It was almost a case of life imitating art as I walked into the cinema last night to find a teenager with her feet planted firmly on my seat. Not sitting on the seat, just sitting with her feet on it. My seat! (Think Ross’ sandwich in Friends but with furniture). Sure, it doesn’t have a plaque engraved with my name or anything, but it’s where I like to sit. Thankfully, after some meaningful glances (i.e. wild eyed staring of the ‘one of us will have to move first’ variety), there was no necessity for life to imitate art, albeit more Seat Wars than Hunger Games.
If you’ve happened upon my previous blog post, you will know that it’s fair to say I approached this movie with some degree of anticipation (come on now, everyone likes an understatement!) Book adaptations are always fraught with drama and as the lights dimmed, the potential for disaster wasn’t far from the forefront of my mind. I’m happy to report that disaster was averted. Mostly.
(Spoiler alert – if you haven’t read the book or you have but don’t want to know anything about the movie yet, don’t read on)
For everyone familiar with the novel, The Hunger Games opens on an unfamiliar note – the first of a series of breakaways from the point of view of heroine Katniss Everdeen – before a quick cut to District 12 gives the loyal reader their first sigh of relief. Very little teen movie gloss has been applied to Katniss’ downtrodden district, and there are distinct echoes of Jennifer Lawrence’s role in Winter’s Bone. Events unfold in a near-perfect replication of the book, beginning with Katniss and Gale’s hunting trip and gathering pace with The Reaping. A few minor omissions or alterations can be forgiven – sacrifices have to be made to allow the story to breathe on screen and save the pace from a fatal stumble towards the end.
Some sacrifices can’t be forgiven quite so easily. The Hunger Games hinges on a concept that is inherently violent, yet the handling of the onscreen violence is almost cowardly. Yes, there are problems associated with portraying children killing children, especially when trying to secure an apparently all-important 12A certificate. No, it’s not a great idea to show every last drop of blood spilled in the arena, or for us to hear every breaking bone and every snapping neck. But that doesn’t mean it should be treated lightly either. The impact of several huge moments is dulled by our inability to experience it with the characters, notably the death of one of the youngest Tributes, and as we were constantly reminded by the marketing campaign, you shouldn’t have to see it to experience it.
It says a lot about the quality of the rest of the movie that this seems almost like a minor complaint, and much of that quality is on display in the performances. I will humbly take back any petty grumbling I’ve ever done about Josh Hutcherson – he simply is Peeta. Lenny Kravitz, rather surprisingly, brings Cinna’s quiet loyalty to life in a way that was much more touching that expected, and Elizabeth Banks is delightful, if seemingly underused, as Effie. Only Woody Harrelson seems an odd fit, appearing altogether less shambolic that we’ve come to expect from Haymitch Abernathy, and an awful lot more contained than he could have been. It could simply be that he’s outshone by the wonderful Jennifer Lawrence, who is a perfect fit for Katniss. She has the toughest job to do with arguably one of the least sympathetic characters, yet by the time she’s breaking down in the arena the audience is right there with her.
Perhaps the greatest triumph of The Hunger Games is that any temptation to flesh out romantic entanglements and turn the movie into a sappy Twilight hybrid has been resisted, and by doing so the filmmakers have stayed true to Suzanne Collins story.
Now, how many days is it till Catching Fire?