The Hunger Games Movie – Full Review and Analysis
Now that everyone has had a chance to see the film – and judging by the massive $155 million US opening weekend, a lot of you have – I would like to do a more in depth review of The Hunger Games movie - what scenes worked for me, which didn’t, thoughts on the characters, dialogue, sets, etc. Warning: There WILL be spoilers after the jump! It is also a long read as I tried to be as thorough as possible.
I’ve now seen the film twice and between all of us at MyHungerGames, we’ve seen it around a dozen times already. I’ve had a chance to really pay attention to all aspects of the movie and talk with Summer, Audrey, Jacqui, and Kelsey about what they thought about the movie as well. You can listen to our discussion on episode 5 of our podcast, District 13 Radio. So, without further ado, let’s get to it!
It’s said that the beginning is a good place to start, so that is where I will begin. For the uninitiated, the short backstory of Panem and the Games at the beginning was helpful, though I would have liked just a little more. One of the things that bothered me a bit in the film was that the fact that the winner of the Games was rewarded with Capitol-like riches never seemed to really be made clear. Adding a line about it to that prologue would have been a simple way to make that clear. Unlike the book, we get a glimpse of the Capitol first, coming in on a conversation between Caesar Flickerman and Seneca Crane about how much the Games means to them and the country, which really works for me. To see the shellac of the Capitol’s veneer before anything else serves to emphasize the disconnect between the two worlds even more, I think, than if it had followed the typical path of going from the dirty to the fabulous in Wizard of Oz fashion. Instead, the entire time you see the poverty of District 12, in the back of your mind, you know that the Capitol exists and doesn’t care.
Even though they don’t become important until later, I want to look at Caesar and Seneca since this is where the movie goer meets them. Stanley Tucci and Wes Bentley are, in my opinion, fantastic in these roles and Gary Ross has expanded them into extremely interesting characters in a way that adds to the story without changing it. MyHungerGames editor, Summer, said that as an extremely picky fan when it comes to details, there were a lot of things about the movie that disappointed her but to Caesar Flickerman’s smile she gives a 5/5. And of course we all love Seneca Crane’s beard. It’s true though, Stanley Tucci channels the perfect combination of reality television host, late night talk show host, and circus ringmaster into his performance as Caesar Flickerman. I really can’t say enough good about him in this movie. He steals every scene he’s in – in the best way – even from Jennifer Lawrence. The way Gary Ross uses him later on in the movie to host the broadcast of the Games while explaining things that were originally only in our imagination or Katniss’ head is brilliant.
Wes Bentley as Seneca Crane was wonderful as well. He wasn’t really what I had originally pictured, but it didn’t really matter. His portrayal of Seneca as young and ambitious is perfectly suited to the story the film told. He is in the know enough to understand what is going on, but naive enough to not quite grasp the implications of his decisions and actions until it is too late. To skip far ahead to the near end of the film, the scene where we see just how seriously President Snow took his failure in making the Games turn out how they wanted is by and far one of my favorites. What is only hinted at and implied in Catching Fire is shown here in the most perfect way in another scene added to the film.
Ok, back to the beginning. I’m glad we get into the actual beginning of the story very quickly. Too much Capitol start with would have been a mistake, but we meet Katniss and Prim very quickly. We even see Buttercup briefly, though he is black and white rather than orange. A small detail that doesn’t really matter, but we will likely be seeing more of him in later movies and it would have been nice to have the color right.
District 12. It’s right out of the Great Depression. If the arena was as intense as the glimpses of life we see in District 12, one of my main complaints would be taken care of, but more on that later. I know a lot of people have been talking about the camera work, and the handheld style is especially noticeable in these first shots of The Seam (which is never actually mentioned by name in the movie). Gary Ross said he wanted the camera to reflect the urgency of the situations, and a lot of time it works, but here I think it is a bit over done, leaving your eyes a bit rattled before the movie even properly begins. For the most part, District 12 looks right, though I would have liked to see more starving people. It’s implied and sort of talked about, but the whole fact that food is so scarce that people put their kids names in more times for the Reaping in exchange for a little extra food never feels totally believable. Everyone looks poor, yes, and things are run down, but it’s almost in a quaint way half the time. The desperation of these people doesn’t shine through as much as I think it should have.
The one thing that even the detractors amongst movie critics seem to agree on is that Jennifer Lawrence carries this film in a big way. She proves again why she was nominated for an Oscar in her first major role (Winter’s Bone) where she played a character remarkably similar to Katniss in many ways. Even when some things or people around her lack that extra bit of intensity that the scene calls for, she more than makes up for it. I could feel the pain of the Tracker Jackers when she gets stung and I could hear her heart ripping out of her when Prim’s name is called. If there is anything to say against her, it is that physically she doesn’t quite look hungry and dirty enough, though, again, this is an underlying fault of the entire film’s aesthetic – probably due to the PG-13 rating and target audience. It would not surprise me if she ended up with another Oscar nomination, and perhaps even the win. Again, I know there was some controversy when she was cast, especially regarding her age. Yes, she’s an old 16, but not in an unbelievable way. There are far worse offenders in film, like the entire cast of the Percy Jackson movie.
Prim. Willow Shields is Prim. During the few interviews we saw with her, she seemed nervous and inexperienced. I was worried that those traits might translate over to her portrayal of Prim and she would end up being one of those child actors whose performance distracts you from the quality of everyone else’s. What a silly thing to worry about. It’s said that when Henry Thomas auditioned for the role of Elliott in ET there was not a dry eye in the room. If Willow read from the Reaping scene for her audition it must have been the same – there is no way you can watch the Reaping without your heart breaking. As Prim, she is perfect. You can see how hard she is trying to be brave when her name is called and how desperate she is to keep Katniss from sacrificing herself for her. The whole scene is perfectly done and is incredibly emotional. Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket (though her name is never actually mentioned onscreen) makes it all the more so by how incredibly indifferent and almost naive she is, acting as if the whole thing is a wonderful show and everyone should appreciate it for the drama it represents instead of the real life it is.
Other than Madge missing, as we knew she would be, the other thing missing from the Reaping is Haymitch’s comic relief. He isn’t there to take a dive off the stage. I’m still torn about that one. On one hand, it would have helped with the one small issue I had with Woody Harrelson‘s Haymitch. That is, who he is never really gets explained too well for someone not familiar with the story. If I had not read the book I think I would have assumed he lived in the Capitol, even if he originally came from one of the other districts. He’s also not drunk to the degree he was in the book. He’s not in an alcoholic stupor drinking himself sick, but rather more caring about his drink than anything else. As I said, having him at the Reaping completely intoxicated could have helped in that area, but at the same time I don’t think I would want the movie to make me laugh right after Prim and Katniss make me cry. Woody Harrelson was not at all who I originally pictured Haymitch as being. I saw him as much more disgusting and depressing. Harrelson plays him much more sarcastic and bitter. It works. He’s just crazy enough to pull it off. And who else but Haymitch would walk around the Capitol train barefoot? Loved him.
Gale. He’s really barely in this movie. I appreciated that. I know he’s important, I know that what he represents is important. I know that he becomes even more important later. What is important, though, is that those things all come later. The movie doesn’t rush the romance aspect or try to build him into a part he wasn’t just to give Liam Hemsworth more screen time. I know early drafts of the script had him sneaking into the Capitol to plan strategy with Haymitch. Nothing like that happens with him here. He is just there. Whether you’ve read the books or not, you can see – he cares for Katniss, but more importantly, he cares about her well being. I think that comes across without a problem. Liam doesn’t fit my mental picture of Gale, but it’s okay. There’s really not much more to say about him. He’s in the movie about as much as the first book, or maybe even less, but serves his purpose just fine.
Peeta. Josh Hutcherson is perfectly charming and pulls off the forlorn love aspect as well. The one thing that never really came across to me was that he was dangerous – at least in Katniss’ eyes. She constantly reminds herself that everything he does and says is likely a show with her death being the final act. There is so much conflict over whether she should view him as a friend or enemy in the book, and I don’t think that comes through quite as strongly as it could have in the film. The chemistry between Hutcherson and Lawrence is a little weird, but then again, the chemistry between Peeta and Katniss is a little weird, so it’s hard to really judge. I think we’re going to have to wait until further movies to see how that really develops.
It’s not long before we move from District 12 to The Capitol. I’ve mentioned it before on the podcast, but I always pictured the Capitol as being much more space-age Las Vegas, completely over the top. The film’s version gives us an imposing imperialistic city with sharp edges and bleak buildings. The city, and the citizens, however, are covered with a facade of luxury in the form of an impractical and garish fashion sense, bright colors, lights, and technology. It’s almost like they don’t realize or are in denial of the fortress they live in. When you think about it, that makes sense. Despite being the center of wealth and control, the Capitol was born out of war and despite being in a time of “peace,” they must be ever vigilant at keeping control as the peace is assuredly an artificial one.
Most of what occurs in the Capitol is pretty much the same as in the books, albeit a bit abbreviated. I would have liked the chariot parade to be a grander and more drawn out event, though in the scheme of things, it doesn’t move the story forward that much and I guess too much time couldn’t be spent on it. It would have been nice to have more than peripheral glances of the other tributes though. The flaming suits were great, though. They did look a bit fake, but I was okay with that, since they were, in fact, fake. They were great, but could have been fantastic. Oh well. It is also a bit unclear in the film that acting as a team was unusual and that it was part of their strategy from the start. Donald Sutherland as President Snow makes his appearance here. I always thought of Snow as being frailer in body, but I love Sutherland’s portrayal of him. He puts on a front of being benevolent and wise, but in a way that doesn’t hide the fact that he is cold and calculating. Again, some of my favorite scenes are ones not in the book – a testament to the strength and integrity of Gary Ross and his cast. I absolutely love the way we get to see inside the complexities of President Snow in the additional scenes he has with Seneca Crane.
Though the avox backstory is cut, we do get to see them in the background and there is a line where Katniss says something about how they Capitol might cut their tongues out if they were caught breaking the law, alluding to the fate of the avoxes. While someone who had not read the books wouldn’t get the full impact of that, it’s a nice little nod for those of us who have.
The Capitol is also where we see Katniss made-over and meet the prep team including, of course, Cinna. The whole process of getting ready to look “human,” is presented as a pretty terrifying, invasive procedure, which is perfect. The end result may be beautiful (or at least interesting in some cases) tributes, but the children (let’s not forget that they are all, in fact, children) are treated like pieces of meat along the way. Scrubbed, waxed, and prodded, they are clay in the stylists’ hands, to do with as they please. Of all the casting choices, Lenny Kravitz probably was one of the more controversial. With little description in the book, people were free to picture Cinna how they chose, and I don’t think very many people pictured Lenny Kravitz – I know I didn’t. (I pictured Cillian Murphy in case you were wondering). Add that to the fact that he has very little acting experience, and people talked. A lot. This performance is not going to stop that talking. I have heard people gush that he was the perfect Cinna, while others complain that he played down the character and didn’t fulfill the potential. I fall slightly in the latter camp. While I didn’t hate his performance, I feel that the relationship he builds with Katniss by being one of the only people to look at her as a person is not shown enough. He seems, perhaps, aloof at times, and a little clueless at others. In the end, I was satisfied with him, but not convinced Kravitz was the best choice. I know a lot of people feel otherwise, and that’s fine.
I also didn’t like the way the Mockingjay pin was treated. It seems like it is snuck into the arena rather than being a memento of the district, placing far more importance on it than there was at that point. The whole point was that it was an ordinary object, which is why it was allowed in, and it only gained importance after it came to be representative of Katniss and what she did and came to stand for. In an effort to show that importance to the audience, I think there was a misstep here, though not a huge one. It is also never discussed that the reason Rue felt safe to approach Katniss was the pin. I don’t want to get ahead of myself though – We’re still in the Capitol right now. I’ll get to the Games and Rue soon enough!
There are a few more important events that needed to happen in the Capitol. The interviews, training, and evaluation. The movie hits them all on the head without fail and with enthusiasm and innovation. Understandably, we see very little of the other tributes’ interviews. There are flashes of some of the more well known ones like Glimmer, Cato, and Rue, but the focus is on Katniss and Peeta, both of whom give great interviews. Katniss is overwhelmed and nervous, but manages to fit in the giddy princess act as well as the sincere sister, cycling through emotions effortlessly and realistically. From the previews, it didn’t look like her dress was going to be all that great, but then again, we didn’t see her spin in it in any of the previews. Hidden within pleats of the dress are hundreds of red crystals that come to life a she spins. The movie makes the addition of more of the fake flame as well, leaving you with a dress that is on fire in more than one way. Crisis averted. Peeta’s interview is perfect. Hutcherson proves just how funny and charming he can act – gotta love the “do I smell like roses?” routine taken right from the book. And of course the moment he reveals why winning the games won’t help with his girl problems. While there is no broken vase and cut hands, Katniss’ response is more than satisfactory as Lawrence once again switches emotions effortlessly into outrage as soon as he steps off stage.
The training is pretty straightforward. It looked a lot like I imagined it, though there were some high-tech elements to it that I hadn’t thought about but fit, like the sorting computer that seems to be the way they are taught about what plants and animals to be wary of. A couple things about these scenes bothered me though. I didn’t care that Peeta showed off his strength to the Careers – there needed to be some explanation as to how he won his way into their folds – but there are a couple scenes with Rue and Foxface that didn’t sit right. Despite being a cute and mischievous moment, the part where Rue steals Cato’s knife and hides away in the nets of the ceiling shows off her climbing and hiding skills (something she mentions in the interview as well) depsite the fact that those were supposed to be a secret until Katniss sees her in the tree branches above her. Also, it appears that Foxface is acing the plant identification portion of the training. I don’t know if that’s supposed to set up some irony or if they didn’t even think about it, but I would have chosen a tribute that didn’t meet their end by eating the wrong thing for that scene. Other than those issues, I liked the way the training is portrayed and we get to see Clove’s knife skills.
There is a small change in the final evaluation as it has Katniss going in before Peeta. I’m not sure what the reason behind that was as ultimately it doesn’t matter, but still, it was a difference. Perhaps it was so as to give Peeta a chance to talk to her right before she went in, for our benefit. This is surely a favorite part of the book, and the movie doesn’t disappoint. It happens just like it is supposed to. The moment Katniss skewers the apple is priceless, as is the little curtsey she gives before hurrying awkwardly out. While no one falls into the punch (that we see), the gamemakers’ (who don’t wear robes, but I’m okay with that) reactions are still spot on. And we get to see a great shot of Seneca Crane’s beard. I once again applaud Gary Ross for having the ability to insert new material in an appropriate fashion. Otherwise we wouldn’t ever get to hear President Snow point out to Seneca that the apple that was shot was “near your head.”
We finally get to the Games pretty much smack dab in the middle of the 142 minute movie, though it feels much sooner at the pace the film moves.
Once again we get a big dose of Gary Ross’s handheld camera work that works for some people but not others. While you can’t tell what’s going on too well during the Bloodbath, I’m okay with that. Even though the story is no longer exclusively from Katniss’ point of view, it is still centered on her and we are seeing it as she does – jumbled, panicky, horrific. There is violence, and plenty of it. It is PG-13 violence, but it’s not hidden from view or muted – it’s just not glorified gore front and center. We see the deaths, we see blood, we see everything the Games are, no doubt about it. If it was an R rated film, yes, it would be “grittier,” and maybe slightly more effective and disturbing, but it is gripping as it is, and quite intense. The tribute who takes the knife in the back during the scuffle over the (very much bright orange) backpack doesn’t spew blood in Katniss’s face, but it’s still a pretty violent death. There’s also an added scene where Katniss runs into Foxface as they both flee the Cornucopia. Their reaction is, I think, what mine would be – “I’m supposed to kill you, but should I?” They both make quick decisions that flight is the best choice and take off as we know they do. We also have a scene where Katniss lights a fire to cook some game – something which she wouldn’t have risked. In the accelerated timeline, however, that is able to take place during the day and when she was presumably far enough from those preoccupied with the aftermath of the Bloodbath for it to put her in danger.
Here’s where I have the majority of my complaints with the movie. After the initial flight into the woods, the arena doesn’t get hard enough to survive. We don’t see Katniss wander, thirsty and hungry, on the brink of giving up. She doesn’t eat bark and stumble from dehydration. Survival seems not all that hard. It’s this way throughout the Games. Other than the threat of other people trying to kill you, being in the wilderness doesn’t seem all that difficult, and by the end,when they should be on the brink of death, battered and falling apart, Katniss and Peeta don’t look like two people who had spent weeks in the wilderness with blistering sun, explosions, near fatal sword wounds, and the like. My guess is that they wanted stars that were nice for the audience to look at throughout the film, as well as not make things do bleak and disturb their younger audience. It’s not so much as to ruin it for me or take one out of the illusion, but it’s enough that I notice it and wish it did have a bit more grit and desperation.
An exception to that is the Tracker Jacker scene. While it doesn’t play out precisely as it does in the book, it is an extremely intense scene. I cringed with every sting the wasps gave Katniss – Jennifer Lawrence’s acting really shines here as she reacts to these insects that aren’t really there. I would also like to mention here that for listeners of our podcast, I believe I predicted a flashback to the death of Mr. Everdeen during the Tracker Jacker induced hallucinations. Just sayin’. Also – Stanley Tucci in a white suit, great touch.
I absolutely love the way scenes from the coverage of the Games and the behind the scenes actions of the Gamemakers is cut in. The commentary is the perfect solution for needed exposition and the behind the scenes aspect shows just how much control they have over what happens in the arena – even more so than is hinted at in the book I think.
Rue. I can’t forget Rue. Amandla Stenberg is simply too cute. I think she may actually be, too cute. I don’t know if anyone fleeing for their life in the wilderness could be that cute, but so be it. Seriously, she’s a terrific actress and a sweetheart. I imagined her as being a bit more emaciated and frightened, but that goes with the whole slight gloss the PG-13 rating and catering to the book’s target audience, so it is what it is. I don’t think we get to know her well enough though. She’s in the book for such a short time and in the movie even less. It’s almost to the point that her death doesn’t have as much impact as it should. The riot shown in District 11, though, does. Once again, Gary Ross has added to the story so skillfully that he improves upon it, showing us what Katniss has not begun to imagine her actions would inspire. The part with her receiving the bread is omitted, but the same thing is accomplished and I don’t miss it. While the act of supporting another district’s tribute was more powerful in the book, I think it would have lost a lot of impact on screen – impact that was shown clearer in the form of her mourning of Rue’s death being reciprocated by District 11 rising up.
The cave scene. I know people have a lot to say about the cave scene. I was scared that it would be overdone, cheesy, and take up most of the film. In the end, I was left wishing for just a little more, surprisingly. Peeta’s leg and life never seem to be in as much jeopardy as they should have been, and they aren’t in the cave nearly long enough. There is no goat story, and the passions – whether they are real or not real – never flare quite high enough. I am thrilled with, however, with what the makeup artists were able to accomplish in regards to his camouflage. As soon as I saw him painting his arm in the training, I knew it would be good, and it is.
Clove. I said that Isabelle Fuhrman was one of my favorite casting choices, and I stand by it. She may be only 14 in the film, but If she came after me, I would be terrified. She plays the monster of Clove so well and so maliciously. You need to hate her, you need to fear her, and you need to be satisfied when Dayo Okeniyi as Thresh ends her life with a few jarring blows, and she delivers on all counts.
While I’m thinking about Thresh – did anyone else notice that his face goes up in the sky immediately after the cannon sounded, rather than at the end of the day? Just another example of how everything gets sped up a bit, just like the arena’s computer controlled day. It’s also implied that the muttations got him, rather than Cato, though we never really know for sure what happened to him in the book either.
The Muttations were not as scary as they could have been – and by that I mean that if they had really made them look like werewolf type creatures that resembled the dead tributes, the result would be unnerving in a not good way and people would be wondering why there were a bunch of furries trying to eat Katniss. I’m glad they made them plain old monster dog things – we don’t need the uncanny valley making them look fake and disturbing in a way you don’t want them to be.
We get to the end and Katniss and Peeta end up taking refuge atop the surprisingly grey and square Cornucopia, along with Cato. They didn’t all end up there in exactly the same manner as the book, but the result is the same. However, Peeta again doesn’t have the leg damage he should, making the struggle and the aftermath less intense than it could have been. I wanted to see them both on death’s door, with Katniss struggling to go to him in the hovercraft while the Capitol doctors tried to save the person they were trying to kill moments before. Well, I would have liked to see them in a hovercraft for that matter. None show up in the Games at all, even to take away bodies. I’m also disapointed that more of the aftermath in the Capitol isn’t shown – like a recap of the games and more extensive interview. For some reason, also, Katniss is the only one to get a crown, and that bothers me. I can’t really think of a good reason why they changed that other than to further illustrate how the Capitol really wanted her to be the lone victor, forcing her to kill Peeta and crush her spirit. Fair enough, but they would have still given the appearance of going along with it in order to appear in control.
Another point of contention is the very end where in the book it’s very obvious that Peeta realizes it had all been a game (or had it) and he’s crushed. It’s not so obvious in the film, though that may be something that will be dealt with more in the Catching Fire movie.
To summarize – I loved pretty much everything, especially the casting and added scenes with Snow, Seneca, Caesar, and the rest. I didn’t like the way the arena and Games were too easy and too rushed. I give it a 4.5/5 and am thoroughly looking forward to the next one.
If you were unhappy with the movie, I strongly encourage you to see it again, as I did. The first time around, I was so busy picking out details that were “wrong” and piecing together the bits we saw in the trailers already to really see it as a full movie. I liked it so much better the second time when I was just able to sit back and see it as a movie and not try to judge every tiny thing.
If you did like the movie, I would say, go see it again anyway since it’s worth a second go-round! And if you have not seen it yet, you really shouldn’t have been reading this since it gives away so much of the movie, but go anyway, it looks better than I could ever write.
So, tell me, what do you agree with, what do you disagree with? What do you think they got right and what parts infuriated you?