The Hunger Games (2012)


Now I finally know what all of those Harry Potter and Twilight fans feel like. I finally understand how good it feels when a book series you love is brought to the screen and they don’t totally f**k it up.

Yes, I admit it. My name is Curtis and I am a fan of The Hunger Games, a trilogy for young adult readers. (Sounds like I’m at a 12-step meeting.) But with a biting commentary on society’s voyeuristic obsession with reality television, a criticism of government and corporate oppression, and some brutal child on child violence that’s a shadow of our culture’s school shootings and gang killings, this is a story adults should pay attention to.

In this fan’s opinion, The Hunger Games movie is a winner. Everything I remember loving about the book has been included, and what was cut were things I didn’t miss.

So, what didn’t work?

  • By far, my biggest criticism has to do with the director’s excessive use of shaky cam. At times, I thought I was watching Cloverfield 2. I worry that for some viewers it may render the movie unwatchable.
  • The climax/ending. The climax wasn’t bad, but it did feel somewhat rushed. I’ll get more into this point later.
  • Some sub-par CGI. During the opening ceremonies, for example, I thought I was watching a Star Wars prequel movie.
  • That’s it!

What worked really well:

  • Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss. Like she did in Winter’s Bone, Jennifer Lawrence serves as this story’s emotional center. She grounds the movie with a character that feels true, all the more important here because of the fantastical sci-fi elements of the story. The two roles are surprisingly similar, even down to her family relationships—the absent father, the ineffectual mother, and the younger sibling(s) she’ll risk her life for. She brings some real acting chops to this series, and it’s a good thing given who they surrounded her with…
  • The supporting cast, especially Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci, Lenny Kravitz, and Donald Sutherland. I had some reservations about Woody Harrelson being cast as Haymitch. In my mind, someone like John Hurt or even Robert Downey, Jr. would have been a better choice, but Woody Harrelson hit it out of the park. And Stanley Tucci was brilliant. It would have been so easy for an actor to go over the top with the Caesar Flickerman character, but Tucci brings a skillful subtlety to the role. There’s one moment where his character makes a joke on live television and then congratulates himself under his breath, “That’s funny,” delivered so subtly that the casual viewer would have missed it. For the acting alone, I would watch this movie a second time.
  • The mise en scene (minus the shaky cam that I’ve already mentioned). Stories set in the future are challenged by the dual need to feel different enough that we believe it’s the future, yet familiar enough that we can relate to the characters and events. The world of The Hunger Games was ugly when it needed to be and beautiful when it needed to be, often a combination of both. Katniss’s District 12 was gray and bleak, the Capitol was colorful and gaudy, and the forest was green and lush with life, an aesthetic irony when the bodies start falling in the arena.
  • The story. In fairness, there really wasn’t much for the filmmakers to do here except not screw up the wonderful story created by Suzanne Collins.
  • The visceral emotion of the story. This is where the movie could have gone horribly wrong. But the filmmakers resisted any temptation for melodrama. I can imagine the director pitching this as Winter’s Bone in the future. The scoring was pretty sparse too, especially by Hollywood standards. The events themselves are emotional enough that they don’t need much adornment, and they were played out very effectively. My eyes were tearing up within the first five minutes during the reaping scene, the scene that sets the whole story in motion. When they nailed that, I knew the story was in good hands.

Having only read the book once and having seen the movie just once, what I’m about to say may be a bit premature, but I think The Hunger Games makes a better movie than a book. By not having the luxury of getting into Katniss’s head and hearing her thoughts, the movie positions her as an “Everyman,” representative of anyone in the audience. We don’t have to hear her teenage whining that filled so much of the book. Yes, that was her character, but it limits how relatable the character is. It’s not a surprise that the theater was filled with teenage girls; they were the book’s target demographic. But I think the movie widens the audience because of the natural show-don’t-tell limitations of film.

What’s impossible for me to comment on (and has yet to be seen) is how well the movie works for people who haven’t read the book. There’s a lot to this story, a lot of information and plot thrown at the viewer at a healthy pace. Even at 142 minutes, the movie felt like it flew by. I wonder how well the movie as a whole can offset any distance the quick pacing may put between itself and the uninitiated viewer.

If you don’t want to risk spoilers, stop reading now. Otherwise…

What I also thought worked better in the movie than the book was the violence in the arena. For some reason, I could feel the hand of the “young adult” censor at work in the book much more than in the movie. It’s obvious going in that Katniss is not going to kill anyone in cold blood. Bodies would drop around her, and she would kill only in self-defense or only when another character “deserved it.” But her choices felt more authentic as I watched the movie. I have no interest in doing a kill by kill comparison between the movie and the book to see if things were changed, but my guess is that the difference was primarily one of pacing. In the book you get a real feel for just how much time she spent in the arena, so there’s a much greater build up to each kill, a lot more time to see it coming, to see the hand of the author at work. In the movie, time is condensed by necessity through skillful editing. It feels like the game is happening to her, that she’s reacting to the oppression and the violence inherent in the system (as Monty Python would say).

What I did feel worked better in the book was the climax, the moment when Katniss and Peeta are confronted with the ultimate reality of the Games—only one of them can leave the arena alive. Again, I don’t recall exactly what was different, except that it felt more satisfying in the book, more earned. In the movie it felt rushed, probably the least authentic moment. I found myself craving some line of dialogue, a call back to their conversation on the rooftop. All it would have taken was Katniss reminding Peeta (and the audience) of his declaration, “If I’m gonna die, I want to still be me.” She couldn’t say this explicitly, of course, but just something like, “Remember what you said to me on the roof?” Instead we get a generic “Trust me.”

But these criticisms are few among many more comments I could make about how much I enjoyed this adaptation. I would love to hear what you thought of The Hunger Games? Comment below to share your opinion. Did you read the book, and did you like the movie?

More info at IMDb, RottenTomatoes, and Amazon.com.

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12 thoughts on “The Hunger Games (2012)

  1. Jeyna Grace says:

    I think the movie was brilliant! The adaptation was so well done, better than some HP adaptations,.

  2. I had to run out of the theater just before the cornucopia scene with both hands over my mouth to keep from vomiting. The shaky cam ruined it for me completely. Hours later, I still feel sick.

    Now, as to what I was able to watch:

    1. My theater had as many teen boys and adults as girls. It was an interesting mixed crowd.

    2. The reaping scene was gutting. The camera stood still just long enough to wrench my heart. Some criticism have ripped it because the 3-finger salute didn’t come until later in the book. My only complaint is that the gimmicky camera work didn’t let me absorb the grimness of District 12.

    3. I happened to like the opening ceremony. It has taken some heat for the CGI, but it worked for me. Again, the camera stood still enough that I could take it in.

    4. Woody Harrelson has Haymitch was a brilliant choice. A cynical sarcastic burnout stoner – what better choice?

    5. Loved the Capitol. The garish over-the-top lifestyle of the rich and bored was perfect.

    Great review. My only disagreement is that you let Ross off too easily for the shaky cam debacle. I now know that I won’t even bother with the next two movies if he is directing.

    • Curtis says:

      Hi Terri,

      I was afraid that the shaky cam would be too much for some people. I was able to ignore it (mostly), but I understand how you felt. I was literally nauseous after watching Cloverfield in the theater. You might be interested to know that my review of The Hunger Games is getting a lot of traffic and most of it is from people searching “The Hunger Games shaky cam.” So you and I are not alone in this criticism.

      Ross has said that he wants to direct the second movie if there is one. Hopefully he’ll get enough negative feedback on this one to make a stylistic change. Thanks for commenting!

  3. […] of the day I was excited to go see The Hunger Games tonight, so I’m happy I turned my mood around. It could have spoiled the movie for me if I […]

  4. You know, I didn’t even NOTICE the shaky camera until I started reading about them. I was so engulfed into the story and the characters (and holding my dire need to urinate [yes!] for well over 2 hours; the urge began during the name-fishbowl scene!).

    I never read the books. The movie made me want to. I’m just so excited for the next two movies. I hope to freakin’ god the last movie isn’t divided into two.

    • Curtis says:

      Hahaha! When I saw the running time I made sure to run out to the bathroom during the previews, and I STILL had to run back to the bathroom as soon as the movie ended. Cursed with a small bladder, I guess. Great to hear the shakycam didn’t distract you. The books are good, especially the third one. It’ll be interesting to see how they adapt them.

      • How would you feel about the last book being divided into two? Nothing is certain yet but rumors are going around that it just might be. Since I never read the books, is the third rich enough to be divided into two?

        I hope it’s not like “Breaking Dawn, Part 1” where nothing happens except Bella got married, knocked up, gave birth, and died. Zzz. The rest is honeymoon bullshit. So boring.

      • Curtis says:

        I think it’s unnecessary to break the third book into 2 parts. Yes, it’s long, but so little happens in Book 2 that you could put some of the beginning of Book 3 into Movie 2. My sister and I discussed this for just a few minutes and here’s the outline we came up with (includes spoilers):

        Movie 2

        Act 1: The victory tour; tension between Katniss and Snow builds; ends with Quarter Quell announcement
        Act 2: The Victors’ Hunger Games; ends with the rescue (the end of Book 2)
        Act 3: District 13; planning for war; movie 2 ends with WAR!

        Movie 3

        Act 1: Katniss used as propaganda
        Act 2: Katniss goes to war in the Capitol
        Act 3: Resolution (don’t want to give too many spoilers)

  5. Interesting potential outline for the next two installments. Yeah, I agree that it might be a good idea to put some events that happened in the third book onto the second if nothing much happens in the second… Although fans of the books might cry foul.

    I’ll try to read the books this summer! 🙂

  6. Curtis-Ray says:

    I didn’t read the book nor did I know anything about the story before seeing the movie. I didn’t even know it was part of a trilogy.

    I really enjoyed it. My favorite moment was when Peeta and Katniss raised their hands together during the opening ceremony.

    Hated the climax with those crazy beasts being released on the chase, the fight on the roof of the cornucopia, and totally agree about the awkward “trust me” line. But I’m excited to see the next two. Overall the movie was a pleasant surprise. Especially since the title had me thinking I was going in to watch a movie about competitive hot dog eating or something.

    Great review!

    • Curtis says:

      Cool that you dug the flick! Check out Winter’s Bone. Same actress, similar themes, but based in the real world, and it’s a much smaller, more personal story. I’ve watched it 3 times, and could easily watch it again.

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