Haven't reviewed a movie in a while. Maybe this iPad really is kind of helpful!
Tonight we saw the movie version of the Hunger Games, a book series which I enjoyed tremendously. From the minute I finished the first chapter I was hooked, and even though I am a notoriously slow reader, I devoured all three in a matter of days (Games of Thrones can't say that...I've been stuck on page 500 for about two weeks now.)
That said, I approached the movie cautiously. Would they capture the right look and feel? Would it veer into farce? Would they tone it down to secure a PG-13 rating?
Spoiler alert, especially included just for my dear Mousey...I am happy to say I enjoyed it immensely. The movie was true to its source, but not slavishly so, and actually added details and scenes not included in the book that enhanced the material, in my opinion, such as the brilliant addition of Seneca manipulating the elements in the arena during the games, the efforts of Haymitch to secure sponsors, and the riot that breaks out when Rue dies in her home district, something that could only be mentioned in passing in the book.
I like it when movies based on books work hard to make the subject matter their own, which this one did. Perhaps it helped that the author was part of the writing team.
The casting was excellent. Katniss was perfectly portrayed, as was Peeta and Gail. Woody Harrelson was terrific as Haymitch, although more sober than I remember him in the book. That didn't bother me that much, although as I recall, the point was that he had seen so many kids go off to their death from District 12 that he gave up trying. You didn't get as much of that in the movie. He basically goes right into Katniss battle mode.
The only two nits I had with casting were with President Snow and Cinna. Most of it's because of what I had in my head as I read the book. First off, I saw Snow as a bit more elegant than Donald Sutherland. I always pictured the guy who played Lucius Malfoy from Harry Potter playing President Snow. That's blood and roses, to me. As for Cinna, I saw him as a bit more androgynous than Lenny Kravitz.
As for the film's style, I loved it. The cinema verite, very naturalistic feel real worked, for the most part. Well, except for the fights. I did find the rapid movement to be a bit off-putting at times--the hunting scene at the start of the movie almost made me nauseous, it spun around so much, and some of the fight scenes were impossible to see properly because the camera cuts went too quickly or the action was too blurry. The fight scene on the cornucopia is a perfect example: because it was so blurry, and both Peeta and Cato had blond hair, it was really hard to tell who was who. Perhaps it was deliberate, in that case? Other times, I doubt it.
What it lacked in those scenes it more than made up for in other ways. It made the plight of our characters believable, and kept the story from slipping into farce. This was also helped by the terrific performance of Jennifer Lawrence, who played her role in an understated manner that gelled well with the directorial approach. The District 12 scenes were particularly well done. I totally believed that area could exist, exactly the way it appeared. And I loved it whenever they had an establishing shot of a District along with a location title. The look was perfect.
Beyond the districts, I thought the Capital was portrayed well, although its inhabitants looked a bit like something out of the Wizard of Oz or a Lady Gaga video. I wish we had gotten to know Cinna's assistants more, including the mute girl, who never appeared.
The only set that disappointed me a little was the actual Hunger Games location. For some reason, I always saw the arena in my head as somewhat larger than life and artificial--kind of like Frontier Land at Disney gone horribly wrong. This just looked like more woods, which, given the hunting scenes at he start of the movie, gave it a sort of "we're saving on our budget" kind of feel.
Also disappointing were the mutant animals at the end. In the book the animals that attack all wear collars from the other districts, and are meant to resemble the fallen tributes--in fact, the suggestion is that they actually are the tributes, in some ways. Not so in the movie, which provided us with generic, computer enhanced evil puppies. The book was creepier, this wasn't so much. Especially given the confusing Peeta/Cato fight that follows.
Minor complaints really. For the most part, the action was sharp, the characters believable, and the script tight and well constructed. Plus the movie had a great anti-one percent message that I approve of. The kids from District 1 and 2 were like the cool kids you desperately want to see get their comeuppance. Which they do, and we even get to see the price Cato pays for that favored son status (a scene of pathos that I liked but the Corbster found annoying.)
The audience I saw it with was really into it, and reacted! That doesn't usually happen. The group dynamic was intense with this crowd, which is the sign of a good flick, I think. All in all, I would give this movie an A minus.