My wife and I finally got to see The Hunger Games in the theatre this past Friday! Having read all three books in less than a week, I was very excited, and a little nervous to see how the movie would stack up to the books.
Just a brief recap, here is a brief background surrounding the movie. The movie is set in a future where North America is wiped out and replaced with a country called Panem. The Hunger Games serve as a brutal and twisted reminder to all of the districts that challenged the Capitol nearly 75 years ago and lost. As punishment, 12 districts are required to send a boy and girl between the ages of 12 and 18 to compete in a death match competition. To add to the twisted nature of these games, they are televised for the entire nation to see. Contenders may receive gifts from “sponsors” along the way during the games, which can often mean the difference between life and death. It is in this world Katniss Everdeen, 16, volunteers to participate in place of her 12 year old sister Primm, and to somehow make it through the horrific event alive. Joining her is another young man from Katniss' district, Peeta Mellark, who will either die, or potentially have to kill Katniss in the games. Sent to guide Katniss and Peeta is Haymitch, the only victor from District 12, and lives in a permanently drunk state, apparently fed up with the world he is "champion" of. You'll have to read (or see) the rest of it to find out how this ends. I will let you know that the ending is really only the beginning of bigger things.
As the movie unfolds, I was most impressed with the environment you are immersed in in the movie. Part of what makes the books so dramatic is the contract between the poor, rural setting of District 12 with the extravagant living of the capitol. Those in the capitol can use a remote control to change the scenery looking out their window. At the same time, these people are quite ignorant of the world they live in. They treat the tributes almost objects, under the guise that since they are giving the poor people a taste of a lavish live before their brutal event, that they have done them good in some regard. The battleground itself, where the games occur, was well done as well. It contained all the elements of a wide open forest, but there were the subtle clues, such as the cameras in the trees, and the night sky with a faint grid visible, that let you know that you were still under the control of people "above".
The acting itself was very well done. I won't say anything was Oscar worthy, but everybody filled their shoes quite well. I was particularly impressed with Woody Harrelson and Lenny Kravits roles as Haymitch and Cinna. Harrelson probably could have been a bit gruffier for my tastes, but he's got the acting chops that will really shine as the movies continue. I wish we could have had a bit more of Kravits as Cinna in the film because his role is so poignant and so enigmatic at the same time in the book. I was always unsure at how Caesar Flickerman would make it into the screen, but he is played perfectly, down to the blue hair and the way he is ALWAYS drawing his audience in with whatever drama unfolds. Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutchinson, and Liam Hemsworth do great jobs in their role as Katniss, Peeta, and Gale. I think Hutchinson does a great job at developing Peeta's character, who starts out looking more overwhelmed and scared at the beginning, but by the end shows cleverness, resolve, and strength. Peeta probably has one of the best (and forward looking) scenes in the movie with his "I don't want them to change me" speech.
In comparing the movie to the story, I was very happy to see that the "Team Peeta / Team Gale" hype that started to brew with fans never came to fruition in the movies, which stayed true to the book. Yes there is a close bond between Katniss and Peeta as the story begins, but nothing that would be considered a romance. There definitely is some sorrow as Gale and Katniss say goodbye at the beginning, so the tension that arises as Katniss and Peeta's relationship unfolds in the movie is seen and felt, but nothing like the drama that unfolds in Twilight, which was a very poor comparison to make.
I would have liked to have seen more time dedicated to the contrast between Capitol life and District 12 life. Part of what made the books so compelling to me was this contrast. More importantly was how ignorant most of the Capitol residents were to the demise of the tributes. There was a lot of dialog between Katniss and Cinna's assistants (Flavius, Viena, and Octavia) that shows the naivety of the Capitol. Compared to the clear intensions of President Snow, it makes the disdain for the Capitol as a whole that much more intense. I think this would have increased the intensity of the changes in the game, and in it's aftermath. However, since the second movie, Catching Fire, is already in the works, maybe this aspect of the novels will be expanded upon further. All in all the movie was VERY accurate to the books, which was very pleasing. There was additional material added to the movies, such as showing how the game makers actually did their "magic" on the field, which was very good and interesting. There was also an exchange between President Snow and Head Game Maker Seneca Crane which did an excellent job at outlining some of the political issues going on behind the scenes, that wouldn't be easily expressed otherwise.
Overall I give The Hunger Games an A- rating. I felt that some of the back story and character development that added to the drama should have been added. The acting was very good, but I think the story itself was far more engaging to the viewer, to which the director gets credit for realizing the "Panem Universe" very well. The story itself is amazing and kept me interested, and they did a great job at leading things in to the next book. I'll probably go see the movie at least once more in the theatre, and generally speaking I don't go to movies much anymore.
Have you seen the movie? Read the books? I'd love to hear your take on them as well!