Warning: Major Spoilers for the Hunger Games book trilogy and the first movie

I first read The Hunger Games about a year ago today, downloading the book onto my Nook after hearing from several sources how this was the next up-and-coming story for our generation. What started as piqued curiosity quickly turned into a debilitating addiction as I found myself unable to do anything but get through the series as fast as possible. I’m ashamed to say that homework, housework and class lectures didn’t quite get the attention they deserved in the three days it took me to finish the trilogy, but in my defense, how am I supposed to focus on the portrayal of women in advertising when Katniss has just been declared the rallying point of the Districts’ Rebellion?

For those who don’t know, The Hunger Games (specifically the first novel in the series), is about a 16 year-old girl named Katniss Everdeen, who is struggling to support her family after her father died in a mining accident. She lives in District 12, one of the 12 remaining subdivisions of the nation of Panem, which is basically future North America. In retaliation for the failed rebellion of the 13 districts (the last of which was destroyed) against the Capitol of Panem, the evil Capitol has decreed that every year, one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 from each district will be “reaped” as “tributes”, and sent to the Capitol to fight to the death in a spectacle called “The Hunger Games”. The sole winner of these games will be crowned victor, and their family and district, almost all of which are kept in extreme poverty, will be rewarded with enough food to last them throughout the next year. When Katniss’s 12 year-old sister, Prim, is reaped,  Katniss volunteers to take her place in the Games, and her fight for survival takes on a whole new meaning.

My reaction when I first heard they were turning the books into movies was a mixed one; sure, I was excited that the best book series I had read since Harry Potter was getting its shot at the silver screen, but the series, with its female protagonist and “love triangle” was getting compared more closely to Twilight than Harry Potter, and that was a path I couldn’t bear for the movie to take. The love triangle in The Hunger Games was always extraneous to the greater concerns of oppression, class conflict, and the need to keep one’s identity in a world rapidly going to hell. Also, Katniss is probably the most badass teenage heroine in recent literature, and is definitely no Bella Swan. To throw that all away just to cash in on the Twilight phenomena would have been a tragic misrepresentation of the books, which were much more like Harry Potter in their willingness to address complex moral issues. I was also worried that the movies were going to go the flopped route of Eragon and Percy Jackson and the Olympians, rather than be successful at the box office.
Now that I have seen the movie, and have heard the projected opening weekend numbers, I can safely say that both of those fears will go unrealized. This is projected to be one of the most financially successful movies of the year, definitely beating many of the Twilight films in revenue intake.

But more importantly, in my opinion, this movie captured the heart of the books, and translated that message to the screen in such a way that this might be the most faithful book-to-movie adaptation I’ve seen outside of BBC. Not only was most of the movie spot on with the book anyway, but the few major changes they made only added to the narrative and enriched the universe beyond the limits of the book.

With that in mind, I would like to do a review of exactly what I liked, didn’t like, and hated about the movie The Hunger Games.

The Ugly:
Actually, nothing. So moving on.

The Bad:
– The shaky-cam. I can understand the reasons why the director would have chosen to use shaky-cam, but that doesn’t make it any easier of a style to watch.

-The fact that none of the tributes were given last names besides Peeta Mellark and Katniss Everdeen. It took me out of the movie, and reminded me that the film was based on a book that didn’t give last names to most of its supporting characters. They should have either made up last names for the few tributes that got first names anyway (the author was a consultant for this movie, surely she could have whipped something up?), or just referred to Katniss and Peeta as “Katniss” and “Peeta”.

The Good:
Pretty much everything, to be honest. The costumes, sets, casting, and writing were all spot-on, in my opinion, so I’m just going to address some of the more specific things that really stood out in my memory. It’s going to be hard to remember everything that I liked about the film, but I’ll try to cover as much as possible (in no particular order, of course).

– The scene when Katniss says goodbye to Cinna, right before heading into the bloodbath of the Games. You could tell Katniss was trying to be strong for her friend, but her voice was cracking and her body was trembling from the fear of knowing she could be dead in ten minutes. The trembling was subtle enough that it took me a minute to realize that it was even happening, but that subtlety made that scene even more powerful for me.

– Peeta’s inability to realize that Katniss just might have been playing him for the sympathy of the Game’s audience. I know this might seem a little unrealistic, given the fact that the whole District 12 team discussed them playing up the “star-crossed lovers” angle for support from Sponsors, but the look on his face when he realizes Katniss might actually be returning the feelings he’s had for her for years is one of the more tragic examples of dramatic irony I’ve seen in a while. Also, if we must have teams, I’m firmly Team Peeta, and Josh Hutcherson didn’t make me regret that for a second.

– The fact that Katniss wasn’t a perfect shot, especially under stress. I realize that having Katniss’s archery skills fail her at first in a life-or-death situation just adds to the tension of the scene, but I think it would have been unrealistic for a teenage girl, who is hungry, tired, stressed, and scared for her life be able to hit a bag of apples from hundreds of yards away on the first try.

-Rue’s death scene, and the riots in her home district that followed. I swore to myself that I wouldn’t cry at this part, mostly because I knew it was going to happen, and so the emotional punch of surprise just wouldn’t be there. Yeah, Gary Ross saw me coming a mile away. I think what made this scene so powerful to me was Katniss’s reaction to her friend’s death (this seems to be a cathartic moment in which Katniss is grieving not only for the lost innocence of this young girl, but for the sheer pointlessness and waste of the entire Hunger Games), but also juxtaposition of her death with the riots in District 11. This sequence was, in my mind, the best embodiment of the spirit of the books, capturing the utter hopelessness of the subdued districts forced to send their children to their deaths.

-The fact that, while we as the audience are clearly on Katniss’s side in this struggle, we are also never quite allowed to forget that her victory means that 23 other children are going to have to die. Cato, the one other tribute who is cast most as the “antagonist”, is even given a sympathetic speech before he dies, in which he explains that all he ever wanted to do was bring honor to his home district. You realize that, while you’ve been rooting against him for the entire movie, he’s as much of a victim as any of the other tributes.

-Seneca Crane’s death. Oh. my. Lanta. So perfect.

So, basically, I fell head over heels for this movie. It embodied everything I loved about the book, and the changes did nothing but enrich the Panem universe. I’ve been waiting for this movie to come out for about a year now, and I think that wait paid off beautifully. I cannot wait for the next movie to come out (actually, I really just can’t wait until they cast Finnick :D), and I have every confidence that the rest of the film series is going to be as good as this first movie.

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