And the Games begin

SPOILER ALERT for the Hunger Games. Obviously. 

Whatever else people might say about the The Hunger Games, no one can deny that it is an extraordinarily addictive trilogy. Though Laura read it a year ago and Suzanne read them last week (very late to the party), we raced through them alarmingly quickly, both staying up far later than healthy to find out what happened next. I think it’s safe to say we haven’t read a book this quickly since Harry Potter was last released. We could write an entire post just reviewing the books themselves, but once again, Mark of Mark Reads basically shares all our opinions on everything. Essentially: we think that the trilogy has its flaws. We noticed these flaws throughout, and there were always certain bits we felt were missing or could have been fleshed out more. Did that prevent us from enjoying the books IMMENSELY? Not in the slightest.

 We definitely have Harry Potter to thank for preparing us all too well for this movie. If you look at our Lord of the Rings posts you will note our deep problems with, perhaps one would say resentment of, the Harry Potter film franchise. They are not good adaptations. They have constantly disappointed. But they did teach us one thing: Never go into a movie adaptation of a book you love with high expectations. And we didn’t, here. We had read a bunch of advance reviews saying it was a fabulous adaptation, but we weren’t going to believe it. We were excited, but kept telling ourselves not to get our hopes up.

 To say we were pleasantly surprised doesn’t capture the true emotion in the slightest. Like the books, they weren’t perfect adaptations. There were quibbles we had. But was it a frakking fabulous adaptation that we am looking forward to watching again and again? Hell to the motherfucking yes. We knew they had filmed most of the movie on location in North Carolina, but it’s one thing to hear about it and another thing to actually see District Twelve. Those few moments when Katniss walks through town and into the forest were beautiful. Seriously. In just a few shots, we got a sense of the immense bleakness and poverty of everything, and it was beautiful and heartbreaking all at once. Even we weren’t a huge fan of the handheld camera motion, it was just so incredible. And even though we are Team Peeta from Catching Fire until the end of time, we did still love seeing Katniss’s friendship with Gale. It gives you such a perfect sense of who she is--was--before the reaping changes everything, and you get to see her in her true home. And though we could emphasize this at any and all points of the review, we just take this moment to say HOW PERFECT JENNIFER LAWRENCE WAS FOR THIS ROLE. She...was Katniss. In every sense of the character. She was so grim, so quiet, so determined, so alone. And yet so fierce and lovable at the same time. Her silence filled volumes. And as so many reviewers have said, she made it seem like she wasn’t acting.

But really, all of the actors chosen for the characters were just perfect. Like Prim, for one. She was the definition of the kind, scared little girl she’s supposed to be, but you also get a sense of who she will grow up to be by book three. Her bits at the reaping scene were so very powerful, and we all JUST ABOUT LOST IT when she tucked her little duck tail in. The reaping on the whole definitely packed a punch, as did Katniss’ goodbyes, especially when she told her mother not to tune out again.

And then Cinna, everyone’s absolute favorite gorgeous man stylist, was of course gorgeous and just how I pictured him. But more importantly, he was the supporter and friend that Katniss never expected to find amidst the alien residents of the Capitol. Every scene with Lenny Kravitz was beautiful, and not just in looks. Haymitch, though a bit more sober than we would have liked, still conveyed that blase attitude that no one else has. Effie was wonderfully shallow as we like her, and Caesar and Claudius were also nice over-the-top figures. And then there was Seneca Crane... and his beard (which is definitely a whole different creature). It was quite interesting to step out of Katniss’ head and into the Gamemaker’s workshop, as well as Seneca’s conversations with President Snow -- it definitely gave a humanizing element to his character that we hadn’t expected to see, but sets things up quite nicely for Catching Fire. Although Donald Sutherland’s acting skills are quite up to par, his previous turn as Mr. Bennett in Pride and Prejudice made him probably the wrong choice for this role. Disturbing murdering dictator cannot overrule image of kindly if misguided father.

As for the Games themselves -- the producers did a fabulous job. They brought the audience right into the brutality and insanity and sheer desperation. From the Cornucopia to the fireballs to the tracker jackers to ordinary moments with Katniss in the woods, they made the arena feel so real, so immediate, and yet not at all contrived. Rue, of course, was adorable, and we wish she’d had more screen time and lines with Katniss. There was not a dry eye in the theater for her death. And the District 11 rebellion, though it was added for the film, was really fantastic. It was such a great release of tension, such a great conclusion to Rue’s death and Katniss’ tribute to her, such a way to make the audience FEEL just how dark and wrong this all is.

As the end game came, everyone in the theatre began freaking out, and the hands of the poor people sitting next to us likely had fallen asleep from us gripping them too hard. We come to the feast, where Clove nearly killed Katniss, and Thresh killed Clove. And half the audience applauded. And that, dear readers, was when the audience became no better than the Capitol citizens watching the show. Obviously the impulse is there. Obviously Thresh telling Katniss he did it--and that he was going to let her live--for Rue was beautiful in its own right. Obviously Clove was a terrible, vindictive person. But we forget that she is not there by choice. She might be a Career, she might, but she is a product of the world she lives in. When the audience, our audience, forgets that, starts applauding deaths in the arena, for whatever reason, you know that they've missed the point entirely.

Yet in the end, the obvious criticism of the books -- that the Capitol is using reality tv as a weapon of tyranny -- gets lost on the screen. It was alive and well at the reaping, with the silent defiance of District 12, and made a bit of a comeback in District 11’s rebellion. But the implications of the arena itself disappeared -- the implications of image. Not only is the Games a bloodbath of tyranny, it fuels the Capitol’s lust for wealth and entertainment. The Hunger Games is a circus, where Capitol citizens watch mass murder, while getting their hair done. And Suzanne Collins presses that point home, as Katniss, though not good on the interview stage, is very aware of how she presents herself in the Games themselves. And yet, very little of this idea comes across on screen. Without Katniss’ inner monologue on the acting she has to do, the days of her and Peeta cuddling in a cave are frankly rather boring. And with the cutting of the scene at the end where Katniss reveals to Peeta that her love for him was a show for the audience, moviegoers leave the theater the same way that the Capitol audience ends the Games -- believing that Katniss Everdeen really did pull out those berries because she couldn’t stand to live without Peeta Mellark. And in cutting that scene, we lose not only a large and important chunk of the story, but a huge part of Katniss herself.

So, like the books themselves, we recognize that the movie is not without its flaws. But again, this did not prevent us from LOVING IT. We may have had issues--minor and major--but that did not prevent us from deeply enjoying a really wonderful adaptation of a compelling story. We only wish that they had gone deeper into the implications of the story and the heart of Katniss herself. Regardless, we’re psyched. When does Catching Fire come out?