I first started reading The Hunger Games in the Draper LDS Temple. Mrs. Cornell and I had volunteered to help shepherd visitors through the sacred edifice before its dedication, after which it would no longer be open to the public. Our job was to sit in an anteroom and wait around in case anyone needed us.
No one did.
So I snuck out to the car and got all the reading material that was scattered in the backseat. that included my daughter Cleta’s copy of The Hunger Games, which proved to be a compelling, if not temple-appropriate, read. It’s a book that actually deserves all of the acclaim and attention it is received, unlike all the other pretenders to the post – Harry Potter young adult literary throne. (Twilight, I’m looking in your direction.)
So it was with equal parts excitement and exhaustion that I sat at the Jordan Commons Megaplex at midnight on Thursday, awaiting the much ballyhooed movie adaptation of the same to take the screen. I’m way too old for midnight screenings, but my daughters aren’t, yet they also aren’t old enough to drive themselves home. That meant that one parent or another would have to accompany them to the midnight showing. Guess which one? (Oh, that’s right. I already told you.)
So what’d I think? Well, for the first twenty minutes, I thought I wouldn’t be able to make it through the whole film without throwing up. This had nothing to do with the violence and everything to do with the shaky, herky-jerky handheld camera work. Big chunks of this flick looked like they were filmed on a camcorder by the proud father of a girl at a post-apocalyptic piano recital. I’ve read interviews with artsy directors who talk about handheld cameras providing a gritty, “you are there” feeling. But just as 3-D movies don’t accurately mimic real world depth perception, neither does watching footage bob and weave like a drunken sailor make me feel grittier or presenter. All it does is make me want to down a bottle of Dramamine.
The sloppy cinematography had at least one advantage, however. By obscuring the action, they managed to tone down what was literarily R-rated violence to PG-13 levels. It’s very hard for an audience to be shocked by what they’re seeing if they can’t tell what’s going on.
That’s not to say I hated the film, or even disliked it. They held the camera still long enough for me to be able to notice the outstanding casting and solid performances, along with the serviceable adaptation of what is a very tricky book, cinematically speaking.
Tricky because all three of the Hunger Games novels are written in the first person, which means that the majority of the exposition takes place in the main character’s brain. Consequently, the movie has to show us things that Katniss can only guess are happening. That’s why Seneca Crane gets a lot of screen time, even though he makes no appearance in the first book and is only mentioned in the second book after he’s “dealt with,” so to speak. They could’ve handled this problem with an intrusive narration, but I’m glad they didn’t. If they had, we wouldn’t have had a chance to see Donald Sutherland’s delightfully unctuous performance as the snakelike President Snow.
The casting in this movie was note perfect. Jennifer Lawrence didn’t impress me in X-Men: First Class, but she certainly impressed me here. She’s a great Katniss, while Josh Hutcherson pulls off Peeta with the requisite stalker earnestness. I had imagined Cinna to be exactly the way Lenny Kravitz embodies him, and while I had imagined Haymitch as someone very different from Woody Harrelson, now that I’ve seen Woody’s performance, I can’t imagine him any other way. Gale looked older and hunkier than he should have, but that’s a quibble, and, really, who am I to decide what’s hunky and what isn’t?
This movie proved the old adage that directing is 80% casting and 20% showing up with sharp pencils.
I couldn’t think of any necessary plot points from the book that didn’t make the transition to the big screen, and, overall, it left me eager for the sequel, although the Hunger Games follows the Star Wars sequel pattern – great first installment, superior second installment, disappointing finale. They’re talking about breaking the final book into two movies, which is really stupid, given that not nearly enough happens in Book 3 to justify slicing it in half.
Still, I’ll be there for all four, although you’d think that with a multimillion dollar budget for a big studio tentpole franchise, they’d be able to afford a tripod.