Directed by: Gary Ross
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence
Synopsis: Check out my review of the book for a comprehensive synopsis!
Warning!! This review will discuss the book in detail, so if you haven't read it (or don't want to read it but want to watch the film) and don't want to read any spoilers then back away from the review. You've been warned!!
Now that I've had almost a week to decompress and step back from the "HSDFHS@!! HUNGER GAMES!!!" cloud of excitement, I thought I'd take a chance to review it. As my warning suggests, I'll be discussing the film in relation to the book and all the spoiler-y goodness that happens. So I guess this is less a review, and more a discussion post...but whatever.
First off, I really liked it. I had that moment just as the last ad played when I gripped the seat and thought "crap, what if it sucks?! Maybe I should get out now..." but for the most part I was really happy with the way they adapted the book to the screen. In fact, perhaps it was the film's faithfulness that lead to the few problems I had with it. But I'll get onto that in a minute, first, the goodness!
How amazing was Jennifer Lawrence?! She was so perfect as Katniss. She was moody and cranky and closed off to people she didn't know, but completely open and on the verge of falling apart when she was dealing with someone she loved/respected. The scene with Rue (again, SPOILERS) had me paralysed with emotion, I freaking bawled like a baby. I really liked Elizabeth Banks (how hard was it to pick it as her?!) as Effie, Stanley Tucci was a great Caesar, and Wes Bentley was superb as a more fleshed out Seneca. I thought Lenny Kravitz was a weird pick for Cinna considering how crazy his clothes usually are, but amazingly he managed to pull of the calm, downplayed vibe of Cinna. Overall I guess I could say that I was really impressed with the cast. I was at a slight advantage because I read the books after all of the massive publicity for these films, so I always imagined the characters looking a lot like the actors cast in it, but I still think they worked well to create a cohesive cast that I believed. The only exception would be the guys playing Gale and Peeta. The opening scene between Katniss and Gale was perhaps the most forced conversation in the entire film, and while I think Josh Hutcherson was a decent enough actor (he needs to stop expressing his emotions through an open mouth though) I'm not convinced of him as Peeta...yet. I'll wait until the sequel before I make a final decision about that.
The art direction and costuming was amazing. They truly brought to life the world created by Suzanne Collins, and it was a pleasure to see all the elements I'd read presented so beautifully and accurately. However, while I thought the Capitol costumes were gorgeous, and true to the book, I found them a little too much. This was what I was hinting at above, according to the details in the book the choices in the film were understandable, but in a book you're able to prescribe exactly how crazy it'll be. To me they had all the sugary superficiality of the costumes in the film, but with a much darker undertone. So in my mind, while there was a clear separation between the Capitol and the outer districts, there was a connecting slither of something that made it work. In the film I just felt like the two worlds were too disjointed, and too disconnected. Which lead to the Capitol costumes appearing almost cartoonish, and not in a great way.
While I'm complaining, I'll bring up my other complaint. Though the film was incredibly close to the book, some of the areas they trimmed, especially the pre-games story, meant that the film was lacking the substance that the books had in spades. For instance, the Mockingjay pin has none of the rebellion connotations, so that scene with President Snow at the end just seems weird. And why did Cinna hide in on her jacket? It's just a pin from her sister. Similarly, the emotional tug-a-war with Peeta lost its complexity without Haymitch sending her little hints that she should be pushing the relationship angle. Also, what with her not nearly dying of dehydration? They kept in the line about how 20% of them would die from exposure and hunger/thirst yet never explored that path, leaving the thread open and messy. There were a few other little things like this that, while not a huge deal, may come back to bite them in the ass in the next two (or three if they split the last book) movies because they won't have the foundation they needed. I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, but I've heard from a few people who haven't read the book that they really missed the crux of the story because of these missing elements, and things like the district 11 rebellion scene just seemed out of place because of it.
But my complaints really are minor. It's just like I always came out of the Harry Potter films complaining but inevitably came to love and adore the films in their own right. In all honesty, the film really managed to hit high in every area, acting, costumes, sets, CGI (except those damn dogs), scripting, and I enjoyed the few additions they made, such as the crossbacks to Caesar during the games and the inside look in the game-maker's room (although I could have done without the Seneca and Snow scenes).
It was great to see a YA book handled with some respect, and not melodrama-ed and cartooned up (with my exceptions above). It seems that Suzanne Collins had a real hand in the production of her story, and with her television background I'm fairly positive that the areas I've complained about have been handled by her and she knows what she's doing. At least that's my hope. I'm interested in seeing how they actualise the next two books, and with the success of this first cast I can't wait to see who they choose to play all the additional characters coming in Catching Fire!