Review: Three Opinions on ‘The Hunger Games’

by | March 20, 2012 at 4:18 PM | In Theaters, Movies, Reviews

Elizabeth Banks and Jennifer Lawrence in 'The Hunger Games' (All Photos: Lionsgate)

Welcome, welcome! After months of anticipation, “The Hunger Games” is finally upon us.

Based on the bestselling young adult novel by Suzanne Collins, “The Hunger Games” is the story of a young girl named Katniss Everdeen (played by Jennifer Lawrence), who is forced into an organized fight to the death with 23 other teens selected from 12 impoverished state-like Districts within the dystopian country of Panem. These 24 competitors, known as Tributes, compete for the entertainment of the glamorous Capitol, which uses the games to remind the Districts of its power.

“The Hunger Games” is wildly popular, with the craze over the books compared to that of “Twilight” and “Harry Potter.” In fact, presale ticket sales on Fandango shattered the previous record held by “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse.” The burning question is: Will the movie live up to the hype?

After catching a press screening of the film on Monday, XFINITY editors Laura Hibbs, Stephanie Heverly and David Onda – three “Hunger Games” fans who have read the books – have the answer. And it just might surprise you. Check out each of their reviews below (warning: may contain spoilers).

 

By Laura Hibbs

“The Hunger Games,” with its harrowing tales of starvation, pseudo-slavery and cold-blooded murder for the sake of entertainment, had “blockbuster” written all over it from the very start.

The Gary Ross-directed adaptation aims high and nearly hits the bullseye. The film pays a great tribute to author Suzanne Collins’ excruciating attention to detail in the futuristic, “1984”-esque series.

Elizabeth Banks’ bizarre Effie Trinket – straight out of the Capitol with her bright purple hair and matching makeup – paired up with Woody Harrelson’s unkempt, drunken Haymitch Abernathy, a former Hunger Games winner from District 12, showcases the stark differences between the wealthy and the poor.

The rest of the cast does the story justice as well. Donald Sutherland’s slithering President Snow exudes power and wealth while Stanley Tucci’s goofy, blue-haired Caesar Flickerman provides the movie audience with the viewpoint of the carefree citizens of the Capitol, all while filling in the blanks for non-readers.

But it is Jennifer Lawrence’s brooding Katniss Everdeen who steals the show. Strong, smart and savvy, Lawrence creates a relatable female lead that puts some of her co-stars’ performances to shame. Sorry, Josh Hutcherson – Peeta’s “lover boy” act just didn’t work for me.

Lawrence brings a softness to Everdeen that other actresses may not have been able to derive from the aloof character. Katniss’ devotion to her sister, as well as an unexpected friendship with young Rue during the Games, allows the audience to connect with the character and forget that she is just another Tribute running for her life.

The movie doesn’t breeze over the horrific aspects of the book, nor does it ignore the eerie parallels between Panem and today’s world.

Gloomy shots of District 12, where bare streets and empty plates are the norm, consume the movie’s opening minutes, while opulence and excess loom just a short train ride away in the Capitol. It isn’t a far cry from the recent pleas of the Occupy movement, angry and upset over the wealth of few.

The uprising in District 11, one of the few times the film strays from Collins’ storyline, mirrors too closely the violent riots currently taking place all over our world. The people are unhappy and tired of being quiet. A revolution is coming.

I won’t say the film is perfect. It’s not. Lovers of the book will find fault with several missed plot points. Non-readers may be confused by relationships that aren’t fully explained. But it stays true to the message of the series, and certainly deserves the overwhelming hype surrounding this weekend’s premiere.

May the odds be ever in your favor!

Letter Grade: A-

 

By Stephanie Heverly

Despite all the hype and comparisons, I am happy to say “The Hunger Games” is nothing like “Twilight.” It’s about everyday survival in a harsh and cruel world, not a story about finding love and making it through high school without becoming a vampire.

Collins’ dark and futuristic world of Katniss Everdeen was portrayed so well from the beginning of the movie.  You see her skills as a hunter and her love for her sister Primrose right from the start. I have to admit, I was not a fan of Lawrence being cast as Katniss, but she knocked the ball out of the park.  Even thought she didn’t look exactly like the girl I pictured, she embodied Katniss’ spirit to survive and the love she had for those around her. After the first couple scenes, Jennifer had me hooked.

As for the other characters, my favorite was Effie. She was just as beautifully strange and perfectly awful as I’d imagined her. I have only one complaint about the leading men, Peeta and Gale: I wish I could have seen more of them. Rue, Cato, and the other competitors looked and acted just like their counterparts in the book. The only characters I was not thrilled with were Haymitch and Cinna. Haymitch was not disgusting enough for me and he sobered up way too quickly for my liking. Cinna just didn’t come off as kind, intelligent and strong enough, but maybe he would have with extra scenes or dialogue.

Another point worth addressing is the scenes and characters that didn’t make the film. Like any novel-to-film adaptation, “Hunger Games” could not possibly cover every word on every page in a two-hour span. I think the director and writer did a great job of choosing what to cut out. You still saw everything you needed to see and felt everything Collins wrote in the book. I wish more of the emotion from the book had made it to the screen, but I understand the limitations.

As for the scenes that didn’t appear in the book, but were created just for the movie, I was completely surprised. This is the first movie I have ever seen where I actually love the additional scenes. You got to meet President Snow and watch a behind-the-scenes look at how Seneca Crane (played by Wes Bentley) and the Gamemakers really operate. That was something Katniss could only speculate about in the book, but the movie could actually explore.

I am a huge fan of the “Hunger Games” books, and I have to admit the movie turned out way better than I thought it would. It is a must-see on my movie list.

Letter Grade: B+

 

By David Onda

I want to say I loved “The Hunger Games.” I just can’t.

That’s not to say that it wasn’t good (it was) or that it had a single fatal flaw (it didn’t). I’m willing to admit that, no matter how the movie turned out, I wasn’t going to be completely satisfied.

Here’s what I liked about the film. The casting, with some exceptions (see below), is spot on. Lawrence is a beautiful Katniss, Hutcherson (despite being a tiny man) is already a heartbreaking Peeta, Liam Hemsworth is accurately strong and playful as Gale and Harrelson, despite my initial gripes, is an acceptable (but, perhaps, too sober) Haymitch. The stand-outs, however, are  Banks as the cotton-candy-haired Effie – an absolutely brilliant choice – and Tucci as Capital mouthpiece Caeser Flickerman.

As Stephanie said above, one of the most impressive aspects of the film is, surprisingly enough, the scenes that were created specifically for the movie. Because the book is written from Katniss’ point of view, the reader never gets a glimpse of moments outside her consciousness. In the movie, the audience is treated to scenes detailing the complicated relationship between President Snow (Sutherland) and Head Gamemaker Seneca Crane (Bentley), as well as the inner workings and creation of the Hunger Games itself.

Rounding out the positives, “Hunger Games” gets most of the big moments right, including the Reaping, Rue’s “last stand” and District 12’s chariot entrance prior to the games. If you love this book, you will get chills and you will get teary-eyed.

Unfortunately, this movie doesn’t get all of the big moments right. Whether it was an purely aesthetic choice by Gary Ross or an attempt to minimize the teen-on-teen violence, two of “Games’” biggest fight scenes – the bookending Cornucopia battles – are shot almost entirely in close-up. Both scenes feature hand-held shaky camera footage with quick cuts and pans that not only make it impossible to focus on the action, but will make anyone with the slightest motion sickness nauseous. I would have given anything for a wide shot of the Tributes fighting.

Lenny Kravitz is an absolute miscast as Cinna and, what’s worse, the movie fails to capture the very important relationship between he and Katniss. In fact, the film fails to satisfy many of the character relationships, most notably that between Katniss and her Games mate Peeta. Where the book toyed with the idea that both Katniss and Peeta were acting “in love” to gain public approval, the movie doesn’t create much ambiguity, instead playing the blossoming romance straight.

I have few quarrels with the moments, characters and subplots the filmmakers chose to cut out of the film adaptation. They did the best they could to cram a faithful movie into 2 hours and 22 minutes. But at the end of the day, 2 hours and 22 minutes just wasn’t enough to satisfy my, er, hunger. The Games, which play out over two weeks in the book, are resolved in what feels like a couple of days in the film – hardly enough time to truly appreciate the suffering Katniss and Peeta endure and, therefore, connect with the characters.

The good news is, “The Hunger Games” lays a solid foundation for the last two adaptations in the series by giving the audience a glimpse at President Snow’s paranoia, as well as the unrest created by Katniss’ brash actions in the game. The franchise will mature and learn from its mistakes, just as “Twilight” and “Harry Potter” did.

If the sequels can overcome the restraints of PG-13 ratings, develop richer relationships between characters and cut this close-up shaky cam nonsense, I have still have high hopes for the next films.

Letter Grade: C

 

“The Hunger Games” opens nationwide Friday, March 23. Click here to purchase tickets through Fandango.

 

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.