My sweet wife and I went to see “The Hunger Games” today. I’ve read all three novels and enjoyed them — they are a cut above the usual Young Adult novels and are a bit dark and unrelenting. The release buzz for the film itself was very positive, so I was interested to see just how good it was.
It was outstanding.
That’s not a word I use lightly. Acting, directing, writing, cinematography, art direction were all excellent. The bleakness of District 12 looked more like a documentary about pre-WWII Appalachia that a film setting. Likewise, the gaudiness of Panem made the citizens thereof look like the privileged, self-obsessed class that they are. Casting was great; both Woody Harrelson and Donald Sutherland stayed in their roles instead of chewing scenery, while Stanley Tucci — who is one of the best and most versatile actors around — makes you like his Caesar Flickerman even as you recognize the awfulness of his role in these brutal games. I’ve seen some grumbling about the creature special effects near the end of the film, to which I say: get a life. The effects were fine. Not stunning like “John Carter”, but then again, the film didn’t cost a quarter of a billion dollars to make and will likely be profitable after this weekend.
Beyond that, this may be the single best book-to-film adaptation I’ve ever seen. It trimmed where it needed to in order to get down to the 2:22 running time, yet did no violence to the novel or its characters. It resisted the temptation to make the very end either more resolved or more dramatic than it was in the book — no hope-and-glory scene, no cliffhanger or overt threat.
Also, the film made me tear up. More than once. Actually, I came close to sobbing outright at one scene, but fortunately I have years of practice of stifling such noises in a theater.
Finally, it was brilliantly marketed and released. It is likely to have a near-record opening weekend, and I fully expect it to stay in the #1 box-office slot for several weeks — the “Titanic” effect, if you will — possibly until “The Avengers” opens on May 4th. I also think this will be the highest-grossing film for 2012, so for those who did grumble about effects, don’t worry: they’ll have a ton of money to spend on the second and third films.
In all, as I said to my wife while we walked back to our car, it was everything “John Carter” was not. Spoilers, such as they are, after the jump.
If you’ve read the book, I have no spoilers for you, because the ending is faithful and intact. For those of you who want to know the ending but haven’t read the book — yes, Katness and Peeta both survive and get out, by threatening a joint suicide after they’re the only two Tributes left. At the very end, President Snow, who rules over Panem and the twelve Districts, is clearly unhappy with how things turned out. Katness and Peeta — who had a ‘public’ romance during the games to gain sympathy and sponsors — return to District 12, where Gale — Katness’s best friend before the games, who clearly has a romantic interest in her as well — is waiting. Peeta asks Katness, “What happens now?” And she responds, “I don’t know.”
And there the movie ends. ..bruce..