Reading the Hunger Games was a big inspiration for me. It helped me believe I could write compelling story in first person present tense. So whenever I felt lost, I often turned to the books to put myself back on track. As a result, I’ve read the series a few times in the past year, and was therefore more than willing to stay up and watch the movie at a midnight premiere.
Leaving the theatre I felt three things very intensely: Entertained, Excited, and Satisfied.
So I think it would save me from overexplaining or even delving into spoilers if I simply explain my review in those three emotions.
Entertained: There is no doubt this movie is entertaining. While people who have not read the books might find it slow to begin, I was really engrossed from the first few panels of the movie which give reveal what the Hunger Games actually are. In moments where non-fans might think it is getting a bit slow, Elizabeth Banks gives a stellar performance, providing comedy that is not only funny but emotionally evocative. Jennifer Lawrence is a superb Katniss, which is not really that shocking, since she was made famous for playing a similar role in Winter’s Bone. However, she does a remarkable job of keeping the entire movie together. I was especially amazed by many of the other actors in the film. When I heard that Little Rock, AR legend Wes Bentley was playing Seneca Crane, I was confused. The character is barely in the books. But the shift in perspective (the movie is not told simply from Katniss’ perspective) allows these other players to tell the story in a more complete way. While this means certain sacrifices for story purists (most notably, that the gifts Katniss receives now have notes from her mentor) the movie manages to tell a story which never feels like anything but the characters and world of the book. Stanley Tucci is so good, I feel the need to at least mention him in a sentence, but for me the best performance of the evening was a surprise. Josh Hutcherson’s performance as Peeta Mellark is simply spell-binding. I thought Hutcherson would be a good choice, but I was not expecting to like him as much as I did. In brief moments where the writing was weak, he elevated it in such a way that I could feel nothing but admiration for him. My only complaint about the movie is, of course, the unfortunate casting of Lenny Kravitz as Cinna. Why they did this, I’ll never know. Cinna and Katniss are supposed to have a special bond, but it was clear that there was zero chemistry between the two actors. Kravitz performance was fine, he doesn’t do anything particularly bad, but Jennifer Lawrence looks exhausted whenever they are on screen together. I assume this is because these scenes probably took much longer to film than they should have. To compensate for this, much of what made Cinna a great character, is distributed amongst the rest of the adult cast. While I think this was wise, if firing Kravitz was not an option, it made me sad. Cinna was always a character I related to, and felt for, so seeing him so diminished was hard for me.
Excited: This movie is exciting, in that it is a fun thrill ride, that is more than just action, but has some actual art to it. It also was so superbly executed, that I left the theater ready for the second film. Of course, that is probably a year away at least, but I have faith it will be incredible. The second book is my favorite, and while I was worried this film could easily ruin a great book, my fears are now abated.
Satisfied: This movie is as true to the book as it should be. Since it is told from multiple perspectives, new things are revealed. This was great for me, as a big fan, as it gave me something new. I wasn’t simply watching the movie in my mind, playing out on the screen. This was something I truly respected. If you want someone to put the movie of your mind on screen….maybe you won’t enjoy this film. However, they get so much exactly right, I can think of no person who would fault them for the tiny adjustment/changes they made. Especially when each of them was made for such a specific and deliberate reason. When they announced Jennifer Lawrence would play Katniss, I will admit, my first thought was….”She’s wrong for it. She’s blonde.” My husband pointed out I was not alone, but that my reaction was crazy, and directed me to an article discussing it. While I agreed with the article, pointing out that fans seemed to ignore that someone could simply dye her hair to the correct color, I didn’t think we were crazy. The issue is, while we fans understood they COULD dye her hair, we assumed they WOULDN’T because fans of many books have been burned by Hollywood before. In short, I felt I could no longer trust Hollywood to tell a story that was based on a popular book, without screwing it up. This movie has restored my faith somewhat, and that made walking out of this incredibly entertaining film, all the sweeter.