Towards the end of December 2011, I started catching on to The Hunger Games train after being persuaded by my sister and younger cousins. They could not stop raving about how incredible this trilogy was, and eventually I had to see for myself. I will admit that the first book was really an enjoyable read, but by the time I got about fifty pages into the third book I had had enough of the series and its whiny protagonist. Luckily I wasn’t the only one who didn’t enjoy it seeing as how just about every fan of the books I asked agreed that the third is the weakest of the series, however I didn’t let this stop me from seeing the movie.
The Hunger Games is the latest hit series by Suzanne Collins that tells the tale of a futuristic nation called Panem. Within Panem there are 12, formerly 13, districts that specialize in certain trades, ranging from textiles, coal mining, farming, and so on. Every year the districts of Panem are dictated by the capitol to offer up two tributes between the ages of 12-18, one male and one female, to take place in the annual event known as The Hunger Games. These games serve as a reminder to those that tried to rebel against the capitol many years ago so as not to suffer the same fate as district 13. Here the tributes are forced to battle to the death where only one of the 24 chosen will be crowned victor and allowed to return home. The story’s main protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, volunteers as tribute in place of her younger sister Primrose after she was chosen for the 74th annual Hunger Games.
My main concern going into this movie was how they were going to translate Katniss’ first person point of view story telling that the book uses to explain the world of Panem and the inner workings of the games. The movie grazes over some details in the beginning, such as the meaning of the mockinjay pin, the system of offering up your name for extra food rations, and the fate of district 13. The movie assumes that the viewer has read the books to fill in the missing gaps of information, which isn’t extremely important within this movie but it’ll be interesting to see how they address these plot points in the coming movies.
However, within the games itself the movie uses two announcers giving play by plays to explain some of the plot points that were delegated to Katniss’ thoughts in the book such as the tracker jackers, or Katniss working through traps set by other tributes. It was a really nice touch that I enjoyed and helped convey the sense of how this brutal entertainment was looked upon with such revere as any other sports show today
Another concern of mine was within the marketing. As opening day grew closer it seemed like Summit Entertainment was turning this series into another Twilight series. Everywhere you looked it seemed like there was, “Team Gale” or “Team Peeta” driven merchandise or advertising and it really had me worried that the movie would focus more on the love story than the games itself. Thankfully, the love story remains a subplot as it was in the book.
As far as adapting the book, the movie does a very solid job. As mentioned previously, the movie brushes over some areas that I personally would have taken time to address a little more. One moment in particular that stood out to me was at the very beginning when Katniss volunteers in place of her sister. The crowd kisses and raises three fingers in the air, which is described in the book as a symbol of respect and admiration. Nowhere in the movie is this mentioned so it seems a bit out of place when the crowd does it to Katniss on stage.
The movie also takes a few liberties of its own by changing minor details around; however not minor enough for the passionate fans of the books to notice. I consider myself a casual fan of the series and had no problems with some the differences, even having a hard time spotting some of them. For the most part the fans I asked didn’t mind the changes but do share the same concerns as I do about future plot points for the sequels.
A personal favorite addition to the movie was being able to see the behind the scenes of the actual games. We are shown the Game Makers within a central command unit as they manipulated the area and monitored the games. We are able to get more of a feel for Seneca Crane and his role as a lead Game Maker, and the importance of his caretaking on the games. To me this gives so much more insight into the games than the books since we are no longer constrained to just Katniss. With this new freedom the movie is able to explore more of President Snow and set up his plot lines for the up coming novels.
Casting was superb, and definitely pacified some more concerns I had going into the movie. A personal favorite scene in the books was during the interviews between Peeta and Caesar Flickerman and was pleased to see that both Hutcherson and Stanley Tucci respectively, conveyed it really well. My only disappointment was wanting to see more interaction between Flickerman (Tucci) and the tributes as well as both Katniss and Peeta.
Jennifer Lawrence really embodied the image I had of Katniss throughout the first book. Even without the viewer having the book there to read her thoughts Lawrence still gave us insight into her character just by the way she carried herself. A scene that stuck out in particular to me that I think speaks volumes for both the character of Katniss and Lawrence’s acting was during the beginning when she is saying her goodbyes to her family. She grabs her mom by the shoulder and firmly tells her not to fade out again like she did after her father’s passing. In that scene alone you could feel the weight of the responsibilities Katniss had taken over for her sister being shift back to her mom and just how comfortable Katniss felt about it. Lawrence definitely sold that scene for me. Of course this is just one of many powerful scenes in the movie. There are moments where there wasn’t a dry eye in the theater.
It’s safe to say that The Hunger Games surprised me and I am extremely pleased to see that it turned out really well. Paired with a lack luster third book and a less than impressive marketing run I was beginning to lose faith in The Hunger Games, however the movie more than restored my faith and has convinced me to tough it out through the third just to see the stories play out. I would make the claim that the movies does a better job of establishing the world of Panem and if it wasn’t for plot points that they brushed over it could have exceeded the novels. Towards the end it felt as though they knew they were pressured to keep the movie within a certain time limit seeing as how the last 20-30 minutes felt extremely rushed. Even though the movie sat at two hours and twenty minutes I could have easily sat through another 20-30 minutes just to see them explain more and let the scenes unfold at a better pace. The Hunger Games is a terrific first start for the series and I look forward to see where it goes here with its strong cast and nicely developed world.