I went to the midnight showing of THE HUNGER GAMES last night, and thought I’d review it for you for my last post of Spring Break :(
For the one of you out there who doesn’t know what HUNGER GAMES is about, it’s the story of a girl named Katniss, who lives in a horrible, futuristic version of America that functions under the rule of a seemingly-all-powerful Capital that watches 24 kids kill each other every year as entertainment… and as a reminder to the outlying districts that rebelling is a bad idea.
I loved the first HUNGER GAMES book, and was really excited to see it made into a movie. The book had some awesome cinematic elements to it, so I was looking forward to seeing those things on screen. Of course, I wasn’t expecting the movie to blow my mind because movies are never as good as the books, but I probably had higher hopes than I should have had.
Here are the major disappointments in my mind:
1. PG-13: I know you’re probably going to think I’m sadistic for writing this, but this particular story really needed to be rated-R. It’s a story about a society that’s SO messed up it enjoys watching kids being brutally murdered. It’s meant to make you feel sick. I get that they wanted a Young Adult audience, but I honestly believe the story is disfigured beyond repair when it’s sterilized.
2. POV: YA literature is going through a first-person trend that isn’t easily-adaptable to the screen, but I think the filmmakers made a huge mistake by moving all the way from first- person to third-person omniscient (or at least mostly omniscient). There are at least two reasons this is a mistake.
- Katniss isn’t a likable character. That’s why it has to be first-person. One of her defining characteristics is that she’s not good at making an audience like her… but we’ve still got to have a reason to root for her, and that’s completely lost when we don’t know her thoughts. I know it’s weird to have voice-over, but I think it might have helped in this case.
- Keeping it in first-person (or at least third-person limited) keeps the movie from having to be about everything. One of the main benefits of choosing a limited POV is that you don’t have to tell the entire story. In fact, you shouldn’t. In this movie, we didn’t need to see President Snow, District 11’s uprising, Seneca Crane’s fate, or Haymitch brokering deals with Crane. We need to be with Katniss. In this first installment, we need to like Katniss (and I’m not sure we do), hate the Capital (showing some kids brutally murdered would have been a good way for filmmakers to accomplish this), and hope that she lives. None of that happened because the scope was too big. They were setting up too many points down the line, and ignoring the heart of the story.
3.Character development: It’s not enough for Haymitch to tell us that Peeta’s smart. We need to understand that he’s a master with words. We need to get that Peeta decided to be trained separately from Katniss because he planned the star-crossed lovers thing, which is ultimately what keeps them both alive. We need to know that he made an alliance with the careers because he wanted to protect Katniss. WE NEED TO SEE HIM GET STABBED BY CATO BECAUSE HE’S SACRIFICING HIMSELF TO SAVE THE GIRL HE LOVES (of course it cuts away too early). We need to respect him. The interview with Ceasar Flickerman was well-done, but I’m not convinced the audience understood that Peeta is almost entirely worthless except for his ability to win a crowd with speech. He is Katniss’s perfect complement because his only strength is her greatest weakness.
Haymitch’s character development was pretty bad too. He goes from being a drunken jerkwad who’s not helping at all, to sober and helpful, and the filmmakers inadequately explain why. We need to know that he’s drunk because he’s been a mentor for 24 years… which means that 48 kids he was supposed to help died. He’s drunk because he’s trying not to care. The reason he decides to help is the revelation that Peeta and Katniss aren’t as pathetic as the kids he usually mentors. They convince him.
4. The Avox Girl: Okay, let’s say that they don’t rate the movie R… there were still ways to show the brutality of this society. SHOW THE AVOX GIRL! Let us know that the stakes are high and these people are sick. They cut out tongues when anyone causes problems.
5. Settling In: What I’m about to say may end up being pretty unpopular, but I think they needed to pick some scenes to completely cut out, so they could do a better job with the ones they kept. Part of the feeling of reading THE HUNGER GAMES is that we’re in for a long haul. We’re sleeping in trees, trying to hide, searching for water, and we don’t know how long it’s going to last. Even before we’re in the arena, I think we missed understanding what it’s like to live in district 12. We never settled in there or understood the starvation Katniss and her family faced. By the way, wasn’t Katniss WAY too plump when she was supposed to be near death and Peeta threw her the burnt bread? She’s supposed to be starving, right?
There was way too much to include every event in the film and give us that feeling of settling in for the long haul. I would rather have the feel of the book than the same sequence of events, so, I probably would have cut out several scenes that people wanted to see, because it’s better to do a good job with a few scenes than to do a crappy job with a ton of scenes.
6. The Bread from District 11: I don’t get why they didn’t include this. It blows my mind that they skipped it, and it makes me wonder if they’re planning to completely cut out the victory tour in CATCHING FIRE. Without the bread, we missed the feeling of affection between Rue’s district and Katniss. We don’t get a lingering sense of Rue’s death. Along with that, I wish we’d understood how Katniss’s alliance with Rue impacted Thresh’s decision not to kill her. If he’d killed Katniss, he would have been murdering a girl his district loved. A girl who tried to save their little girl.
7. The costumes: Did they really not have the time to make the fire look a little cooler? The costumes they wore on the chariot and Katniss’s fire dress were LAME.
There are other things that bothered me (like how they didn’t explain that the game makers were mocking Katniss with the fire wall, because she was “the girl on fire”), but most of the rest of my complaints would be minor and silly, and no film based on a book ever avoids those nit-picky complaints, and I really don’t think it’s fair to be mad about those kinds of things
There were some things I think they did well. I really liked Effie Trinket. I think they completely nailed her character and Ceasar Flickerman’s. The control room where the game makers manipulated things was good too. They made Gale look a bit too old, but his relationship with Katniss was perfect, and I really liked the way Peeta’s camouflage looked. I thought Cato was well-cast and perfect right up until the weird “I guess I was always going to die” crap he said at the end. The casting of the other tributes was also pretty perfect, especially Thresh.
All-in-all, I’ve got to say THE HUNGER GAMES is probably worth seeing, but I’d wait for it to hit the cheap theaters unless you just can’t contain yourself.