The question I went into The Hunger Games movie asking myself was, “Is this movie just for me–a fan of the books, or could it be loved for what it is?” That, I feel, is the truest test to the mettle of a movie based on a book. Could it stand alone and still be powerful? And while doing so, will it also please the die-hard fans?
I’m still on the fence as to whether The Hunger Games succeeded in either of these ventures. As I am a die-hard fan myself, I asked two people who are close to me (and who had not read the book prior to seeing the movie) for their opinions.
First, my friend Dmitri:
“Stupid. Just a re-canning of the same old thing. Purely for shock value. Pitting kids against each other in a fight to the death? Barely a premise, not a story. And the movie wasn’t even honest about it.”
I asked for clarification, and received mostly irritated grunts. I think he’d give it two out of five stars if I were generous.
Second, my mom. I’ll start with her text messages after seeing The Hunger Games on Friday night:
“Saw Hunger Games and now I want to start a revolution”
“Katniss is selfless, compassionate–that makes her indomitable”
Talking to her on the phone, she said, “I couldn’t stop thinking about it.” From the debate over contraception to public funding programs, she’s seeing our future in Panem, the world of The Hunger Games. It’s a political piece to her as much as it is a story. She’d probably give it five out of five stars.
As for me? I fall somewhere in-between. I think the real-world comparison is worn out. The “Hunger Games” will never happen. I’ll allow that Suzanne Collins was shaking a stick at our culture of reality television, over-indulgence, and the wealth gap, but I’ll leave it at that.
Collins wanted a convincing enemy. She created an antagonist in President Snow and the Capital that would be impossible not to hate. Above political posturing, it’s an element of masterful storytelling: fully invest your reader in the hero’s journey, and you’ve won the war.
If anything, Collins is a genius at her craft, and this is where the movie fell somewhat short. The Hunger Games felt more like a string of loosely-connected events. The dialogue came off unnatural and often, too poetic, to really carry an impact. It’s a tricky thing to convert a novel written in first-person narrative to a movie told in third-person non-narrated form–a lot of the story craft is lost. I didn’t feel even a single pluck at my heartstrings when Rue died, when I remember bawling my eyes out when I read that scene in the novel. What was missing? I had no problem with the casting of Rue–she was perfect for the part–so it couldn’t be that. I just didn’t feel anything in this movie, when I felt like I really should have.
Overall, the look and feel of the movie struck home, despite the overdose of shaky-running-camera action. The casting of Lenny Kravitz seemed odd (he just doesn’t look natural with that sliver of gold on his eyelids), but I got past it. He had a fierceness to him that even appealed to me. At first I found the casting of Peeta a little off-kilter (especially considering how closely he resembled the actor chosen for Kato), but I grew to like him. Another instance of poor screenwriting here: Peeta came off pathetic and, mostly, like a big, bleeding heart. I remembered thinking quite fondly of him during the book, but near the end of The Hunger Games: the movie, I almost began to loathe him.
I do, however, have high hopes for the following two (or potentially three) movies, when the action really kicks into high gear. (Or is it because I’m secretly in love with Finnick?)
This movie gets: ♥♥♥ out of 5