The Hunger Games Review

by sarahenni on March 29, 2012

Holy crap. Two years after reading the book, one full year of following news about the movie, and weeks of watching The Hunger Games grow into a simmering worldwide phenomenon, opening weekend finally happened. Let’s just say I was A BIT excited. And of course you know I had Thoughts and Feelings after watching the movie.

I’ll be honest: my immediate reaction was… mixed.

It’s the Harry Potter problem, you know? How can one movie 1) successfully translate such a beloved book, and 2) live up to such intense, prolonged hype? There’s almost no way it can deliver on the first viewing. At the time of this review, I’ve seen the film twice, and I liked it much more the second time, but some critique remains.

SPOILERS START HERE! For The Hunger Games and all subsequent books in the series. You’ve been warned!

District 12 and the Reaping were perfection. No problems there, except my inappropriate urge to giggle at Gale’s gaping mouth. Effie was glorious, and little Prim about ripped my heart out with her screams after Katniss volunteered. Haymitch was divine—on second viewing I can really appreciate how they gradually showed his transformation from drunken escapist to gaming-the-Games mastermind.

But then, just about everything that happens at the Capitol leading up to the games was troublesome for me. The Capitol itself was incredible—so richly realized, and the costumes! My problems had to do with the camera, and the goal—or goals—director Gary Ross set out to achieve by using a shaky, hand-held effect.

I really hate the hand-held thing. And that’s just from a grouchy, “it gives me a headache!” 94-year old woman within perspective. So it made me annoyed (and really glad I wasn’t watching in IMAX) when there was so much herky-jerky motion, with a lot of the action slightly cut-off and unclear. HOWEVER. I fully understand his reasoning:

It’s a very urgent first-person narrative. I tried to put you in Katniss’s shoes the way Suzanne Collins put you in Katniss’s shoes. I wanted to take you through the world using this kind of serpentine tunnel vision that Katniss has. I want to destabilize you the way Suzanne has and I want you to experience the world through Katniss’s eyes, and that requires a very subjective cinematic style, to be kind of urgently in her point of view, so that’s why I shot it that way.

—Gary Ross, interview with Vulture

In theory, I agree that without the raw feeling evoked by the shaky, uneven shots, the audience is at risk of becoming too separated from Katniss’ point of view, relegated to mere observers. Aloof, without personal stake in the outcome of the Games or Katniss’ fate. And Ross uses that to fine effect for the short beginning segment of the movie, spent in a bleak District Twelve. It’s also pivotal to understanding Katniss’ nervousness and fear in some Capitol scenes leading up to the onset of the Games, like when she’s walking on-stage for her interview with Caesar Flickerman, or clinging to Cinna as the seconds until Gametime slip away.

But the reasoning slips a bit for me when the film shifts to the Capitol. Because while Ross is attempting to give the movie-goer as much of Katniss’ perspective as possible through frenetic hand-held shots, he is simultaneously trying for another, contradictory effect: to make the correlation between Capitol audience and Regal-Cinema-18 audience.

This begins with the opening ceremonies, where sweeping shots of the Roman-esque parade route are anything but shaky: they’re sleek, beautiful, romanticized in glitz.

We literally zoom in on the Tributes’ chariots by looking through a Capitol citizens’ futuristic opera glass. We watch the Tributes circle round through a camera perched on President Snow’s shoulder. The goal could not be more blatant: behold the spectacle! This is for you. The opening credits for Caesar Flickerman’s tribute interviews play through as though Panem National TV was piping right into my living room. We were cast as Capitol citizens, right from the moment we bought our tickets.

Ross’ work to turn the film into a self-referential pretzel, a meta reflection on the watchers of the Games, and the watchers of The Hunger Games, was important. My lingering sense of unease with the movie afterward was due, in no small part, to being put squarely in my place as a citizen of the Capitol, implicit and culpable for all the evil I was witnessing. (And—considering I was nice and cozy in a cushy movie-theater seat with buttery popcorn and a massive soda, still slightly buzzed from pre-movie drinks, wearing my Hunger Games T-shirt and nail polish—the reminder of my own hypocrisy was apt.)

But in the arena, those two desired effects (giving the audience Katniss’ perspective, and giving the audience a reminder of its true Bread-and-Circus status) tried to co-exist somewhat, to uneven success.

The hand-held camera was convenient for cutting away from the brunt of child-on-child violence during the Cornucopia. I could not have handled much more of that, so I’m not complaining about that decision at all. And in following Katniss’ running, jumping, arrow-slinging fight for survival the hand-held definitely had my heart racing along with hers.

But then Flickerman and his Games co-host Claudius Templesmith stared dead into the camera, explaining directly to me what tracker-jackers were. No cuts to Capitol audience reaction, no visual reference to any audience besides me, and everyone alongside me in the theater. So then I found myself wondering if the jerky camera was supposed to represent the imperfect angles of the Gamemakers’ hidden cameras, or if we were still in Kantniss’ head. My perspective confusion made following the “real or not real?” development of Katniss and Peeta’s ro(faux)mance even more difficult, and left me wondering how anyone who has not read the books was following any of the Tributes’ in-the-arena Gamesmanship at all.

So, all told, I’m not certain how I feel about that decision, though I understand the reasoning behind it.

Where my Cinna at?

I was disappointed by what I felt was lack of development in the relationships, most particularly between Katniss and Cinna, and Katniss and Peeta. Lenny Kravitz was an impeccable Cinna, but the chemistry and trust that develops between he and Katniss felt unconvincing because it was so rushed. And, though Cinna immediately distinguishes himself from the rest of the Capitol citizens by telling Katniss, “I’m sorry this happened to you,” I missed the line that really solidified his personality in the books:

“Yes, this is my first year in the games,” says Cinna.

“So they gave you District Twelve,” I say. Newcomers generally end up with us, the least desirable district.

“I asked for District Twelve,” he says without further explanation.

(The Hunger Games, p. 64)

However, given that the movie was 2.5 hours long and still had to leave so much out, I understand that some things required trimming. And the scene with Katniss and Cinna before she’s lifted up into the arena…

Jennifer Lawrence blew me away there, completely. Her intensity was frightening, which lifted the countdown and subsequent Cornucopia scene to exactly the emotional level they needed to be at: basically Threat Level Fuscia. That’s also when Kravitz truly shone as Cinna, Katniss’ rock-steady touchstone through the entire Capitol experience. (And it reminded me of the scene from Catching Fire where I WILL COMPLETELY LOSE IT.)

Standout performances also to:

Seneca Crane and his epic facescape. I’m so glad you’re back, Wes Bentley, and I’m so pissed that I forgot Seneca Crane bites it. The memory of your beard will live on, sir.

Donald Sutherland as President Snow. I’ve heard some people critique his performance, but I have to say I found him eerie as hell. Listen, this guy lives in a world where innocents are slaughtered for the momentary delight of millions. And in that world, he’s in the most cutthroat field: politics. And such is dude’s sociopathic capacity for manipulation that he earned the top spot—he’s the freaking PRESIDENT. So you try telling him he can’t hold whispered life-or-death discussions in his rose garden. Go on. Tell him.

Another decision I found fascinating was the subtle hints that Cato and Glimmer were an item.

It served as a stark contrast to Katniss and Peeta: warm and natural where Katniss and Peeta were stilted and uneven; flying under the radar where Katniss and Peeta were given celebrity status; egalitarian, each striving to be seen, and to win, on their own merits where Katniss was receiving one selfless advantage after another from Peeta before they even stepped off the train. No one in the Capitol seemed particularly interested in the budding romance of a couple of gunners, trained from birth to succeed. They wanted the underdogs as much as the Districts, exactly as Snow knew they would.

So, overall, I thought it was a good movie, and one that I have no doubt will grow on me as time goes on (and I watch it eight million more times). The adaptation was absolutely true to the spirit of the books, which was the absolute, most important thing.

But wait! you say, What about Peeta?! Ohhhhhhh I have not forgotten him. NO INDEED. As you might expect, I have SO MANY Thoughts and Feelings about Peeta, and Gale, and Katniss’ overall emotional state as mostly reflected through her interactions with aforementioned boys. Too many for this post, because it’s already crazy butt-long. SO. I will be posting again tomorrow, focusing on that part of the movie.

BUT! What did you think?? Did you see the movie? Did you like it? Did the hand-held camera action make you feel dizzy? Did you read this without having seen the movie because you don’t care about spoilers? If so, WHY??

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Lindsay Smith March 29, 2012 at 10:21 am

OKAY DUDE. The Glimmer/Cato references kind of upset me the first time through, because I was like, well wait a minute–who are we to judge that Katniss’s and Peeta’s romance is more worth saving than this one? ANYone who can find hope and love in this awful environment should be commended!

But the second time through, I’m totally with you. They may have hormones, but they are ruthless, cold, and would probably sacrifice each other if necessary (Cato sort of does that when he leaves Glimmer to the trackerjacks). It is interesting, though, that it would be implied, and shown on camera, but it would never be brought up via Ceasar et al who are always looking for that bit of drama and intrigue.

Also, sobbing and scarfing down B&J’s = totally the emotion I was feeling when she went into the tubes. Holy hell, was that some incredible tension. I want to bottle it up and squirt-spray it all over my ms.

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sarahenni March 29, 2012 at 1:19 pm

“who are we to judge that Katniss’s and Peeta’s romance is more worth saving than this one?” I still totally believe this, though, and think that’s what the movie did more effectively than the book, IMO. Because also note that in the final scene, Cato was beyond all hope: “I’ve been dead from the beginning, I see that now,” as a reference to how the rules and games were entirely twisted to benefit K&P. The caprice of the Capitol audience, and their favoritism for whatever relationship they believed K&P to have over whatever Cato & Glimmer did, was hugely responsible for their survival. And why? Does that make them more worthy? Does being a Career make Cato and Glimmer any LESS worthy, really?

Also D: D: D: the countdown scene… SO intense.

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Crystal Schubert March 29, 2012 at 10:37 am

I really loved it, actually, but I haven’t gone to see it again because I worry that it was just the hype of the midnight showing that let me overlook some of the negatives. Like, the hand-held camera effect totally made me ill–but I couldn’t tell if my nausea was nerves from being excited or just the camera work. I hate jittery shots, but I do agree that at some points it was perfect for the scene–like at the cornucopia.

I also agree that the relationships were not as well-built, but it seems like movies like these are made for people who have read the book. The relationship background that we bring to the table allows them to skim through some of that stuff and show more of what they might have otherwise cut out.

I almost wish this was a 5 hour mini-series. How else can you really cram everything in there?

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sarahenni March 29, 2012 at 1:23 pm

I totally agree that the movie seems to be suited for people who have read the book. And I’m not against that at all, but it makes me sad to think of people choosing to see the movie before the book (because that’s sad in and of itself) and then possibly not deciding to give the book a chance because the movie was confusing to them. Blerg!

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Krispy March 29, 2012 at 11:37 am

THANK YOU! I also liked the movie overall and thought Gary Ross did an overall decent job, but I wasn’t super in love with it like it seemed everyone else was. So I was feeling a bit out in the cold and wondering if I was just overly picky/cynical. That said, I do want to see it again the more I talk about it, but my experience leaving the theater was much like yours. I felt both like – well, they were really true to the books & the performances were great, but I’m just not really feeling it. :P Get ready for a super long comment. I think I’m actually going to blog post about this next week, just so everyone’s had 2 weekends to catch up before I start blabbing my mouth.

My gripes were also with the character development and the action/way it was shot too! YES on the Cinna and Katniss. The scene with Katniss and Cinna before she enters the arena was so powerful (JLawrence killed it – I didn’t feel that strongly about that scene in the book but behind Rue & District 11, it was probably the most emotion I felt towards a scene). BUT I never quite got in the movie why she and Cinna were suddenly close. It was like, Oh, he said this one nice, un-Capitol-like thing to me and now I trust him. Yay! I also thought Haymitch’s transformation wasn’t that well-done. I think I may have missed the subtle transformation, but to me it just seemed like he came in an unhelpful drunk, leaves in a huff, Peeta says he’ll go talk to him, and then the next morning, he’s grumpy and still drinking but he’s suddenly willing to impart advice to the kiddies. I was missing the line in the book where he recognizes both Katniss and Peeta’s fighting spirit and tells them, Heck, I guess we might have a chance. FINE, I’ll sober up if you do as I say. Like I think that clarifies the situation better, and I think this lightness on Haymitch’s part also flowed into the lightness with which they went over sponsorship and the importance of playing things up for the camera. That in turn, I think, affected the complicated nature of Katniss/Peeta and their real/not real relationship. It’s hard enough in the movie to tell what Katniss is thinking because she outwardly presents as an aloof character and we don’t have the benefit of her inner dialogue; so the lack of emphasis here on the difference between real feeling and for-show feeling really made some of their romantic scenes awkward for me – and it made me question Katniss in an unflattering way at times, like is she just playing him? because I don’t know what she’s thinking.

As for action/shaky camera – ditto what you said. I understand the shaky camera helps keep us in Katniss perspective and it makes the action feel more intimate and visceral, but other than a few select scenes, I felt like most of the shaky camera was lazy filming to be honest. It was like they didn’t know how to shoot action, so they shook the camera some more. It was overused and got annoying fast (and yes, made me dizzy). And while I thought the Cornucopia scene was brutal, most of the other action felt a little bland. I don’t want to say the movie wasn’t violent enough, per se, but I was definitely missing the sense of peril and horror that I felt when I was reading the books. I mean, the first book did it without being gratuitously violent – like it’s actually pretty PG-13 because Collins doesn’t describe the violence in super detail or linger on it nor does she write any gore. But when I read the first book, I felt scared for the characters and disturbed by the violence of the children and I felt thrilled by all the danger and action. In the movie, the action (minus the Cornucopia scene) felt strangely one-note. It was like every time Gary Ross came CLOSE to the edginess of the book, he remembered his PG-13 rating and pulled back. And this is nothing against Gary Ross because I’m a fan of his previous movies Seabiscuit (which I absolutely love and which is an superb book-to-movie adaptation) and Pleasantville, but I couldn’t help but feel like maybe his directing style wasn’t the best fit for such an action-packed story. Most of the quiet character moments in the movie were excellent (Snow & Seneca in the rose garden, the Reaping, Katniss & Cinna, Rue), but those were the types of scenes closest to the tone and type of his previous movies.

I actually did not notice the Cato/Glimmer thing so much – like a little bit but I didn’t realize they put that much subtle undertone in it. Again, that might’ve been more interesting if Katniss/Peeta were better developed. I also LOVE that point you brought up about our POV as Katniss and our POV as Capitol citizen. So good!

All that said, Seneca + his beard were amazing, and goodness, his last scene? A+ And Effie was pitch perfect. The big surprise for me was Josh Hutcherson though. His casting was the one I was most iffy about, but omg, he was SO GOOD. He IS Peeta. I’ve been completely won over. I also thought the 3rd person perspective with the Gamemakers manipulating the arena, Senaca & Snow meetings, and Ceasar commentary were great additions and smart to boot. Overall, I think they made a movie that would please the fans, but I’m just not sure that in their efforts to be SO faithful to the books/please the fans that they made a movie that would be great to a wider audience. Like I LOVE these characters because the books made me love them, but I don’t know that the movie would. Well, except for maybe Peeta. (And I’m not even Team Peeta! Look at me!)

And I’m going to stop now because this comment is probably as long as your post. :P

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sarahenni March 30, 2012 at 12:04 pm

“Oh, he said this one nice, un-Capitol-like thing to me and now I trust him. Yay” –Yeah, exactly! That was kind of all it took. And that was a lot, but man. Cinna deserved some more love! (And not for nothin’, but I could use more Lenny Kravitz onscreen at all times. Just sayin’)

“It’s hard enough in the movie to tell what Katniss is thinking because she outwardly presents as an aloof character and we don’t have the benefit of her inner dialogue; so the lack of emphasis here on the difference between real feeling and for-show feeling really made some of their romantic scenes awkward for me – and it made me question Katniss in an unflattering way at times, like is she just playing him? because I don’t know what she’s thinking.” —- Completely. I think Jennifer Lawrence nailed the performance as Katniss, absolutely blew me away. But you can’t ask someone to transmit through their facial expressions all the complicated s**t Katniss was thinking in the arena! Especially since she was trying to keep a straight face for the cameras the whole time. For that plot line, losing Katniss’ interiority was really troublesome.

” It was like every time Gary Ross came CLOSE to the edginess of the book, he remembered his PG-13 rating and pulled back.” —-That’s a really interesting observation. And I definitely don’t disagree–I think there was a lot of caution in the more violent scenes, like with Marvel spearing Rue and Clove threatening Katniss. Both scenes were much more violent in the books. I understand why he backed away, but I wonder how he’ll handle the even more crazy-ass violence to come?

I love your long comment. You are awesome! <3

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Lindsey March 29, 2012 at 12:29 pm

I’m in revision hidey-hole right now. BUT. The last scene with Seneca was AMAZING. That was one change that was so BAD ass and unexpected. In the book, his death is unfortunate. In the movie? COLD. CALLOUS. and SOOOOOOO Snow-esque. BLAM.

I think part of the “rushed” ness of the movie and part of the lack of relational development is that SO much of the book is in Katniss’s head. Her dying of thirst. Her ruminating on Gale. Her annoyance with Haymitch. Her desperation for Prim. Someone told me they were disappointed there wasn’t more Gale. But how could there be, really? When all of Gale’s presence in the book is in Katniss. Short of Katniss talking to herself “Remember that time you were shooting game with Gale?” LAME.

To that end, I thought that the way Cesar “narrated” points was brilliant. Like “Oh those are tracker jackers” or “Wonder how Katniss will deal with the booby traps.” Especially for people who haven’t read the book.

The book > the movie. Forever and always amen. But I thought as adaptations go, it was pretty great.

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sarahenni March 30, 2012 at 12:09 pm

I forgot that the berry scene wasn’t in the book! It was AWESOME. Great addition, and fantastic way to set the ominous tone for President Snow in the next movie.

“Someone told me they were disappointed there wasn’t more Gale. But how could there be, really?” —Remember when there was that fake script floating around, and it looked like the movie might concoct this new, completely crazy storyline for Gale??? I am SO glad they didn’t go overboard with trying to force him into the movie more. IMO, when they showed Gale at the very end holding Prim on his shoulders, that was enough. That’s what Gale is, he’s a rock, and that’s more than enough for Katniss to feel something like love for him. Strangely, the movie made me feel MORE for Gale than the books ever did.

And I totally agree–for a book that was so crazy to adapt, they really did a great job. And oh, we only have to wait 1.5 years for the next one. !!!

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Nicki Pau Preto March 29, 2012 at 6:24 pm

Great review and comments. I agree with everybody!

The Peeta and Katniss thing did feel a bit forced – I definitely saw Peeta’s character come through, but at the same time, I think he ended up looking kind of stupid. It was like he suddenly forgot that he (and everyone) told Katniss that the romance was made up to help them get sponsors. It was like that plan suddenly evaporated and he ends up looking stupid and she seems kind of cruel, but like Lindsey said, so much of Katniss’ feelings are inside her head so it’s difficult to portray.

I loved the notes from Haymitch with the gifts in the arena – a great way to illustrate their relationship. I REALLY missed the fact that District 11 sent Katniss the bread, an unheard of act, but showing them rioting ALMOST made up for it. That scene was awesome. That and Seneca Crane with the berries were some of my favorite scenes.

I’m very eager to see this movie again…

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sarahenni March 30, 2012 at 12:14 pm

” I think he ended up looking kind of stupid. It was like he suddenly forgot that he (and everyone) told Katniss that the romance was made up to help them get sponsors” –YES! That’s exactly how I felt, too! Anyone in the audience who hadn’t read the book would think Peeta just became a love-struck moron in the arena. But he was smart! and funny! and so many other things that didn’t really come through like I’d hoped :(

I was sad about Katniss not getting the bread, too. But MAN. That riot scene! It gave me absolute chills the second time. one of the most thrilling, and important, parts of the movie, and a great addition considering we’re freed from Katniss’ POV.

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Rebecca T March 30, 2012 at 7:29 am

I really liked it the first time and loved it the second time. But I also had more critiques after the second viewing. Which seems contradictory, but isn’t. I think. I agree with a lot of what you said. I was not bothered by the hand held camera thing, but I know a number of people that were really upset over it – for one friend it was the main thing she didn’t like.

I started to write a review, started noting some things about Peeta and it turned into a whole post, so I’m planning on doing the whole piece meal thing on my blog too. so it’s not too overwhelming :)

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sarahenni March 30, 2012 at 12:15 pm

I think it’s totally normal to have more critiques the second time—AND to love it! I am always the most critical about things I love. (See: the length of this blog post, lol)

I can’t wait to see your post!

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Danielle March 30, 2012 at 9:36 am

I enjoyed the movie, but was disappointed with the general lack of character development. YA books really get the ball rolling from page 1, which is one of the reasons I love them so, but it’s also one of the reasons it is hard to turn them into movies. What sucks you in so much when you read The Hunger Games, is that you are pulled into Katniss’ world immediately. She volunteers to take Prim’s place as tribute on page 22! So, I understand the difficulty of trying to keep up with the pace of the book.

I appreciate that they tried to use the flashback scenes the same way they were used in the book, but I am really curious if anyone who didn’t read the book understood what was going on. Like, who is this dude, and why is he getting blown up? And why is Katniss hiding in bushes looking sad in the rain and stalking Peeta?

I agree with your thoughts on Cinna. I felt like their relationship was like, feeling a little more romantic than what it was supposed to be, but I am fairly certain that is because Lenny Kravitz is too sexy for his own good.

I LOVED Effie Trinket. Elizabeth Banks freaking nailed it! I was hoping we would get to see Haymitch grope her and fall off the stage, but it wasn’t a huge plot piece that was left out. Seneca Crane’s beard is the most glorious thing to happen to the world of cinema, period. I need Seneca Crane to be in those Gillette commercials with Adrian Brody now. Maybe they can manscape together. I have so many Thoughts about this!

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sarahenni March 30, 2012 at 12:18 pm

That’s a really good point—YA books generally, and this one especially, gets the plot up and going from the very first page. It would be intimidating to try to build the world and characters given the pace of the narrative.

Oh and I so agree about the flashbacks. Like, WTH was Katniss doing shivering under a tree? That was one of the most powerful memories Katniss has, and totally affects her attitude toward Peeta, but it was shown in a hella confusing way.

CINNA + KATNISS. I will go down with that ship.

I wish we’d been able to see Woody Harrelson grope Elizabeth Banks and fall offstage, too! Especially given that the scene was so grim, and no one would have laughed. TENSION!

Also, what? Sorry, you mentioned Adrian Brody and I blacked out for a minute. On account of the hot.

OMG what if Adrian Brody is in the movies.

What.

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Danielle March 30, 2012 at 1:01 pm

Adrian Brody is a member of Cinna’s team. While they didn’t get much play in this movie, they will show up more in the second and third movies. In the second movie, he is super depressed, because Snow killed his bff, Seneca. To memorialize Seneca, Adrian Brody makes it his life mission to style every facial hair he comes across akin to Seneca.

#FanFicWhat?

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Stephanie Allen March 30, 2012 at 8:33 pm

Gonna be totally honest, I understood the reasoning behind the shaky camera, but I still didn’t like it…mostly because it made me feel nauseous the first time I saw it. (It probably didn’t help that I was sitting in the front row, the only seats left.)

I just got back from seeing it again, and I did think the whole Glimmer/Cato thing was interesting. I’m probably going to spend the rest of the night analyzing it.

I loved that they kept showing us the Gamemakers’ Room and the television commentary. I mean, in the books we’re aware that it’s a TV show, but since it’s only Katniss’s perspective, so it doesn’t really hit us nearly as well as it did in the movie. I thought that was genius.

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