I am not promising that this post will flow as a coherent narrative, and it will contain spoilers.
Firstly, I will say this. While no book-to-film movie is ever going to be perfect, this one did a better job than anything I've ever seen. Whether it was the involvement of the author in the creation process, the fact that the lead character was played by a very passionate fan of the source material, or that the film creators/people at Lionsgate - themselves just really put in the dedication to make it faithful and true because they thought the message of the book was important enough to deserve that... I don't know. Maybe all three. But they did a great job and I think what they made showed a lot of bravery and took a lot of risks.. They told the story as it is, at the risk of alienating new audiences with the harsh and political subject matter. But their gamble worked as The Hunger Games had the third-biggest opening weekend of all time - the first not to be a sequel film, and the first to be both based on a story by a female writer and about a female protagonist. So... Yaaaay, Lionsgate! Yaaaaay Collins! Yaaaaay Jennifer Lawrence! Honestly I think Lionsgate had a lot to do with it. They're an independant studio who put out generally weird, arty, risky, thought provoking movies and who have never touched on a franchise this huge. It feels like they approached making this movie the way they'd make something arthouse, that may not get any viewers, like they weren't working with a huge phenomenon, like the whole entertainment world wasn't desperately waiting to judge them. It just felt like they read the book, said "this is an important story, let's do it as well as it deserves." I believe even director Gary Ross said something recently like "I really didn't expect it to do as well as it did." I think this is a good attitude to have when making some sort of art. Just do it because you believe in it. Even the marketing campaign surrounding the release and the products sold... none of them were tacky or money-grabbing, everything that was produced was really beautiful and stuff that fans would really appreciate... no "Team Peeta" phone charms and keychains and bracelets clogging up impulse-buy counters in every bookstore.
Anyway, the film.
- It looked and felt great. I could never quite get a handle on the mix between the advanced technology and poverty in the districts in the book. Every time they were in 12 and mentioned TV or phones I would get confused because the lifestyle they had... I just couldn't get it to work in my head. I'm not very good at dystopian society. But the film showed it better, it didn't feel unnatural and I liked that.
- That being said, I didn't understand some of the technology - mostly the tech of the Games itself. The room with the Games map and how they sent things into the Games really confused me... Was it like, what they did to the model automatically happened in real life? Like a voodoo doll? But they don't have magic... I understand that they can build the arena, wire everything up and program it from afar, but does that mean the trees aren't real trees? The thing that mostly confused me was the inserting of the Mutts, but I am going to have to assume that someone physically created them, the image was in the map, and when the Game programmer inserted the image onto the map, somewhere, someone else inserted the physical real Mutt. Because I kind of felt like she inserted it into the map and it magically appeared there? Like that she cast a spell or something or even a hologram, when it was obviously all real. So I'd like some explanation of that technology.
- They changed or left out things, but unlike many other films, it wasn't enough to really matter. The way Katniss got the Mockingjay pin, for example, yes, we lost the whole character of Madge but the way she found it both introduced us to The Hob and left it open that we could find out later where it came from originally - we may yet get that connection to Haymitch's partner. Seneca's execution was much less violent than in the books, but even more twisted and fucked up. Things were changed, and yes, violent was cut out, but the end result is bringing the same overall message to the screen by making parts more watchable. They changed or shortened what they had to in order to tell the story with the same values - and not a lot of films do that. They cut things for time, or because they don't realise it's going to be important later on (hmmm, Potter) or simply because they have new ideas they think are better/funnier/more dramatic than the original content. The Hunger Games doesn't do that. It doesn't add in anything new. It paints the picture of the Panem world. It changes or shortens bits and pieces in order to show more of that world, and it leaves enough room to come back to them to broaden the story later - it drops references to the tesserae, District 13, Katniss' mother's mental illness. It does such a good job of SHOWING rather than TELLING - and with a book that's so much internal monologue, that's hard. They don't TELL us that Katniss cares for Rue because of Prim. They don't TELL us that Snow is a creepy-ass twisted man. They don't TELL us that Gale has feelings for Katniss. They don't TELL us that Haymitch hates the Capitol and hates schmoozing to sponsors and does it anyway because he believes in Katniss. They don't TELL us that Caesar is a sincere man who really cares about all the Tributes and does his best to show them off and get them support. They don't TELL us that Cinna is not your average Capitol stylist. So many movies just make characters comment with these things, explaining them just in case someone missed it. The Hunger Games does not do this. It trusts the audience and it does not set out to appeal to the lowest common denominator of humans. So many movies who try to make money do this - they play to the lowest common denominator just to make sure EVERYONE understands and I hate that because it makes it apparent that the creators think the audience is stupid.
So onto some character stuff:
- Katniss: was fine. Jennifer never would have been my first choice for Katniss based on her looks and her warmth, but I knew she would do a good job because she's such a huge fan and she cares about the character. I knew I was going to like her from the first time I heard her speak about it, that when she was being considered for the role she kept going up to the director at events being like "um even if you don't cast me, you have to make sure this bit is like this, promise me? that's really important in the book". I support her and I'm glad she's getting to do this.
- Peeta: I was very, very anti Josh as Peeta before the film. Partially because of his bad dye job and the fact his face looks like it's made up of bits of other people's faces which don't fit together very well, but mostly because of the way he speaks, his voice, and the acting I've seen him do before. I didn't think he'd do well. I thought his Peeta would come across as too innocent and naive and not crafty enough. I didn't trust that he'd deliver a lot of the lines in a way that I'd buy, based on his delivery in the trailer. I was wrong. He was actually really good. They did change a major thing that I was worried about - you can't do a lot about someone's speaking tone and I just was not going to be able to buy him talking the way Peeta talks to Katniss in the Games, when he calls her sweetheart. Very few 16 year old boys can pull that off and sound smooth and natural and gorgeous and when I was fantasy-casting Hunger Games, this was a major factor as to how I'd cast Peeta - someone who could talk that way, because it's one of my favorite things as it reminds me of how all the lovely sassy men in Tamora Pierce novels talk. Josh... can't. But they eliminated that problem by just not having him use those phrases, which was a bit of a bummer, especially the loss of my favorite line, 'You here to kill me, sweetheart?' but he did the rest so well that at the end of the day I'm kind of okay with it. He made up for it in his interview with Cesar which was literally perfection in film form. That confidence and natural onstage ability and that flirting was exactly the way Katniss describes in the books - (and again, they SHOW us this aspect of Peeta without having someone commentate it) and his crafty, pretending to be naive, playing up to the crowds thing really worked as well, when they had him waving from the train window.
- The one thing that I'm not sure was made all that clear to a casual viewer was Peeta and Katniss' relationship. I am not sure if people thought Katniss really fell for Peeta when she realised she could let him live... or if Peeta was ever sincere about his feelings when he revealed them in the interview... it was sort of made clear at the end when she looks uncertain and resigned about having to keep up the pretense, but they did change the ending - in the book she was MUCH more quick to draw her weapon and expect Peeta to draw his when it was announced that the two-can-live rule was revoked. The film basically made it a bit more confusing as to who was actually feeling what... but I am assuming a lot of Catching Fire will be about that. Oh, and it was a little thing and an unnecessary thing, so I understand why they cut it, but I missed Katniss drugging Peeta because I think it says a lot about her and about Haymitch.
- Haymitch, Effie and Cinna were all perfect and the scenes showing their dynamic when dealing with the kids in the lead-up to the Games were probably my favorite scenes in the film. They were all just incredible and I can't wait to see it again, just for that. I can't wait to see more of Haymitch in the next film, and seeing Elizabeth as Effie facing up to the rebellion while trying to keep her ideas of the world in place... and seeing what happens to Cinna is going to destroy me. They were all magical. I wish I could say more but they were just too good. I want a spin-off of like, their lives while the kids were in the Games. I also really loved the way they did Effie at the Reaping, like her false positivity - it told a big story.
- I also loved Wes Bentley as Seneca Crane. He had a great energy about him... I don't know how I pictured Seneca in the books, but it wasn't like that. But yes - loved his vibe, he was enthusiastic but somehow without being bloodthirsty or creepy or too caught up in it? He was a bit mad scientist. He was enigmatic. I didn't see him as a villain. I don't know what I saw him as, but I felt bad for him.
- Another person I loved was Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman. As I mentioned, I felt like he really came across as sincere, slightly troubled, and supportive of all the Tributes. I was surprised to read that Tucci thought the character was false and creepy because I did not take that from him at all. I loved him and I loved the way he talked to the kids. The books never paint him as a villain and I really hope Tucci's ideas don't mean that they make him creepier in the next films. I was so fond of him in this one.
- Amandla Stenberg as Rue was perfect and I don't even want to get into the mass stupidity surrounding that subject right now. But anyway... she was just so natural and funny and, yes, while an innocent, so are all the Tributes, and she wasn't a doe-eyed little angel. I loved her and Thresh, and what we saw of District 11. The Victor's Tour to 11 will be hard to watch in the next film, I think.
- Gale was fine and we'll see more of him soon. I'm glad they didn't hardcore love-triangle it.
Bits I cried at:
- Both times they did the three fingered salute - at the Reaping and when Katniss did it to the cameras after she looked after Rue's body.
- Weirdly and unexpectedly, when Katniss became the Girl on Fire. Something about that parade scene and her reaction to it. It moved me, man. I don't know.
Irrelevant side note - Can I have Katniss's Capitol clothes? Not her dresses... I just want her cool loungy pants and tops that she wore in all the apartment scenes. Also Peeta's knitted hoodie jumper thing. They look so awesome and comfy.
That seems a bit of an irreverent moment to end this post, but I can't really think of what else to say. I am excited for the next movie and I want it NOW and I want Jonathan Groff to play Finnick and Naya Rivera to play Johanna. And I think if they do want to split one of the next two films, it should be Catching Fire, not Mockingjay, and they should do the tour as one film and the 75th Games as another. Mockingjay is too much of a short and hectic time period to be split, it won't make sense. But I do trust the creators and the studio to do a good job with the next films and so I really hope they don't let us down.