Does the Hunger Games Movie Make the Grade? (review, minimum spoilers)


Hey gang! Like 99.9% of the rest of the populace, I was able to catch the Hunger Games movie over the weekend. I wanted to give a quick 2 cents in case someone is in the .01%. Plus I thought some fans might want to gossip with me. : )

I've read all 3 books (a couple of times) to give you perspective on my expectations/experience going in. I'm a fan of the source material, and the review will come as such. I'll give a quick grade for each aspect of the movie listed below.

I've done my best to generalize, so the spoilery stuff should be minimal.

CHARACTERS:

Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence): JL nailed it! She's distant, yet emotional. She's cautious and observant. She's tough as nails on the outside with a compassionate core. She's Katniss. GRADE - A+

Peeta (Josh Hutcherson): He really conveyed Peeta's compassionate resiliency. His relationship with Katniss is believable and heartfelt. Thought the character came off a touch more needy (sensitive?) than the Peeta in the books. Probably more to do with movie stuff (script, etc.) than his performance. Overall, excellent job. GRADE - A-

Gale (Liam Hemsworth): Didn't really have a big role in this one, but he was most definitely Gale. Confident, assertive and rugged. Unlike Peeta, I thought his was a pitch perfect translation of the character (again, much less screen time). Can't wait to see his increased presence in the future movies. Grade - A

President Snow (Donald Sutherland): Absolutely great. Stole every scene he was in. Just the right mix benign politician and evil dictator. Perfect casting, perfect performance. GRADE - A+

Effie (Elizabeth Banks): Another ringer performance. I hated her. I pitied her. I believed her. She WAS Effie Trinket in all of her awkward and vain glory. Grade - A+

Cinna (Lenny Kravitz): If I'm being completely honest, thought he was a little stiff. Kravitz definitely captures Cinna's compassion and his affinity for Katniss. But that's all he brought out. It was one layer of the character. Looking for a little more passion and confidence. In the book, Cinna really got Katniss' vulnerabilities better than anyone else. That really never came through for me in the performance. GRADE - B-

Haymitch (Woody Harrelson): Like Kravitz, I thought Harrelson's performance was solid, not perfect. Again, this might have more to do with movie stuff than the actual performance, but I was left thinking too highly of Haymitch, too soon in the movie. Haymitch (to say the least) isn't the most likable of fellows, and that doesn't change much throughout the books. You understand him better as Katniss does, but he never really feels like a champion good guy. He's an antagonistic motivator. We hate those people, even if we respect the heck out of hem. Harrelson was at best cranky, and at worst a loving uncle. And much more of the latter than I'd have liked. GRADE - C+

STORY & PLOT:

For most, a book to movie adaptation is made or broken with how successfully the theme or 'feel' of the book is translated to film. I'm pleased to say they mostly hit a home run with the Hunger Games movie. The liberties taken, or stuff they added for the film, were few and universally enhanced the story from a visual perspective. Omissions from the source story, while also infrequent, will stick out a bit more to the diehards. 

Most of the details left out were minor and simply muddled the finer aspects of character development and motivations.  Example 1: Katniss' expertise in botany (She's named after a plant. Hello?!) really isn't given much attention. As a result, an important scene late in the movie kind of loses its impact. Example 2: Katniss finding water in the book is a big deal. In the movie it's barely a footnote. 

A few minor things, but an otherwise outstanding job. GRADE - A

VISUALS:

The movie really shined in this area (quite literally in some instances). The Capitol was splendiferous and cosmopolitan with its sparkling fountains, towering buildings and yawning streets. The Districts were dirty, compact and simple. And the games arena ... WOW! Exactly as I imagined it. So much so that I'm probably most excited for the second film just to see how they pull off the next arena.

The casting, as we've known for months, was pitch perfect. Gale = strong handsome jock. Peeta = artsy normal guy. Foxface = Fox faced girl. Snow = creepy beard face. After seeing the movie, the care given to the actors selected for the roles (in terms of appearance) really stands out. The costumes were crafted with equal care. Capital citizens were over the top (think Hollywood on steroids), the District folks were simple and downtrodden. 

It all combined to really put you in Panem. GRADE - A+

SOUND & MUSIC: 

OK, this is going to be a mixed bag. The sound mix is awesome. Nature scenes make you feel like you're outside. City scenes sound like a city. You'll flinch and jump right on cue. As for the music and score ...

I've listened to the Hunger Games soundtrack. It's excellent. Lots of folkie goodness laced with modern nuance. Legendary producer T-Bone Burnet intended it to sound like 'country or folk music as it would be 200 years from now' and they nailed it. You won't hear much of it in the movie. I'm cool with that. I don't particularly care to hear Kid Cuti and Taylor Swift during intense movie moments.

That being said, the score was virtually nonexistent for me. Outside of a couple of memorable scenes late in the movie (and they ARE doozies!), I don't think there's another definable music moment in this film. A score can elevate a great movie to iconic status a la Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, ET, The Artist, etc. A missed opportunity, and ultimately the gist of my overall grade below. GRADE - B+ 

OVERALL:

You can probably tell I really enjoyed the movie. Yet I think it falls just short of perfection. When I think of the best film-from-book adaptations I think of the first two Harry Potter movies, The Shawshank Redemption, To Kill a Mocking Bird, Babe, etc. The Hunger Games isn't quite on that level. 

In the end, the Hunger Games movie is a rare Spring bone thrown to us from Hollywood, and fans of the books and movie lovers alike shouldn't miss it. GRADE - A-

Have you seen it? Agree with my impressions? Let's hear your take!

~EJW~ 

12 comments:

  1. I saw it a couple of times over the weekend and I really enjoyed it. I love how you tackled this review.

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    1. I really enjoyed it as well, MJ. I bet I'll catch it again before the it leaves theaters.

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  2. Not interested in teenagers killing each other, but I know it's a book that seems to fascinate a lot of folks, including you. There's a reason it's a bestseller! I enjoyed reading your personal review because I've read many others about this same subject in the last few days and I like yours the best.

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  3. Guess I'm in that .01% then. Waiting for the furor to die down before I go see it.

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  4. Totally agree with your impressions. After reading everyone's thought I kinda want to see it again, because I was really caught up in everything going on. But I really liked the movie!

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  5. My only beef was in the portrayal of Peeta, and it's a little thing I blame more on the production than the actor.

    When I read the book, I didn't like Peeta at first. He struck me as a little too slick, a little too smooth, too quick with an effective lie. I didn't trust him. I understood that he was playing the game with his best resource - his charisma - even if he also displayed several acts of kindness along the way.

    I don't remember the movie ever catching him in a lie. They did show him playing the game to some extent (with Haymitch saying 'hold on to that knife, he knows what he's doing') - but that's about as far as it went. So, when they got to the interview with Flickerman, I took his words at face value in the movie, whereas in the book I took it to be a strategy. The 'she came here with me' moment fell flat for me as a result; I half expected the sound of a sad trumpet.

    The book focused so much more on the "Real/Not Real" complexities that I guess were too difficult to convey in an already very full time constraint, and that's too bad because that was so much of the appeal for me. I sat by a friend who had not read the books and asked her about Peeta's slightly devious side - and she said, "Oh, I didn't get that. I just thought he was a nice guy."

    I think they'll be able to make up for it in the later installments, tho. They pretty much have to - the 'real/not real' thing is half the plot!

    All that being said, I loved it, would happily watch it again, and can't wait for the next one. :)

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  6. Was planning to see it next Friday but after your review, I'm even more excited than I was before. Good to know they did a terrific job on a great story.

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  7. E.J., I have yet to read the books. I will definitely read them but I'm not sure I'll watch the movie. ***shrugs*** I figure that out once I read the books.

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  8. Oh I'm gonna have a good weekend ahead of me. I get to see Hunger Games and Wrath of the Titans. That'll be great (haven't seen Hunger Games yet as I have patience).

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  9. I'm in that .01 % too unfortunately! I'll get there. I'm stoked.

    And I LOVED this grading system. I'm so glad for the most part you were pleased, E.J. ;)

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  10. Excellent review, EJ.

    I haven't read the books, haven't seen the movie... I'm not sure that the premise particularly appeals to me, but I know the film's making a whole ton of money.

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  11. I like how you do film reviews. :-)

    Haven't seen the movie, but would like to. Sadly, there will be a bit of a wait for me. Sigh.

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