Every where I turn in the blogsphere, another Hunger Games Review pops up. I decided to join the mêlée after doing a book talk on all three novels. When books come to the movie screens, people feel concerned about a number of things:
- Will the movie remain faithful to its source material aka the novel
- Do the actors embody their literary characters
- Anything having to do with how the reader visualizes the novel
I actually saw the movie twice, not to do a super-duper review, but to fulfill a promise to two different people. My nephew read the book last year as part of a novel study and wanted to come with me. A friend of mine read the novels a year ago and we agreed to go together after I finished the trilogy. In hindsight it turned out to serve this review. Keep in mind I am not a Siskel, Ebert, or even a Pauline Kael. Are you ready?
Here we go…
People felt a little leery hearing about Gary Ross as director for this project. It turns out I saw his previous work, the horse racing film Seabiscuit with the screenplay also adapted from the book by Ross himself. I remember enjoying the film along with his previous ones like Pleasantville. Can he adapt this popular dystopian phenom?
Yes, yes he can.
The film feels like a documentary with its hand-held style. The first time felt a little jarring, especially in key moments like the opening rush to the cornucopia. It does give the audience an intimate view of the events, as if they too watch the games from their own district. Ross also gives a couple of scenes not found in the book, but a nice touch to the story. President Snow, played with delicious menace by Donald Sutherland, snips his roses and talks about ‘containing the spark’ with game maker Seneca Cane. (Played by Wes Bentley, an actor you see yet can’t remember his name. He’s vastly underrated go look him up on IMDB.) In another scene the countdown the games intersperses with scenes of people watching it happen live. In a scene without any music, or the countdown, Gale sits in solitude a field looking at the same mountains he suggested to Katniss for their escape. Both scenes do not take a way from the story, but add to the immediacy of the situation unbeknownst to Katniss.
Further in regards to casting, the three leads suit their roles with the maturity expected of young people growing up under a repressive regime. Jennifer Laurence already impressed me in X-Men First class, while Josh Hutcherson keeps growing from his younger roles making Peeta a likeable tribute with the Capitol crowd plus the vulnerability of someone nursing feelings for a long time. Kudos also to Liam Hemsworth coming into his own beyond the Chris’ younger brother. In his portrayal of Gale we see the good-natured teasing and the rebellion simmering underneath. Gary Ross, thankfully, plays down the romance making the Katniss-Peeta scenes more authentic. (As opposed to that other movie based on a teen novel whose name I dare not speak.)
I have to single out Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz, and Woody Harrelson. Many people hoped Kristin Chenoweth would play Effie Trinket. After reading the novels, Chenoweth’s high-pitched voice seemed ill-suited to Trinket. Banks pulled off a character looking outlandish yet acts like it’s nothing out of the normal. Lenny Kravitz’s Cinna reflects the way the man moves in the music world. He makes one small allowance to the trendy nature of the business, but the rest plays on substance than his style. Cinna looks refined as a stylist, but importantly styles her for who she is rather than a Distict 12 caricature. Last but not least, Woody Harrelson was inspired casting as Haymitch Abernathy. People may quibble about his look, but Harrelson has made a career of playing multilayered parts. In his hands Haymitch lurches around with a drink in his hand, but conceals both a cunning and underlying pain. I can hardly wait to see how he plays out the part in the next two movies.
The pressure will only increase with the next two movies. The love-triangle aspect begins to take hold in the next novel, but Suzanne Collins crafted a situation not drowning in schmaltz of teen romances. The challenge will come in maintaining an intelligent movie satisfying fans of the books and new converts from the movie. From script to cast the foundation is set for the next two films. Hopefully the odds will be in their favour.