If it's crap ... We'll tell you
Well, I missed the starting gate on this one, I should have seen this last weekend, but because of some other things that popped up, I saw it tonight. And many, many reviews and comments have been shared of the film already, so it's rather hard to say any more really. Especially when this has already become a huge financial and public success. That said, I was honestly excited about posting this. Not just because I've really enjoyed the book series, but also since there's a lot here to go through.
So, let's start with the basics. The movie is set in a post-war world in the future, where a District rebellion had been quashed by the Government, and the people now live in separated Districts. Their punishment for the war? - Every year, two teenage candidates are chosen from each district, one boy and one girl, and they are all placed in a publicised event where they must battle to the death for survival. This even is the Hunger Games, and has been the government’s ultimate weapon to quell any chances of another rebellion breaking out.
Our main character is Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), a young adult who now looks after her family since their father was killed in a mining accident. She takes the place of her young sister Prim for the Hunger Games, after her name was taken out of the draw, and in saving Prim from certain death, faces that same fate now herself. She will take part alongside Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) a young baker who lacks the hunting skills that Katniss has learned over many years from fending for her family and friends. On their trip and arrival to the Capital, they are taught and presented by their prep team, which includes their mentor Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), and her lead prep Cinna. (Lenny Kravitz) Their task is to present Kat and Peeta in as bright a light to the people of the Capital, train them in the art of surviving the games, and most importantly, obtaining Sponsors, who can support them while they are in the arena.
Once the Games begin however, all strategies are almost thrown out the window, as it becomes an all-out fight for survival between 24 Candidates, and Katniss finds herself struggling to keep out of danger, while also watching her relationship with Peeta saw and evolve in complexity. To make it out of the Games alive will be an almost impossible feat, and there is no foreseeable hope for both of them making it out alive....
There's the bare bones of the story for you, delving any further would ruin the surprises this movie has in store for you, especially if you haven't read the series yet. Yes, I'm beginning with that point here. You see, the book is written from Katniss's perspective, and contains all her thoughts, inner feelings and moral struggles laid out on the paper. The movie in contrast, is played out from a viewer's perspective, almost like you're watching the footage along with the crowds from the Capital. It feels very personal and close, but has to do without the protagonist describing it to us. Luckily though, Jennifer Lawrence gives a fantastic performance here, showing strength and perseverance, but also doubt, weakness, and emotions that are strained to breaking-point at times. Her facial expressions add so much to her character; she has the focus of the entire film, and yet handles it with effortless ease. Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks (who plays the District 12 representative Effie) are also of note; they felt very much like the characters from the novels. It takes a little time to adjust to them, but their scenes are quite strong. Lenny Cravitz as Cinna however, is fantastic in the small time he's on screen, he acts like the only true friend Katniss has before she enters the Games, and that emotional connection really shows.
In keeping with the viewer's perspective style, the camerawork is tailored to it all the time. It's always using a new kind of angle or method of capture, but keeps you involved with what's going on, it feels very organic and "realistic". The cinematography is beautiful too, from the desolate but warm home of District 12, to the lush and extravagant Capital and the Arena, it's all spot-on. This movie obviously went through a lot of work to make this world feel plausible, I had my worries going into it but it is very like the early Harry Potter films. It's just how you imagined it to be, and sometimes even better.
The one trick The Hunger Games uses throughout that you will notice immediately is the lack of a soundtrack. Very few moments require it, a lot of the time you are simply following Katniss in silence, or taking in the conversations. It's all very rooted in the moment, with few distractions from what's on screen; it's actually very refreshing in contrast to other movies of this genre. You're able to immerse yourself in without being yanked out by an obligatory montage song, thank funk they never made their way in here, and this makes the sound effects all the more distinct and effective.
And of course, I should talk about Rue (played by Amanda Stenberg) which was a significant event in the novel. And in here, it recreates it very well in my opinion. They shortened it down to what was necessary, without removing any of the emotional weight, it's probably one of the best moments in the entire film. I think near the end of it they held the camera on it for too long, but that's a small complaint, and both the actresses and the crew did a superb job in bringing it to the big screen.
So far, so good then. But then, I've been praising this so far from my prospective, and after reading the book, that is kind of a biased one I will admit. From the view of someone going into this on a blank slate, I can see it being a little less rosy. The intro speeds along quite fast, throwing down a lot of back history and character development, as well as constructing the world. The problem is, the books are so deep in detail, and this doesn't always come across very well. Some items are only briefly mentioned, others only given a quick glance by the camera. That could make it rather difficult to buy in to all that's going on; it wouldn't alienate you from the story context, but might leave you with a few question marks. Also, despite what you've seen from the trailers, this isn't "as" violent as you might be expecting. It has all the kills, injuries and battles, but with the 13-A rating, quite a lot is off-screen or hinted at by the camerawork. Now, that's not a bad thing at all, a film doesn't need gore to illustrate murder or violence, and the film did well within the boundaries it set itself. And strangely enough, it relates to the feel of what happens in the novels too.
A few other personal problems, the movie is quite long to be honest. It's a minor gripe, because they had so much to cram in to the story for it to deliver, but it's one where you’d like to have a good comfy seat for, I'll put it that way. Another small one is that it could have been paced a little better. It's never destructive to things, but can sometimes feel like it's slowed a little too much. And finally, I wish they had made the character of President Snow feel more... threatening. His role is very minor here, but he could have benefited a lot from some extra dialogue, he didn't have enough time to cement his position of power in place within the story, but I guess that will lean more into the next film.
So, how do I call this? First, you may find my rating a bit low, but consider it the nit-picking of an enthusiastic fan of the books, I'm starting from a high rating, and then shaving it back. Also, I'm keeping in mind that this is a trilogy, and this is the opener that should introduce to the World. On that front, it could have done better, maybe by the third film this will stand out better than it does now, but we'll have to wait and see. All said and done though, I enjoyed this a lot, it's a very, very good film, but not amazing. Still very much worth the view, I'm going to give this a High Matinee. (8/10) It makes me happy to see a film of this story, character and design, get such success, and I hope it continues on and improves.
Thanks for reading! ^__^