Review: The Hunger Games

Last night I went with a group to see the movie adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ YA bestseller, The Hunger Games.  Our group consisted of seven teenagers, all of whom had read at least the first book in the Hunger Games trilogy; two middle-aged guys, one of whom had read all three books (yes, that’s me), and one of whom had not read any of them; and an older woman (the grandmother of two of the teens), who had read all three books.

The verdict?  All of the teens loved it.  Both middle-aged guys loved it.  Grandma liked it, but found it a bit too fast-paced at times.  So that’s nine “loves” and one “like” out of a total of ten; hardly scientific, but still that’s not a bad result at all.

So, why did I love it?  Well, let me start by saying that I have seen every Harry Potter movie, I saw the Percy Jackson movie, I saw the Lord of the Rings movies, and I have seen a host of other movie versions of science fiction and fantasy books.  With the possible exception of Blade Runner, this is the best adaptation of a sf or fantasy novel I have ever seen.  It was true to the book without being constrained by it.  Director Gary Ross did a terrific job of sticking to the text when he could, but adding elements that actually enhanced the storyline and made accessible to viewers elements of the narrative that would have been impossible to convey had he followed the book more closely.  (The books are all written from the first person point of view of Katniss Everdeen, the lead character.  It works in the book, but would have created problems for a movie director.  Ross dealt with this brilliantly.) As a result, unlike the Harry Potter movies, especially the later ones, which were almost impenetrable to those who were not familiar with the novels, The Hunger Games was easy to follow, even for my friend who had not read the book.

But more than this, the movie worked terrifically well on its own terms.  It was visually stunning.  In one scene, when Katniss is hallucinating after having been stung by genetically modified wasps, the cinematography is both jarring and compelling, deftly conveying the character’s sense of disorientation while still providing the viewer with narrative clues that keep the plotting clear.  The pacing of the story never flags, but also never feels rushed.  And the action scenes had me squirming in my seat, even though I knew exactly how things would work out.  Even the acting, so often the downfall in these sorts of adaptations, did not disappoint.  Jennifer Lawrence, as Katniss, was effectively understated in the role — strong, but vulnerable, sympathetic but with a prickly side, beautiful but not so much so as to be unbelievable.  Woody Harrelson as Haymitch, gives one of his best performances in years.  Donald Sutherland as President Snow looks benign, but oozes evil.  Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman is delightfully campy.  And Amandla Stenberg as Rue is a revelation — a superstar in the making.

I’m sure that critics will find some faults with the movie.  The opening sequences, set in Katniss’s impoverished home district, were filmed with a hand-held camera, no doubt in hopes of giving the scenes more verisimilitude.  I found the effect distracting, as did others in our group.  And I’m also sure that fans of the books will note certain omissions that might have made the movie even better.  The genetically-engineered dogs that appear at the end of the Games are not quite as horrifying as they were in the book, for reasons that I won’t divulge so as not to spoil the book’s ending.

But in my opinion these are minor quibbles.  This is a very, very good movie.  How good?  Again, this is just my opinion.  But if Thieftaker is ever made into a movie, this is the crew — director, cinematographer, etc. — that I want working on the film.

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