I am ridiculously excited to see this movie on Sunday. I have been ridiculously excited about it since I drunkenly bought, returned and bought again the books and read them all within a week. I have watched and loved the casting and this morning, I rushed downstairs to check the reviews to see if my dream had come true: I wanted to know if this movie was as good as the hype. 4/5 stars from the "professional reviewers" says yes! But more importantly, my friends, whose opinions I trust most, say 4/5. It stayed true. Hollywood, thank you for not letting me down today.
This is my friend's spoiler free review. He knows my hopes for this movie and I am so happy to hear it does not fail.
I don’t know how to review a movie. I don’t know the right way to convey thoughts from my, "I am not making money and I am not trying to be a scholar" mindset. I often do not read most professional reviews because I feel they are trying to justify a degree from film school or a major in English. But hey, like wedding planners, somebody actually needs them. So, let the money be made and people who feel they need those services go get them.
This is not so much a review of a movie as it is one of expectations and logic and compromise in a medium that has time and time again shown that it cannot handle making something for a particular audience. A page by page recreation would only work for classics and today would be taking a risk so big that no studio would dare. And before you say, "well fine, leave it as a book and don’t mess it, make people read it and let us fans keep our love for it unsullied and pure." I will tell you that that is selfish and defeats the purpose of storytelling. You tell a story and hopefully lots of people will read and share in it and want to share that with others to form connections. Keeping it to yourself means its pointless to write it down. Like most books into movies, once it is announced, a new group of people will read the books. A new crop of fans will appear and if something you love gets more exposure in most cases it can be good for you. If you truly love it wouldn't you want to share it with people? We can skip the rest of that discussion and save it for another day.
The premise is simple, yet powerful and works in a very odd and very relevant way today. One could easily say that many nations around the world today are wage slaves beholden to a extremely wealthy small portion of people they only see through a television screen and both hate and cannot look away from at the same time. You can draw parallels to many scenes from the book/movie to things you may see come across the CNN ticker on a Monday morning. Fighting for their lives against some other poor souls picked for this and others who have trained their whole lives describes almost any war around the world today.
I have seen comparisons to the Japanese film Battle Royal and although, yes, they are very similar, many will instantly put on the high school "infatuation with any culture/country but my own because my country sucks!" mentality. And that is often sad to me because the same book or movie can be written in two different countries and due to cultural subtext and meanings be two very different pieces. Yet as humans, we strive to make comparisons to new things we see so we can find a comfort zone. X is just like Y but X was so much better is a bad type of comparison in many cases because it cheapens them both and they should be judged on their own merits. I have heard the stakes were higher for the kids of Battle Royal. That the movie is for teens about teens and has been whitewashed to striped to a marketing ploy for pins, hair ties and cook books. Yes there is marketing, yes there are changes, and knowing full well this will upset many, they had to be made. Also the concept of responsibility, the idea of fighting for your life when the odds are against you, the realization that you are being punished for the sins of people from your past the very basic tenant that sometimes bad and horrible things happen to good people are in now way strict property of teens. And if recipes in book are so well described that somebody wants to cook them, then good on ya. Well done Collins, well played.
Coming in at 2 hours, the movie is jammed with things happening. Some parts were left out because you cannot convey them with enough force in this medium. 5 pages of description for Haymitch about to lose his dinner/breakfast/that meal you have when you wake up drunk, will be reduced to a glance and 5 seconds of footage. So not logical for a movie. The time period of him going from alcoholic to being on the kids side still shows him with a drink in his hand when he can and shows that he is still a functioning alcoholic and not a blithering pee yourself drunk. Yes, we would have all liked to see some vomit, but I am sure there is some formula somewhere and if we saw vomit in one spot we would lose a kid getting his face caved in with a brick in another.
I appreciated the violence in parts. Some of it moved really fast which conveyed how fast injury and death can come in the Arena. Most fights also seemed to be a frantic rush of arms and weapons which also showed that these Tributes are still kids. Some more trained than others but less than 18 years of training still gives them little experience in a fight for their lives. So the frantic fighting is what I would expect from them. The size difference in the Red shirt kids, you know who they are, and the Careers really is shown well and lets you get a sense of how one sided the battle really is. The casting grew on me and this is hard to do when a book goes to live action. Knowing it or not, you will give images and attributes to characters in print and unless you pull some miracle, looking at you Harry Potter franchise, there will be some hits and some misses in casting. I felt that Peeta could have been bigger, more mid-western farm boy and slight pudgy looking. But the actor had the not so bumbling, but very endearing look about his face that worked. Hey, he did great, but I wished they had put some lbs on him then leaned him up throughout the movie. Mainly because in the book I feel you get the idea that when Peeta does something sweet or endearing, it is a shock that he would know how to do that. You should not picture him painting or frosting a cake gently. Cinna, played by Lenny Kravitz was very good. From the book you get that he is somebody to trust and he comes across as such in the movie. Yes he walks among the most outlandish dressed people and to still be edgy, he goes the opposite and subdued route. Good call in the book and good call in the movie as well. Now Rue... Oh lord Rue. As a good friend/sister would say "Tears forever". Parts with Rue in the book are very good and her brief, almost too brief, moments in the movie are touching. They could have been a bit longer but even in the short time you get a kid sister attachment to her. The little sister who somehow surprises you when she does something grown up and adult like. So, yes, I teared up a bit from her. It may also be the fact that she looks like my niece to me.
The set and shooting locales were great. I often tried to guess from the books where they were located. And from the movies I can say that Katniss was from Tennessee or West Virginia, the more I think about it, the more I lean to WV. And the capital was in Washington DC, District 11 Florida or an area near the borders of present day Georgia and Florida. If somebody would like to make a quick phone call to Math and ask her to figure out where they are from based on the fact they were traveling at "200 mph" and the Capital is in DC I would be quite grateful.
Some things were left out and I notice them because they had an impact on me when reading the book. I am a foodie and loved the descriptions of food in the book. I would have liked to see more food, but people eating and liking food on film is, well, rather boring. And although it serves a great purpose in the book to show the gap between the Districts and the Capital, it really is one place that a quick pan of a long spread of food can really do more. Just recall the roll Katniss eats at the beginning and the fifty foot spreads of food all throughout the Capital. I would have liked to see more interaction with Katniss and the people of the Hob to show how she was a part of the community in many ways. To show how her family was part of a bigger family. But the looks on the faces of the people at the Reaping when the names are called did that for you. So when something is missing from the movie, look deeper, look out of the general focus and see if you can find it. Look for that wonderful green stew they talk about so much in the book, it’s there. The aspect of what I call the Dungeons Masters from hell, really help to play up the Reality TV aspect of the games. I think it excelled in this point more than anything else. And that alone is almost worth the ticket price to a fan of movies when you take a second to ask yourself. "Is this how they make Jersey Shore, but with less fireballs?"
So in the end, The movie hits the mark. Fairly dead on too. I understand that a review is to show the good and bad. But it should really try to tell the good and the bad without a wish list or comparison contrast to another movie. I liked the casting, I liked the frantic combat. The sets were amazing, the costumes were great and outlandish. The pacing, although it was a 2 hour movie, was good enough that I did not get sleepy or tired even after being up since 7:30 am and at the movie at 12:10 am. Work at 9am was a chore, but still worth it. The changes did not destroy the movie. Many may feel that any change ruins it, but we are adults and compromise has to be made. We know this and what purpose does complaining do if its is only going drive people away from something you claim to like. Collins worked in TV and I trust she knows what works on screen better than most authors. She put a good touch to this. For me, the movie gets a 4/5 and honestly, a 5 would mean the movie would be 3 and a half hours long.