With just a week left to go until The Hunger Games opens in theaters, and no reviews published yet, we fans of the book are on pins and needles waiting to find out if director Gary Ross has done justice to Suzanne Collins's captivating, unforgettable novel. We've seen all the pictures, of course, and debated over whether Jennifer Lawrence looks young enough to play Katniss, whether Josh Hutcherson looks right with Peeta's blond hair, whether Effie's clothes are wild enough, all that. But what about the more detailed stuff that they're not revealing? What about the tone, or the action, or the key scenes from later in the story that we haven't seen yet?
We're just as anxious as you are, so in these final days before the movie comes out, here are the 8 things we're most hoping the movie gets right. There are plenty more, of course, so please chime in with comments on your own personal favorite moments of the story that you hope they nail. We've got hugely high hopes for The Hunger Games, but unless they nail these elements, they might not manage to live up to the book.
WARNING: The last entry in this list contains a spoiler for the book The Hunger Games.
It’s the moment that The Hunger Games kicks into high gear, when Katniss’ journey goes from one of preparation to one of preservation. And I love how the early trailer takes us right up to the Tributes’ introduction to the games (the look of sublime terror on Jennifer Lawrence’s face as she ascends in the tube is priceless). Those of us who’ve read the books, however, know that Katnisss has a choice once the Cornucopia presents itself: Run for the bow-and-arrow set she spots or flee the carnage and hide in the woods. I also think the handling of the Cornucopia scene, the first true battle, will show how much bloodshed director Gary Ross is willing to bring to the screen, which could go a long way in determining how The Hunger Games will play with the masses who might not have read the book and don’t know what they’re in for.
There are a lot of examples in The Hunger Games where District 12 mentor Haymitch might come off as a gruff and drunken old sod, meant for comic relief and little else. While Haymitch does fall off of his share of stages, his demeanor and behaviors stem from years of distress over watching District 12’s contestants falter. With Katniss and Peeta, we are able to see Haymitch’s character awaken out of a lengthy cocoon and begin to redefine himself. There is plenty of opportunity to engage Haymitch as a complicated and relevant character, but Gary Ross’ film needs to take the time to portray the mentor as more than a few laughs in a grim and dark environment.
One thing that immediately stood out when reading the novel(s) was the significant role that costumes play in the narrative, not only in terms of characterization but as an intricate part of District 12’s success. Both the extravagant and the mundane costumes are incredibly important to visually represent Panem, but costume designer Judianna Makovsky truly has her work cut out for her when trying to capture Cinna’s designs for Katniss and Peeta. Makovsky is a great choice and not only because she is a three-time Academy Award nominee (twice with director Gary Ross) but because her range is quite clear, from the old-fashioned Seabiscuit and Pleasantville to the fantastical Harry Potter and X-Men. Of course, it’s not hard to make Jennifer Lawrence look beautiful but Cinna’s designs have to have an added weight. They have to be revelatory and awe inspiring. I want them to make my jaw drop in tandem with all the Districts watching in the film. And they seem to be keeping the cat in the bag on the costume reveals with just a few images to whet our appetites. I can’t wait to see him light the fire.
For a young adult novel, The Hunger Games is quite brutal. Perhaps not the gory equivalent of Battle Royale by Koushun Takami, its Japanese counterpart, but the American dystopian tale still focuses on children killing other children, often in cold blood. And these vicious events are told in great detail on the page, not glossed over or mentioned in passing but central to Collins’ juxtaposition of the frivolity of the Capitol and the savagery of their oppression. I’m aware that Lionsgate is hoping that this first installment in the trilogy launches the next big franchise, but I hope that the desire to make it accessible to ‘all ages’ doesn’t diminish the severity of the violence. Not violence for violence sake because, for once, keeping it on-screen is absolutely central to the story and themes. And since the film needed to be re-cut to earn a 12A rating in the United Kingdom it seems Gary Ross didn’t pull any punches, arrows, stabbings, impalings and/or mailings.
Beyond the horror and suspense of the actual "games" in The Hunger Games is the world Suzanne Collins creates for the story. The trailers have given us a glimpse of some of the locations in which the story will play out, but it’s going to be especially exciting to see how Panem is brought to life on the big screen. The contrast of locations is particularly intriguing. In the book, there’s the feeling of a kind of Wizard of Oz-like transition, as Katniss goes from the Seam, the poorest area of District 12, which I envision to be a fairly drab place, covered in coal-dust, to the colorful, shiny, wealthy Capitol, the virtual Emerald City of the story (but with a much darker twist than that of a deceitful wizard.) And then of course there’s the arena, which blends the wooded backdrop for game with some sci-fi elements, like mutated species of animals and hovercrafts that bring sponsor-given gifts to the tributes. It's going to be exciting to see how everything looks when the movie hits the big screen.
There is a lot to love in Suzanne Collins' first novel, but it was Katniss's self-actualization as an activist that hit me the hardest. So, I'm hoping that in the filmmakers' quest to nail all the fan-adored details of the book, Katniss's evolution of political awareness doesn't get lost in translation. At the start of the The Hunger Games, she's a guarded girl who only cares for her family and her hunting buddy, Gale. However, as her travels to the Capital force her to look beyond her own backyard, she not only becomes aware of the shared struggle of oppressed people throughout Panem, but also begins to realize her own power to influence and inspire. It’s a key motivation that makes for some of the book's most moving moments. My wish is that this theme will be utilized to provide the movie with a similar dramatic weight.
It seems ironic given the title, but the Hunger Games book is filled with evocative descriptions of food, from the pieced-together meals Katniss makes back home to feed her family to the decadent and rich platters served to her in the Capitol-- including the lamb and dried plum stew she tells Caesar Flickerman is the one thing she likes about the Capitol. Reading the book I always got fixated on the way Suzanne Collins described food, and how food was so crucial to Katniss's personality, a girl who grew up hungry and knew how to feed herself to survive. Obviously there won't be much time to spend describing Peeta's cakes or the elegant breakfasts, but I hope the production team manages to dream up some beautiful, slightly fantastical meals for Katniss and Peeta to eat, bulking themselves up before preparing to scrap and starve in the arena.
Alright, spoiler alert in case you haven't read the books-- but if not, what are you doing here? Get reading! Anyway, it's hard to shake the scene in the book when Katniss finds Rue stabbed with a spear, and before Rue dies Katniss sings her the lullaby she used to sing for her own sister. It's a powerful moment both emotionally and for Katniss's development as a rebel against the Capitol, and it's hard to know if a movie can capture the beauty of that lullaby as we've all imagined in our minds. There's a star-studded soundtrack that accompanies the movie, but I"m hoping for a much quieter moment, with Jennifer Lawrence actually singing, to recreate this unforgettable moment from the book. Rue's Lullaby matters a lot to Katniss, and we want the movie to pay tribute as well.