The Hunger Games
Chick Flick Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ (4/5)
Film Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ (4.5/5)
Boyfriend friendly: So much blood and guts!
If there was a death battle amongst book-to-movie adaptations where Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games were offered as tributes, it would play out like this: The Hunger Games would wipe out the 4 Twilight movies + Harry Potter #5 within the first five minutes, stealthily take out Harry Potter #6, followed by #2, #7, #1, struggle with but ultimately defeat #8 and #4, then sneakily emerge as a dual-victor with The Prisoner of Azkaban and prove to the greedy, suit-wearing government officials in charge of The Republic of Hollywood that they don’t have to destroy every single good book that crosses their desk.
I won’t be doing Suzanne Collins any justice by trying to summarize her epic masterpiece here. But in case you have not gotten to read or see The Hunger Games (you’re missing out!), here’s the general gist: In post-apocalyptic North America, a totalitarian nation known as Panem emerges consisting of a wealthy Capitol and 12 districts. Conditions in the districts, particularly the outlying ones, are extremely oppressive where families face starvation, dangerous working conditions, and torturous punishment for disobeying the law. As punishment for a previous rebellion, in which a 13th district was obliterated, every year each district must send one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 as a tribute to participate in The Hunger Games, where they must fight to the death until a lone victor remains. The event is televised to the entire nation, where viewing is mandatory.
Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is a 16 year-old badass with a bow and arrow who lives in District 12, one of the poorer districts. After her father dies in a coal-mining accident and her mother mentally checks out, Katniss takes it upon herself to care for her younger sister Primrose by illegally hunting for food in the woods with her hottie BFF, Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth). When Prim’s name is chosen as a tribute for the 74th Hunger Games, Katniss impulsively volunteers in her place. Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), the baker’s son who once gave Katniss bread when she was on the brink of starvation, is chosen as the male tribute and Katniss is torn between her gratitude towards him and the reality that they both can’t return to District 12. Her feelings get even more confused when Peeta confesses his love for her during a televised interview before the games start. Does he actually care about her or is it all part of the plan their alcoholic mentor and former District 12 Games victor, Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), devised to present the two as star-crossed lovers in order to attract sponsors? Katniss doesn’t have much time to mull it over. Once the gong rings and the games start, there is only one thing she has time to think about: how to survive.
I would first like to thank the genius person who decided to cast a leading lady who can actually act her ass off. After suffering through Kristen I-Have-One-Emotion-On-My-Pouty-Face-At-All-Times Stewart as Bella, and getting frustrated that she made me laugh at parts that had me crying in the book, I was scared that Hollywood would ruin Katniss for me, as well. But the second I saw the first Hunger Games trailer, and had to remind myself to breathe again after watching her volunteer in Prim’s place, I knew I was in good hands. Jennifer Lawrence is Katniss. I firmly believe there is not another person who could have done it better. And it didn’t stop there. Katniss is just one of the many different and amazing characters that Collins created, and the creative team really pulled out all the stops when it came to filling those supporting roles. Elizabeth Banks as the hysterically naive Effie Trinket, Stanley Tucci as the eccentric television host of the games, Lenny Kravitz as Cinna, Katniss’s heartfelt stylist. Perhaps, the best surprise, was that I was completely blown away by Willow Shields, the 11 year-old actress who played Prim. It’s not until the second and third books that I really started to know and love Prim. But in only a short amount of screen time, Shields won my heart over. I almost couldn’t watch her tearful goodbyes to Katniss, and started to wish I could volunteer myself in Katniss’s place, in order to make Prim’s pain go away. My pansy ass would’ve been dead in minutes.
My only complaint with the entire film – and it is a pretty valid complaint – is the portrayal of Katniss and Peeta’s relationship. If you’ve read the books, you understand that it’s not just an act. Peeta is actually legitimately in love with Katniss, and has made it a priority to make sure she goes home alive. Unfortunately, that was completely lost in the movie and it came across that Peeta, like Katniss, was only acting to get gifts from sponsors. In the books, I was totally Team Peeta. But because his and Katniss’s relationship wasn’t developed enough in the movie, I became Team Gale. This was to no fault of the actors, who brought the chemistry when it was asked of them. It just wasn’t asked of them enough! They cut out so many of Peeta’s best moments: the countless times he jokingly-but-totally-seriously asks for a kiss, his biting questions about her relationship with Gale, when he covers for her with the Avox girl, and the heartbreaking realization at the end when he discovers that Katniss was acting for the games, and when she realizes that he wasn’t. Of course, I know that they couldn’t fit everything into a movie that was already 2 1/2 hours long and, for crowd-pleasing purposes, it was probably smart to lighten up the ending a bit. But then they could have at least made the beloved cave scene a bit sexier! In the book, that one scene makes their complicated feelings crystal clear to the reader. In the movie, I think it just confuses you more. And there was nothing PG-13 about it!
Besides that oversight, the movie was extremely faithful to the rest of the book and really embraced all of the little details Collins slipped in – Katniss’s braid, Cinna’s gold eyeliner, Prim’s untucked shirt, the Capitol’s eclectic way of life. There were also some moments in the movie that I actually liked more than in the book, which is a first for me. Though I liked what the Madge character symbolized, I thought cutting her out of the movie and having Prim give Katniss the mockingjay pin was more touching and meaningful. I also liked how, since we weren’t stuck in Katniss’s head, we got to see what was going on outside of the games: Gale’s reactions to the Katniss/Peeta romance, Haymitch working the floor to get sponsors, the Gamemakers putting all the booby traps of the arena into action. In the second book, we find out that President Snow (Donald Sutherland) executed the Head Gamemaker, Seneca Crane (Wes Bentley), for being outsmarted by Katniss but we never hear how he did it. At the end of the movie, we see it happen, and well – it is mother-effing-brilliant.
A big kudos to Lionsgate for defying the odds and making this one of the few book-to-movie adaptations worth watching! For the sequel I just have two requests: 1) Katniss is the “girl on fire”, so don’t be afraid to add some more heat to the Peeta/Katniss/Gale triangle! 2) Bump up the release date. I don’t think I can hold out until November 2013.