I saw it last Saturday, and I intend to go and see it again this Saturday (my birthday!) so that should tell you that I liked it.
I was not at all sure that I would. I found reading the books such an emotionally intense, devastating experience - I haven't been that wrecked by a story for a long time. I'd intended to do a review of the trilogy for the blog after I was done with them, but regular readers will know that I never did. I didn't even mention having finished reading them. I couldn't. It was too personal and I felt too raw about it.
So if the filmmakers had deviated too much from capturing the spirit of that harsh, noble, beautiful, terrible story, I would have loathed the film. It would have been very easy for them to alienate me. They already nearly did, once: I was one of those people who'd gotten the impression from the books that Katniss was mixed race, and I got a bit vocal about my disappointment when Jennifer Lawrence was cast.
But then Suzanne Collins came out and said: Chill. You guys may have had an image of Katniss as mixed race in your heads and that's fine, but that's not what I actually wrote, and the filmmakers are working from the books, not your imaginations. And I think Jennifer Lawrence is right for this. So stop hatin'.
And so I felt a bit ashamed of myself and stopped with the hatin'. But I was still reserving judgement.
Then I went to see it for myself, and I found that I more than liked it. I LOVED it.
It's my personal opinion that everyone involved in this completely hit it out of the park. Let me list some things I adored:
- Jennifer Lawrence. She had me in the first five minutes of the film. She had everything that the Katniss in my mind had. A combination of fawn-like awkwardness and still, graceful beauty, tough common sense and huge, frustrated, dignified maternal love. She will always be Katniss to me from now on. I'm sorry I ever doubted her.
- Josh Hutcherson. I didn't have the strong reaction against him that some readers did, but I can't say that the casting lit up my world or anything. Until I saw him on screen and he WAS Peeta. Peeta's sneaky humour and unexpected smoothness, Peeta's vulnerability, his sweetness, his fierce, honest strength. You've heard of people (like Cleopatra) that aren't especially attractive on first glance, but who have such a way about them that half an hour later you're convinced they're the most beautiful person you've ever met? That's Peeta. That's Josh Hutcherson's performance. Stunning.
- The direction. This is a story in which combat is the central feature - but it's not about that. That's the vehicle Suzanne Collins uses to show us so many other things, like courage and sacrifice and corruption and horror. But in the film you can't do what Suzanne Collins did and share with us Katniss's every thought and feeling so that we understand this. It would have been so easy to go the usual Hollywood route and produce slick fight scenes that would entertain us, get our blood pumping. But that would have been a betrayal of the central ideas of the story. Instead, Gary Ross shows the fights in the arena for what they are - a vicious, awful slaugher of innocents. These scenes, which often skipped music and sound efffects in order to lessen their cinematic quality, were sickening and brutal, and I'm so glad. Likewise, other moments of high emotion in the story were left to stand on the actor's performances (which were universally excellent) rather than being milked for sentimentality. Katniss's grief, Peeta's delirious confession - things I'd been looking forward to seeing for so long! - did not disappoint.
- The music! Again, could so easily have gone wrong, and been either annoying or forgettable. There's so much action and drama in the story, and I bet it was really tempting to go for something huge and actiony and cliched. Instead James Newton Howard created something incredibly subtle and tender. I caved and bought it almost straight away and have been listening to it non-stop ever since. Here's Rue's Farewell. Prepare to bawl:
- Characterisation of minor players. I loved how they handled Cato, especially, but even the tributes that were never named each got a little shot, a moment where they lit up for the camera before they disappeared. I also include Gale in this. He doesn't have much to do here, and he was never one of my favourite characters anyway, but he felt a lot warmer and more...believable. I could see why Katniss liked him so much.
There are a lot of other things I could meeble about, but I shan't. I just want you to go see this film, basically. And I also - given all that I've just said - I want to take moment and ask the media: WTF, dudes.
Apparently some American critics think that Jennifer Lawrence's body is 'unrealistic' for the film, stating that she should have looked 'hungrier'. Some even said that she had 'too much baby fat'. Ah...
Yeah, I got nothing. Just WTF?
Jennifer Lawrence is certainly not as thin as, say, Lindsay Lohan. She is not frail or waif-like. Her legs do not resemble twigs, nor do her arms look like toothpicks. But do these guys honestly think that all people come in two types - skinny to the point of emaciation, and fat?
In fact, Jennifer Lawrence looks incredibly lean and toned. She looks like a young woman who has been working hard to keep her family fed for several years, like someone who could string and draw a bow, bring down prey, skin and clean that prey and haul it back to her home. She looks like someone who could run through the forest for hours if she needed to, and survive cold nights out in the wilderness.
Quite aside from the fact that Katniss's lifestyle would inevitably shape her body a certain way by packing hard, wiry muscle onto her, it's simple fact that a congenitally strong person - with a robust frame, broad shoulders and hips, and the tendency to build up muscle - would be more likely to thrive and breed in a subsistance level society like District Twelve, and pass those qualities onto their offspring. A skinny, small boned Katniss would be unrealistic not only from the perspective that she would be UNABLE to do what Katniss actually does in the story, but also because she'd be genetically unlikely to be born in the first place!
I notice no one's criticising Jennifer's extremely well muscled, well nourished looking male co-stars. It's fine for them to look as if they've been eating enough to keep alive. Apparently it's only female actors who have to bow to 'realism' to such an extent that they should look gaunt, bony and as if trying to draw a bow would snap them in half.
OK, that's enough rage from me! See you all next week, and have a great weekend :)