The day has come. Today is the day where the Games finally begin and the first movie is finally released onto the world. Has it lived up to they hype? Is it as fantastic as it looks? Has it left me trying to form coherent and intelligent thoughts beyond screaming Jennifer Lawrence’s name over and over again while crying since 2:30 this morning?
In short, yes.
The proper review begins after the picture. I’m keeping them light, but beware of spoilers.
It’s impossible to start any review of this film without mentioning Jennifer Lawrence’s beyond fantastic performance as Katniss Everdeen. While there is not one bad performance in this film, Lawrence really does seem to carry the weight of the world on her shoulders as Katniss. From the opening moments of the film where she comforts her sister Prim after a nightmare to all the eerily silent moments in the arena where Katniss is trying to survive, Lawrence just GETS what Katniss is all about and knocks it out of the park. And as I’ve said at least three times before this review, she might just be a better crier than Alyson Hannigan. Because as every Buffy fan knows, if Willow cries, the world cries with her. Well, if Katniss Everdeen cries, the world is a sobbing mess.
While Jennifer does indeed carry the film, she’s surrounded by a bright and amazing supporting cast. Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mellark was amazingly charming, Lenny Kravitz as Cinna made my heart swell, Isabelle Fuhrman as Clove was absolutely frightening, and Woody Harrelson made me realize how much I really do love Haymitch Abernathy. I could go on all day about how amazing the cast was, really, but my three favorite supporting performances really had to be Willow Shields as Prim, Amandla Stenberg as Rue and Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket.
Both Shields and Stenberg managed to bring a severely emotional performance as the two 12-year-olds who are essential to Katniss’ journey. Stenberg in particular had everyone awwing and sniffling throughout the film, but her death scene and the funeral is what brought the biggest emotional sucker punch in the entire film. Even with the knowledge it was going to happen, it was still so painful. Matched with the followup scene of the riot District 11, that whole sequence brought chills through my body and left me sobbing in my seat.
As for Banks, her portrayal as Effie made me remember why she’s my favorite comedic actress. Even with the serious intensity running throughout the film, she managed to bring a certain sort of humor to Effie’s obsession with manners and decorum and her general ignorance. There is probably no line in the film funnier than her shocked and appalled delivery of “THAT IS MAHOGANY!” It’s not easy being comedic, but it takes some real skill to be appropriately funny in a film such as this.
Now to talk about the film as an adaptation of the book. Next week, I’ll be talking about my current re-read of the book, but the film is honestly the best book-to-film adaptation I have ever seen. Much like William Goldman writing both versions of The Princess Bride, the film is at a distinct advantage of having Suzanne Collins, who has had previous screenwriting experience, helping adapt the book. Many hardcore fans will balk at certain changes, like how the Cornucopia was actually portrayed in the film, the cutting of Madge and Lavinia and downplaying the prep team and Katniss’ search for water, but they were necessary cuts to keep the film moving. In their place, we get insight as to what’s going on outside of the arena, such as what the Gamemakers are doing, the riot in District 11 and Haymitch trying to keep his tributes alive from the outside of the Arena. These moments give a better sense as to the world of Panem, which was severely lacking in the book while Katniss was in the arena. These moments in the Capitol and the outlying districts also managed to cinch my belief that The Hunger Games is a retrofuturistic series, especially in the design choices for The Capitol.
One of the strengths of the adaptation, in my opinion, was how it managed to portray Katniss’ point of view without actually having her narrate everything. The use of silence, the occasional shaky cam as Katniss rushes through the arena and the special attention to details as she hunts and tracks through the woods. Mixed with Lawrence’s performance, the audience is able to understand Katniss’ mental state without everything needing to be spelled out.
The ending of the film is a bit rushed after Katniss and Peeta exit the arena and some characters do seem to disappear or not get as much focus as they should (much like the book), but it leaves it in a perfect place for Catching Fire to pick up. Even with those flaws, Gary Ross and company have managed to create an amazing film that is both a great adaptation of a book and an amazing science fiction film. I can only hope Catching Fire will be a successful followup, but the building blocks have been successfully laid in a film that has made me feel feelings I haven’t felt since I saw Joss Whedon’s Serenity many years ago.
Hunger Games month concludes next week with my assessment of the score, my feelings re-reading the book, and what we need to expect from Catching Fire.