Movie Review: The Hunger Games

So like the rest of the world, we’ve seen The Hunger Games. Cyna flew cross-country to see it with Kayla, and we were there at the local theater’s midnight opening, with our pre-purchased tickets, in the awful homemade shirts that we’d worked on for hours the night before. While the event itself was a total blast, the movie left us…kind of ambivalent. WE HAVE LOTS OF THOUGHTS AND NOW WE WILL SHARE THEM.

And yes, it might seem kind of weird for us to be doing a review of a movie totally outside our genre, especially when we haven’t yet reviewed the books, but, well, we have *read* them, we just haven’t gotten around to posting our thoughts yet. But we liked the books, and we want to talk about the movie because it’s just come out and is still fresh in our minds, SO THERE.

Since there ended up being, er, quite a bit we wanted to talk about, we’re going hit through this in bullet points of pros and cons, with explanations where necessary. Which is to say, everywhere.

Pros

  • It was Pretty Disturbing for a PG-13
    So while we weren’t thrilled with the fact that Hunger Games was stuck with a PG-13 rating to begin with (although, well, what else do you expect?), we were still relatively impressed with the way that the movie managed to convey the brutality of the Games while staying within the confines of its rating. Yes, we still would have preferred an R, but no, it wasn’t as neutered as we thought it would be. The audience we saw it with gasped in all the right places, and hey, that’s what counts.

  • The Addition of the Snow/Gamemaker Scenes
    We dislike it as much as anyone else when movie-makers stray from the source material, but in this case, some of the additions that they made worked very well. We loved the scenes set outside the Games, between Snow and Crane, and then with Crane’s “production team”. Actually seeing the Gamemakers manipulate the arena and the players made the correlation between the Games and reality tv more apparent, and strengthened the parallels between the Capitol and our own society. Snow’s scenes were a clever way of working in the significance of Katniss’ actions within the Games, and did a great job of building up the story’s ultimate conflict.

  • The District 11 Riot
    We vaguely remembered this scene being talked about in the book, or at least briefly mentioned, but it was really interesting to see it actually happen. Narratively, it added so much to show the impact that Katniss’ relationship with Rue had on her District, and to see the beginnings of the rebellion against the Capitol.

    That being said, the potentially racist undertones of this scene aren’t totally lost on us, our reaction during the scene being something along the lines of:


    It sucks that the rioters were pretty much exclusively African-American, sucks that it perpetuates of the “angry, violent people of color” stereotype, and while we liked what the scene added to the story, there had to have been a better way for them to execute it.

  • The Shaky Cam
    We’ve heard a lot of bitching about OMG! shaky cam!! in the movie, but we feel like this is one of those situations where that technique added more than it took away. More than anything in the script, or even any of the acting, as far as we’re concerned, the shots from Katniss’ POV did an excellent job of conveying what she, and we, are supposed to be feeling. It’s such a simple way of showing her disorientation, confusion, fear, of putting us inside her head, but it worked beautifully, and gave us what we felt were some of the most emotional scenes in the movie.

  • Haymitch
    Haymitch’s character ended up working out pretty well. Even if they kinda beat us over the head with his drunken bitterness, you still get to see his dark humor, and more importantly, his character arc. You get a sense of his shift from cynical self-imposed distance to hope, action, and investment, and sure, it might be blink-and-you-miss-it implied reasoning, but at least it was progress. Most of the other characters didn’t fare as well.

Cons

We saw these movies with a group of friends, split about 50-50 between people who’d read the books and people who hadn’t. Like we always are when we attempt to share a beloved story with n00bs, we couldn’t help but be hyper-aware of whether or not they’d like and understand it. In that regard, we feel – and were, well, outright told ^^; – that the film was plagued by some massive storytelling failures, mostly in the “lack of development” area.

  • Not Enough of the Districts
    When we read from Kaniss’ point of view in the book you really get a feel for the poverty of District 12. You hear about the families literally dying of starvation, the corpses littering the streets, the dangerous jobs that the miners are forced to endure, the tessarae that Katniss and Gale risk their lives to get to feed their families (Katniss’ comment about how Prim’s name is only in there “once” and what this means is never explained within the movie). In the book, it’s made clear that these people are barely scraping by, they could die any day, and that their lives are horrible. This is important, because it heightens the contrast between the Districts and the Capitol, so that you see how sick and twisted the situation really is. You do not get this AT ALL in the movie.

    They’re not poor, that’s just what Kentucky towns looks like.
    If you hadn’t read the book, you would think that maybe the people in District 12 didn’t make enough money to live as lavishly as the people in the Capitol, but otherwise they’re fine. District 12 doesn’t seem destitute so much as primitive. You have absolutely no comprehension of their suffering, or of how they’re being oppressed, aside from being forced to participate in the Hunger Games. This is a HUGE loss, because so much of the Districts’ motivation for rebellion lies in their awful living conditions, in the way they struggle to survive. Without that, their willingness to participate in the Games at all is a lot harder to buy.

  • Complete and Total Lack of Character Development
    This, this right here, is our biggest complaint, because if you hadn’t read the books, you probably wouldn’t have a goddamn clue about who any of these people were, or what their relationships with one another were intended to be. All of the important relationship and character development was almost totally glossed over.

    You don’t really understand the dynamics of Katniss and Peeta’s relationship. You don’t really get how Katniss shifts between liking Peeta and playing it up for the cameras, or how this affects Peeta. What progression you do see is awkward and jolted – one minute he’s trying to kill her, the next they’re making out. Which brings us to…

  • The Peeta/Katniss Flashback
    The crucial Katpee (hehe) bread scene was not done well at all. Even if you did pay enough attention through the disjointed cuts to actually get what happened, you still wouldn’t have a complete understanding of the scene and what it meant. Yes, Peeta throws a loaf of bread in the mud in Katniss’s general direction and gets into trouble for it, big whoop.

    I-I don’t know what expression that’s supposed to be.
    You don’t get that Katniss was literally about to die of starvation, or that Peeta giving her that loaf not only saved her life, but saved her family by giving her the sustenance she needed to keep going and start providing for them. You don’t get how much that means to Katniss. That connection should have been made more known in the movie, because without it, Peeniss’ relationship doesn’t hold as much weight as it should.

    Worse yet is Rue and Katniss’ relationship, because where Katniss and Peeta can be developed through the trilogy, Rue was supposed to make an impact on us here, and she just didn’t. You barely know anything about her. She’s just cute and sweet and then she’s dead, and we were ALL SET to be just sobbing our eyes out the way we did in the books, and we kind of surprised to find we weren’t. We tried to puzzle out why after we’d left the theater, and one of our party (who hadn’t read the books) said “Uh, because she was completely undeveloped?” And…well, yeah. You don’t know her, as a character, when she dies, you don’t see much of her and Katniss’ bonding, she’s in the movie for all of like, five minutes before we fast-forward into her death, so why should it mean more to the audience than any other tribute’s? The District 11 scene immediately following Rue’s “burial” had more emotional impact on us than her death itself. We’d have lost it if they’d shown her family crying.

    And, er, it doesn’t help that the death scene itself was awkwardly staged. This is why people singing other people to death works better in books – in real life, it’s looks dumb. OH MY GOD, KATNISS, SHUT UP AND TRY AND SAVE HER! PRESSURE ON THE WOUND! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?

    We were a little disappointed by the lack of introduction to the stylists, but we can kind of understand the trimming of excess characters. But even Cinna and Portia suffer from lack-of-presence. Cinna gets like, one scene before he’s relegated to the background, and you’re like, “Uh, what’s that guy there for, again?”.

    For us, none of the characters – excepting Katniss and maaaaaybe Haymitch – were developed enough to make an impression without familiarity with the books.

    I DON’T KNOW WHO ANY OF THESE PEOPLE ARE!
    True story: my boyfriend didn’t even know Katniss’ name when it was over.
  • The Awkward Commentator Insert Scenes
    Okay, we understand that there were things that the audience needed to know in order to understand certain scenes – the function of trackerjackers, the placement of the bombs around the Career’s supply pile, etc – and that without Katniss’ narration, it would be hard to work them in. We get that. But blatant, out-of-nowhere info-dumps from the commentators? Really? They literally just pop up to fill you in, and then disappear. Dude. That’s a terrible, clunky, awkward idea. TERRIBLE.

  • The Tributes-Chasing-Katniss-Up-a-Tree Scene
    This is a smaller issue, but this scene was staged so horribly that it was hard not to burst into laughter, and that really isn’t a reaction we should have been having so late in the Game. But seriously, in the book, Katniss climbs into the highest limbs of a tree – with horribly blistered hands, mind you – to escape the Careers who’ve banded together to kill her. They can’t get to her because they’re less adept at climbing, and she’s so high up and so far away that their weapons can’t reach her.

    In the movie…she’s about three feet above them, right out in the open, and if they really wanted to, they could probably reach out and touch her. Seriously. Cato’s inability to climb up the, like, two branches he needs to to get to her is pathetic (especially after they show him making it up the lower portion), they give up with the bow after shooting just TWO ARROWS that only miss by about a foot (seriously, you can’t adjust for that?), and never try getting at her in any other way, despite the fact that Clove is shown to be capable of pinpoint accuracy with her throwing knives. This scene was so bad, it would have been better suited to a Hunger Games parody. Worst. Careers. Ever.

  • The Gale Reaction Shots
    Another little thing, but they bugged. Yes, we understand that OMG TEH LOVES TRIANGLES ARE IMPORTANTS!, and the film makers clearly felt the need to play up Gale’s role in the story. But seriously? The random cuts to Gale as he reacted to various things going on in the arena were just so abrupt and, again, if you’re not a fan of the books, seemingly pointless.

  • Cato’s Death
    This was a big one. You spend the entire book waiting for this moment, because Cato is a huge threat, and probably the only person that you really wouldn’t mind seeing die, and HE KILLED THRESH, THAT BASTARD. Yet when it comes, even by Game standards, Cato’s death is horrible. He *is* killed by the Mutts, yes, but it isn’t the instant mobbing like it is in the movie. Cato is literally eaten alive, for hours, until Katniss can’t stand it anymore, and takes it upon herself to end his suffering. Cato’s mercy kill is one of the saddest and most important moments in the book. With it, you realize that even though he is a complete asshole, even though his District has been built up as the enemy, he is still just a kid who’s been manipulated by the Capitol, and nobody deserves to die like that. The movie, however, just sort of glosses over this.

    Yes, Cato is mobbed by the Mutts, yes he gets a little speech intended to humanize him, but it’s not the same. You don’t get the sense that his death is awful enough to warrant a mercy kill, and though Katniss’ killing of him is presumably still intended to be such, if you hadn’t read the book, you probably wouldn’t have gotten that, either. The people we went with who hadn’t read the book didn’t, and that’s unfortunate, because it takes away a lot from both Katniss’ character and the ultimate cruelty of the Games.

  • The Abrupt Ending
    We’ve both seen this movie – one of us twice – and we still don’t remember at what point the movie actually ended. It was just on one minute, and the next Taylor Swift was singing. Way to leave an impression.
So yeah, those are the bigger issues that we had with the movie, that we felt really impacted its ability to tell this story to an audience unfamiliar with the books – which is kind of the whole point of a movie adaptation, right? We do have a few unrelated, fangirlish quibbles, but those are more our personal issues than any kind of objective problem.

Cyna: I was mostly pissed about the lack of development, but that aside – man, were the outfits fucking TERRIBLE. I know the Capitol is supposed to be full of bizarre high-fashion, but Katniss and Peeta looked like such tools, and the absolutely awful CGI fire didn’t help a damn thing. I really didn’t care for Katniss’ interview, either – I know we’re supposed to see Katniss’ sort of overwhelmed “child” side there, what with the dress and all, but after like an hour of Y SO SRS? characterization, seeing Katniss twirl around in her dress like an idiot, for what seemed like HOURS, struck me as majorly out of character.

Also, the circular origin of the Mockingjay pin left me rolling my eyes. I mean, I understand their not wanting to introduce a new character solely to present Katniss with her iconic emblem, but in the book, at least you understood WHY it was iconic. Here, Katniss just gets it – for free, from someone who is way too poor to have been giving away free things in the first place – then she gives it to Prim, who gives it back to her like two scenes later. If I hadn’t read the book, I would have just seen it as a really awkward way to shoehorn in a recognizable symbol. GOTS TO SELL THE MERCHANDISE! Not that, you know, I don’t have one myself…

Kayla: I was happy with some of the little things that were mentioned in the film, like the way that we see Buttercup, and how the scene makes it known that Katniss and the cat don’t get along. Plus, Katniss’ apple shot was freaking badass, and Peeta’s camouflage was an awesome special effect, and really cool to see on screen. But there were also some things that really bothered me. I know it is a little thing to get mad about, but when Katniss cries over Rue’s death in the movie, it just pissed me off. In the book she wouldn’t allow herself to cry over Rue because she didn’t want to give the Capitol the satisfaction. That brings out a lot of Katniss’ character, and they just did away with it. I know it would be hard to explain without her commentary, but it was an important moment for me.

Another thing I didn’t like was that the Mutts weren’t explained AT ALL, as far as the fact that they were created to bear the likenesses of the other tributes. I am upset about this because of the impact it would have had on the audience, how they could have really gotten a good look at how fucked up the Capitol can be and just how much they are capable of doing, scientifically.

All in all, we feel like the Hunger Games movie is made more for fans of the book than people who are unfamiliar with it. Like most other movie adaptations, it’s the CliffsNotes version – you don’t get nearly as much of the depth, you don’t really come to care about or fully understand the characters, some stuff is just flat-out silly, and what little you are able to understand has to be unsubtly spelled out. It’s not the massive disappointment it could have been, but we definitely recommend reading the book before seeing the movie. It’ll make more sense that way.

 

10 Responses

  1. LupLun

    April 12, 2012 11:26 pm, Reply

    Everyone’s standards are different. My girlfriend burst into tears and was inconsolable when Rue died. I got the scene’s impact, but thought her reaction was a bit extreme. Then again, I’m a cold-hearted bastard, so…

    It’s true that there was a general lack of character development. It’s a persistent problem when adapting a popular book: books produce much bigger and fatter stories than films, so you have to make cuts without damaging the story or pissing off the fans. And the two goals are not always compatible. The story demands the major threads and themes of the plot be intact, but viewers are in love with “the darlings”, the individual scenes and moments that writers are told to murder if they’re not serving the story.

    On the other hand, the extra Snow scenes I liked, because they were used properly: to develop both him and the Capitol as characters.

    (Interesting tidbit: this could fall under the category of “Wag The Director.” From what I heard, Sutherland was griping about not having enough to do in the film, so the director wrote two extra scenes. He probably figured that if you’ve already paid for Donald Sutherland, you might as well get your money’s worth. Which he did.)

    If I had been writing the screenplay, I would have started with Katniss arriving in the Capitol, gloss over the whole media circus, and expand the “Tribute School” bits so as to have a place to flesh out the cast properly. While I liked the time devoted to Cinna, Haymitch, et al, they weren’t all that relevant.

    By contrast, I thought Cato’s death, was handled fine. They made all the salient points: We learn that despite his ruthlessness, he wasn’t really the enemy, the capitol was. Then he pays for his sins. Then Katniss shows she’s the better person by granting him a merciful death. Abbreviated, yes, but I fail to see how being eaten alive is any more horrible after the first five minutes.

    For that matter, 20 hours is bullshit to begin with. I write about werewolves, so I know a few things, and it does not take a canine pack of ordinary population and body mass that long to devour a scrawny 18-year old. Maybe an hour at the outside, but Cato would almost certainly be chatting with St. Peter long before then. And even if they decided to take their time, canines eat the major organs first. I don’t care how badass you are: if your heart was just gulped down by a wild animal, you’ve checked out.

    The disparity between districts was made clear, I thought, but it’s subtle. Like, for example, Gale hands Katniss half of a (stale-looking) roll, and she reacts as if it’s the nectar of the gods. Later, after she gets on the train: PILES AND PILES OF FOOD.

    Or, another good one: At the reaping, our host is acting as if this is a huge, celebratory occasion, and the crowd never once laughs, applauds, or even smiles. Hell, even the local officials and soldiers act like it’s a disagreeable chore to be gotten over with ASAP.

    -LupLun

    • Kayla + Cyna

      April 13, 2012 1:59 am, Reply

      Yeah, I was really hoping to be moved by the Rue scene and just…wasn’t. The staging, the acting, the music, the lack of development, they just didn’t come together for me. I’m glad to hear that some people were move, though.

      That’s the thing – the movie was mostly just a series of scenes, the book on fast-forward, and yes, they tell a story, but without the character development, the story doesn’t mean as much. I was really hoping this would prompt my boyfriend to read the books, and it really didn’t, because he didn’t care so much about the characters. Sadface.

      But yeah, the Snow scenes worked very well. Me like.

      I don’t envy the screenwriter’s jobs, because HG was so driven by Katniss’ narration that it’s gotta be near impossible to translate that all into film. Kay suggested they should have had Katniss do a running vocal narration a’la Twilight, but I don’t think it would have worked very well. That being said, I thought it was important to see the Districts, so IDK about starting in the Capitol. Kay and I thought it would have done the book more justice to split this first book in two – Reaping to the start of the Games in pt 1, the Games in pt 2, but that’d obviously never happen unless it somehow got turned into a mini-series on TV.

      Cato was more Kay’s gripe, but I generally agree – yes, they made the “Capitol is enemy” point, but I still didn’t think Katniss’ mercy kill translated as well as such.

      Meh, I bought the drawn-out death – if the Mutts were controlled by the Capitol and they were looking to make “good TV”, I could see them dialing down the Mutt’s agression to torture-levels.

      See, I still didn’t feel that. I did remember them lingering on the piles of food in the train, but that one roll aside, I still think 12 looked more like an Amish community than a starving slum. I DEMAND CORPSES ON THE STREETS!

    • Jammie

      May 12, 2012 3:09 am, Reply

      I heard (or possibly read) that Donald Sutherland suggested the extra scenes to help develop his character more. Present a better understand of the power of the capitol and his character and all that.

  2. turn-the-page.net

    April 14, 2012 9:51 am, Reply

    Great review and pretty much sums up how I felt about it as well. It was enjoyable, probably because I knew the characters and the background and what the scenes were meant to imply, but even for someone whose read the books, it came across as quite disjointed and lacking any character development. My friend hasn’t read them and she enjoyed it but didn’t really understand the motivations behind a lot of it or the relationships between the characters.

    I wasn’t a fan of the shaky camera so I’m glad that was kept to a minimum, they obviously did it to help ‘blur’ the violence, but like you I wish it had at least been a 15 or something.

    The bread scene made me laugh. Katniss in no way looked as though she was starving, more like she was having an emo moment in the rain and it looked like Peeta decided to try and knock her out with a piece of bread that looked like a brick! lol

    Amy @ Turn the Page (YA)

    • Kayla + Cyna

      April 15, 2012 5:06 pm, Reply

      Thanks 🙂 Yeah, it really felt like a fast-forward adaptation. I have more hope for Mockingjay’s integrity, given that it’ll be a two-parter, and isn’t all that long to begin with.

      lolol IKR? I can only imagine how utterly hilarious that might have looked to some people. That and the tree scene. Classic.

  3. Vicki

    April 28, 2012 3:22 am, Reply

    The crucial Katpee (hehe) bread scene…
    Wow. And the inverse of that is… hilariously worse. Why, Collins, why!?

    I haven’t decided if I want to watch the movie or not. The books hit me hard, and I didn’t know if I could take seeing everything (the horrors) I’d visualized. At the same time, I don’t want things to be toned down because that’d be a massacre of the book. So torn. But I think if anything I’ll wait ’til RedBox.

    • Kayla + Cyna

      April 28, 2012 3:39 am, Reply

      I know right? Who doesn’t take ship-war abbreviations into account when writing YA anymore? ;D

      It’s definitely worth watching if you’re a fan, if just to see some of this stuff on screen. As far as gore/tone, I think the movie hit it in the right spot. Not super-gory, but it doesn’t pull any punches, either.

      But yeah, rental’s a valid option. Hopefully the next few will be better!

  4. amiel guiteng

    June 19, 2012 2:39 pm, Reply

    Wow, I just noticed that the comments here are as long as a movie review. LOL. Naturally, the novel would offer more depth to the story. There’s just so much more that can be packed into books!

    • Kayla + Cyna

      June 20, 2012 4:20 am, Reply

      This is true, of course, we were just disappointed that HG didn’t seem to do an out-of-the-ballpark job of turning the book into something easily comprehensible to people outside the fandom 🙁

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