I wasn’t sure how I was going to react. My students were split: some loved it, others hated it. There didn’t seem to be too much middle ground. The reviews online were similar. I know in the past, I’m usually not very happy with movies based on books because directors take too many liberties with the raw material (the book) and they tend to change things that didn’t need to be changed and they cheapen relationships between the characters. Instead of the deep threads that form between characters in a book, movies tend to show these superficially, or not at all. This was the case with the Harry Potter and Twilight films. However, I recognize that the more distance between the last reading of the book and the watching of the film, the less frustrating the changes are.
So, excited and nervous, I paid for my ticket and made my way into a mostly empty theater (only three of us), right as the film started. I warn you, there will be spoilers, so, if you haven’t read the books, or seen the movie, and don’t want it spoiled, then stop reading NOW.
Let me start with what I didn’t like.
- I had a problem with some of the casting before I ever watched the movie, but watching it brought it front and center. I didn’t like Haymitch, Cinna, Peeta, and Effie. They just didn’t mesh with what I envisioned and they didn’t exactly act like the characters in the book, either, especially Haymitch and Cinna.
- We didn’t get into Katniss’ head, so, those who didn’t read the books would have no idea what she was thinking. It wasn’t immediately obvious by her actions/expressions.
- The shaking of the camera in the beginning drove me nuts. It made me dizzy. I hate it when they do that in films.
- They cut so much out of the train ride, and changed others. I kept shaking my head. What happened to Haymitch being surprised with “Did I actually get a pair of fighters this year”? Only Katniss wields a knife. Peeta doesn’t do anything. The relationship between the three is different, and not good different.
- In the chariot rides (in the book), Katniss and Peeta were instructed to hold hands. In the movie, Peeta initiates this. I had a problem with this because it places more weight on Peeta’s role in snubbing the Capitol.
- Speaking of, Haymitch does NOT like Katniss in the books (though he tries to keep her alive). But in the movie, he likes her and cares for her (with the occasional slip back into his book-part). I didn’t care for it.
- The tracker-jacker scene–no, no, no! That many tracker-jackers buzzing about would’ve killed her. They’re TRACKER-jackers. They track those who harm them. They were buzzing outside and saw her. They’d have swarmed her. (And yes, that’s not how it happened in the book).
- The detonation of the careers’ food pack: another no, no, no! First of all, they all should’ve gone. Second of all, the explosion hurt Katniss’ ear! This is something that makes its way into book 2. It’s important! But no, the explosion does nothing to her except disorient her a little. Argh!
- No sleep syrup when they were in the cave! What’s up with that?! I was really looking forward to their time in the cave, the stories (like Prim’s goat), and her tricking him. There was a huge connection in the cave (in the book) and it was glazed over.
- The final scene with the mutts and Cato didn’t work for me, either. One, it gave Cato more importance than needed. Two, Peeta didn’t get hurt (hello, he’s supposed to almost lose his life, and he loses his leg!). Incidentally, the actor that played Cato is who I thought should’ve played Peeta. That’s how I imagined Peeta.
- Since Peeta wasn’t near his death-bed when they “won,” there was no Katniss frantically pounding on the glass doors while doctors tried to save Peeta’s life. It’s a shame; that would’ve been a great shot.
- The ending was rushed and the depth of Peeta’s hurt isn’t explored. He just asks, “What now?” and she just replies, “I don’t know.” Really? REALLY? Sigh. Peeta was devastated. Hurt. Not so in the movie.
But I did like the movie overall. Here’s what worked for me:
- I liked the beginning. I think the image of the Seam, the Hob, and District 12 was very nicely done.
- I also liked how Gale and Katniss’ relationship was established. Though I was initially annoyed that she knew things that early on, like about Avoxes, and that a hovercraft appeared, I thought it was good because it set up the story. We’ll need to know this later.
- The start is a little different from the book, but I think it was well done, even with the changes. The relationship between mom, Katniss and Prim is established and they got it.
- I didn’t mind too much about the pin and that there was no Madge. I think it was tastefully incorporated, and it took on a different meaning as it became a token between sisters.
- The sign-in procedure isn’t in the book, but it adds another layer to the story, a good layer. It reinforces the horror of the Games.
- The reaping was beautifully done. The lining up, the music, the solemn mood–it built up the tension so that when Prim’s name is called and Katniss volunteers, it’s heart-breaking.
- The stark contrast of the Capitol versus the Districts was also captured nicely. The eccentric, colorful Capitol comes alive and we’re left with a visible, tangible difference that Collins shows us.
- I really liked that we’re given an outside look into the other Districts (e.g. the uprising in 11), into President Snow, into Seneca Crane’s role as Gamemaker, and into the entertainment value of Caesar Flickerman. One of the downfalls of 1st person narration is that we’re only privy to the narrator’s thoughts and actions. The film moved past that and gave us a more omniscient narration. It worked well.
- I loved the costumes, Girl on Fire.
- I liked how the training room was portrayed, how we were introduced into the characters, even the nameless ones.
- Rue–I loved Rue! She was one of the best castings in the movie.
- Some other good castings: Katniss, Prim, President Snow, Gale.
- I didn’t mind that they didn’t show Katniss trying to find water (it was too easy, but that was minor in the scope of it all), and I think they did the fire scene nicely.
- Peeta’s “camouflage” into the side of the river was spectacular! They did a really good job with that.
- I liked the scene in the cave (with the exceptions noted above). It was more direct than the book, and there was less ambiguity from Katniss.
- The berries scene was also nicely done.
I know I missed things. There was only so many notes I could tap into my phone. Overall, I liked the movie. It’s one of the better adaptations, though it could have been better on several counts. I’m looking forward to see what “they” come up with for Catching Fire.