The Hunger Games movie review

At long last here is my Hunger Games movie review! And I would like to prefix it with the following Spoiler Warning: this review contains spoilers from The Hunger Games book and film, including the ending, so if you don’t want to know what happens I suggest you avert your eyes. You have been warned!

Where to begin? With the main character would be a logical starting point, I suppose.
Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen is superb. I had my doubts initially but after seeing the film, I agree with the praise of the critics. Her performance is so nuanced and faithful to the book character that I found lines from the book running through my head at times during the movie. When she rode in the chariot with Peeta and caught sight of herself on the screen, her surprise at her appearance showed on-screen: ‘I am not pretty. I am not beautiful. I am as radiant as the sun’ (quote copyright Suzanne Collins, 2008, The Hunger Games). You can tell how many times I’ve read the book, being able to quote lines ad lib!

Lawrence outshines the other actors in the movie and Liam Hemsworth (Gale) in particular does not have any real long-lasting presence in my opinion. It is a shame that Gale’s character in the movie is nothing more than the hunky best friend. In the books he is a leader of the rebellion, a strong character who takes a stand against the Capitol. I hope that he will become less a part of the background scenery in the movie adaptation of Catching Fire and that his character will be better-developed and more involved. But admittedly, the first book focuses mainly on Katniss so I can forgive this, although more back story on Gale’s character wouldn’t have been a bad thing.

I think Josh Hutcherson is good as Peeta but the movie makers cut far too many of his lines, resulting in a more wooden character on-screen than the one in the book. But there is plenty of room for character development in the next film and if I seem a little harsh here, I do actually like Hutcherson’s portrayal of Peeta very much. Regarding the other actors, Effie (Elizabeth Banks) and Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) are perfect on-screen representations of how I imagined them in the book. Overall, I have no particular criticisms with the performances of the rest of the cast.

Effie and Katniss: the juxtaposition of obscene wealth and hopeless poverty
Photo by Murray Close – © 2011 Lions Gate Films Inc.
No copyright infringement intended

The photo above shows what The Hunger Games is really all about: wealth and poverty and the ability of dictators to manipulate whole countries into submission. In a world where people buy $20,000 couture while children are starving, some points that The Hunger Games makes are not very unrealistic at all. The Hunger Games is a pop culture phenomenon which comments, in part, on pop culture phenomenons (reality TV etc) and I think the film makers succeeded in balancing the political messages of the book without letting them override everything else in the movie.

The cinematography of the movie is very well done. A lot of people have commented and criticized the shaky hand-held camera during action scenes but I didn’t have a problem with the shaky camera work in the violent parts of the movie. It wasn’t distracting at all, in my opinion, and it allowed the film makers to achieve a fine balance between emphasizing the chaotic free-for-all at the Cornucopia during the fight scenes and avoiding too much violence.

Regarding the music, James Newton Howard’s score is beautiful but is under used in the film. There is remarkably little music in the movie but this is a good thing, in a way, because it avoids manipulating the audience’s emotions and instead means that more emphasis is placed on the abilities of the actors. The agonizing silence in the reaping scene after Prim’s name is picked is especially effective.

My main criticisms are as follows:

1. I would have liked to see how Katniss and Gale first met, with an emphasis on the fact that Gale is Katniss’s hunting partner and friend, because I think that viewers who haven’t read the book probably jump to the incorrect assumption that Katniss is in love with Gale. Nothing especially crucial to the plot was lost but I preferred the added details in the book.

2. Rue and Katniss’s relationship was not sufficiently developed. The main problem I have with the movie is the lack of development, e.g. as mentioned above in terms of Gale. Some scenes were simply too short but I appreciate the difficulty of condensing a whole novel down into movie length. Nevertheless, Rue’s death scene is as heartbreaking and tragic on-screen as it is in the book.

3. The cave scene with Katniss and Peeta was cut far too short. They missed out Katniss telling the story about how she got Prim’s goat and a lot of other lines from the book, especially Peeta’s lines, were cut. It made a difference to me because, having read the book a few times, I know exactly how I wanted it to be and it didn’t match my expectations.

4. President Snow. I just don’t think that President Snow (in the movie) is evil enough. When reading the book, I imagine him to be completely different from his on-screen appearance; a snake-like man with small features which is how the book describes him. Donald Sutherland doesn’t resemble book Snow. But then again, Donald Sutherland also played Mr Bennet in the 2005 Pride and Prejudice film so I kept half expecting him to declare that ‘Mr Darcy has arrived, Elizabeth’ and make a few witty jokes. The on-screen President Snow doesn’t display enough menace and isn’t cold enough to realistically make the audience believe that here is a man who is happy to command the bombing and torture of innocent civilians, not to mention overseeing the barbaric Hunger Games.

5. The scene on the train when Katniss tells Peeta that she was just acting and that she wasn’t really in love with him didn’t have enough impact. In the book the atmosphere feels a lot more strained and tense at the end, especially with the fact that Katniss has defied the rules of the Capitol.

All in all, I wanted more detail, especially in the areas I mentioned above. I don’t think enough emphasis is placed on the fact that Katniss has laid the foundations for a rebellion against the totalitarian regime of the Capitol and I think the ending is also too rushed. It should be more menacing and sinister. But then again, it was never going to match up to the depth of the book. On the whole it is a faithful adaptation and is better than most book-to-movie adaptations. I am eagerly anticipating Catching Fire!

What do you think of the movie?

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12 thoughts on “The Hunger Games movie review

  1. Thanks for a detailed review. Since we’re in a “spoiler” zone here, I agree they should have added a bit more to those final scenes with Katniss and Peeta talking about their relationship, but I think some of the rebellion angle of things comes immediately in Catching Fire. When I first started reading Catching Fire, I didn’t think there was a way to actually extend this story further, and I wasn’t interested in some kind of mushy mushy book, but how Collins quickly recaps how she has influenced all of Panem, Snow’s immediate arrival, and Haymitch’s warnings right at the end of the first movie, I think we have the potential to really hit that impact well. 8^D

    I’m glad I wasn’t the only one that thought Snow’s casting was a bit out of place. I sort have envisioned Snow as a cross between what you see on screen with Seneca and Cesar, but in an evil way 8^D

    • Yes, I agree about the rebellion portrayal. I think it’s a different experience seeing it on-screen because there’s obviously a huge gap between the end of this movie and the start of the next whereas it was much more continuous for me when reading the books because I started reading Catching Fire straight after I turned the final page of The Hunger Games.

      Yeah, President Snow is my only major issue with the cast. Donald Sutherland is just too nice to be playing an evil dictator!

      Thanks for commenting. :) If Catching Fire is as good as this movie, we have a lot to look forward to!

  2. I think your review is spot on! It’s true that they cut out far too many of Peeta’s lines and not enough from his body. I mean, he loses a leg in the book… :)

    • Exactly! I meant to mention the omission of that part (Peeta losing his leg) as well. I think that the film downplays the physical and psychological damage that victors of the Hunger Games experience. I still like the movie though and will probably watch it again when it’s released on DVD but it isn’t perfect, which is how I wanted it to be. :) Thanks for commenting!

  3. Nice review here, I haven’t read the books before so its nice to hear that they remained faithful to it as much as they could. Shame it had to have a PG rating, would have loved to see a little more brutality (like Peeta losing his leg).

    For a spoiler free review, you can check out my blog – http://tshosays.wordpress.com/2012/04/27/movie-review-hunger-games/

    And for a spoiler infused video, this is a must-see – http://tshosays.wordpress.com/2012/04/27/how-the-hunger-games-should-have-ended/

    Once again, nice review and thanks for sharing :)

    • Thank you. :)
      Yeah, I think they were trying to make it as non-violent as possible and I have to say, not being a fan of seeing excessive gore on-screen, that I’m glad they did. But I think they could have worked Peeta losing a leg into there somewhere. It’s a big thing in the books so I’m surprised they missed it out.
      Thanks! I’ll head over to your blog now….

  4. I haven’t read the books yet, but this is a good review in the light of the books! Thanks!
    Now I really want to read them specially because of all the character-richness they missed out, which in most movies that’s what happens. (sad)
    Personally I think they had a lot of “empty spaces” in the movie flow. Where they could have included more quality conversations, as if the whole movie felt a little stiff. But don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed all the brilliant moments of the movie!!
    Can’t wait for the rest to come!! :)

    • Thanks for your comment. :) I’m glad you enjoyed my review. I agree with you about the “empty spaces”; the whole movie felt too rushed and I think they skimmed over the surface too much in terms of the characterization. Enjoy the books!

  5. Pingback: In the spirit of the season… | Cultural Life

  6. Wonderful review! I’m glad you left a link in your comment on my post.

    I think that the first movie suffers because of the PG rating – it would have been awesome if they did not downplay the brutality. I thought that the scenes of Disctrict 12 were really tame in comparison with the book. Also, not so many important details would be lost in an attempt to clean up the script. Let’s keep it real – there are children fighting to death here. It’s not supposed to have a low rating, so why not go all the way and make it as gritty as possible? Of course, studios must consider profits… *sigh*
    I agree that casting Sutherland was a mistake, He’s the main villain and he still appears too grandfatherly for my taste. I hope that changes in the next movie. As for the changes they are making – I think that I forgot much of the books by now since I read them all almost a year and half ago. Changes won’t bother me as long as they make sense and tighten the plot. I just hope they don’t make think up something outrageous.
    Happy Hunger Games!

    • Thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed my review. I am planning to post another detailed review when Catching Fire is released.

      I’m not keen on extremely violent movies but I agree with you: the portrayal of the Games and of District 12 is definitely too tame. I don’t think these books should be made into PG-13 movies but as you said, the profits from the movies would be a lot lower if they were a higher rating.

      May the odds be ever in your favor!

    • P.S. I just remembered the big change they made in this movie: Peeta lost a leg in the books and had a prosthetic leg. This was completely skipped over in the movie. That was quite a drastic change which I wish the script writers hadn’t made.

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