Although midnight releases have never been attractive, how could The Hunger Games be passed up? Suzanne Collin’s trilogy was fantastic; enough so that fanfiction.net listed more than twelve thousand entries in the short time between publication of the first book and the release of that story in theaters. My own Least of These was among those listed (not to mention the lesser-known Waking Athena), and considering I spent several months working on a full-length book in the Hunger Games universe, attending the midnight release was never up for debate.
So, how was it? Well, let me frame my review by noting that I have an eternal faith in Hollywood’s ability to take a great story and turn it into baby-food. What wonderful tale hasn’t been rehashed through the film grinder? Most of them are graphically impressive, sugary to a stomach ache, and overall forgettable a month later.
Considering Suzanne Collins is no stranger to the set, she deserves adulation for seeing that The Hunger Games movie retain almost all of the essential details that made her novels enormously successful. Some changes had to be made because film is a different medium; the flow of a story is different, how you witness the protagonist’s strife, sheer time limitations bite harshly at any story. That said, everyone who played a role in creating The Hunger Games should be given a nod of approval. Very little was lost, and the resulting movie is nearly as powerful as the first book.
If you haven’t seen it, see it. If you haven’t read the books, where have you been? Go buy the first one, read it, and see the movie (and buy the other books too).
Without greatly spoiling the content of either, the only heart-wrenching modification was in the origin of Katniss’ Mockingjay pin. In the books, Katniss has an additional tie to District 12 in the enigmatic friendship of Madge Undersee, the mayor’s daughter, from whom the pin originates. Unfortunately, the characters of the mayor and his family had to be eliminated in order to cut time. The film is more than two hours and twenty minutes, as is! Fans of the series will be disappointed in the alternative origin of the Mockingjay pin. Instead of it mattering to Katniss, it appears onscreen almost as an afterthought. A few other changes were made, though none so troublesome. For instance, the cave scenes were quite abbreviated, compacting affection, turmoil, and tenderness with an overnight recovery for Peeta. Once again, time became a fiend.
Almost every other important scene is well-presented, and here some words must be devoted to Jennifer Lawrence. She offered a Katniss that is at once fulfilling and stuttered (and I mean that in a good way). Lawrence plays Katniss with frankness and a dry spite toward the world she has to live in. She is strong and off-putting to most, yet overpowered with love for her younger sister, and thus, fiery when she feels something must be done for little Primrose. Every iota of Katniss’ fragility is centered around Prim. This is conveyed well in the book, yet may not come across on the screen to someone who is new to the story. Even so, Lawrence drew out Collins’ protagonist and walked a fine line between power and weakness, apathy and passion.
Another noteworthy performance was Stanley Tucci who played Caesar Flickerman, master of the ceremonies and bloodsportscaster, as it were. Among a sea of faces and outfits drawing to mind late-18th century aristocratic France, Tucci truly haunted the screen with an eager set of smiles that were eerie, even a bit unnerving. Well done on this account! Many other performances were good, but this is enough teasing on that front!
The soundtrack was marvelous and interacted well with the events. Yet, that brings up another slight shortfall; the singing. I had been concerned Katniss’ voice would be overdone and her few singing parts would become marred with falsity. The film went the other way. Her voice was natural and pleasant, though not enchanting by any measure. In the context of the plot, that’s all well and good. After all, a pretty girl singing in a town lacking basic amenities is likely to be impressive if she has only a soothing tone. However, Katniss sings only a little.
Toward the end, one scene did a fine job of indicating that the story was not yet over, that other films were going to follow. In fact, it presented just about the same scene in the book. Hinting at this lack of closure is precisely the right way to gin up more interest in the books. Let’s face it; many people go throughout life without reading a single book for pleasure. Yet with the right book, the enjoyment one can feel (including the whole range of emotions) is truly different from any other form of satisfaction. It has been nice to see a gradual rekindling of literature in general, with the rise of technology geared toward readership.
In the end The Hunger Games movie turned out better than I expected. One should not rate a film without taking a few hours to reflect on it, especially not as late at night as I am writing this. I’ll refrain from offering a definitive rating, except to say that I liked it and recommend it. Go see this movie (but read the book first)!
And on a final note, I had been expecting the movie to override most of the fanfiction the books had inspired. I did not expect the districts to be left out of the script while the Games were ongoing, and they weren’t. Happily though, only a handful of shots strayed from the focus on Katniss. Least of These is largely preserved as plot-accurate, especially in District 12. District 11 could theoretically fit, if I made a few minor changes to some of the chapters. Nothing major to undermine my own fanfiction.