I need not have worried. From the opening, THE HUNGER GAMES pulled me in and immersed me in Suzanne Collins' dystopian world. Sure, I really enjoyed the book, but it does not necessarily follow that I'll enjoy the movie. This time, I did. Certainly, there are some things I would have liked to see done differently, but overall, I was impressed. No, not this-is-going-to-go-down-in-the-annals-of-classic-cinema impressed, but I felt as though the purchase of my ticket was money well-spent.
The movie stays very true to the story: Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) becomes her district's first volunteer for the government-powered, homicidal powerfest in the guise of a reality show known as the Hunger Games. When Katniss' younger sister Prim (Willow Shields) is randomly selected to compete in the games, Katniss rushes forward to offer herself in Prim's place as tribute. Katniss is then swept off to the Capitol with Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) as the other tribute where they must put on a show for the glory and power of the Capitol as they fight to the death against 22 other youngsters.
There is a great deal of bloodshed in THE HUNGER GAMES, but it furthers the movie's plot and does not feel as though the film team is just gratuitously spraying red paint across the screen. In fact, I had the distinct sense that those responsible for the production were toning down the movie's potential sanguinity. I had wondered how they were going to handle the infamous bloodbath at the Cornucopia, and I will say that I am impressed with how they depict such a raw and brutal scene. The use of the camera to give a distorted sense of time and vision does a wonderful job of underscoring the horror of what is occurring while not permitting the blood-letting to overpower the underlying message. At no point does the movie give the sense that it relishes the blood and the body count.
I am also impressed with the actors' performances. Lawrence's Katniss is appropriately strong with undercurrents of emotion while not delving into distracting waves of angst. Woody Harrelson does a fine job of portraying Haymitch as simultaneously humorous, sympathetic and haunted. I have to give some major props to Hutcherson for his portrayal of Peeta. Reading the book, I was lukewarm on Peeta- I didn't hate him, but I didn't care one whit what happened to him. Hutcherson's performance changed that. He presents Peeta as a complex and engaging person, really giving dimensions to a character I had felt was rather flat.
I do wonder, though, who signed off on the shaky-cam. Seriously. I see what you're doing there, but please stop. The jitteriness of the picture grows tedious quickly. I am not a film student, but I am under the impression that the shaky-cam ought to be used sparingly. If so, I now know why. And of course, I wish more time could have been spent on the other tributes, particularly Rue (Amandla Stenberg). Rue's relationship with Katniss becomes the catalyst for so many things on a grand scale, and it really deserves more time. Certainly, the scene in District 11 brought goosebumps to my arms, but I had also read the book.
That brings me to my next point: I would recommend reading the book first. The movie cannot possibly include all of the nuances, all of the character development, all of the implications of what is occurring. However, without understanding the depths of Collins' world, it can be difficult to fully appreciate the movie. For me, reading the book meant the difference between "well, this is an entertaining movie" and "wow, I would definitely see that again" (which I did, just in case anybody cared to know).
In the end, THE HUNGER GAMES is a very engaging, very satisfying movie and definitely is worth a watch. Now, if you'll excuse me, I ran out of glitter paint for my "Team Seneca Crane's Beard" T-shirt.
– Katie Hager
This review first appeared in Geek Speak Magazine - www.geekspeakmagazine.com