Review: ‘The Hunger Games’ is an Urgent, Exciting, and Moving Experience

This review is by Mockingjay.net owner Kimmy West – it includes some minor spoilers, but I gave a second warning for the major one at the end.

Just wow. Since launching this site in 2009, I’ve been anxious and excited to someday see the film version of The Hunger Games. I expected some level of ‘Hollywood’ – pointless changes, glamorization, fakeness, and always had that nagging worry that the movie would be a huge disappointment. After seeing it I can say…this movie is amazing. Fans of the books and non-fans alike will be entertained, intrigued, and moved by Gary Ross’ film version of Suzanne Collins’ novel.

The Hunger Games may be the best adaptation of a book I’ve ever seen. I think the best way to explain why is, when I watch the film adaptations of other books (Harry PotterPercy Jackson, or Twilight, for example), it’s a very different experience. It’s cool to see a version of a book that I love on screen, and I absolutely love many adaptations of books, but I don’t really feel the same way watching the movies as I did when reading. While the actors and directors do a great job creating entertaining movies, the films are very separate experiences for me.

The Hunger Games book and film are perfectly complementary experiences. With The Hunger Games film, I felt all the same emotions I did while reading the book and it just really came to life for me. I believed the actors were the characters that I read in the books. Josh Hutcherson is Peeta. Jennifer Lawrence is Katniss. Elizabeth Banks is Effie. I don’t mean it was a perfect scene by scene, word by word adaptation. Things were changed, scenes were added, as you need to do to make a good movie – but it was just so faithful, and true to the novel’s message. It was also just an entertaining, and moving film in it’s own right.

Note: I will say, I did not read the book right before seeing the film, unlike Crystal – I haven’t read the novel for quite a while. I recommend you do the same. I believe it’s never good to read a book right before seeing it’s movie since you’ll be sure to nit-pick and be more aware of small details that will inevitably be changed.

Fans of the book will be happy to see that many key scenes are shot almost shockingly true to how they were written. Scenes in this category include: Katniss & Gale’s conversation before the reaping, the reaping, the tracker jacker scene, the destruction of the supplies (explosion scene), the final battle between the 3 tributes, Peeta and Katniss’ interviews, the dinner scene between Katniss / Peeta / Haymitch (Peeta telling Katniss that even his mother believes that Katniss will win, not him), the nightlock scene involving Foxface and the one at the end; and even to a certain extent, Rue’s death scene. (Yes, that amount of insane faithfulness!)

Scenes are added that aren’t in the book, but work well, due to the fact that we can break away from Katniss’ perspective. Removing the character of Madge works – I love how it emphasizes the special relationship that Katniss and Prim share. It makes the Mockingjay pin even more precious. Being able to see Seneca Crane control the arena makes it even more sadistic in a way, and the CGI of the control room is done extremely well. The beginnings of a rebellion are shown after Rue’s death, which isn’t mentioned in the novel, and I believe this is a smart choice. It was done with Suzanne Collins’ blessing (she loved the idea, according to Gary Ross), and it really does set things up perfectly for Catching Fire. The scene which was released between Seneca Crane and President Snow (“Hope is the only thing stronger than fear”) also strengthens this threat of uprising – and really emphasizes the fact that Katniss is the mockingjay, and the one that is creating this spark of rebellion. Perfect!

There are plenty of moments of comic relief, which is important due to the deep and serious nature of the material. You’ll be sure to giggle at a moment involving Rue in the training center, the snipes between Effie and Haymitch, and many others. Then, there are the tear jerkers. If Willow Shields’ performance in this movie as Prim doesn’t cause you to tear up a little bit, I’m not sure if you have a heart! It really is truly heartbreaking. Just wait until you see the scene where Katniss has to say goodbye to her – it makes me understand why Gary Ross and the casting director were moved to tears when the scene was performed for Jennifer’s audition.

The Capitol’s garish fashions and outlandishness contrast harshly with the run-down District 12, and Elizabeth Banks is spot-on as Effie Trinket. It’s pretty crazy how perfect Stanley Tucci is as Caesar…but then again, he’s Stanley Tucci. He really embodies the severe strangeness, yet kindness, of the futuristic talk-show host. The reactions of the Capitol extras and how into the whole event they all seem to be, really makes the premise of the film even more interesting and scary.

Once you get into the games, things really start getting urgent and quick. The scene right before Katniss goes up in the tube to the arena just is so…visceral. You can really feel her terror in that moment, she thinks she’s going to die, and is scared out of her mind. Which is what anyone would feel like in that situation! I don’t want to spoil the actual games for anyone, but I will say that they are fast paced and full of a lot of great action. This is where my few gripes come in.

Firstly, in the books Katniss has problems finding water. She feels the cold, has trouble finding enough to eat. In the film I find that it seems to come a little bit too easy to her – finding supplies and staying alive (aside from the fact that people are hunting her) seems to be pretty simple for her, which wasn’t the case in the novel. Another gripe I had is that Haymitch’s character is verycleaned up. He’s described as very gross in the novels, and Harrelson’s version is much less so – however he does get the core of the character correct, in my opinion, which is most important to me.

Thirdly, the whole love debacle between Peeta and Katniss has been a touchy subject in many reviews. From a reader’s perspective, I could totally tell that Katniss was faking the love to some extent, but it did get a little blurred in points. Peeta seemed sincere but you never really know if he’s being truthful until the end when he tells Katniss to kill him and win. However, I feel like the oversight a lot of reviewers are making here is…maybe that is what film-makers were going for?

Due to the lack of internal monologue from Katniss, you really need to show the uneasiness that she feels towards Peeta. Is he doing this just to get at her? You can’t make it too obvious that he actually really loves her, and it can’t be too obvious that it’s fake. They have to convince the Panem audience, so why not us as well? It is such a difficult plot-line to get across on screen without voice-over, which I’m glad they didn’t use. In the final interview where Katniss is told to really put on the ‘star-crossed lovers’ show, I could see in Jennifer’s performance that Katniss was not as in love as she was saying she was. Although, that may not be apparent to someone that isn’t a fan of the books.

Major spoiler below this point….

Last warning…..

A huge surprise is that the movie does not include the, “It was all for the games, how you acted?” scene. This makes the whole confusion regarding the star-crossed lovers okay with me since I’m thinking they actually want it to be extremely confusing for the viewer. We don’t know how they are really feeling, but we will find out! They’ll open Catching Fire somehow with this scene – then that drama can really get the ball rolling and we’ll understand everything going on in their heads during the first installment.

Overall, the film is just so real. Gary Ross said in a previous interview that his major challenge with making the movie was keeping it feeling like a real event, not a cleaned up, fake-ish, Hollywood spectacle of one. I’m happy to say, he succeeded. The viewer really feels like they’ve experienced a jarring, severe experience. You laugh, you cry, there’s action-packed excitement – you experience love and loss. On March 23rd, the whole world really will be watching. We’ve got ourselves a new phenomenon.