*Just looked at the full post and I’d like to apologize for the length of this review up front. I obviously had a lot to say about this movie lol*
*As always, this review is spoiler-free. Enjoy!*
It’s finally here! The Hunger Games! I haven’t been THIS excited for a movie in a while. For a little background I read all the Hunger Games trilogy back in the summer of 2010 about a few months before Mockingjay hit and I became a big fan of the series. I’ve been following all the developments of the movie from hiring the director to casting the roles and I was unbelievably hyped for this movie.
The first like… 5 minutes of the movie I thought to myself “Oh dear God what did I get into?” hahaha. We open with text dialogue explaining the entire concept of the movie and I had flashbacks to Terminator Salvation (not good). Open to Caesar Flickerman and Seneca Crane talking about the Hunger Games which nonbook readers would have no idea about. SMASH CUT to District 12 and Katniss/Prim with unbelievably shaky cam. I liked the hunting bit, but then we have the scene with Katniss and Gale and BOTH of their acting was insanely flat. At that point I had a horrible feeling that the movie was going to be a disaster, but thankfully the acting and the movie as a whole picked up from there.
I was especially worried after that first five minutes because I watched Seabiscuit for the first time earlier this year and I had a lot of doubts about Gary Ross as the director of The Hunger Games. Actually, Ross was actually my personal choice to direct when I saw the short list of directors that included David Slade and Sam Mendes. I thought he handled the themes of Pleasantville beautifully and could bring out the elements of The Hunger Games which made it so good. However, this was BEFORE I saw Seabiscuit and that film worried me because of how piss poor and blunt/obvious the storytelling, character development, and themes were handled. Thankfully, Ross delivered this time!
Aside from one aspect that I’ll get to later, I think that Ross gave us the Hunger Games movie that fans deserved. I was surprised that this film was handled with so much subtlety and grace, especially after how heavy handed Seabiscuit was. Ross chose to play up the emotions over the action and I applaud him for that. It could’ve been so easy to just say “let’s throw in a bunch of crazy action that wasn’t in the books” to try to appeal to general audiences, but instead he chose the hard way. Imagine that, a blockbuster film that actually tries to develop its characters and tell its audience worthwhile messages in thoughtful ways, blasphemy! But Ross did it and he did it exceptionally well.
The acting all around was superb and the casting was excellent. I’m not one of those fans who has to get EVERY SINGLE LITTLE DETAIL right. I don’t care about pedantics such as Jennifer Lawrence not looking “skinny” enough or the fact that Josh Hutcherson is slightly shorter than Lawrence. It’s nice when they get little details right (Cinna’s gold eyeliner anyone?), but what matters more to me is the performance and all the leads and supporting turns were on point.
The supporting players added so much to the film. This is the first time Wes Bentley (Seneca Crane) has been good in anything since American Beauty. Woody Harrelson (despite the awful wig) was absolutely perfect as Haymitch, just the right amount of apathy and the sardonic tone. Donald Sutherland was great as President Snow and I was surprised at how well they kept him involved in the proceedings considering we don’t see much of him in the first book (do we even see him at all? I can’t recall…). Stanley Tucci was utterly perfect as the Ryan Seacrest of The Hunger Games, Caesar Flickerman, he brought a lot of energy to his performance. These side performances help add to the overall mood of the movie.
As far as the two male leads (Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth), both performed admirably but Hutcherson definitely went to another level for this one. Hemworth is only in the movie for about 10 minutes (which is faithful to the source material) so he isn’t given much to work with. Hutcherson has the meatier role and he pulls it off so convincingly. I’m a big fan of Hutcherson and I hope this movie gets him the mainstream exposure he deserves and starts getting bigger/better roles in the future.
Last but not least, Jennifer Lawrence. How amazing is this girl? She’s AMAZING as Katniss. If people didn’t know who Lawrence was before, they know now! I thought she was essentially going to pull the same performance she gave in Winter’s Bone (which is an eerily similar kind of role) but she really dug in deep and reached for something more. Watching Lawrence on screen as Katniss, you can’t help but be moved and feel for her.
James Newton Howard is one of my favorite composers and he delivers a wonderful score to accompany the film. I’m not 100% sure if it was him, but if he came up with the theme of Rue’s whistling I just have to say that I think he created the next classic theme that we’ll remember for years to come. I hope they reuse that theme for the sequels because it was fantastic.
Most of my problems with the film were mostly nitpicks coming from a fan of the books. Besides those though, the CGI was incredibly spotty at some moments and killed the believability at times. From the CGI backgrounds to the effects heavy set pieces, there was just something not quite right about the look. You look at a film like Thor and you see the worlds they create and you’re just stunned. I understand this isn’t the most fair comparison in the world because the budget for The Hunger Games was approximately 80 million dollars compared to Thor’s 150 million, but my main point is that the CGI took me out the film at times.
The biggest problem of the film is that Gary Ross just doesn’t understand how to shoot action competently. Shooting good action is one of the most difficult things to do in Hollywood and Ross has only ever done dramas, but it doesn’t give him a pass for barely even trying. During most of the action scenes we’re wayyyyyyy to close to the action. I remember one time during the final fight the camera panned out to a helicopter shot and I thought “thank God!” but then it went back close where you couldn’t see anything and I went “DAMN IT!” When are directors going to learn that shaking the camera as much as possible and trying to make a scene look more intense/hectic than it is is NOT good directing! You’re not Paul Greengrass! I would’ve enjoyed the movie a hell of a lot more if I could actually comprehend the action.
Most of those problems I could overlook because the rest of the movie does so much right. If you had a problem with some of the things they left out well… I don’t know what to tell you because Suzanne Collins herself wrote the screenplay and for a first time screenwriter she did a great job. Who better to capture the essence of the book than the author herself?
The Hunger Games is a dystopian thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat for the entire runtime. The book is so faithfully adapted and handled with nuance by director Gary Ross and the performances are powerful. The movie made 155 million on its opening weekend, the third best opening weekend in movie history. If you haven’t seen The Hunger Games by now, GO SEE IT!