Expectations and Mindset going in
I’ve seen Battle Royale back in 2003. I knew that The Hunger Games is similar to that film, but I’ll get to that comparison later. I saw The Hunger Games trailers and read the first two pages of the book. Realizing that I had about ten days before the film releases in theaters, I decided that I didn’t want the book to be fresh in my head. That was a good choice, and I’ll tell you why.
Exposition and Jennifer Lawrence’s performance was going to be the basis on how I enjoy the film. If I had the book fresh in my head, I would be frustrated with the adaptation. I didn’t want to ruin the film by knowing what happens next. I wanted the information to come at me, as the screenwriter and director intended. I wanted to know if I could understand the story on film narrative alone. Then I would assess whether reading the novel afterwards was something I’d want to do.
The opening shot was text on a black screen, explaining the background of the world. The next shot was a two-shot of Stanley Tucci and another character, sitting down, talking about the main character. Then, we are introduced to Katniss Everdeen.
From the get-go, I was kind of annoyed at the framing device. The morning before watching this film, I heard Lenny Kravitz talk about the film on Ryan Seacrest’s radio show. He said that anything that needs to be explained to the viewer who hasn’t read the book will be through an “announcement” character played by Stanley Tucci. He’s pretty much the MC or media figure in the world of The Hunger Games. So pretty much, I’m gonna call this guy “Mr. Exposition.” THANK YOU! <—– <sarcasm> I didn’t like that as a viewer, I am pulled into this world through a framing device that has characters from the media tell the story of Katniss Everdeen. Booo! Again, I didn’t read the book!
I hated the way the camera moved during the scenes in District 12. Two minutes into the movie, and I feel like I’m watching The Bourne series. TOO MUCH shaky camera movement. They couldn’t use a steady cam?!! I understood that maybe they were going for the theme of “instability.” I get that District 12 is a place that’s unstable. However, the camera movement was too distracting when I was trying to get acquainted with Katniss Everdeen, her family, her friends, and her world.
The first 2/3 of the film
I noticed that the audience in the theater was quiet. It was a packed house at the 12:05am opening night showing, yet there were no cheers, gasps, laughs, or clapping. Sure, there was that one time after 20 minutes of trailers played, we had the opening logos from Lionsgate and people clapped. But that was it!
I liked that the first hour and a half mostly focused on developing the world, our main character, and the character’s preparation for The Hunger Games. It was well-paced with dialogue, flashy costumes, and tons of set-up for the last third of the film. I can tell people were either bored or relaxed, knowing that the good stuff comes later.
I saw The Winter’s Bone and I feel that Jennifer Lawrence earned the role of Katniss because of that movie. Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss was easy to connect with and root for. The problem is that the other characters (other than Josh Hutcherson’s Peeta) barely had any screen time. The film was so truncated that I figured I’d have to read the book if I wanted more background and story development from the other characters. There was so much going on, that I knew there was no time to give attention to anyone but Katniss and Peeta.
The Hunger Games portion of the movie
The actual games was what everyone was waiting for. After and hour and a half of set-up, it was time for action! I gotta say, I was not impressed. It was a rip-off of Battle Royale, beat by beat, stock characters, and plot-wise. Also, they cut away from most of the violent action. I understand that it’s a PG-13 movie meant to reach a broad audience, so that didn’t annoy me too much.
I enjoyed the movie overall. Without reading the book, the movie still felt condensed and truncated to a big degree. The focus was all on Jennifer Lawrence and the overall story. If I want the complete characterization of the cast, I’ll read the book. If I want the details of the world and the games itself, I’ll read the book. Until then, I am satisfied with the decision to not read the book beforehand. If I did, I wouldn’t have enjoyed the movie while the book was still fresh in my head.