Movie Review: Gary Ross Delivers Unique ‘Hunger Games’ Experience
This review was written by Mockingjay.net staffer Crystal Watanabe. Further reviews by Kimmy West, Beth Dinkel, and Ciara McIntyre are forthcoming.
Although it hasn’t even been 9 months, it feels like it’s been a lifetime since I began working here and making ‘The Hunger Games’ such a big part of my life, probably because this review is the 612th news story I’ve posted here on Mockingjay.net. Just like other admins of this site and other fansites, the movie has been slowly and painstakingly pieced together through a small trickle of images and then more recently, an avalanche of photos, trailers, and clips. A lot of us were complaining that it had become too much and that we felt like we’d practically seen the movie already.
We were so ridiculously wrong.
On March 12, I had the great privilege of being at the world premiere of ‘The Hunger Games’ movie at the Nokia Theatre as Joe Drake and Gary Ross presented their final product to the 4,000+ strong audience filled with cast, crew, celebrities, and fans in Los Angeles. We collectively gasped when Jennifer Lawrence tripped on something on stage and laughed as Josh faked that same trip as they headed backstage. Everyone cheered as the lights finally dimmed down completely and the movie began. I sat among dozens of other fansite admins, all of us nearly breathless at the thought that we were finally seeing the movie.
The official runtime for The Hunger Games is 2 hours and 22 minutes, but for me it felt like I blinked and they were entering the Games. I blinked again and I was watching Katniss sing to Rue. I blinked again and suddenly the movie was over. I immediately felt the need to see it again. There was no way I’d just sat through 142 minutes of The Hunger Games after getting only flashes or 30 second clips for the last six months. But it was over and the thought crossed my mind to go ask someone if they could roll it again because it had all gone by way too quickly.
Kimmy has said that ‘The Hunger Games’ movie is the most faithful adaptation of a book she’s ever seen, but I have to respectfully disagree with that choice of words. The movie is a distinctly different kind of story than that delivered in the book. As a faithful fan of the books, I found myself constantly wincing at the small changes made throughout the film and that right there is why I feel that obsessive book fans would do well to put their books aside and enter theaters with a mind free of specific wants and desires for particular scenes and details.
The best comparison I can come up with is Jurassic Park. Michael Crighton’s 1991 novel about dinosaurs brought back to life on a remote tropical island was a brilliantly written book and yet when the movie came out, it was very distinctly different, yet just as magnificent in its own blockbuster way. I feel like the same can be said about The Hunger Games, which gives you an experience of a different flavor while still making you feel as though this is the exact same Panem you’ve become attached to. Most of the changes made can all be justified for the sake of time and storytelling because without voiceovers, we can’t actually be in Katniss’ head like we are in the books.
(SPOILERS FROM HERE ON, YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!)
Having just recently re-read The Hunger Games, I was able to detect practically every little deviation from the novel and it quite frankly put a damper on my movie viewing experience. I’m not even bothered by the scandalous “Madge-gate” debate that seems to rage on and on whenever brought up, but somewhere in the last year I’d attached my emotions to very specific scenes and when they didn’t materialize how I’d imagined them or at all, I was let down.
That’s not to say that the movie isn’t fantastic. On the contrary, despite the numerous minor deviations from the book, Gary Ross managed to capture the story of Katniss and the emotions behind her journey through the Games in an amazingly accurate fashion, which is where I think Kimmy gets “most faithful adaptation” from. It felt like Panem. Ross’ portrayal of the Capitol was so fantastic that I felt completely drawn into the atmosphere he’d created. At one point during the film, I was about to start clapping, simply because it felt so real. The Games were portrayed exactly how they’ve mentioned in interviews. Violent, but without glorifying the violence itself. I did, however, wish he’d included more Capitol citizen reactions as they watched the Games.
The Gamemaker room was particularly fascinating and I loved every second we saw of Seneca Crane and President Snow.
Sadly, having watched the trailers so often, the Reaping didn’t have as much of an effect on me as it might have had I walked into the theater without any clue as to what I was about to see. I’d already shed my tears at home watching Prim’s tearful goodbye and Katniss’ emotional plea to Gale on behalf of her family. But when Peeta turned to the side and began to cry on the way to the train station, my heart shattered into a million pieces. This was one of the many scenes that weren’t directly seen in the book, but contributed to the wonderful experience that Gary Ross created.
I had heard talk about how Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman was amazing, but he was so much more than that. His laugh, his demeanor, and his skills as a commentator for the Games were all delivered so flawlessly that it’s almost hard to believe that he was acting. He simply seemed to be Caesar Flickerman. If you were expecting Effie at the Reaping to be the high point of her performance, you’ve got a pleasant surprise coming your way. And Woody Harrelson as Haymitch? I was thoroughly impressed. Anyone still groaning about his blonde locks won’t be able to deny that he brought Haymitch to life with amazing clarity. Effie and Haymitch will be quick fan favorites and I can already imagine all the Tumblr gifs with their best lines popping up next Friday morning.
Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss was pretty close to flawless. Watching her on screen, we all know exactly how out of her element she feels during her interview with Caesar, her fiery personality when she attacks Peeta after he professes his love for her, and how scared she is before launch and this is all due to Jennifer’s amazing acting abilities. There’s a part after Rue’s important scene that’s particularly gut-wrenching and is one of those little changes that really enhances the dire situation Katniss is in.
It’s always been difficult for me to look at event photos of Josh with his black hair and smile and see Peeta, but the clips we’ve seen show a totally different young man. If you hold dear the image of your book Peeta, best write it down or do your best to draw him because after you see the movie in full, you’ll have a hard time remembering anyone but Josh Hutcherson’s Peeta. He really brought to life the bright eyed innocence and emotion of the boy with the bread.
As far as tone and accurate portrayal of the world of Panem, I had only one serious gripe, which I’m guessing was put in there for Hollywood sensationalism to help build the story of the friendship between Katniss and Gale. Katniss heads into the woods and she spots the first deer she’s seen in a year, which Gale then chases off just to annoy her. I’m sorry, but Gale Hawthorne of District 12 does not chase off a deer for “fun”. On a smaller scale of nitpicking, everyone seemed way too clean at the end of the Games, particularly Rue.
As I mentioned before, the movie flew by in no time and I’m particularly interested to learn whether Gary Ross and Lionsgate intend to release an extended cut of the movie after the initial DVD release. I don’t know what Gary is talking about when he calls 20 extra minutes ‘blisteringly long’ because I’d have sat through four hours of The Hunger Games if he’d cut it that way. The ending felt very rushed and I feel like that’s the part of the movie that could have done with more scenes. Some of you may agree with me when I say that the extended version of Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers was vastly superior to the theatrical release and I feel like the same could apply with an extended version of The Hunger Games, though not to the same extreme, since the two versions of Two Towers felt almost like entirely different movies.
Ever since I heard there was going to be a Hunger Games movie, I’d had this nagging, terrifying thought in my head. That despite everything, this movie would end up being the suckfest that the first Twilight movie was for me when I first got into that series. I could not understand how they could ruin a book to that extent and the fear that the same would happen to Katniss Everdeen was always quietly present for me. Fortunately, I don’t have to worry about that any more.
In talking with my fansite friends that were there, it seems like there’s one thing everyone agrees on. We have to see it again. My niece, my cousin, and my friends have all been asking me what I thought. I tell them that once will not be enough. I tell them that the movie stands quite well on its own, but doesn’t ever make you feel as though this isn’t the same story and setting that Suzanne Collins created. I think once the dust settles and rabid book fans can accept the movie for what it is, a unique and fresh Hunger Games experience, the odds will most certainly been in Catching Fire’s favor.