I liked it. There were some issues, but overall I liked it.
What I loved:
- Jennifer Lawrence’s performance — her reactions, her facial expressions, were very believable and true to Katniss.
- Woody Harrelson as Haymitch. I honestly hadn’t known who’d play that part, but as soon as he entered the train car, I happily replaced my original mental image of Haymitch with Woody. I especially loved the scene where he reacts to Katniss’ behavior in her private session with the Gamemakers. Again, facial expressions = excellent.
- The soundtrack — if done well, the soundtrack is one of my favorite aspects of a movie (of any performed story, really — even video games). In the Hunger Games movie, the music was just the right kind of intense in all the right places, and never sounded like cliche action music.
EDIT 03/30/2012: Here’s an interesting Wired article on the Hunger Games soundtrack: “Rare 70’s Electronic Music is Hidden in The Hunger Games.” Thanks to Tasha of Waking Brain Cells for sharing this link!
What I liked:
- I actually liked that the violence wasn’t shown as graphically as in the books. Some might call that moral cowardice, but I thought the movie did a good enough job reflecting the horror of the Games without going too far. If you’ve read the books, you already know the more horrifying aspects that the movie doesn’t show. And if you haven’t read the books, you get the gist from the characters’ reactions — that sudden transition at the beginning to Prim screaming as she wakes from a nightmare, the terror in the children’s faces as they gather for the Reaping, those shots of Katniss sobbing… Also, (SPOILER ALERT if you haven’t read the books) considering I’m allergic to bees, seeing Glimmer screaming as she’s absolutely covered with tracker jackers….
- In my view, if the movie-makers want as many people as possible to see this movie and (for those viewers who haven’t read the books) to learn about the message (I know I’m being optimistic/a touch naive in not attributing $$$ as the sole reason for wanting a wide audience…), then the violence has to be shown in a way that, on the one hand, doesn’t completely scar younger viewers (though, of course, the books themselves are NOT recommended for readers under a certain age), but on the other hand, doesn’t make it seem like no big deal/just some intense action scenes. I think the movie walked that tightrope ok.
- I also liked how they related background information through Cesar Flickerman’s commentary; through shots of the Gamemakers manipulating the arena; and through the scenes of Haymitch speaking with the sponsors and President Snow speaking with Seneca Crane. I did have some issues with the Snow scenes, though…more on that in a bit.
- And I liked the attempt to give the beginning scenes a documentary feel, to give you the sense that this isn’t just a story, to make you feel like this is a real community suffering under a repressive (to say the least) regime. That said…
What I didn’t like:
- Yeah, that shaky camera in the early scenes was freakin’ annoying. Maybe it was meant to enhance that documentary feel, but it just made those early scenes look amateur-ish. I even read a Facebook comment by someone who said he had to take anti-nausea pills because of that shaky camera. Even if nausea isn’t a problem for you, at the very least the shaking makes it hard to focus on what’s happening.
- In the cave scenes, the Katniss/Peeta relationship seemed rather understated and unconvincing. It was the same problem at the very end — all you really get is a visual hint that there’ll be more love triangle tension among Katniss, Peeta, and Gale, but (SPOILER ALERT) there’s no realization by Peeta that Katniss has been manipulating him, so the movie ending feels mostly upbeat, whereas the book ending gives you a much more uneasy feeling.
- I do like how the movie tried to explain the social/political background behind the Games. However, I thought the scenes with President Snow and Seneca Crane in the rose garden could have done more. Donald Sutherland’s performance was too calm — I didn’t get that sense of something really sinister and power-hungry behind Snow’s composure. In retrospect, in those moments, the dialogue felt much more like exposition than character building.
- On that note, I’m ambivalent about that not-exactly-in-the-books scene in which Crane is led into that room, and sees what’s in the crystal bowl. As I was watching, remembering those bare hints from Catching Fire, I expected that scene to be scarier than it was. But in retrospect, for those who haven’t read the books, I guess that view inside the bowl does give the gist of what’s going to happen.
- Finally, (SPOILER ALERT) in that scene with the tracker jackers, the movie could definitely have intensified Katniss’ inner struggle with having to do something so horrific. I’ll have to re-read that part in the book to see if it’s any clearer, but in the movie, Katniss accepts the idea with no qualms, and even when she sees Glimmer’s body, she barely seems disturbed.
As I said, despite the issues, I liked the movie overall and am looking forward to Catching Fire.