So, I like the books. Not great literature, but fun and quick, addictive reads and just enough social commentary to add some weight and, most importantly, they are the perfect antidote for the Twilight series. And the movie trailers looked good and Jennifer Lawrence was a great choice for Katniss and I was excited to see what they had done. So much so that I braved the crowds to see a movie on opening night, something I do maybe twice a year.
And… I don't know. There were exciting scenes and moments I got misty and times I felt like cheering and when the credits rolled I felt mostly disappointed.
Spoilers abound so I'll put the rest after the jump. Guard your eyes!
Part of it, I know, is the necessary cuts to cram the book into a movie. Even at that, it runs two hours and twenty minutes. And changes had to be made to show us what, in the books, Katniss just tells us. I understand that. I just don't understand some of the choices made, especially the things that were cut that have deeper significance in the following books.
Part of it was the directing. The constantly moving camera was, frankly, annoying. When used properly it's a great effect to put you right in the moment. Overused, it just gives me headaches. Note the different in the use of the jerkycam between "The Bourne Identity," when it was used to great effect during fight scenes or chase scenes, and the use in the sequel when the director used it in every damn scene. Honestly, jerky focusing during a conversation in a diner doesn't make me feel like I'm there, it makes me feel like I'm having a stroke.
Similarly, scenes were cut short, constantly. It's not coincidence that the most gripping scenes where the ones where the actors were allowed time to act, and we were given time to process it. The Reaping scene. Rue's death. The cave. Otherwise scenes ended just as the last word of dialogue did, with no time for reactions or tone. That may have been due to the time crunch; maybe the scenes were shot but then pared down to save every last second. All I know is, it managed to feel rushed and lagging at the same time, which is kind of impressive.
And part of it was the score. This movie needed to feel epic. It needed to move me at the right times, and get out of the way when it wasn't needed. Nope. I should have felt grandeur during the parade, I should have felt more excitement in the forest, I should have been on the edge of my seat at the end, and I wasn't. A score makes a huge difference in a film, and this one was lacking for me.
Here's the stuff I would have liked to have seen included. Again, for all I know it was shot and got cut — and your mileage may definitely vary, many peolple love the movie just as it is — but this is what the Armchair DirectorTM would add:
In the beginning, as Katniss is heading off to hunt (and why is she putting her sister to bed in the morning, anyway?) her sister should have kissed her fingers and waved at her. Katniss could do it back, then simply nodded at her mother. We needed to know it was an affectionate, nearly intimate gesture, not used for just anybody, so it means something later.
Her mom should not have been so lucid. Katniss should have had to bring her out of it a little, so we'd understand why she was snapping at her mom after the Reaping.
The pin was too random, so it had no emotional impact, and it has to. We lost the mayor's daughter scene so try this: when she trades in her bird, make the Hob more black market than flea market, and have the old lady treat her with the kind of sarcasm you only use with someone who's earned your respect. Later, after Katniss is being taken away, the old lady should contrive to press it into her hand, whispering "for luck."
No problems with the Reaping scene, or the heading-to-Capitol scenes, other than the jerky camera. We should have seen Katniss watching more old scenes, though, including some that looked old.
Loved Haymitch and Effie and Cinna. All of the casting was spot-on, in fact. And am I the only one who saw Josh Hutcherson (Peeta) and thought "Young Wash"? If they ever do a "Firefly" prequel…
Caesar worked for me, as did Seneca and the president. But the crowd scenes seemed too sterile, like the throne room scenes in "Thor." Everything was so shiny and the crowds were so contained, it screamed CG to me. And, sadly, the Girl on Fire costume simply wasn't as impressive as it sounded in the book. The parts that weren't flaming were supposed to be gently glowing, like old coals in a fire. They had on black jumpsuits with a flamey effect.
When she sees the forest in her window, Katniss should have unconsciously touched her pin. Mockingjay pin (at this point) = home.
During the Games, since we lacked the insight into Katniss' head we got scenes from other POVs instead. Which is fine, but if they had to do that, they didn't do it enough. We should have seen people gasping, people betting on the outcome, people lined up in the streets watching, people glued to the show in their homes and at work and everywhere else. "The Truman Show" did this perfectly, you really got the sense the whole world was watching, partly because they kept going back to the same people watching so each spectator got his or her own little story arc. We also should have other districts watching their children dying and mourning quietly with grim acceptance because what else can they do? So when Rue died, and District 11 watches Katniss treat their own with respect and love, we really understood when they snap and riot.
Say, when the other tributes were waiting under the tree for Katniss to come down, and one was throwing knives into a lizard, did you wonder why she didn't just throw a knife into Katniss while she was climbing before? I kinda was.
Needed more mention of the mockingjay pin. Rue trusted her because of it. Since it's never mentioned in the entire Game in the movie, the point of Cinna sneaking it onto her jacket is wasted. Also more on mockingjays in general. Even a quick mention: "Oh, mockingjays. My dad used to sing to them, they said no one could attract them the way he could." We'll need that, later.
I may be remembering it wrong, but my impression from the book was that in the beginning of the Game she was fighting to stay alive. But after Rue's death, she was fighting to get back at the Capitol. I missed that, in the movie.
Most of the rest of the Game I'd leave alone, except for this: We needed to be unsure whether she meant her affection for Peeta or not, and we needed to be uncertain how serious he was. And we needed to be uncertain exactly why she was going to eat the berries, but we should absolutely have believed she was going to. In the movie there was no suspense, no build up, no music to help build tension, and we knew before she started that she was faking it. No suspense.
I also think having Peeta relatively uninjured at the end was a mistake, since you lose the Katniss-screaming-for-him-in-the-hovercraft scene that way, which is what clinched her in the hearts of the viewers.
When they arrived at District 12, I would have ended the movie with Katniss and Peeta smiling and holding their hands up high as everyone cheers, and I'd have rolled credits. BUT, I would have continued to show scenes alongside them, suggesting that the movie is over (happy ending!) but showing what happens afterward anyway, i.e. Katniss running to hug her sister, food and supplies being offloaded to the happy citizens, and Peeta truly realizing for the first time Katniss was faking it. Katniss would hug her family, hug Gale, look around and see… Peeta sneaking away. And that's where you end it.
There were so many places where emotional connections were made in the book that were missing here, and frankly I want 'em back.
Stuff I liked: The whole cast. District 11, and how filming it in North Carolina lent an authentic feel to the area. Katniss's authentic-looking archery skills. Most of the story. Cinna. I did enjoy the movie, but it could have been much more and I miss the movie it could have been.