So after the midnight showing of The Hunger Games, I was walking through a clearly energetic crowd as I made way to the exit. General consensus and the vibe I got was that people were pleased, even so I often picked up people making comments about differences from the book that the movie just didn’t get right, or did not get at all. Now I know everything doesn’t relate to the big screen – especially with a book written in first person – but even so, I couldn’t help but agree. Add in that I literally just finished the book a few days ago, I figured I would do a comparison. If you haven’t read the book or seen the movie, expect some spoilers…
The Cast: Generally, I thought the casting was done really well, but there are some I specifically want to mention.
- President Snow (Donald Sutherland): Absolutely amazing choice. The way I pictured snow while reading the book was almost exactly how Sutherland portrayed him, and for that matter looked almost exactly like Sutherland in my mind. And no, I did not check out the cast list or even previews until after the movie. Personally, I’d have to say this was the best casting decision for the entire movie.
- Cinna (Lenny Kravitz): While not quite how I pictured Cinna, it was still very close. More so, Kravitz portrayed Cinna extremely well to the point that I’d have to list him as the second best casting decision for the film.
- Haymitch (Woody Harrelson): I admit, I was shocked when Woody came on screen, and while I find him a great actor who has improved greatly since his time on Cheers, well he just never cut it for me in the role of Haymitch. At this moment, I can’t really think of anyone I’d rather see in this role, but Woody just didn’t cut it. He wasn’t as drunk as Haymitch, he wasn’t as rude as Haymitch, or even as unkempt as Haymitch. But then, some of this I think falls on either how the script was written up, or the directing that I’ll get into later.
- Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci): When I was reading the book, Caesar always appeared to my mind looking, sounding, and even acting a lot like Rip Taylor. Shame the man is far too old for the role. As such, well I’m sure you can imagine what a shock it was to have a young Rip Taylor in mind basically to get Stanley Tucci. Despite this, Tucci does a wonderful job as the charismatic Caesar. There were times he did not quite nail it for me, but this one is probably just due to the stark contrast you probably can imagine between Tucci and Taylor.
- Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence): She had the look, but that may be the few glimpses I did catch of the commercial before I read the book might have stuck her in my mind. Otherwise, she did a nice job, but never really came off strong in the role. Hopefully in the later movies she will improve.
- Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson): Okay, I didn’t even realize until after the movie that Peeta was Josh Hutcherson, which would explain the good acting that came here. While it never felt Peeta had a lot of time (or lines) really in the movie, Hutcherson seemed to hit Peeta and his love for Katniss on the mark. The only weak spot he seemed to fall short for me was the end of the interview.
The Star Crossed Lovers: I figured I’d give this its own section for its a strong point in the book, and one I really felt never came off well in the movie. That being despite Hutcherson’s good portrayal of Peeta, well many things were just brushed over too quickly on screen, or otherwise fell short due to Lawrence’s end. And yes, I know Katniss was “acting” on it, but there was still a strong point in the book that I actually thought she was falling for him (note: I am only partway through book 2). In the book, I could easily understand how the Capitol citizens would fall for it despite Katniss’ often questioning Peeta’s feelings. Even if it wasn’t really for love, with the berries in the book I at least got the feeling that even unsure her feelings, Katniss still cared for Peeta and didn’t want to go without him. From the movie, I hardly got the sense that Katniss cared at all for Peeta, which is something that could easily hurt the second film.
Things Missed: I found a lot of key moments in the book just came off weak on the screen. The scene on the train where they get Haymitch to actually agree to help fell short as Peeta never really showed any fighting spirit, and Katniss never really got to show any skill with knives to the drunk Haymitch. Haymitch, as somewhat stated already, never came off that big of a drunk. Yes, they constantly showed him drinking, but no where near the poor state Haymitch was in the books. Adding in Haymitch’s dive off the stage near the start could easily have been added in. That matter, we don’t see a lot of coaching from Haymitch. Next would be training. While it wasn’t handled badly, they never got to give much time to really show Peeta and Katniss working together. Something I was okay with really, as things need to be cut or shortened to hit the big screen, until the moment the movie brought in Peeta requesting to be trained separately. As we never got a good sense that Peeta and Katniss were training together (and with it, that such a thing was generally odd), the movie still addressing the request for separate training just felt like it was coming from nowhere, and in the movie then had little meaning behind it. The revolting district 11 scene felt out of place when it came in, and also makes me wonder how that could change part of the second film.
The good: Leaving out Madge and Peeta’s dad was a good move, and so was minimizing the prep team’s role. At least so far in my readings, neither seem to be that big of a character so leaving them out makes sense. The Reaping of course was handled nicely. While her hunting and relationship with Gale was kept short as well, they did a fairly good job handling that. More so, the cuts to him watching the Games actually helped to show how Gale felt about Katniss, and was very nicely done. The absurd dress of the Capitol people was really nicely done too. One of the better things may be the use of Caesar and Claudius as commentators to explain certain points (like the Tracker Jackers) I thought was a good move, and would help keep those who have not read the books informed – shame they never explained the District 12 hand gesture when Katniss volunteered; I wouldn’t be surprised if the meaning was missed on many. The notes Haymitch was sending with the gifts was also a nice touch as on screen we don’t know what is going through Katniss’ head. Probably the best change though would be the shot of district 11. Yes, I stated the revolt it showed as a negative, but seeing them perform District 12’s gesture of farewell and admiration was a great visual scene to replace the gift of bread she gets in the book.
Now I apologize for the length, and would love to hear your comments. For my sake as well as possible readers, please try to keep comments limited to the first book/movie. As far as my overall thought on the movie, I’m teetering between a C+ and B-. Not bad, especially for book-turned-movie, but I’d have kept some things closer to the source, and probably extended the film’s length a little so there could be a little more build up of chemistry between characters.