We went to the Hunger Games midnight showing last night. Sandwiched ourselves between heavy-banged teens in chunkifying “skinny” jeans and middle-aged adults escorting texting tweens in a line that wrapped all the way around the theater. It was cold. The theater had been trashed by hours worth of indifferent people crushing snack food underfoot. Our small band of three was not able to sit together, because the theater was so packed.
I’d do it all again.
Gary Ross’ take on The Hunger Games is the most faithful book-to-film adaptation I have ever seen. Every actor was perfectly selected, the score delicately augmented the moods created by the thoughtful cinematography. All those melodramatic exclamations from the trailers that made me squirm worked within the context of the whole scene. It is apparent that the film was lovingly crafted by a true fan. Clever solutions were devised to prevent the film from being Katniss’ endless internal monologue, like showing Caesar Flickerman’s Monday-Night-Football-style commentary on the games as they happened, and the minor alterations to plot and pacing worked well.
One of my favorite things about the film is that it didn’t play down to the viewer. Many things were communicated via soundless memory sequence or a significant look, rather than an expository speech. This reserve served the film’s few moments of romantic tension well, whether between Katniss and Peeta or a simple shot of Gale reacting to what he sees onscreen during the games. Purists will be relieved to hear that the romance was not played up at all, no mercenary need to milk the Twilight crowd on display here. Lenny Kravitz was an inspired choice for Cinna, and his brief scenes with Lawrence are more emotionally raw than ten screaming Prims.
Was every tiny detail perfect? Not quite. Certain things, like Haymitch’s evolution as mentor and Katniss’ relationship with Rue, were not given quite enough time to develop. But on the whole, this film was a triumph. Ross’ direction is substance over style at every turn (though his style ain’t too bad). He is not afraid of quiet, revealing moments that build tension or illuminate deeper feelings. The contrast between the hardscrabble scenes of daily struggle in The Seam and the clownish spectacle of The Capitol is masterfully executed. Ross navigates the line between watering-down the horror of the games and wallowing in gore without veering too far in either direction. Elizabeth Banks adds much-needed levity to the pensive film with her pitch-perfect portrayal of Effie Trinket, and Josh Hutcherson’s Peeta is all heart and nobility. Even Gale gets fleshed out as we see his subtle but constant role in Katniss’ life (and Hemsworth plays him with an unsuspected subtlety). Jennifer Lawrence does Katniss justice. Harrelson as Haymitch was hard to swallow when I heard the casting news, and he takes the role to a different place than I had imagined in my reading, but it works.
It’s just great. Watch it. Watch it again. I know I will (and I can’t wait for the director’s cut).