Saw the Hunger Games movie last night. Herein lies my review.
I loved the Hunger Games series of books. No lie, flat out loved them. I loved the strong female characters, the strong characters period, that integrity and humanity were valued ethics among the major players, and that the people the narrative followed weren’t quitters, or whiners, or screamers, but just dug in their heels and did what needed to be done to get their families, friends, and themselves through to the next day. Katniss Everdeen, Finnick Odair, Johanna Mason, and Haymitch Abernathy will be some of my favorite literary characters into my old age, I think.
I appreciated that the fabricated love triangle, which starts off as a friendship on the cusp of something versus an age-old gratitude forced to present as love, was never the hard focus of any of the books, and that romantic love was never a motivation for Katniss. Gale and Peeta make decisions and act based on their feelings for her, but she is clear and direct with both of them that she does not have the luxury of letting her heart rule–and she has no idea what it would say if she did. Romance is not her priority. Staying alive to keep others alive is her priority.
Even Gale and Peeta have other driving motivations, though. As much as they are written to desire Katniss, they also both have lives and seem perfectly willing to live them without her if needed. Peeta not as much as Gale, but Peeta’s an artist so you can forgive him not being a hunter.
Katniss has strong bonds with other female characters throughout the series. First with Prim, her sister. Then with Rue, who reminds her of her sister. Foxface earns Katniss’s respect and there is the sense that these two could be friends in other circumstances. She forges a strange bond with Effie Trinket and another with her mother. She bonds with Johanna Mason. She trusts Greasy Sae. And save for a short exchange with Rue, never once does she have a discussion with one of these other characters that hinges on whether or not she is in love with a man or what she would need to do to catch herself one. Never once. Do you have any idea how rare that is in literature? A female character who isn’t motivated out of the desire to become someone’s wife? Katniss Everdeen would have been my hero as a teen.
The other women in the series are strong, too. The weakest of them, Katniss’s style team ladies, show their own strengths. And her poor, damaged mother’s old strength shines through now and then–though that woman is just toast emotionally from the get-go. Rue is strong and fearless. Foxface is strong and wily. The cruel female characters are still written as strong people. There are Johanna and heartbreaking Annie Cresta as examples of the strength required and the price paid to make it out of the Hunger Games arenas. Prim only continues to grow. Effie–Effie’s actually one of my favorites, too. She is an example of nature overgrowing nurture, and I couldn’t help feeling a fond pride of her as the series wore on.
The story might not be original, and ask Nicole or me how easy it is to write something and find out five years later that someone else has already published the same darned thing, but it is extremely well written and does not take easy ways out. Characters suffer PTSDs that don’t just disappear. Characters act along their motivations without deterring to help the plot. Characters made ugly decisions. And, when the final chapter comes and it is a couple of decades out from the first book, characters are still dealing with their lives.
The movie didn’t do it for me. If I had gone in without having read the novels, I would have been giggling at some of the direction and choices made in how the story was adapted to fit the big screen. As it were, I just kept leaning over to B and whining, “This is so bad!” I won’t complain about what wasn’t there, though. Books and movies are different things, and you can’t compare an apple to an orange.
Jennifer Lawrence IS Katniss Everdeen, though. She fit the bill perfectly. And the Seam and District 12 were exactly as I had imagined them. The Capitol? Eh. It looked very low budget to me. And the costumes were very low budget.
Woody Harrelson was great as Haymitch, and briefly, Elizabeth Banks did a bang up Effie. Lenny Kravitz can’t act, but he does look good. I was disappointed in his Cinna. No, I was very disappointed in his Cinna.
I did not like the choices they made with directing Prim. Buttercup was the wrong color. Peeta–God bless that tiny Josh Hutcherson. Was every other male in Hollywood busy that day because…no. Lainey, from laineygossip.com, wrote in her excellent review of the film:
Whether it be by necessity or by strategy, by selfish manipulation or compassionate regard, literary Peeta wasn’t a child. In the movie, he’s made to be a child. Or at least I saw him as a child. When they connected on an emotional level in the book, I could understand Katniss’s attraction. Here was a man on the way who had sacrificed for her. Here was someone she finally knew she could trust. Here was someone she was growing to love out of respect – for his courage, for his conviction, for what qualities she lacked that he could bring to their relationship and stand with her on the same level.
What transpires instead, on film, in my mind, is not so much a meeting of different equals, but the bonding of a caregiver for a weaker ward that she must govern. I’m not saying it’s a dealbreaker. But I won’t lie to you and tell you that Peeta delivers. And I like Josh Hutcherson SO MUCH as a person, this is not an easy criticism.
It was a dealbreaker for me. Peeta does not deliver (not necessarily Hutcherson, but Peeta), and I groaned aloud at one point because it played as so freaking twee. That is probably because the story cuts out a huge part of what the stylists and mentor team did to make District 12 unique among the other tributes, and because The Boy with the Bread is never fully explained. Without that, Peeta’s just some lumpy kid from 12, and why should Katniss care?
Here is one criticism I will make of what was missing: Peeta is nearly dead by the end of the first book, and Katniss isn’t too healthy herself. Katniss sees Peeta’s heart monitor stop 3 times as they are being whisked back to the Capitol. Peeta has lost a leg. In the movie, Peeta’s wounds are minor and he’s bouncing around like a jumping jack. That really detracts from the story, and detracts from why the Games are horrible.
Liam Hemsworth as Gale worked for me, but his entrance was so anti-Gale that the character had to rebuild himself. Well, he’s got two more movies to do it, I suppose. But movie Gale isn’t the same guy who would do what is done in book 3. Movie Gale is Book Gale on some really good meds. Still, Hemsworth is as perfect for the role physically as Hutcherson is not.
All in all, I did not think it was a good movie. I was disappointed. I will go see it again with people who have read the books so we can talk about it (and because I love seeing movies with my girlfriends), but I was sorely, sorely disappointed.