Yes, we are back, and hopefully with more frequency. This will also be a dual review. I will be coming from the point of view of having not read the book, and Kristen having read it.
Overall the movie was satisfying. I didn't go into it with any expectations or hoping they didn't leave anything out, as I did with the Harry Potter movies. The only complaint that I had, and apparently the opposite reaction of others, was that it was too long. I could see and hear the young tweens and teens getting restless. The buildup in the beginning before the "Games" started could have been pared down, but in the same breath the "Games" could have been longer.
There were some surprising cameos, namely Lenny Kravitz and Woody Harrelson. Woody has yet to fail for me since he left Cheers all those years ago. Kravitz played a good role as Cinna, but apparently his character is a bit more involved in the book.
Peeta played by Josh Hutcherson seemed to be playing two roles, and I'm still unsure if that was intentional. It's obvious that he was being coached behind the scenes, but his genuine love for Katniss still confuses me.
Jennifer Lawrence (Katniss) was for the most part, amazing, continuing her strong, independent role. She moved splendidly from her role in Winter's Bone to Hunger Games, and completely made me forget her role in X-Men: First Class. I do hope that her unfortunate impending Hollywood-manufactured love triangle will be handled with care and not be made into another Bella/Edward/Jacob horrocity!
I think I will be picking up the book, in order to read what was left out and to get a better handle on certain things. The movie satisfied and I would also like to say I enjoyed the level of death/blood/gore that was displayed. This story in its essence is based around a society of violence and voyeurism. It could have been bloodier and probably should have been, but it was done without being childish.
Happy Hunger Games! Like so many I could not wait to see the first (and best) of Suzanne Collins’s YA trilogy come to life. I have more good than bad to say about it, and overall, I credit it with being one of the better adaptations of a novel I’ve seen. I’m glad William saw it before reading the book, because now I know from him that the movie succeeds in its own right. (And now I can say for sure that the guy who wrote this is a moron—I asked William each of these questions, and he answered every single one perfectly, just from seeing the movie.)
-The acting! Jennifer Lawrence! (Whatever, William, I liked her in X-Men.) I was thrilled when she was cast, and she did not disappoint. The role of Katniss Everdeen was made for her—in a way, this is just a dystopian Winter’s Bone. If I have any criticism, it’s that she’s a little too perfect. I would have preferred Katniss a little more raw, a little more flawed—even physically dirtier pre-Capitol makeover—but Lawrence gets it right where it matters. The other standout performance comes from Woody Harrelson, who actually adds depth and improves on his character as written in the books.
-So faithful to the book! Say what you will about what was omitted, what was glossed over, and what was hurried along. I’m honestly impressed that the filmmakers adhered so closely to the source material and included all the necessary information without dividing this into two movies, as much as some of us would have loved that (let’s face it, no mater how much money these make, they’re not making six of them). Director Gary Ross showed a lot of respect for fans of the book by not taking too many liberties or cutting out anything that would truly matter to them. Even better, he gave his (mostly young) audience enough credit to reveal important details in subtle ways—through hints, looks exchanged between characters, and quick, grainy flashbacks that never take you out of the action for too long, but give you all the information you need (if you’re paying attention). We don’t need an entire continuous sequence recapping Katniss’s early life, the loss of her father, the mental decline of her mother, and her own struggle to hold her family together. That would be to dwell, and Katniss does not dwell. The past comes back to her in flashes, so that’s how it comes to us, and it’s just enough.
-The visuals! The Capitol looks fantastic, and the arena overwhelms in its scope. I thought it was a nice touch to show the gamemakers manipulating the arena behind the scenes. It’s a very cool contrast between the primitive fight for survival happening in the woods and the high-tech, soulless world behind it all.
-Every scene involving Katniss and Rue! I've heard complaints about the lack of emotion in the movie, but how could your heart not break for poor little Rue?
-The pacing. The flip side of cutting virtually nothing is that the scenes march by a bit too rapidly, which gets the story told, but the viewer never quite has time to feel the desperation and hopelessness the book evoked. Too much is time is spent building up to the Games, and not enough on the Games themselves. Since the main characters avoid the violence as much as possible, the adversity they face is more about endurance than the physical fight. This can only ring true if we see it happen over an extended period of time.
This is also problematic because it misrepresents Katniss as someone who trusts others quickly and without much difficulty. We don’t get to see how hard-won her loyalty to Peeta is, how wary she is of forming an alliance with Rue. Cinna says one kind word to her and immediately it’s as if they’ve known each other forever. At the heart of her character is someone who's almost more wild animal than girl, and her only true loyalty is to her pack. She’s not in the Games to make friends; she’s there to survive for her family, and to let someone else in means to leave them in danger. In the movie, however, she seems to have very little difficulty giving her heart to others.
-Peeta. Snore. Wooden and über smarmy. He's the only character I feel was miscast in an otherwise outstanding ensemble. Doesn’t he know he’s supposed to be likable? After this, I’m fully Team Gale.
-Buttercup the cat is supposed to be orange....really, would that be such a hard detail to get right?
-Wasted opportunities. Some scenes in the book were hard to visualize, and fans were eager to see what the magic of modern-day special effects could do with them. It seems like all things have been made possible by today's CGI. One of these key moments was the flaming costumes, and another was the mutant dogs. Sadly, both were letdowns. The fire was “meh,” and the dogs were just big ol' dogs, missing the crucial aspect that gave the book such a dark and disturbing climax.
On a side note, for anyone looking for an emotional element that was lacking in the film, I suggest heading to iTunes and downloading The Hunger Games: Songs from District 12 and Beyond. This beautiful, contemplative collection captures the brutality of daily life in the poorest district in Panem. "Daughter's Lament" especially, a folk song written about Katniss's family tragedy, turns her life into legend. Sample lyric: "spoke up, spoke a mockingjay/up from a willow tree/saying you had a father in the mines/who's gone this day from thee, thee,/who's gone this day from thee."
Katniss is truly getting her due.