The Hunger Games Review
Chances are that you’ve already seen The Hunger Games, as it had one of the biggest opening weekends in history. But in case you haven’t, here are my thoughts…
I had not read the book before going to see the premiere of the Hunger Games on Thursday night. I bought it for my Kindle, but wanted to see the movie first. So I don’t know how closely it follows the book. I knew very little of the movie; but I knew that it was being compared to Twilight, and that it had a huge young adult following. That’s not necessarily a great place to start. I expected this to be a movie that, not being a teenage girl, I wouldn’t get emotionally invested in.
It defied my expectations. This isn’t, first of all, a romance. Nor is it a social commentary, or a big set-piece action movie. There are elements of all of those, and the movie could easily have been any of them – and possibly still have been good. But that’s not the movie they made. The focus is squarely on Katniss, a girl who volunteers to take part in a fight to the death with 23 other teenagers – with only a handful of scenes not featuring her, to help contextualize events. It’s a far more intimate movie than I expected.
It’s also an extremely quiet movie; there is more silence and The Hunger Games than in any major movie I can remember (it can actually be a problem if those in the theater with you are making noise). Even the score is quiet, when it’s there at all. It’s this quietness, I think, that has led to the complaints of the movie being “slow”. I didn’t feel it was slow – in fact I hope there’s a Lord of the Rings-style extended DVD with tons of extra footage – but it wasn’t constantly grabbing your attention. It’s a movie of small moments. Until the Hunger Games actually start, the movie never loses that somber undertone – you don’t forget that all this is leading up to a lot of deaths, even though there are funny moments. And even the arena is relatively quiet – there’s action, but we probably spend as much time watching Katniss sleep as watching her fight.
(To get an idea of how the tone differs from what I expected, you can listen to the soundtrack – which isn’t even remotely the score of the movie, in this case. The Twilight soundtrack featured bands like Paramore and Linkin Park. The Hunger Games soundtrack features The Civil Wars, Taylor Swift, and The Decemberists, among others, and is more folk than pop.)
The citizens of the capital do seem to have forgotten – or don’t care – as they are celebrating the Hunger Games in garish outfits; it’s like Carnival, if Lent were replaced with a gladiatorial arena. I found the disconnect interesting, especially the tension between the capital and the outlying districts, but the movie doesn’t dwell on this – it’s a backdrop to Katniss’ experience. This is the part of the movie that could have delved into social commentary – but I’m assuming the other books in the series will do so. If the series as a whole neglects this angle it is a weakness, but I don’t fault a single movie in a series for not getting to everything.
Without a lot of action and loudness to hold our attention, the movie relies heavily on its actors – and they come through. Jennifer Lawrence is completely believable as Katniss – she’s overwhelmed and sometimes numbed by the situation, but you can still see her quiet, of course) determination to survive. You can see why she’s an Oscar-nominated actress already, and I hope she gets another nomination for this performance.
The supporting cast was good, but there were a few that stood out – Lenny Kravitz and Woody Harrelson do very well in their roles as stylist and mentor, and manage between them to counter the insanity of the capital. I was surprised by how little most of the Tributes were featured; there were 24 altogether, and only a handful were named in the movie. This is one thing that I would imagine being different in the book. Of the Tributes (including Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mellark, the male lead), Rue made the biggest impression - Amandla Stenberg and Jennifer Lawrence manage to bring a lot of emotion to their relationship, despite it not having much time to develop.
Overall, Hunger Games was very nearly as good as it could have been – and far better than I expected it to be. It was good enough, in fact, that I went back to see it again a week after I first went to the premiere – in a better IMAX theatre an hour away from where I live. I think Avatar is the only other movie I’ve ever gone back to see so soon. It came to a satisfying ending while leaving me wanting to see more of Katniss and this world, and I’m very much looking forward to reading the books.