AEOS Review: The Hunger Games

The phrase, “The Truman Show Meets Gladiator,” was dubbed by Chicago film critic, Richard Roeper, in his review of the vastly marketed picture The Hunger Games, which opened this past weekend.

I make a regular habit of reading/watching film reviews by my two favorite Chicago film critics, the internationally acclaimed critic, Roger Ebert, and one of the guys Ebert used to rate films with–the above mentioned Richard Roeper. Although I have to hand it to Ebert for staying on top of more film and pop culture than any other critic I’m aware of, I’ve got to hand the torch for The Hunger Games to Roeper in this case, because unlike Ebert, Roeper read The Hunger Games series and was able to better review the film as a viewer, critic, and fan of the books. Do check out Roeper’s review below.

There’s a lot I can say about the film, so let me break it up into parts. Keep in mind that there will be SPOILERS. First, let’s get out of the way what I didn’t like.

What Didn’t Work

  • Poor Visual Quality for The Capitol – Unfortunately, the special effects did nothing for me in the middle section of the film. Gary Ross’s vision of The Capitol hardly lived up to Collins’s description. From the fake screens passing through the windows of the train, to the far-off screen shot of the tributes riding in on chariots to the ceremony, to Katniss’s Capitol quarters, the film lacked visual prowess, color, and quality overall. I was hoping Ross would have pulled out all the stops for the film, but the setting of The Capitol fell short.
  • Madge and Plutarch MIA – Madge– This complaint comes from someone who read the book. The introduction of the Mockingjay pin is given by District 12’s mayor’s daughter, Madge, who befriends Katniss in the series. In the first book, she gives this to Katniss. Instead the film attempts to make up for this poor revision by having Greasy Sae hand Katniss the pin in the Hob. Plutarch– My sister brought up this point to me. Although I wouldn’t regard this as a dealbreaker or major fault on Ross’s end, I have to wonder why Mr. Plutarch wasn’t present within the film given that his role becomes more pertinent to the plot in the following sequels. My conclusion is that they’ll bring him along in the later films, and they didn’t regard him as necessary in the first.
  • Low Katniss/Peeta Screen Time – While many fans are overjoyed to not have another one of their beloved series taken over by a tween love triangle, the two leads of The Hunger Games shared fewer scenes together than what I had hoped for. Although film is a rather limited channel for time in telling a story (well, Peter Jackson defied that problem with LOTR. I digress.), Katniss and Peeta’s relationship–or should I say the relationship put on for show–wasn’t built well enough to convince us that the love displayed between Katniss and Peeta wasn’t entirely false. Katniss is confused, and we grasp that a little at the end; but watching the film, we don’t see enough of a relationship or friendship built between Katniss and Peeta to know that Katniss isn’t entirely genuine. Her actions are questionable, and rightfully so, but they’re questionable for the wrong reason. Instead of wondering whether she really has genuine feelings for Peeta or not, we’re questioning how she could be having feelings for him having not shared many scenes with him on screen.
  • 50% Finale – Did anyone else take notice that the third part of Suzanne Collins’s novel ate up over half of the film’s running time? Put in perspective – Each of The Hunger Games novels are built like a play, each having three acts. “The Games” acts as the third and final act of the first book. The games took up half the film. Many little moments were lost within the first half of the film, most likely the plan being – let’s really make the “the games” the movie. I hope they don’t botch up the second film like this.

What Did Work

I was more than content with everything else in the film. Clocking in at a little over 140 minutes, The Hunger Games still felt short to me in comparison to reading the book. The adaptation of the story from book to film, however, along with its flaws, was still crafted with sharp attention to detail and articulated in a way not to bring justice to the book, but more so to the story and its characters. Going into The Hunger Games, I expected to experience more low points than high. Happily proven wrong, here are the points I consider high in the film.

  • The Entire Supporting Cast – Perhaps one of the strongest supporting casts to graze the screen of a teen series turned major film–Lenny Kravitz, Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci, Willow Shields, Wes Bentley, Donald Sutherland–these were the people who really made The Hunger Games a hit aside from the incredible Jennifer Lawrence heading them.
  • Every Scene with Caesar Flickerman – Every scene with the blue-haired Stanley Tucci on screen was met with laughter. Since The Hunger Games is told entirely from Katniss’s perspective, we miss out on everyone else’s personal thoughts. Not so in the film. Flickerman serves not only as host and questioner of the tributes, but also as something of a news anchor who worked as narrator, offering updates every now and then. This was well-placed in the script, aiding to the pacing of the film and answering questions of those who haven’t read the book.

  • Casting – I’ll say it once, I’ll say it a million times. The casting worked really well in The Hunger Games, despite the highly questioned Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson. Winter’s Bone is enough to support the widely-ranged actress, and her performance in The Hunger Games speaks only more of her talent to capture the necessary emotions as well as play out the action scenes. Josh Hutcherson has an innocent presence on screen. Perhaps because he’s a little shorter and has the cutest face ever, but he looks the part of Peeta enough. His acting backed the casting choice.
  • The Games – The Games section of the film was the focus of the film, and easily the best part. Full of intensity and grit, viewers sense the dire situation Katniss and Peeta are in. It’s life and death, and it’s kids we’re dealing with here. Ross really placed the heart of the film into this section, unmasking the rage of the characters, dotting the film with more attention and detail here than anywhere else.
  • Movie Additions – Watching Seneca Crane administrate actions behind the scenes or seeing Haymitch snatch a deal from sponsors on behalf of Katniss and Peeta were treats for those who read the books. We were able to appreciate the element of surprise, too, in the crafty, creative way President Snow killed off Seneca Crane in the end. It’s rare to admit that a movie scene added to the story rather than take away from it.
  • Rue’s Death Scene – Perhaps the most heart-wrenching scene in the film, the raw emotion Katniss emitted, the flowers decorating Rue’s body, the signal Katniss gave toward the camera, the uproar in District 11 following the death–a powerful scene in a seemingly depressing story–followed the book pat, refusing to give a PG version of what happened.
  • Attention to Detail  While some parts could have been stronger, I must admit there were little details only readers would especially appreciate. Notice how Katniss always tied herself in a tree to sleep so she wouldn’t fall out? Appreciate that Katniss decorated Rue’s body with flowers? See that white rose on President Snow? Katniss’s orange backpack? Cinna’s gold eyelids?

Favorite Moments

  • The powerful scene featuring the uproar in District 11
  • A rock that turned out to be . . . Peeta?!?! (The name Peter is translated in the Greek, meaning “rock.” Ironic much?)
  • The theater erupting in laughter when the camera panned on Gale watching Katniss kiss Peeta.
  • Rue in the tree signaling the trackerjacker hive to Katniss.
  • “I’m not allowed to bet, but if I could, I’d bet on you.” –Cinna
  • “That is mahogany!” –Effie
  • Peeta: “You’re our mentor. Don’t you have any advice?” Haymitch: “Yes. Embrace the probability of your imminent death.”

Final Thoughts/Queries

  • MPAA Rating – My biggest question and thought following my first viewing of The Hunger Games regards its MPAA rating. Yes, it was rated PG-13, so some parts had to be cut back to take away from the grisly violence of kids ultimately killing each other. I have to wonder what the film would have been like had it been rated R in terms of violence. Roger Ebert mentions in his review how it’s actually silent in the opening part of the games, with kids dropping like flies. While the scene is powerful, I tend to wonder if the sound was taken out in order to keep the PG-13 rating. It only makes sense to keep the rating no higher than PG-13 in order to not cut out the target audience of the film. But if there were an extended or R-rated version of the film, I wonder which scenes would be different. Would Clove actually cut Katniss’s lip when she has her pinned down? Would Peeta actually have a far more severe leg injury? Would we hear the effects of an arrow piercing a child, or a knife cutting flesh?
  • The Bar Is Set for Sequels – With the growing success of the film, how will the sequels play out? Will they pale in comparison, or will they rise above? Compared with other series such as Harry Potter, whose finale rated high, will The Hunger Games be able to top itself in its sequels, or go down in popularity?
  • Will Gary Ross Continue? – Unless I have misheard (a high possibility in itself), no director is set for Catching Fire, although a release date of November 22, 2013 has already been announced! Should Ross direct the sequels? I certainly think so. Other series have proven that a consistent continuity strengthens–not diminishes–from film series.

OK, folks. Lots of questions for you now. First, what did you think of the film? Second, what did you like, and what disappointed you? Have any favorite moments? Consider the final thoughts and add your opinion.

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15 thoughts on “AEOS Review: The Hunger Games

  1. Just throwing this out there – why do you have to have read the book in order for you to get more enjoyment out of the film. Why can’t you just watch the film for what it is and have the film be enough?

    I didn’t read the book before the film, though I was hoping that wouldn’t have been too much of a negative. Though by the sounds of things, people who read the books enjoyed the film a whole lot more. I enjoyed the film. It was a bit of entertainment, but I’m not getting near the levels out of it as fans who’ve read the book have got out of it.

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    • Perhaps the level of enjoyment wouldn’t change with a person reading or not reading a book, but the level of appreciation (or on the other hand, disappointment/annoyance) will be a lot higher since you’ve already devoted time to getting to know the story in another way before viewing it on screen. I saw all the Harry Potter films before ever reading the books and I very much enjoyed the films. Reading through the books now, though, I appreciate so many more things about the films that I didn’t realize were important before because the books are so much more detailed (and I believe superior to the films).

      I definitely don’t think it would be a negative thing to see The Hunger Games before reading the book(s). Converting books to film (especially highly popular ones) is always a risky move because the books have an avid fan base with high expectations that the film will do justice to the BOOK, even more so than telling a compelling story BASED off the book. I’m of the belief that Gary Ross scored HIGH with THG because Suzanne Collins (the author) aided in the screenplay and the film was a very balanced adaptation of the book – staying true enough to the written words to win over book fans, while adding a few extra elements and being entertaining enough to gain fans through the film.

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      • Definitely agree with the level of appreciation/investment in characters increases if you read the source material before seeing the movie version. But surely it’s the film maker’s job to make anyone feel invested in the characters’ development without having to need to have some sort of homework done.

        Say look at Inception or 50/50. Neither had a source material that I had read and yet I feel a whole lot more for those characters and those films than I did for what was going on in The Hunger Games.

        I’m a big believer in that if the film’s good enough based on whatever source material, then both hardcore fans as well as newbies will get the same amount of enjoyment out of them.

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        • I think the job falls in two people’s laps–the filmmaker’s, but perhaps just as important, the screenwriter’s. You’re absolutely right – there shouldn’t be an amount of “homework” necessary to complete in order to go into a movie to receive maximum enjoyment. Then again, the idea of “finding enjoyment” from a film is such a subjective topic and varies from person to person, that we’d be getting into some kind of psychological discussion if we were to go that route 😉 I digress there.

          Those are two really interesting examples you give (You just pulled two of my favorite movies!). Inception is one of the more original films to have come out in the past 5 or 10 years (at least, from what I’ve seen, haha). There was no prior original book, play, comic, or story to compare it to. It started off as Nolan’s screenplay and the story was presented first in film. As for 50/50 – you’re dealing with a story based off true events, and it was first presented in film form too. There wasn’t prior subject material in published form for people to consume and then make comparisons off of.

          Not to mention, neither Inception nor 50/50 carried the hype that The Hunger Games did from the beginning of its release. The only real hype that accompanied Inception was that that it was a film “from the director of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight” (easily enough to get my but in a theater seat). Films like Harry Potter, Twilight, THG–all have carried some sort of hype, causing the general public to stereotypically hold high expectations going into the films (and perhaps several peoples’ hopes were dashed after seeing said films).

          Jaina, I do think you really have a valid point though–perhaps not so much in terms of level of enjoyment, but that of the quality, the characters, and the story–all should be as strong as any other film whether the story is based off a comic, book, play, or is wholly original. And perhaps in response to the film’s high quality, one’s level of enjoyment will be high(er).

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  2. Nice review! I always enjoy the way you structure you reviews. So fun to read.

    In my review I agreed with many of your points. “The Hunger Games” turned out to be a nice surprise and better than I anticipated. I love Jennifer Lawrence and that was one of my biggest attractions going into the film.The supporting cast was great although I wasn’t as taken with Hutcherson. Harrelson and Tucci – FANTASTIC.

    I did have a few problems with the writing. Perhaps the biggest thing that stood out was the whole deal about sponsorships. A huge part of the film focuses on making impressions through interviews, introductions, skill competitions, etc. all to get sponsors who are supposedly vital to surviving the games. Yet during the actual games, the sponsors do very little (a bit of leg rub and some soup). It made all the posturing seem empty. I also wasn’t drawn to the romance between Katniss and Peeta. It felt underwritten and frankly uninteresting (for me).

    But, I still really responded to the film. It’s broader appeal worked for me and I can honestly say that I’m ready for the next installment.

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    • Thanks, Keith! I try to keep it interesting and always hope I’m not boring readers (I can really go off on tangents sometimes . . . 🙂 ).

      Glad we viewed some things the same way! I would definitely agree that the film surprised me in a positive way. Jennifer Lawrence is really something, especially for her young age. My thought on Hutcherson was more in the way his character was written than on his performance. He lacked opportunities to be more like the character, and that was a bit disappointing. I’m right with you on that supporting cast though – LOVED them!

      I see what you’re saying. That part is really left out in the book, too, because the book is told in first person entirely from Katniss’s perspective. A lot of things are “hoped for” or “assumed” with what’s going on behind the scenes dealing with the sponsors. What we were given in the film was all extra, comparing the book. All that “behind the scenes” stuff we see with Haymitch helping out was new material to watch. Really good point.

      I’m totally with you with the romance between Katniss/Peeta! While I’m glad the romance wasn’t the emphasis of the story (and in turn quickly leading to the demise of the film), I also felt like it was too underwritten in the screenplay to garner enough interest, much less explain why/how the two characters would have such strong feelings for one another. Can I make a suggestion? If you enjoyed the film, try reading the first book and see if it clears up a few of your questions.

      Happy to hear it! Too bad we’ll have to wait 20 months for that next film. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Keith.

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  3. Nice work Kristin! I’d heard the Capitol was a bit of a letdown so I expected worse. I wanted to see more of District 12 but enjoyed what there was.

    For me, the death of Rue wasn’t as emotional as it could have been, but the part where Katniss volunteered was the biggest tearjerker of the film. I really wish they’s gone for a higher rating though I know that’s totally unfair for kids. I thought the first moments of the games were ruined by the lack of sounds and the lack of sheer brutality on show. I wanted to see how nasty it got in those opening moments!

    Overall I think they handled the Katniss/Peeta/Gale thing well. Tucci was great and the flaming dresses were pretty cool too. Glad you liked it mostly!

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    • Thanks, Pete. I definitely felt like the part in District 12 was rushed through a bit, but then again, it wasn’t a long part in the book. They managed to show the Hob, the reaping, the electric fence, Katniss and Gale hunting, and even Katniss’s home (well, one room) in the beginning. I think they did a nice job of showing places in District 12.

      Those two moments were definitely the hardest for me. What really put Rue’s death over the top for me was showing the uproar in District 11. It kind of widened the response of the characters watching and their reaction to what was taking place.

      Glad to hear your thoughts on the MPAA rating! I’m crossing my fingers that there will be an extended version of THG that will include more, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there wasn’t. Yeah, I was hoping for a little more in that beginning scene of the games, but with the PG-13 rating, I’m almost surprised they got away with what they did!

      As for the “love triangle,” I’m happy that Gale wasn’t given more scenes than necessary. He plays such a small role in the first book, that to make more of him in it would have been a mistake in my opinion. The emphasis was where it should be (between Katniss/Peeta, not Katniss/Gale and not a love triangle quite yet), I think.

      Glad you enjoyed it, too, Pete! I wonder if I’ll have different thoughts after seeing it a second time.

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  4. Wow, such a comprehensive review, Kris, I have to go back and re-read this later. I do agree w/ you on the ‘Mahogany’ as one my favorite scenes, the most powerful one is definitely the Reaping for me. Oh I didn’t know Peeta is a variation of Peter which for sure means ‘rock.’ Cool!

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    • Haha, I tend to get pretty technical (when I know something in and out). Yeah, that scene was absolutely hilarious – the timing was perfect.

      The reaping was one of those stand-out scenes, and right at the beginning of the movie. Incredibly moving.

      I’ve looked at a few sources, and some say ‘Peeta’ is a variation of ‘Peter.’ Some lean toward the idea of ‘Peeta’ meaning ‘bread.’ I go with the former idea, and really cracked up at the place where Peeta was painted as a rock!

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  5. Having not read the book……did she have real feelings for Peeta in the book? Did I understand that right? Because it seemed to me the film was alluding to the fact that she was just using Peeta as means to an end and he was kind of doing the same thing. Or at least that’s how I read it.

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    • Hey, Nick! Really, especially in the first book, not romantic feelings at all. In the book, Peeta has genuine feelings for Katniss, but Katniss was really just using the idea of her and Peeta to “put on a show”–not expressing genuine, romantic emotions for him.

      Peeta gets that it’s necessary to put on a show, but he really does like Katniss. Katniss is more conflicted with her feelings, just doing what she has to do–like you said, a means to an end–to make it out alive. Peeta is more of an afterthought to her, at least right now.

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      • Would love to see that. Not sure if anything too dtrsaic would happen with Jen being in a public relationship. I’m sure her and Josh would entertain us somehow though. They’re awesome playing off each other!

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