First things first: “Katniss Everdeen, will you marry me?”
Ok, ok… I should probably keep this review based in reality (and legality), so let me rephrase:
“Jennifer Lawrence, will you marry me?”
Now that I’ve gotten the most essential part of this post out of the way, I can continue on with my review of The Hunger Games; the new blockbuster movie based on Suzanne Collins’ 2008 best-selling novel of the same name. I attended the screening with my friend Erika (who requested photo anonymity) as she was the person who highly recommended the series to me (having read the first book 45 times… going on 46). For that reason I view her as the expert on all things Katniss, so I felt it was my moral obligation to watch the film opening weekend in the presence of a professional.
Since I literally finished reading the novel at least a few hours before seeing the film, I will be doing a bit of a combo review as both are fresh on my mind — and knowing my brain all too well, it’s a limited window of opportunity. Basically you are getting a two-for-one review deal. Is this blog a bargain or what? Please don’t answer that.
Before I start, I just want to share a little background on how I usually approach these types of films which are based on a series of multiple books. Due to the fact that I’ve been blessed with male DNA and thus can only retain as much info in one sitting as a common house fly, I like to try and read the most recent book in the series shortly before the corresponding movie is released. (True even if the other 27 subsequent books have been published already.) With patience like that, I should have been a doctor.
SPOILER ALERT: There WILL be spoilers. If you have not read the book nor seen the movie and you don’t want to carry a vendetta against me to your grave, stop here now and go take in The Hunger Games in one form or another.
For those that don’t want to heed my warning and would like a quick summary: The Hunger Games takes place in a futuristic North America, where an unexplained post-apocalyptic event has taken place – most likely the announcement that the iPhone 5 release was still being delayed.
The new society that arose from the ashes is dubbed Panem, not unlike the similar sounding name of the now defunct Pan Am Airlines, which was the largest international airline of the U.S. back in its prime. Coincidence? I think not. Possibly some foreshadowing? Perhaps Mrs. Collins had a bad bag of in-flight peanuts and this is her literary revenge.
Moving on… Panem consists of a technologically advanced and booming metropolis fittingly called ‘The Capital’. The Capital governs 12 much poorer and oppressed outlying areas known simply as Districts, which all have their own purpose in supplying a particular resource to the Capital. Although, there were 13 at one point until one was voted off the island – a nice way of saying ‘blown up’ – due to the Districts not playing by the rules. In other words, the Hunger Games were born as a result of the collective uprising by the Districts, which apparently wasn’t very successful.
In the annual live-for-TV event, the Capitol holds a reaping where a male and female tribute between the ages of 12 to 18 are randomly chosen in a lottery – not the kind with a mega number – from each district and pitted in an arena where it’s kid-on-kid murder until only one victor is left standing. The winner and their corresponding district are showered with wonderful gifts, fabulous prizes and amazing vacations in the hopes of making it the top Tivo’ed show amongst the coveted 18 to 45 demographic.
In essence, it’s teenage Survivor on steroids for the sole purpose of keeping the have-nots living in a state of fear, while also letting them know rebellion is a major no-no.
Unfortunately, they chose the wrong girl’s little sister for the 74th annual games… literally. The hero and protagonist of our story is District 12 volunteer tribute, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), who steps up to fight in the games in place of her much younger and non-outdoorsy sister.
As hinted by my marriage proposal earlier, Katniss is my type of female. Independent, athletic, loves the outdoors, good with a weapon, fights for those she cares about, all while still having that soft sensitive feminine side that lets you know she is also human with some of her innocence still intact. Bonus points for not being completely butch either.
Not only is she naturally B-E-A-utiful, but she cleans up nicely as well. Once I saw the scene with her in the black leather fire outfit, I knew I was done for.
Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson – above right) is Katniss’ fellow male tribute who we eventually find out has always had a fondness for Katniss … albeit quietly from afar. To complicate matters, Katniss also has a ‘chummy’ but non-defined relationship (Pfft, women!) with her long time District 12 hunting buddy and underwear model, Gale.
While I’m sure, there are already Team Gale vs Team Peeta bath towel sets readily available at Macy’s, I don’t feel like it’s reached the fever pitch of the silly hormonally-charged debate over who looks better in a speedo, a vampire or a werewolf. Of course, only time (and fame) will tell.
While we’re on the subject of important players, another character central to the plot is the District 12 mentor known merely as Haymitch (played by Woody Harrelson with just the right amount of snark and alcoholism). In a movie that stays fairly true to its dark roots, Harrelson provides a few subtle scenes of comic relief to break up the seriousness of the overall picture. I also don’t want to forget Elizabeth Banks, who delivers a creepily appropriate portrayal of the District 12 representative Effie Trinket. She plays the role to a T and was also good for a couple of light laughs as well.
Alright, enough blabbering about trivial things like characters, I’m sure you want to know my expert assessment of the book vs. the movie. Strap yourselves in, because you’re all about to bear witness to a rarity. For the first time EVER, I can honestly say that I actually enjoyed a movie even more than the printed material it originated from. Now before you bum rush my house with your new officially licensed Hunger Games archery equipment, let me try and break down the reasoning for my declaration:
The Book & What I Liked:
As most know, Suzanne Collins wrote The Hunger Games in the first person point-of-view, which is that of Katniss Everdeen. What I did enjoy about this style is how effective it is in making you feel as if you are right there in the mind of ‘the girl on fire’ herself. The reader can truly get a sense of what Catnip is thinking about, be it the family she left behind, the boys in her life she might have to choose between, lamb stew, or her future book “Hunting Groosling for Dummies.”
Another aspect of the novel I enjoyed more, was that our beloved Katniss seemed to be in more serious peril through the entirety of the games. While I’m not sadistic by any means, in the book, our heroine was at the brink of death with dehydration, starvation, third degree burns, tracker jacker stings, deafness, and being sliced open like roast beef with a dagger. By comparison, the film felt like it took it a bit easier on my future bride-to-be. Obviously, some of this has to do with time constraints, but I felt like the book put her through a little more drama and set her up as more of an underdog than the movie made her out to be.
One of the other things I really liked about the book was the crazy hybrid pit-bull mutant Ghostbuster terror dog-like creatures that were created in the image of each of the fallen tributes… a detail that was not incorporated into the film at all. I felt it was a major plot point that showed just how deranged and evil the Capital was. I guess the CGI budget was limited this go-around.
The Movie & What I Liked More:
Well, I’m sure all your inquiring minds want to know exactly why I enjoyed the movie even more than the book. You are going to call me crazy – and for good reason most of the time – but what I liked about the movie was that it was NOT told solely in the perspective of Katniss. Keep following me fellow outlaws: due to the fact the movie was filmed in a more traditional style of being able to view all events going on as a third party viewer, it allowed a deeper immersion into the worlds of Panem and The Hunger Games themselves.
For example, scenes such as Haymitch working behind the scenes, the uprising reaction of District 11 to Katniss’ salute of their fallen tribute and the scheming conversations between the Gamemaker (Wes Bently) and President Snow (Donald Sutherland); were all things that the movie audience gets to experience.
With the written pages, we are limited to seeing things from Katniss’ POV, which involves some assumptions on the reader’s part. Mystery and intrigue are great, but I eventually like knowing the effect certain events have on the rest of the elements and players in the story.
Also, because I’m a guy, and guys tend to be more visual, I felt more connected emotionally to Katniss’ character as she was going through the entire nightmare of The Hunger Games… most notably the emotional scene with Rue.
Oh, and before I forget… I had the pleasure of seeing the movie in the moving D-Box theater seats which move interactively during certain parts of the movie. It was definitely worth the couple extra dollars – seeing as movie tickets already require a student loan – as it did add some element of surprise and dimension to a movie where I already knew what the outcome was going to be.
That said, I also don’t feel it was overused thus it didn’t take me out of the movie itself either. Speaking of not being taken ‘out’ of the movie, I felt the special effects and cinematography were all extremely well done. While I didn’t think there were any awe-inspiring effects moments, I never thought anything looked hokey or out of place. Close to sci-fi perfection that should stand the test of time.
All in all, I felt the movie actually followed the book fairly well… that is until the very end. For those that did their reading homework, the movie ending may come across a bit rushed or feel like it may have been cut a tad shorter than it should have – as it did for me. I don’t want to completely spoil this for those that haven’t seen it… but I’m very tempted. Let’s just say, that more emphasis was made in the book on the ‘is-it-real or is-it-not-real’ relationship between Peeta and Katniss.
My initial thoughts were that I didn’t like the tamer ending, as it seemed to be Hollywood-ized (another new word!) in that they wanted to make it a tad more sterile and ambiguous, but in a happy-ending-for-now sort of way.
However, I do understand why this was probably done for the film viewing audience… you don’t want to go home from The Hunger Games feeling ill-will towards the leading lady you were just rooting for. Instead, you leave her slightly confused, afraid, and (gasp) even feel for her having to face the potential Capital and boy problems that are sure to arise as she arrives home… and into the sequel. I don’t mind this cop out entirely, but I guess I just hoped for a little more emotion hanging in the balance during the final scenes.
Ultimately, I didn’t feel the way I did with the novel, but again part of that was the rushed ending of the final scenes. Hell, even the post interview was cut very short and doesn’t show the closeness (real or fake) between the District 12 love birds. I just hope it wasn’t done for time reasons, because even at 182 minutes, the movie moved quickly for me and I wouldn’t have minded another 10 minutes. My arrows are crossed in hoping for an extended ending on Blu-Ray!
No matter what your take on the ending may be, one thing was pretty obvious, the relationship dynamic between Katniss and Peeta just didn’t have that meaningful connection that the book created. Call me a hopeless romantic, but the idea that Katniss was just trying to survive by putting on the “girl in love” show for the audience – but still conflicted about her own feelings for Peeta – didn’t come across in the movie very well, if at all.
Before this review gets TOO long, let me wrap it up here – sort of – by saying that no matter how you absorb The Hunger Games, its great entertainment. Not only that, there are many philosophical, ethical, moral and political themes throughout the story that really do make you think about the big picture in life. My friend Paul Bond with the Hollywood Reporter wrote a great article on the politics of The Hunger Games that all parties may find interesting.
On a deeper level, the story really does provoke debate on our desensitization to violence, obsession with reality TV, and how far governments may go to maintain power over the people they purport to serve. Are we as a society really that far from live executions or killing humans for sport on TV… it’s definitely not the most exciting thing to think about.
More importantly, all of this made me ponder if Jennifer Lawrence will accept my proposal. I promise I’m not confessing my love for her as part of a “game” for higher readership… well, not entirely anyways.