How does one explain the feeling of finally sitting in a theater just minutes away from seeing a movie you’ve been waiting years for? Well, here goes nothing…
BEWARE! SPOILERS AHEAD
I went into the showing having read virtually every review (the vast majority positive) and, in spite of myself, my expectations had risen sky high. Midnight showings of hotly anticipated films with passionate fanbases are always fun (this being my eighth I know a thing or two ). They cheer and laugh at all the right moments and its comforting knowing that everyone in the room loves and appreciates the story. As the previews ended and the lights dimmed in my IMAX cinema I braced myself for inevitable disappointment. An expectant hush fell upon the audience, the title sequence popped up, and the movie began.
Fast forward two and a half hours, I walked out of the theater with a feeling of immense satisfaction. This movie was a near perfect adaptation of Suzanna Collins’ words. It was loyal to the fans as well as providing much needed context for newer viewers.
What I Loved:
- Jennifer Freakin’ Lawrence: I can now put to rest every single fear I had of her taking on the lead role. She was truly brilliant as the bitter and rough Katniss Everdeen. She carried the film will poignancy and strength, and despite her character’s overall coldness, I felt every emotion shown on her face. The scene that best exemplifies Jennifer’s chops is the one right before Katniss is sent into the arena. She waits in the holding pen below with her stylist Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) and she is literally shaking. Her face and her body trembles with fear and, as a viewer, the anticipation become unbearable as the countdown begins. In that moment I believe everyone in the theater felt like they themselves were about to enter The Hunger Games. Bravo!
- The Score: It was haunting and creepy but perhaps its greatest moments were when the sound cut off entirely. As soon as the countdown to the beginning of the Games ends, the sound disappears entirely and the rest of the initial battle sequence was shown in near silence. It was a risky choice that paid off considerably. It really makes that sequence memorable and even iconic.
- The Various Tribute Deaths: I was anxious that a PG-13 rating would drastically alter the death scenes of the 22 tributes. Collins did not hold back the brutality in her writing, so I hoped that Ross would do the same in his directing. I must say I was pleasantly surprised in the accurateness of the deaths. Glimmer’s body was gruesomely disfigured by the trackerjacker stings, the sound of Clove’s head being crushed and then her lifeless eyes was on point, the spear to Rue’s chest was heartbreaking in its swiftness, Foxface’s subtle death was exactly how its written in the novel, and Cato’s death was surprisingly heartbreaking and tragic considering his too late revelation and the fact that in the end, Katniss kills him out of pity to end his suffering at the hands of the mutts. To me and the many viewers, seeing children die was harder to watch on screen than it was to read, and that’s why Ross did not have to use gratuitous blood or gore to get the horror across. Well done.
- The Reaping Scene: I was expecting to get emotional at certain parts of the movie (Rue’s Death, The Cave Scenes, etc.) but I was shocked to find myself in tears at the very beginning of the movie, specifically the scene where Katniss volunteers for her younger sister Primrose. I’m gonna chalk it up to a brilliant performance by Willow Shields (Prim) and the fact that I have a younger sister who is the exact age of the character and I found myself relating to it in a way I didn’t while reading the book. The way that Gary Ross just lingers on Prim’s terrified face was enough to start the waterworks but then Katniss’ realization after she volunteers, the desperate screams of Prim as the Peacekeepers bring Katniss to the stage, the equally terrible reaction of Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) mixed the reaction of District 12 (their refusal to applaud) had me reaching for the tissues. The entire sequence was perfectly shot.
- Josh Freakin’ Hutcherson: My favorite character in the entire series is Peeta. I love his odd combination of sharp sarcasm and eternal optimism coupled with his unending devotion to Katniss. He bakes, he paints, and has loved the same girl since he was eight. I mean c’mon he’s like the perfect guy. When Josh Hutcherson was cast as the burly and blonde Peeta, I was a tad bewildered and just a tiny bit worried (okay a lot worried). I ultimately had trust in the decision but nonetheless went in the movie slightly skeptical. Within minutes of Peeta’s first appearance all my fears were calmed. I knew immediately why Ross cast him and Josh just kept proving himself scene after scene. The scene on the rooftop the night before The Hunger Games was a standout as was every single moment in the cave. An unexpected highlight for me was, just before Katniss and Peeta decide to commit suicide, Peeta lightly touches Katniss’ braid. It was such a tender moment and Josh’s face broke my heart. I know this is venturing into fangirl territory but indulge me in one more comment, he was super cute as a blonde and I think he should just dye it permanently
- The Supporting Cast: Effie Trinket was hilarious (That is MAHOGANY!) thanks in large part to Elizabeth Banks and the costume department. Haymitch was a funny drunk but a better mentor and Woody Harrelson brought to life both sides with unexpected panache. Lenny Cravitz’s Cinna did just enough as the loving stylist and I didn’t really take issue with any of his scenes. All the kids were great especially the previously mentioned Willow Shields as Prim and Amandla Stenberg as Rue. Stanly Tucci as Cesear Flickerman, let’s be real, he’s always brilliant so it wasn’t much of a surprise he completely nails yet another role. Donald Sutherland was creepy and menacing as the creepy and menacing President Snow and Liam Hemsworth did everything he needed to do as the token best friend / something more? His role is expanded in the next installment and I think he’ll do fine. Alexander Ludwig was great eye candy as the ruthless Cato (when he snapped the boys neck there were definite gasps throughout the theater) and Isabelle Furhman showed off her crazy side as the wild-eyed, knife wielding Clove.
What I Didn’t Love
- The Pacing: My biggest complaint by far was the sporadic pacing in the movie. Even though the movie clocks in at about 2.5 hours, certain parts felt extremely rushed. I believe that too much time was spent in the Capitol, it was great to see that world realized (and it was awesome) but I think that the arena is the most important part of the story and Ross should have devoted more time to it. For example, in the novels, Katniss spends an extended amount of time with Rue before her tragic death. This is meant to make readers care about her character so that when she is brutally killed, it is that much more heartbreaking. Although the scene was sad in the movie, I felt like I had known Rue for all of 5 minutes before her death. What turns out to be days in the novel is just hours in the movie, I felt like if I had never read the books, my attachment to Rue would be minimal. Also, one of my favorite segments of the book is the time Katniss spends healing Peeta in the cave. This happens over a period of about a week. In that time, Katniss and Peeta really get to know each other a build a solid relationship. The movie takes this time and chops it down to just two days. Many of my favorite moments were cut out and the bond formed between the two tributes seems incredibly rushed. The entire ending sequence starting with Katniss and Peeta winning to the closing credits went by in a flash. We missed perhaps my favorite scene which is when the two are brought into the hovercraft and then separated. At this point, Katniss starts going crazy; banging on the glass and yelling out her partners name. This is part of the bigger problem regarding the ambiguity of the relationship between Peeta and Katniss. In the books, as the victors are headed back home, Katniss makes is painfully clear to Peeta that their relationship was just for show and that she has no real feelings for him. This, in turn, crushes Peeta, showing that for him, everything was real. The movie really left it open for interpretation whether Katniss really loves Peeta or not. I’m sure this question will be addressed at the the beginning of Catching Fire but I would have loved to have seen it here.
- Certain CGI Elements: All I’m gonna say is that when Peeta and Katniss emerged during the parade, the theater burst out laughing. Bigger budget for Catching Fire please.
- Too Easy: In the books, Katniss struggles tremendously at the beginning of the Games. She almost dies of dehydration in her epic quest to find water. This was completely glossed over in the movie (my guess for time) but I think that it was nonetheless important to show that Katniss isn’t an expert at everything. It would have been nice to see her as the scared 16 year old instead of the bad-ass heroine all the time. The Hunger Games are supposed to be hard, and sometimes it just looked too easy.
Having said all that, my excitement level for Catching Fire is off the charts. Now that The Hunger Games had the third best opening weekend ever, multiple sequels are guaranteed. Since the second installment was my favorite of the three, I do have high hopes for the film, but knowing how well Lionsgate did with the first one makes me all the more excited for number two. Bring it on!