FlixChatter Review: The Hunger Games

It’s quite rare that I watch a movie adaptation within a year of finishing the book, but that’s exactly what happened with Hunger Games. I’ve told you in this post on Friday that I found the Suzanne Collins’ book to be quite a page turner, but fortunately, this is the one occasion where the film does the book justice.

Just what is the Hunger Games? Well the prologue tells us the background of this annual event. Every year the Capitol requires each of the 12 districts of the nation of Panem to send one girl and one boy aged 12-18 to enter into a gladiatorial competition where they must fight each other to the death until only one remains standing. The purpose of this is twofold, one is as a punishment for past uprising, and the other is as a form of entertainment, much akin to the various reality TV we watch today.

The film is faithful to a fault to the book’s timeline, with the first scene showing the poverty-stricken area where our protagonist Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) lives with her mother and sister, Prim. Her father has died years ago in a mining accident, leaving Katniss to pretty much fend for herself and her family. The film doesn’t waste much time to get to one of the most emotional parts of the story, the Reaping scene, where Prim’s name is selected to be one of the 24 participants (called Tributes) in the 74th Hunger Games. Katniss promptly volunteers herself in place of her sister, knowing that Prim would has no chance of surviving the game. That part is already featured in all the trailers but still packed an emotional punch when I saw it on the big screen, and boy was I glad I have some tissues handy. The other half of the District 12 pair is Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), a boy Katniss knew from school and who once helped her.

In a sort of twisted tradition, the Tributes are treated like royalty on the way to the slaughter house, so speak. Lavish food and sleeping quarters await them on the train to the Capitol and once there, they continue to live comfortably as they’re being trained and made-over by their stylists for the various televised appearances. Given that the games itself doesn’t start until halfway-through the movie, director Gary Ross is able to keep the pace moving at a swift pace and offer a lot of amusing scenes to keep us entertained. The part when Katniss and Peeta meets their mentor, Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), a former champion who’s now in constant drunken stupor, is fun to watch. His words of wisdom to his trainees is “embrace the probability of your imminent death,” which is certainly true but not exactly helpful. The relationship between Katniss and members of her team, including her stylist Cinna, is nicely established around this time.

Despite the action-packed title, this movie is as much a drama as it is action fare, which is totally fine by me. I like that the script takes the time for us to get to know the characters before the brutal competition finally takes place. The gore and savagery of the book has been toned down significantly for the PG-13 rating, but I don’t think it hurts the film as we still get the barbaric notion of these games. It’s like Survivor but with an incredibly higher stakes that requires sharp instincts as much as fighting skills to survive. It’s apparent that Katniss’ got what it takes to be a victor, but it doesn’t mean it’s a walk in the park for her. Not only does she face tough competition from other highly-trained Tributes, she also has to outsmart the Panem officials who run the game. They have the power to arbitrarily alter the rules of the game at the expense of the young participants.

As expected, the major factor why the movie works well is the casting, starting with the protagonist. 22-year-old Jennifer Lawrence definitely can carry a movie. She has the emotional intelligence and screen presence which enables her to hold her own against experienced actors twice her age. She definitely makes for a capable action heroine who’s as adept in the dramatic scenes. Now, the one actor I had doubts with, Josh Hutcherson, acquits himself well as Peeta, though he doesn’t exactly wow me. He does have a nice chemistry with Lawrence, which is crucial as their ‘star-crossed romance’ is quite a game changer in the way that nobody in Panem expects. Liam Hemsworth barely has any scenes as Katniss’ BFF Gale but I’m guessing he’ll have more prominence in the later films in the trilogy.

The supporting cast deserves a mention as well, particularly Stanley Tucci as the Capitol TV host Caesar. He’s just such an amazing actor that he can believably portray just about anything. Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson and Lenny Kravitz all lend credibility to their roles and each have their moments to shine. Donald Sutherland in his brief scenes, adds gravitas as the formidable President Snow.

With so much going for it, this movie is so darn entertaining from start to finish, there’s barely any boring moment despite the 142-min running time. The set pieces and costumes, especially when we get to the Capitol are marvelous. The outfits are described quite vividly in the book and I must say the fiery outfits of District 12 that earn Katniss the moniker ‘the girl who was on fire’ definitely stands out even amongst the colorful, over-the-top fashion worn by the Capitol residents.

The only gripe I have, which is not exactly the fault of the filmmakers, is that the movie can’t be set in first person like the book. It helps that I have read the book as it offers more depth that a movie can’t possibly capture. I’ll surely read the rest of the Hunger Games books before the inevitable sequels come out.

Final Thoughts: This is an ambitious effort but I’m happy to report that Gary Ross somehow managed to create a thrilling and engaging feature whilst staying true to the vision of the book. Moving between action and human drama, the movie made me laugh, cry and cheer all the way through. If one of the Tributes were to ask me, ‘are you not entertained?’ My answer would be a resounding YES.

4.5 out of 5 reels

Given the $155 mil record-breaking weekend box-office, seems like a lot of you saw this movie as well. So what did you think?

44 thoughts on “FlixChatter Review: The Hunger Games

  1. So glad you liked it! Apart from a really bad audience, I had a good time watching it. It really did the book justice – which is a rare thing!

    1. Oh no, the bad audience has got to be the worst! Fortunately the kids in my theater were well-behaved, but maybe ’cause I saw it on a matinee showing so it’s not as crowded. Glad you still enjoyed the movie though.

  2. I do believe that to truly appreciate this movie is to read the book. Although I enjoyed the film, as someone who hasn’t read the books, there are still a lot of questions remaining. Not much the filmmakers can do about that I suppose, as it is already 142 minutes long.

    1. I was just talking to someone whose husband didn’t read the book and she said he also had a ton of questions. But he enjoyed it enough that he might actually go a second time. So did you read more about the story afterwards? Sometimes that helps whenever I see a movie I like but still have unanswered questions. I think the filmmakers did what it could with the amount given, but of course some details are bound to be missed.

  3. I am pleased you liked it as much as I did Ruth.

    A Lot of my friends moaned about the shakey camera work in the action scenes, but I didn’t notice that at all.

    I enjoyed the restrictive narrative of the film. The camera (and therefore us) never leave Katniss’ side, and that is the closest to a first person story we can achieve through film.

    Happy Monday

    1. Hey matey, I didn’t notice the shaky camera work either, so high five! 🙂 I mean it’s there surely but it didn’t really bother me. Yeah you’re right about the narrative, I think the advantage of not setting it in first person is that we get the birds-eye-view if you will of the whole story, I mean in the book, we didn’t see how the Panem officials were manipulating the game at the expense of the Tributes. That was quite disturbing to see.

  4. Think I’m one of the very few people out there who wasn’t blown away by the film. I thought it was fine but it didn’t offer any emotional resonance with me. The reaping scene was moving, but it didn’t really get to me all that much. Maybe I’m partly dead inside!

    I felt they could have gone further with the whole notion of kids killing kids for entertainment and control.

    I haven’t read the books so I’m taking the film for just what it is. It seems that people who’ve read the books have enjoyed it a fair bit more as they’ve got the background to help them with the enjoyment of it.

    1. Ahah that’s ok Jaina, it’s good to have different viewpoints right, I mean we can’t all always agree on everything. I think you might have a point there about the different experience of the audience who have read the book and those who haven’t. I might be in your camp if I hadn’t read it, but that Reaping scene had me tearing up even in the trailer. Maybe I’m just such a big softie, ahah.

    1. Thanks T, somehow I have a feeling I’d love the movie and glad my hunch was right. I think it helps that I went on a matinee showing where there wasn’t a lot of people. I wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much if there were screaming kids around me, ahah.

  5. Great review Ruth. I agree with pretty much everything you say. I wasnt thrilled with Hutcherson either. But I was pretty much enthralled by this story and the characters overall.

    Definitely more drama than action movie, in my book.

    LOL @ the thought of one of the tributes pulling a “Spaniard” and shouting “Are you not entertained”!! 😀

  6. I watched it on the first day it was released in Indonesia, and man, it was packed! Never seen that kind of hype since the first Harry Potter movie was released. So much for Hari Raya Nyepi…

    I haven’t read the book, but I LOVED the movie. It was so…well, like you said, entertaining! And from what I’ve heard so far, the movie did the book justice, so I guess I won’t be feeling too guilty if I decide to just watch the movie and skip reading the books altogether.

    Everything you said about Jennifer Lawrence’s performance in this movie is spot on! This young lady is the next superstar for sure! And she has more than one face expression throughout the movie! Take that, Stewart!

    Btw, I feel like I have to share this tiny story to the world because it was just so hilarious. SPOILER ALERT for those who haven’t seen the movie:

    In a particular scene inside the cave, where Katniss and Peeta kissed, a teenage girl sitting a few seats away from me (pretty much a tween, I guess. One of them Beliebers, probably) practically SCREAMED her head off, going berserk and yelled “That B*tch!”

    It was so inappropriate yet so hilarious that no one, and I mean NO ONE, even ‘sssh!’ed her for yelling! They were laughing instead, me included! It was a bizarre turn of events at the cinema…

    1. Hi Wulan, thanks for sharing that funny story! She must have a huge crush on that Josh guy, ahah. I probably would’ve laughed too, I mean if she went on and on then I’d shush her.

      And yes about Lawrence about having more than one facial expression! I refrain from mentioning Twilight and their horrible actors in my review as I just don’t think they’re even in the same league!

  7. Ted S.

    Nice review Ruth, I’ll probably give it a rent when it’s out on Blu-ray. I was surprised how many good reviews this film has received, I thought it would be another Twilight type of thing.

  8. paulaguthat

    Great review Ruth! I’m cheating a little, I read both yours & T’s. Hopefully I get to see it this coming weekend or I might try a week night so it’s less crowded.

    1. Hi Paula! I’m looking forward to hearing what you think. Yeah, try a week night or matinee to avoid the crowds, the surrounding definitely affects your enjoyment of the movie.

  9. Great review, Ruth. I, too, was entertained and enjoyed the movie.However, we yearned for MORE – more development, more insight into the characters, more depth. The people of District 12 were starving, but they didn’t attack the wealth of food when it was presented. Haymitch was supposed to be out of control but he never really was…

    Still, I’d see The Hunger Games again, which is something I never do (rewatch a movie) and I definitely will reread the books and reread Catching Fire before the movie is released in November of 2013.

    1. Hi Brenda, glad to hear you enjoyed this. I hear ya about wanting more but I understand the limitation of a film just can’t possibly have the same depth like the book, so I thought that the filmmaker did their best within that constraints. I do wish we see Haymitch being a bit more unhinged, but maybe that’ll overshadow Katniss & Peeta too much, ahah.

      I’m looking forward to reading Catching Fire. Wow, they already set the next movie’s release? Too bad it’s more than a year to wait for that 🙂

  10. Sweet review! Glad you liked it, I was also pretty damn choked up when Katniss voulnteered! Also when she had stern final words with her mother! I had no idea it was so long, it flew past for me.

    My only gripe was with the first moment of the games when they all ran into the centre. It should have been freaking brutal and due to the ratings and censors, it lacked any impact for me as to how terrifying this situation would be.

    1. Thank you Pete. Well if you choked up during the Reaping scene, I was practically bawling, ahah. That goodbye scene was heart-wrenching as well, I mean they barely had time to say anything and it could very well the last time the Tributes see their family, y’know.

      Yeah I knew that the movie won’t capture the level of brutality described in the book, but I think people get the gist of it. I mean, we did see the kids getting killed, I personally don’t need to see the bloodbath.

      1. Oh I thought she was decent, there was one scene towards the end between her and Jennifer that was definitely memorable. She wasn’t given much dialog though, but then again neither was most of the young actors playing Tributes.

  11. So glad you enjoyed the film, Ruth! I was definitely happy with it overall, and I would agree that it’s one of the few films that do the book it’s based off justice.

    Regarding Josh Hutcherson as Peeta – I felt like he didn’t get enough opportunities to really be Peeta. I think he gave a nice portrayal, but that there could have been more had he had more material to work with.

    I was definitely tearing up at the reaping (also just from the trailer alone!), Katniss’s special scene shared with Cinna right before going into the arena, and was in fully crying mode (just about) with Rue’s death and uproar in District 11. And then I was laughing regularly throughout with scenes that featured Haymitch’s witty dialogue and particularly Caeser Flickerman. A whole row of us started laughing every time he was on screen. I agree – he really can portray just about anything believably.

    Great review, Ruth. Happy to say I share very similar feelings for the film.

    1. Hi Kris, I hear ya about Peeta, but I feel that the movie chose to make the focus more about Katniss so it seems that the other characters aren’t given much to do. Perhaps that’s a tactic for the first film and the rest of the trilogy would expand to the other characters and give them more attention. I think Peeta still have way more screen time than Gale. Fortunately I think Josh was ok as Peeta, though I did wonder if someone else had been in that role, if he would’ve been more compelling. I do think that Lawrence is perfect and I can’t imagine anyone else as Katniss.

      Oh that scene with the Mockingjay pin between Cinna and Katniss is so subtle but definitely packs an emotional wallop! I practically ran out of tissues as well during this movie, ahah.

    1. I don’t think the movie could capture everything the book could, it’s just a different medium. I do think the filmmakers did the best they could within the constraint of a film.

  12. Nice review, Ruth. I enjoyed the movie, but I had some problems with the lack of character development. The burial scene of a certain character (don’t want to get into spoilers) didn’t resonate with me since she was only on screen for a few minutes before that. I also felt more could have been done with the alpha male, who never did anything that impressive despite being initially labeled as a major threat. I’m sure it would help to read the books, though, to get more out of the relationships between all of the characters.

    1. Yeah I see what you mean about the burial scene, which made more sense in the book. Again *SPOILER ALERT* but perhaps Katniss felt a connection w/ Rue given that she was the one telling her about the Tracker jackers and also they spent a few days together, which given the situation, they’d have bonded much quicker than in normal situations.

  13. Great review, I can’t agree with you more. I think this was one of the best book-to-movie adaptations I’ve ever seen. Kudos to Lionsgate for actually casting some people who can actually act! I was so pleased with Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss… it’s the first time I think I’ve seen a book character come to life exactly as I wanted to (Daniel Radcliffe didn’t grow on me until the last HP two movies…). My only complaint is how they rushed the Peeta/Katniss scene! I went with my Mom, who hadn’t read the books, and the fact that Peeta legitimately loves Katniss was totally lost on her. She thought he was acting just for the games as well until the very end! Fortunately, there were some scenes (like Seneca Cranes death) that I liked MORE in the movie than the book… so that made up for it. I was very pleased!!

    1. Hi there, welcome to FC! Yes, the casting certainly helped a ton. Regarding Peeta’s feelings to Katniss, well I think the movie tried to show that there’s a history between them in that Peeta’s always had a crush on Katniss (hence throwing her the bread) but you’re right, it went so quick in the movie for people to know that. It really does help to read the book I think, so I’m glad I did.

      For me, I think the movie gives a better view of what’s going on in the game because it wasn’t set in first person. For example, how that forrest fire happened, I didn’t think it was so ‘controlled’ the way it was depicted in the film. It made me go ‘whoa!! that was unfair!’ when I saw Katniss struggling to stay alive during that scene.

      Thanks for visiting, hope to see you around here more 🙂

  14. Wow, I’m quite surprised that you liked it that much! Makes me want to check it out earlier than I wanted but alas, no free time until later this week at the earliest… Yea I started reading the book and wondered how they would be able to translate it to the big screen given that it was in the first person. Good review Ruth

  15. filmgurl1

    Happy to hear you enjoyed the movie! I’ve heard so many mixed reviews about this one that I’ve been debating it for awhile. Haven’t read the books so wasn’t sure if it was one of those where you had to know the story to get the film. It does seem to have an interesting storyline and has sparked my curiosity. Still debating but good to know your thoughts on it, thanks for sharing! 🙂

  16. Pingback: The Hunger Games (2012) | Film Gurl

  17. Pingback: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire movie review |

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