The Hunger Games: a movie event fans of the books were waiting anxiously for. I, like many others, bought my ticket ahead of time to see a Friday night showing. I watched with rapt attention, marveled at Jennifer Lawrence's ability to look scared but tough in an uncertain terrain. I liked it -- but I didn't love it.
I wanted to, but after being in the world of Suzanne Collins's trilogy, it was just wasn't the same. In fact, I constantly line up and buy my tickets for movies based on books I loved and feel this way. Maybe it's just me -- maybe I'm expecting see on the screen what cannot be translated from the source material, maybe my standards are too high. I've read articles about the film, some ridiculing racial casting, some saying Jennifer Lawrence didn't look "starving" enough and honestly neither of those subjects even entered my mind when I watched the film.
The doubt began from that opening scene where Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss slips on her boots and leather coat and heads off into the woods. On her way to the forest, everyone she passes from District 12 looks grey, weary and poor -- as Katniss is also supposed to be. But she stands out against the grey backdrop in what looked like a brand new, specially made coat and boots; it didn't seem to match the tone of the story, nor the dire situation of her character.
That aside, the reaping was as emotional as you'd expect and Lawrence gave me goosebumps as much this time as she did when I first watched the trailer and she volunteered in her sister's place. Her performance throughout the entire film is fierce and moving, but I think it could have been even better with more character development. Details seemed to get glossed over and that bothered me. In the book, Katniss is fickle, distrusting, and even hard in a way. We only saw a fraction of struggle and her torment in the film.
Elizabeth Banks as Effie was a particular bright spot to me; she was the only character that I felt embodied exactly what I imagined. Banks was completely transformed, almost unrecognisable -- she became Effie and I felt that in her performance. However little we saw of her. Rue was well-cast, despite some Internet backlash -- she was what I imagined Rue to be, and while she may not have resembled Prim the way some fans would have liked, I thought they were alike in the ways that mattered -- quiet, reserved, scared but brave, an obvious fondness for Katniss, she played the role of a surrogate sister in the arena to Katniss the way she did in the book. They built this relationship particularly well in the film and Katniss's subsequent grief after her death felt raw and real. I cried watching it.
While we don't see much of Liam Hemsworth as Gale in this first film, I was surprised at how much his character impressed me in such a short time. Strong, brave, concerned for his friend, all the things we know Gale to be -- but the relationship between him and Katniss struck me as a little more intimate and romantic than that of the book (at this point). Now Peeta on the other hand...
Josh Hutcherson as Peeta gave me mixed feelings. Peeta is one of my favourite characters in the book; genuine and earnest but also gritty and tough when he had to be. Hutcherson did well with the character he was given, but the movie watered down his character. No real attitude or sass. They also glazed over what I felt to be one of the most important scenes in the book: Katniss's hardships at home, which lead to Peeta tossing her the bread -- a literal lifeline -- and how the memory stayed with her. In the film, Peeta appeared to be no more than just a boy in love hoping for a future, and while those elements were factors in the original story, the love story didn't emphasize the motivation behind what they were doing -- saving their own lives. Their time in the arena didn't have the impending doom and suspenseful feeling I expected. I just sort of felt like they would cling to each other until they won.
I could go on and on. Performances were strong all around. Stanley Tucci was Caesar Flickerman was perfect, exactly what I imagined; Woody Harrelson as an alcoholic Haymitch who still knew how to generate sponsors and play the game, and Donald Sutherland as a menacing President Snow who will show his evil more effectively as the films go on, I'm sure (Catching Fire has already been slated for a November 2013 release).
The acting was well done, the scenery amazing, but this movie sped past some of the most important details ,including Katniss's family and back story, in favour of more time for battle in the arena. As these films become more politically charged and children join the war against The Capitol, can these movies live up to the written version? I certainly have my doubts, but if there's one person leading the charge as Katniss, I'm glad it's Jennifer Lawrence.
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