Over the last couple of days, I’ve finally experienced two things that I’d been anticipating. One, my husband’s birthday dinner at the Brazilian style restaurant, Fogo de Chao. We ate at a similar restaurant in China when we adopted Isabella (where they have a huge salad bar and bring a never-ending stream of meats to your table to carve them right onto your plate) and we’ve been wanting to repeat the experience ever since. It was freaking awesome.
I’ve also been looking forward to the movie adaptation of The Hunger Games, since I’m a big fan of the book. We took our oldest daughter to see it, and in preparation, Catherine and I listened to the audiobook, finally finishing Saturday afternoon before our Sunday matinee showing. That was the third time I’d read the book, and I found it just as enjoyable as the first two go-rounds. And, yeah, I had high hopes for the movie.
Alas, the Hunger Games left me hungry for more.
Warning: From here on in, it’s Spoiler City. Proceed at your own risk.
I think I have myself to blame for a significant chunk of my dissatisfaction; after all, it’s a rare adaptation that lives up to the book, and I had come off reading this one mere hours before I saw the movie.
My husband, however, hasn’t read the book in ages, and he was equally (actually, probably more) disappointed in the film. In the interest of full disclosure, however, our ten year old daughter thought it was awesomeness come alive.
So what bothered me? And what did I think the filmmakers did well (because there were some aspects that I genuinely liked)?
My primary complaint stems from the pacing. Yes, this is an action movie, but the pacing was such that the action never let up so that key emotional moments were handled in such a boom-boom-boom fashion that the viewer didn’t go along for the ride with the character. It was, at least to me, very obvious that the filmmakers were relying on the audience’s knowledge of the broader emotions and subtleties to support the actions on the screen. And in my not-so-humble opinion, that’s cheating. This happened throughout the movie, but the two moments that truly stand out are the relationship with Rue and the interaction with Peeta after Katniss finds him injured and they go to the caves.
With regard to Rue, the action was nothing more than action–punch, punch, punch. She allies, they have a plan, plan goes bad, Rue dies, Katniss is sad. That’s pretty much what happened in the book, too, but in the book we had the benefit of being in Katniss’s head. Of seeing her relationship with Rue develop before the little girl dies. I’m not saying the filmmakers should have taken a left turn toward the two of them flouncing through daisies, but one more scene establishing them acting together as a team and bonding would have had the effect of truly punching home the horror when Katniss can’t save Rue, and the poignancy when she decorates the little girl’s body in flowers. As filmed, I thought the scene was more “gee, bummer,” than tear-jerkingly poignant.
Similarly, with Peeta, the scenes in the cave are pivotal in the book. Katniss is something of a clueless character where her own emotions are concerned, but in the cave their relationship truly shifts–but that was only glossed over in the movie. Moreover, that would have been an excellent place to work in dialogue to explain to the audience what Peeta was doing by joining with the careers. The filmmakers didn’t, though, because they went into the film with the idea that everyone’s read the book. But an adaption should stand alone; it shouldn’t need the novel to support it.
These two complaints touch on an even bigger one–the movie lacked highs and lows. Despite kids killing kids, it was remarkably flat. There was never a time where I was truly worried about Katniss or Peeta. No dehydration. No risk that Peeta was going to die from the infection. No franticness on the part of Katniss. The games seemed more like a video game (will the risks inherent therein) than actually life-threatening. And because of that the movie seemed long; I never lost myself in the world as I so desperately wanted to.
Interestingly, had the filmmakers added about 15 more minutes, I think the movie would have seemed shorter. That would have allowed the time for us to become involved, something that’s so key in a film (and, yes, hard to do in a situation where so much of the underlying source material takes place in the character’s head. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be done). And it would have allowed time to punch up the action and then to give us those emotional down moment that let you process before the next big burst. Instead of a roller coaster, though, this movie was bell curve…and even then the curve didn’t rise that high.
(Don’t get me wrong; I don’t mean the characters should sit back and have a long, on-the-nose conversation for chunks of the film, but we did need more development. Jennifer Lawrence is an amazing, subtle actress. Give her the time to do her thing even better than she already did.)
Related to the above discussion of Rue, the cutting of the bread from District 11 as a gift to Katniss seemed purposely designed to rob that emotion from the movie, and the cut to rioting in District 11 (while it at least supported a story purpose, was added at the cost of emotional oomph)
I was also unimpressed with the Cato character, who seemed more frat boy than legitimate threat. Similarly, the toned down violence didn’t do justice to the movie. I don’t need a major gore-fest, and I realize they wanted a PG-13, but the tone was just a bit too antiseptic.
As for the camera work, did someone pass a law that every movie has to have shaky, motion sickness inducing camera work?
So what did I like?
I thought all the actors were great–I just wanted them to have more to work with.
I thought the change in the origination of the Mockingjay pin was brilliant; tying it to Prim was perfect for the film.
The new scenes with the Gamemakers outside of Katniss’s pov were fabulous and fun (and, at least to me, had more life and impact in them than the actual novel adaptation scenes).
The choice not to make the mutts out of the dead tributes was a good one. It would have required too much digitizing, and the movie does deserve kudos for not looking overly digitized as, for example, the (absolutely hideous-looking) trailer I saw for The Avengers before the film began.
I wouldn’t give Hunger Games a failing grade, but for me it was a C+ movie. I’ll see the next one…but I won’t bother with the theater. I can wait until it streams through Apple TV.
I haven’t read any other reviews or any critics’ comments on the film, so I have no idea how my impressions compare to other folks. So what do y’all think? Am I completely off base? Did you love the movie, or did it leave wishing for more?