Forest Gumption

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen crouching down in forest with arrows on her back

I saw The Hunger Games opening day. Based on the strength of Suzanne Collins' novel, on how good I expected Jennifer Lawrence to be in the lead role, and on advance word that the movie was not a complete travesty, I wanted to show my support for the film. So I was a small part of the $152.5 million it racked up that weekend in the US — making it third on the list of domestic opening weekends to date, behind 2008's The Dark Knight and 2011's final Harry Potter flick.

A few spoiler-free remarks follow.

Katniss Everdeen, young brunette woman in plain blue dress, next to Effie Trinket, smirking woman in powdered white wig and bright pink or maroon ornate dress
Photo: Murray Close. Images © 2012 Lionsgate Films.

I'd been avoiding clips and early reviews of the film because I wanted to see it all
fresh and in context. While that gambit paid off, I admit to being a bit disappointed in the way that certain aspects of the book were in fact realized on screen — an inevitable refrain, maybe, when it comes to such adaptations; it doesn't help that I finished Collins' novel only a few weeks earlier. Still, I think I agree with a line from Shawn Levy's review in The Portland Oregonian that I read when browsing Metacritic after seeing the movie: "You can imagine a better adaptation of The Hunger Games, but
you can much more easily imagine a far worse one."

Photos of Jennifer Lawrence as main character Katniss Everdeen were ubiquitous,
but that's okay. She was cast before I began the novel and so I more-or-less pictured
her as Katniss while reading, albeit in slightly less voluptuous form than she appears
on screen. I know that there's been some debate over whether the 21-year-old Lawrence was appropriate to play 16-year-old Katniss. I've seen plenty of 16-year-old who look that mature, however. Plus, Lawrence was brilliant in 2010's Winter's Bone, a good but not great film whose real-world setting wasn't dissimilar to District 12 in The Hunger Games. Any disconnect for me really stems not from Lawrence's almost preternatural resolve as Katniss, quite evident in the book(s); it comes from her healthy figure —
note the film’s title — which is simple enough to chalk up to Katniss’ hunting prowess despite her district’s general poverty and paucity of nutrition, and of course she has
to believably contend in the Games.

Those of you debating whether or not to see the film before reading the book, I’d say
go — especially if you prefer seeing movies in the theater and/or while they're still at
the center of the pop-cultural conversation. Although the film will obviously reveal the plot of the novel to you, perhaps bending your perceptions of some of the characters a bit away from their original prose incarnations, Collins’ work should still be a rewarding experience. The book is richer than the film, particularly in terms of getting a feel for District 12 and in Katniss' first-person narration overall.

Now a brief complaint that the spoiler-averse might want to skip.

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen on a tree stump in wooded area facing Liam Hemsworth as Gale Hawthorne, leaves and moss all around them

The movie’s lack of that first-person narration was a big strike against it for me.
Katniss’ life in District 12, as shared in her voice by Collins, was my favorite part of
the book. I was unhappy with how much of the novel was absent early on, and later in the film I didn't care for the addition of certain scenes either. Much of the audience might consider it a positive development that — due to its break from Katniss’ perspective — the movie was able to show what transpired in the nerve center during the titular event, but my biggest problem with the film was the extremely advanced technology on display and, most of all, how essentially magical the elements of the Games appeared to be.

Your mileage may vary, like they say, and the novels haven’t gone anywhere. I first heard of The Hunger Games in 2009 when a great local shop, Children’s Book World, put up displays for its eagerly awaited sequel, Catching Fire, and better late than
never I look forward to picking it up soon.

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