This is written in the form of a letter to my favorite film program/favorite podcast, Wittertainment (which is hilarious and snarky and everyone should listen to it):
Dear Dr. Statler & Dr. Waldorf,
After work, I went to see Hunger Games. Based on your analysis of the midnight-release crowd in Boston, I should have been in the near-prime demographic. I’m 28 and saw all of the Harry Potter films pre-release/at midnight/or day of release, went to almost all of the midnight book parties, have never seen or read Twilight, and really enjoyed reading the Hunger Games trilogy. But, I couldn’t help but think that the film fell a bit flat.
In pondering it over, I’m fairly certain that’s because the film didn’t feel fully committed to its universe, in the way that, say, the Harry Potters always managed to feel. Although I thought the set design and decorating in the Capital (that’s the Vivienne Westwood bit) were lovely, the people themselves were far better and more outrageous in my head. It was disconcerting to flash between "generic forest" (nothing about it felt like a set design, which, of course, is what the Hunger Games Arena should have been and it felt very Twilighty, from what I’ve seen in their trailers) and the Capital - it was almost as though the director went "ooops! we forgot - FUTURE universe, see, FUTURE! People have blue hair! And slightly funky facial hair! And nonspeaking Toby Jones, because he just has a funny face in the FUTURE! And roses - but they’re FUTURE roses! And now, back to the generic present-day forest."
I also think that the movie did not play to its strengths. The book’s loveliness is due, in large part, to the way it chronicles Katniss’ complex inner monologue. As a reader, we only see the Hunger Games from her perspective and everything we "know" about the machinations of the game is from what she is deducing or remembering from watching them in the past. The movie is very different: we swoop from Katniss in the arena to the control room to the blue-haired exposition fairy (oh god, SO. MUCH. exposition!) and see the Hunger Games from a much broader range of perspectives (which I think makes Katniss a less complex, less interesting character). I found myself wishing that I could see a lot more of the television coverage of the Games - that’s one of the points that Collins makes so strongly in the book - that the edited version of what we consume often doesn’t match the realities of an event. The film could have done this spectacularly, but just generally didn’t. It only really did this once, in showing a district’s angry reaction to a tribute’s death, in what I thought was the film’s strongest moment.
Two issues for the future: one of the key themes of book 2 (Catching Fire) is Katniss trying to decide why she acted the way she did at the end of the Hunger Games: whether her motives were selfish, altruistic, or political and how that affects her "role" thereafter. I thought that the film’s dialogue in that key moment obliterated the need to have Katniss engage in a very interesting internal conflict later in the trilogy. Second, Hunger Games is by far the strongest of the three books - if I was this underwhelmed by the first film, I’m now even less excited for 2 & 3.
Just as (the wonderful! and amazing!) Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is not a movie about spying, Hunger Games is not a book about the Hunger Games, but about wealth, privilege, freedom, reality television, the role of the media, and lots of other really interesting things. Hunger Games, the movie, just fell far short of the sophistication of its source material.