I first heard about The Hunger Games when I was looking for a book to buy my niece. I ended up getting her Judy Blume books and eventually buying The Hunger Games for myself. I loved the book and quickly bought and read the next two in the series of dark and complicated young adult fiction
Like all fans, I was concerned when I heard the book about a future totalitarian United States split into 12 districts that every year must each send a boy and girl to fight to the death in a gladiator version of American Idol, would be made into a movie.
The Hunger Games movie is a necessarily stripped down version of the book. At two hours and twenty-two minutes it certainly couldn’t be considered short, yet I wanted more. What is captured on screen works. It’s what is left out that lessened the emotional impact of the film and makes reading the books a much deeper experience. The importance of Katniss’s relationship with her father, his death in a mine explosion and her mother’s subsequent breakdown is barely alluded to. Moviegoers who have not read the books will not get the deep connection between Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Gale (Liam Hemsworth), who is barely seen. The significance of Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and Katniss facing off each other in the games is not revealed until well into the film, which minimizes the tension between the two. A full scene with the prep team as they serve as an introduction for Katniss to the world of the capitol also would have added some texture.
The casting though is right on target especially the roles of Katniss, Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), and Effie (Elizabeth Banks.) One of the best things about the books, if not the best, has always been the strong and independent minded Katniss who thinks on her feet and on her own. Lawrence is the right mix of vulnerable, fierce, compassionate, and ultimately defiant as the underdog volunteer who emerges a victor.
Harrelson is perfect as the drunken yet cunning Haymitch who in the book clearly chooses to help Katniss over Peeta in the games. Banks get some of the funniest lines in the movie and delivers them with Effie’s trademark cluelessness and self-centeredness. Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickman is like a smarmier, hyper-drive version of Ryan Seacrest except with blue hair. In other words, he’s an ideal host for the games. And, Amandla Stenberg is instantly affecting and natural as Rue. The most heartfelt moments in the film are between her and Katniss.
Peeta comes off a bit one dimensional and if you haven’t read the book, it won’t be clear that from the beginning his only intention is to make sure that Katniss survives the hunger games. I have to admit though that I’ve always preferred Gale’s revolutionary spirit over Peeta’s more mild mannered subversiveness.
While this first movie doesn’t equal the book, I’ll be in line opening weekend for the next two (or three) movies because they give me and millions of other readers another opportunity to connect with and extend our time with this world we love and its characters.