I have read all three books in the Hunger Games trilogy. I really liked the first book which this movie is based off of. Catching Fire, the second book, was not bad and the third book absolutely sucked. I had high hopes for this movie and most of the buzz I had heard was good. I ended up disappointed.
The Hunger Games is set in a post-apocalyptic world of Panem. The Capitol is where most people live and it is surrounded by its poor cousins, the ‘districts’. Each district produces something the Capitol needs (electronics, power, food, etc.). The districts are poorer and worse off the lower number they are. District 1 (luxury goods) is much wealthier and better off than District 12 (coal mining). District 12 is where our heroes, Katmiss and Peeta, hail from. Seventy-four years ago there was a rebellion by the districts. The Capitol eventually won the war after they destroyed District 13 with nuclear weapons. The other districts were brought back in line and every year the ‘Hunger Games’ is held to remind the districts of the cost of rising up against the Capitol.
The Hunger Games is a fight to the death by 24 contestants, 2 from each district. It is set in a large, artificial arena where Gamekeepers control everything. Hidden cameras are all over and the Games are televised to the Capitol and all the districts. Contestants are chosen in the ‘Reaping’ where all children aged 12-18 have their names in a bin. The older you are the more entries you have so a 12-year-old has one chance while a 15-year-old has four chances to be chosen as a tribute and so on. One boy and one girl from each district are taken to the Capitol and made to compete. They are given makeovers and treated like television stars then they enter the arena and only one emerges.
For the 74th Hunger Games in District 12 Primrose Everdeen is chosen at the Reaping. Prim is the terrified 12-year-old sister of Katmiss and Katmiss immediately volunteers to take her place. Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), a baker’s son, is chosen to represent the boys and they are taken to the Capitol with their mentor Haymitch. Woody Harrelson plays Haymitch who is the only living winner from District 12. Katmiss and Peeta are given makeovers and presented on TV where Peeta professes his love for Katmiss. Is this a ploy to win sympathies from the crowd (who can send needed gifts to the tributes during the Games) or is it real?
The action picks up when the Hunger Games starts and this is the only point that you really feel the terror the tributes must feel. Do you run into the woods and hide or try to grab weapons and supplies? It is a maddening few minutes as blades slice through the air, blood is spilled and several tributes die. On advice from Haymitch, Katmiss ran into the forest to hide and wait it out. From here the action slows down. You never get a real feel for the other tributes. Katmiss meets up with Rue, the young 12-year-old tribute from District 11, they bond and work well together even destroying the supplies of the dominant player’s. Peeta and Katmiss reunite although Peeta has been wounded. The rules of the game are changed and it is announced that this year there can be two winners provided they are from the same district. This is because the audience has bought into the love story of Peeta and Katmiss. The action is uneven and it seems filmmakers wanted to tame down the violence in the film a bit.
Spoilers follow, so be warned. One of the most emotional moments in the book is when Rue dies. Katmiss is devastated and the reader is drawn in to her pain. I felt no emotion during the scene in the movie. Maybe it’s because we barely knew Rue or maybe it’s the way Gary Ross directed it. The meaning Rue’s death is further degraded when they cut out Rue’s district sending Katmiss a loaf of bread as a gift. Gifts from sponsors have always come from wealthy people in the Capitol or from your own district. So this was unprecedented that District 11 so appreciated Katmiss’ caring for Rue, singing to her until she passed, covering her body with flowers, etc. that they sent a gift. I am not sure why they cut this from the movie but it will impact the next two films and took a lot of the emotion out of this movie.
The movie was also just too long. Running time is 142 minutes and this really should have been cut down. There were several flashbacks to things we already saw like Katmiss getting her Mockingjay pin (the film also completely ignored the significance of the pin) that were pointless. It’s like the director felt the audience was too dumb to remember things we already saw. Cutting these pointless flashbacks would have cut down the length of the movie a little bit.
I liked Jennifer Lawrence’s performance and I think Elizabeth Banks and Woody Harrelson worked well with what they were given. The other actors were too flat for me. I did not care one way or another what happened to them. I didn’t buy Peeta’s love for Katmiss which in the books is very real. Here it just seemed forced to me. Peeta never seemed to appreciate he was in a life or death situation. There was no urgency there at all. It was an effort to get through this movie. I found myself checking my phone and glancing at the time remaining over and over again.
On a scale of 1-10 I would have to give this a 5 if you’ve read the book. If not then a 4 is the best I can give The Hunger Games. I wanted to like it more, I really enjoyed the book but it was too long, too flat and too tamed down for me.