to live. Also that Katniss isn't forced into a situation in which she has to kill a friend, or someone she appreciates, for example. Even identyfying some os the tributes as "the bad guys" makes the road a little easier to travel with our leading lady.

But, as I said, it does tackle serius themes, and I do like how they expand through the whole saga. I also like that further up on the story (I won't go into details, don't want to spoil anmybody) different opinions on characters that are on the same side give you a whole map of the way people can think in hard situations, and how none of them are exactly wrong. The more they go into gray territory, the more I like it.

As for the BR thing, I was just trying to explain that when people point out the similarities, they're not just being petty about it. But, I will agree that we can't know what the author did o or didn't read, and the fact remains that the end results are different and enjoyable enough that I'm glad the world has both BR and THG.

Josie Kafka said...

I bought Battle Royale (heard about it from reading about The Hunger Games) but stalled out after about 5 pages. What's the consensus? Should I push through?

Anonymous said...

I liked BR, though it's a very different story with vastly different themes, and I think it's ridiculous for BR to be angry that Collins took a theme that multiple authors have used. I do remember thinking that Battle Royale was another version of The Running Man, only this time it used kids.

Juliette said...

It's also very similar to a 1969 movie called The Gladiators in which soldiers were forced to fight to the death for a TV show to prevent WW3 (which I haven't yet seen, but I want to). And the classic Star Trek episode Bread and Circuses. Just one of those ideas that comes around every now and again I think.

Panda said...

Great review JD.

I finally saw this during the week, and after ploughing through the first book, I was almost perfectly satisfied. The only thing that I didn't like was something you said yourself; certain moments weren't explained fully, I think we all know which scene I'm referring to in particular.

The movie worked regardless, though. And I still got slightly teary during that part I just mentioned.

The best thing about the film was that it wasn't just a movie played out on screen, it was a book ADAPTED for film, which worked in its favor; the clever inclusion of the game makers being the best example of this kind of screenplay.

I haven't read the second and third books yet, so I might be oblivious to some parts of the plot that would become more important later on, maybe the Avox girl plays a much larger role, I dunno.

Anyway, it gets a 4/4 from me, despite the tiny flaws. I have to see it again (I;m so glad I work at the cinema too; free passes are the best thing ever).

Patryk said...

I finally watched the Hunger Games yestarday.

I read the book before the movie so indeed, watching it was like checking off items from the to-do list.

The mockingjays and the mutts should play a larger role in the movie. Especialy becuase the final battle would be more terryfying then what we've got.

I really like the look behind the scenes with Seneca Crane and President Snow. Unlimited POV really makes the story better, but does not take away anything from Katniss and explains some of the plot better. Like Haymitch proposing the love angle to Seneca.

Apeaking of love it would be better to see more of the playing to the camera side of it. I as a reader knew that they might be only faking, but I don't kow if someone new to the series would have taken that away from the movie.

The action felt real, immediate and not at all played up. Short bursts of adrenaline followed by long pauses. The opposite of an action movie where the action scens are long and the pauses are short.

All in all it was a movie of my favorite type: a mix of entertainment and thought provocation. The wait for Catching Fire will be long.

zob said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Josie Kafka said...

J.D., you asked back in March if I'd read the books (in a comment above) and I didn't see your question until just now, 30 seconds after I watched the movie and promptly went to your review.

Yes, I've read the books. Twice. I really admire the way Collins uses some pretty basic tricks (present-tense writing, love triangle, clearly defined goals, etc.) to create a highly-readable platform for some ideas that are interesting and relevant, especially for her target audience's age-group.

I'm even jealous that books like these are available for young adults, because I would have loved something like this when I was 12. Now, 'cuz I'm old, I enjoy the story (immensely) and admire what Collins is doing, but I don't get very invested in, for instance, the love triangle.

(Lest it sound like I'm damning with faint praise, I should clarify: I bought the first one on a whim, read it, loved it, finished it, and realized that if I threw on some real pants and drove fast, I could make it to a nearby bookstore before they closed to buy the sequel which I wanted right now gosh darnit. Drove there, asked, begged, pleaded: they were out. So I jumped in my car [still wearing pants] [also a shirt and shoes], drove to the other nearby bookstore, begged, pleaded, explained that I needed to read the sequel right then: they were out. At that point, I was out of bookstores, so I just went home, ordered it from Amazon like a reasonable person, and took off my pants. In other words, I was far more exuberant after my first read than I am today.)

So I went into the movie with some apprehension, and was surprised to find myself in tears three different times. The Katniss/Prim stuff had me sobbing--I'm a sucker for "big sister" stuff, and that hit me more on film than it did in the books. I did miss Katniss's inner thoughts, though, because I'll bet her conflict is less clear to people who haven't read the books.

And this last bits sounds like a complaint, but it's not meant to be snarky: I think they should have waited a few years to make this movie. Remember how LotR couldn't be made until technology caught up? For just a few key effects, apparently 2012 technology just wasn't up to snuff. And I'm okay with that--for this film. But I worry that the second and third films, which take place in weirder environments, might suffer if they don't get bigger CGI budgets.

ChrisB said...

I'm ashamed to tell you how long this Netflix envelope has been hanging around my house, so I decided that a Sunday afternoon was the best time to finally sit down to watch this.

I have not read the books, so I went into this only knowing that Jennifer Lawrence plays a young girl in a gladiatorial setting. I enjoyed it a great deal, but didn't love it. I thought the acting was simply excellent all the way around, but the story never grabbed me by the throat.

One of my complaints was Katniss's relationship with Peeta at the end. Reading Jess's comment, I know understand it better; but, watching the movie, I couldn't figure out why she was suddenly so into him. It felt odd to me.

The movie also dragged for me at times. There were events that just seemed to go forever and my mind wandered. I am curious to read the books now. They seem to have made quite an impression on those of you who have read them.

sunbunny said...

I haven't read the books either, but I came into the movie knowing pretty much what was going to happen. Hunger Games is freaking everywhere.

Even without having read the books, I could tell there was quite a bit missing. Is this how people who hadn't read Harry Potter felt when they saw those movies? Everything made perfect sense, but there were parts where I could just tell that's not all that was supposed to happen and characters that I'm sure were more important in the book. (Which I will be reading because I'm told they get more into the political allegory, and isn't that the best part?)

The love triangle wasn't set up well at all. I'm sure there's more to it in the book. There has to be, the way people online go on and on about it. Gale seems the obvious choice, not only is he about a thousand times more attractive, but he's the one who helps take care of her and her family. Peeta may have thrown a piece of bread into the rain for her, but Gale gave her bread too.

Oh and was the attractiveness ratio from Josh Hutcherson to Liam Hemsworth intentional? Is Peeta supposed to be short and gawky? I'm not judging; I really want to know.

I totally agree with you, JD, on it not feeling like a big budget film. There wasn't a lot of completely unnecessary CGI, which is a constant presence nowadays. I liked that.

What would have made the film more enjoyable for me (and I suspect only me) would have been more shots of the Capital fashions! They were awesome. Whoever did the costumes on this did a fantastic job. Finally a futuristic film where people aren't wearing silver. The hair and makeup were terrific too. It took me a few minutes to place Stanley Tucci (I'd never seen him with hair before!) and if I hadn't known that was Elizabeth Banks, I never would have recognized her.

Great review! I may be back to comment again after I've read the book. :)

a.m. said...

I should preface my comment by saying that I've read the books 3x and seen the movie twice. I liked the movie pretty much until the last 10 minutes, but they really botched the emotional feeling of the ending, IMO.

Anyway, sunbunny, there is definitely supposed to be a difference between the appearance of Gail and Peeta. Gail is supposed to be obviously turn-all-the-girls-heads gorgeous. Peeta on the either hand is supposed to be charming. He is not supposed to be short, just shorter than Gail. The problem is that Jennifer Lawrence is not really like Katniss at all--she's supposed to be smaller than Peeta and malnourished. I understand why they'd want Jennifer Lawrence to play this part, so I don't really fault them but it does make Josh Hutcherson's height stand out.

In terms of the love triangle, the movie actually brought that out more than the book does, in terms of showing you how Gail was feeling and reacting in district 12 while Katniss and Peeta were together. With so many books that are told from 1st person and filled more with internal dialogue, it's just hard to get across those feelings and conflicts and this movie definitely suffers from that problem. I think what is really missing is the idea that for most of the book, Katniss doesn't want either of them. In fact, because of the possibility of having children who would possibly have to participate in the reaping, she doesn't want anything to do with getting married, so she, sometimes unsuccessfully, attempts to suppress any feelings that she has for either one of them. It's makes the love triangle a lot more interesting (at least in the books) than your standard YA fair.

I hope you and ChrisB will read the books (in between all your reviewing and commenting that I enjoy so much, of course:). I'd definitely be interested to see how you feel about them!

sunbunny said...

Okay so I read the first book and I thought I'd reappear to comment on the differences. First off, I like the book better, which is highly unsurprising. The only movie I like more than the book it is based off of is Gone with the Wind.

So, I think the film makers did their best, but it was bound to be difficult to take a book written in the first person and portray it accurately onscreen when your main character is supposed to be relatively unemotional and stoic.

I think the stuff they cut was cuttable. There was stuff in the book not in the movie, but it didn't seem to affect the movie's main theme.

The only real area where they could've/should've done better is the love triangle. The idea that Katniss was only pretending to like Peeta to help her chances win barely registered with me in the movie, but it's such a huge part of the book. I liked the change the movie made by showing Gale at home watching Katniss be with Peeta. It's painfully obvious to me (haven't read the second book yet, though) that both boys are crazy in love with her.

One other thing that wasn't perfect in the movies: you never really got how much of a struggle getting food was. It's communicated somewhat, but it's so much more exaggerated in the books. Part of it is that Jennifer Lawrence doesn't exactly look like she's starving. I read somewhere that she and the director agreed she wouldn't lose weight for the role because they didn't want young girls who looked up to Katniss to decide it would be an awesome idea to starve themselves to look just like her. I understand that and think it was a great decision BUT it necessarily deemphasizes Katniss's struggle to survive.