Movie Review: The Hunger Games

katniss Movie Review: The Hunger Games

Everyone hates the typical “book is better” guy. Everyone loves to get to be the “book is better” guy. I’m glad to be able to report after seeing the movie, I don’t have to be that guy.

I certainly don’t mean that as a knock on the book. I mean that more so to give the movie props. Look, they are going to cut things. They are going to change things. If you haven’t figured it out by now, that’s how they make movies out of novels.

I read the book a while ago when I found out there was a movie in the works. However, from the very first chapter I felt like I was reading a movie script. I felt like The Hunger Games was a book basically written to be a hit movie. It was like Suzanne Collins read Harry Potter and Twilight and saw the dollar signs and set off on her mission to make the next big thing. And she did.

For the most part it’s impossible to poorly turn an epic book set in its own world into a hit movie. The Hunger Games is basically unofficially set in the United States in the future, but it’s got enough dsytopian 1984 in it to make the setting its own entity for the purpose of the argument. Take the prior two examples given, throw in The Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, Blade Runner, Lord of the Flies, The Princess Bride, Children of Men, Planet of the Apes, The Chronicles of Narnia, Minority Report, etc. Not that it has never happened, but it’s unlikely to not turn a book like this into a successful film.

If you haven’t read the books and don’t really know anything about what The Hunger Games is really all about then let me help you out. I love hearing people try to describe the book to people. It usually couldn’t really sound less appealing when someone tries explaining it. Usually because they sound like they don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. This leads to the assumption that it’s some complex story and might not be worth trying to quickly read if you’ve got other stuff going on.

It’s a really simple story though, just with a tough explanation. Why? Because it’s a lot like all the examples given above. Once you’ve read or seen The Lord of the Rings books, you know it’s really not that complex of a story in general. But when you then try to explain it, you see this whole other world in your head and have a hard time knowing where to start in an explanation.

Umm ok so you’ve got a hairy little dude who is trying to save this marshy place from the scary ass looking creatures and he can only do it by destroying this ring. Oh and he can’t wear the ring or else chaos will ensue. I mean he’s got wizards and warriors and crap helping him but it’s just not that easy.

Unless your audience is playing Magic: The Gathering at the time of the pitch, it can be a tough sell right? If that is your audience you likely had those clowns at “wizard”, and really need to branch out more in the ol’ friend base. However, for most people it is a tough sell until you just drag people to the theater and they experience it.

So for those of you on the fence about reading and/or seeing The Hunger Games, let me simplify things for you.

First of all, The Hunger Games is not some Harry Potter/Twilight hybrid. It’s natural to group it with those because of it being a series written for a young adult audience, but The Hunger Games is far different. I’ll give you the love triangle argument but that shit sells and you know it.

Basically there are 12 districts that make up one country (presumably the future United States) ruled by the evil Capitol. Every year a boy and girl between the ages of 12-18 are chosen from each district to represent their district in a battle royale of sorts where only one comes out alive. This takes place annually to remind all the citizens that the Capitol is in control. There was an uprising at one point in the past and so The Hunger Games is a form of punishment for that. The event is basically then turned into a big reality TV show where decisions are made by the game master behind the scenes to increase excitement as the tributes fight to the death.

So that’s how I would summarize the plot in a simplified manor. The Hunger Games is very much like Survivor but where the winner leaves 23 dead bodies in their path to victory. There are many of the same politics at play and it’s ultimately all about strategy.

This is where the movie excels in staying true to the book. It features the staged romance between the two main characters, but it doesn’t overly make the relationship about anything but strategy and survival. The strategy element will make more sense when you see it play out. The movie features great acting performances with my favorite being from Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman. Woody Harrelson does a good job as Haymitch Abernathy too but I do wish they had done a little more with his character. Of course Jennifer Lawrence kills it as the protagonist as well. Pun intended.

Overall I’d give it about a 8/10, which is phenomenal for the category of film that it falls in. Director Gary Ross could have butchered this and turned it into a Twilight and I’m so thankful that he didn’t. It maintains the book’s balance between grit and compassion and for that I’m glad to be able to endorse the movie and suggest that everyone see it.


Posted on by Clayton Martin in Featured, Movie Reviews, Movies, The Imaginarium

3 Responses to Movie Review: The Hunger Games

  1. Wyatt

    I’ll be that guy: The book was better than the movie.

    Joseph, I love you. But as someone who attended the midnight premiere in Boston, I have to disagree with your review. I did not love this movie. It felt like the director decided to take a bunch of scenes from the book, rob them of their complexity, and film them as a series of snapshot moments strung together into a less rich, less compelling whole than this novel deserves.

    Where was the insight into Katniss’s tortured doubts about the fidelity of Peeta’s motives? The long-term importance to the storyline of the Mockingjay pin’s origins from a former District 12 contestant, as gifted to Katniss by her mother, not some shop in the Hob? The depths of Katniss’s and Peeta’s dehydration and starvation in the arena, still manifest as the games came to an end and they had to be rushed into life-saving emergency care?

    All this movie did for me was provide a visual of just how horrible it is to imagine teenage kids out hunting each other. Disappointing let down.

  2. Paul Preketes

    I’d say that the book is the book and the movie is the movie. If you liked the books, then great. I enjoyed reading them. If you like the movie, then like the movie for the movie, because it was entertaining, enjoyable and made a great date night. (Yes, Joe, old married guys take their wive’s on dates). I am looking forward to the movie. Thanks for the review. And yes, the book also provided me with an image of how horrible it is to imagine teenage kids out hunting each other.

  3. Joseph Williams

    Wyatt:

    Clayton wrote the review above, bud. But, after seeing the movie last night, I must say that while I understand your frustration, it’s unfair to both the book and movie.

    But to compare the book to the movie in this case is unfair to both. While it’s often fair to compare the two (and the book almost always winds up the victor), I do not feel Gary Ross (the director and co-screenwriter) and Suzanne Collins (author, co-screenwriter, and executive producer) would want that. Since the author had such a significant role in the production of the movie, I think it’s fair to say that it is, in fact, a cinematic version that the novel deserves. You make many fair arguments about things that were missing, changed from, or diminished from the book. Other complaints I’ve heard/read range from the Katniss/Rue relationship not being set up enough to the increased presence of President Snow diminishing the book’s holding up of the mirror to the reader and our own society as a key villain in the tale.

    All of these are fair points. BUT, there are strengths that the written medium brings in conveying a story and there are strengths that the visual medium brings as well. And although neither are perfect, both tell the story in a top-notch way.

    There were some scenes, like Katniss’ training when she shoots the arrow through the apple in the pig’s mouth, that elicited as giddy responses from me in both the book and the film. The film depicted the world Katniss lived in and the people that she will eventually work to try to bring down in a much clearer and powerful way than the book, told from Katniss’ point of view only, did. Neither is better or worse; with Suzanne Collins working so closely with the filmmakers, it allows the film to be the other side of the same coin.

    The book was always clearly going to better convey Katniss’ thoughts, fears, anxieties, etc. The movie was always going to better convey (at least I’m glad they did) what was causing the events happening to Katniss and how her actions, courage, successes, and failures affected the world she lived in.

    Bravo to both, from this guy.

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