Review: The Hunger Games

Or, as they say in France, ‘Les ‘unger gems!’

(Yes, I know it’s been forever since the movie came out, but I’m trying to clear my backlog of posts while I get back into the gear of this blogging thing. Pliss echoos.)

ImageBeing in France and not having much access to English bookstores and media in general, I’d somehow managed to completely miss the hype surrounding Susan Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy. Early in 2012, however, posters for the movie started to pop up everywhere, and so for a lark I picked up the first book.

From IMDB: In a dystopian future, the totalitarian nation of Panem is divided between 12 districts and the Capitol. Each year two young representatives from each district are selected by lottery to participate in The Hunger Games. Part entertainment, part brutal retribution for a past rebellion, the televised games are broadcast throughout Panem. The 24 participants are forced to eliminate their competitors while the citizens of Panem are required to watch. When 16-year-old Katniss’s younger sister, Prim, is selected as District 12’s female representative, Katniss volunteers to take her place. She and her male counterpart Peeta, are pitted against bigger, stronger representatives who have trained for this their whole lives.

Now, generally, I avoid dystopias like the plague. I like my futures more Star Trek than 1984. But The Hunger Games? I got so impatient with my slower reading pace in French and so desperate to find out what happened next that I stopped five chapters in, got the English versions of the trilogy, and devoured the lot in one sitting. That’s how good these books are.

Given how much I loved the books, I was extremely apprehensive about seeing THG on the big screen. I mean, just look at the Harry Potter films. But the intial reviews were good, so good that I decided to brave both the French dubbing and the wrath of my best friend for seeing it without her, and go ahead and book tickets.

And boy, am I glad I did.

The Hunger Games is amazing. It’s up there with LoTR in terms of sheer quality. Even having it in French didn’t bother me that much. I’ve never seen any of the actors in any major roles, so the different voices didn’t bother me. Plus, I thought the dubbers did a really good job.

Now for the movie itself. Please be warned that this review contains SPOILERS for The Hunger Games!

First, the story. I think the biggest thing THG has going for it is that Suszanne Collins was part of the scriptwriting team. The film manages to get the spirit of the book beautifully, perfectly right, and I think the original author having a hand in the script had a lot to do with that.

Second, the direction. I’m very annoyed with Lionsgate for letting Gary Ross go, because he got it. I think that there’s an incredibly valuable insight being a fan gives you into a work, and it’s telling that both Peter Jackson and Gary Ross were both huge fans of the novel versions of The Lord of the Rings and The Hunger Games respectively.

Third, the casting. I know that there’s been a lot of (justified) criticism of the casting process for Katniss Everdeen, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that Jennifer Lawrence absolutely nails the part. She is Katniss. The rest of the cast isn’t half bad, either. If I had to pick a favourite, though, I’d go with Woody Harrelson as Haymitch Abernathy. Absolutely inspired.

Fourth, characterization. THG doesn’t fall into the trap the HP movies did (see Anger management Dumbledore from GoF, and super!Mione and mo!Ron from, oh, every movie…) Katniss is still herself, brave and proud and beautifully flawed, and Josh Hutcherson manages to infuse a rather whitebread (forgive the pun) Peeta with unexpected depth. I didn’t even mind the changes (Prim giving Katniss the mockingjay pin rather than Madge, Peeta not being next to Katniss when the cannon sounded in the forest)- they felt very organic and served the more compressed movie storyline very well.

I was also very pleased that they didn’t focus too much on the Katniss/Peeta/Gale triangle- the Katniss in the book was too busy surviving to really have time for romance, and the movie does reflect that. I do wish, however, that we’d had more of Katniss’ ambiguity with regard to her feelings for Peeta in the movie. But I’m not sure how they could have done that without including some kind of internal monologue from Katniss, so.

Overall, though, I loved the film. It’s a stunning adaptation of a great book, and well worth the watch… and the read, too.

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