*Warning for those who haven't read the books or seen the film, spoilers ahoy*
Having just seen the Hunger Games I am very pleased to say I enjoyed it. Though having read the books I may be biased and will most likely have a slight slant towards them. Moving on.
The film takes place in a future country that encompasses North America known as Panem. The film opens with a brief description of the Hunger Games. After a rebellion against the Capitol many years ago the rebelling districts were defeated and forced to sign the Treaty of Treason which stipulated 'each district shall give two tributes each, one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 to compete to the death in the annual hunger games'. Now this was a move meant to keep the districts in line and for the past few years has worked very well. Though one thing I must critique about the films is that it did leave out the detail about how the hunger games are meant to keep the districts fed. The winning district receives a surplus food supply which brings them above starvation levels for a year. Cunning and brutal indeed, and a point that should have been included.
But with the film we begin with a touching scene of Katniss and her sister Primrose in their little shack in District 12. It is a highly rural and run down region reminding me of a sort of impoverished Civil War era town. Ironically this brought back echoes of Firefly on the Outer Worlds where things are rather impoverished, ramshackle, and wild west like. At least that was the vibe I got. In fact the soundtrack was very reminiscient of Firefly as well with all the guitar, violin and western themed tracks. Most likely unintentional but a nice touch.
The scene is then set with Katniss going beyond an inoperative electric fence where she hunts game with her bow and we are introduced to her friend Gale. They banter on about things and such until it is time for the Reaping in which children are chosen in the hunger games. Against all odds Prim's name is picked, so in a historic moment Katniss volunteers for the games. Thus setting the chain of events in motion. The film that follows is very good and though it deviates from the book it actually adds rather than subtracts from the experience. For instance we actually get to see their mentor Haymitch in action trying to win them sponsors and helping them out. I liked this very much as it helped to ensure the film didn't drag in places. Seeing the game planners was also a fun twist as we get to watch their reactions and plans, like twisted producers of a show staging events for a futuristic gladitorial fight. Though there was a good scene where the human side of these immoral people does come out. Getting to see characters watching the games was also a plus and seeing other peoples reactions to the events going on was fabulous. One instance after Rue's death where the riot kicks off in District 11 was particularly thrilling! I was glad that was done. So now on to categories.
The film was well represented and the acting was good. Jennifer Lawrence plays a mean Katniss and sets up the quiet, rebellious and socially awkward 17 year old as an interesting character with a fierce desire to protect her sister and to win. She plays the part of an unwilling combatant well and her grief over both Rue's death and being forced to kill was done well on her part and she came across as a sympathetic character as well as promising to portray a troubled one in the future. Woody Harrelson plays the mean and cynical drunk Haymitch and off the bat delivers a stellar preformance for a drunkard and mentor. The actors of Gale and Peeta are also well done and quite thankfully Peeta and Gale stay in the background as periphery characters.
There is the implied love triangle which was well done and properly regulated to the background. This made me so happy I could have cried! One of my biggest fears going into this movie was that they would try to play up the love triangle just to reach out to the teen audience. That was mercifully averted however and we instead got some good tension and wonderful character interactions. I hope that they continue this trend and keep the film about Katniss and her struggles, as well as Panem's struggles as a whole instead of teenage love angst.
The Capitol itself was also well portrayed both in its brutality and for its weird and wacky culture. The shock that Katniss and Peeta have towards seeing the grandoise and frankly ridiculous nature of the people living there is well represented. The zany, weird and overdone fashions of the citizens were well done with the riot of colors fashions, sounds and ideas. Even a set of painted poodles!
The Games themselves were spectacular with the violence being toned down due to the PG rating and the fight scenes presented well. The tension and mistrust that we could see with the others was wonderful and the viciousness of the Careers was well done indeed and it made me happy to see them done right. Cato was especically fabulous with his blood lust and anger issues being portrayed as both a hindrance and the defining traits of his character.
There are some downsides. Despite the nature of the game I found a long segment did drag on. The opening was...well quick and violent and it managed to present some rather graphic scenes too. But from that point it seemed to drag with nothing really going on and Katniss just running around. I found they probably could have done something to this scene, I was even bored by the time the fire started driving her back towards the center of the arena. Worse, I wasn't even excited by the fire! I didn't really get back into the movie until a scene after that. I think the writers and producers should have added to that bit, with either some spoken dialogue or some internal narration. Indeed one of the problems with films of books is that it deprives us of a characters thought process and intentions unless they clearly portray them with their words or expression and actions. This comes across alright in the film, though since I have read the books I admit it was probably easier for me to follow but otherwise I might have been lost as to what the hell Katniss was doing for that particular stretch of time.
Another thing is the rating. PG seems like a rating far to low for this film. It limits what the director and writers can do as it makes a series like the Hunger Games, which is intensely violent and brutal especially as it goes on, tone itself down and takes away from it somewhat. I'm certainly not advocating the gory deaths of children onscreen, but the fact is some of the violence could have been better portrayed and was even more deserving of a PG-13 rating at least. It seemed like it was lowered to pander to the younger audience of the film, but PG-13 would have been fine and would have allowed more leway with the violence and blood than was already portrayed, which would have worked wonders to show just how brutal the games really are. Otherwise the constant flipping camera angles for death is just really irritating.
Speaking of camera angles, shaky cam. I have no idea why directors keep doing this. It makes the actions sequences all blurry so we can't see what the characters are doing and we have no idea of the exact actions people are taking. This was bad enough in the actions scenes where I was sometimes wondering who was Katniss and who was the bad guy, but it was particularly jarring and obnoxious when in the opening of the film as they were showcasing District 12 that they had this shaky cam effect for looking at static objects or people, even a man eating chicken at one point! It was sloppy and unnecessary and really detracted from the film for me. I can somewhat understand them in the fight scenes with the PG rating (makes it harder for kids to see whats going on, blocks some of the violence) but it really just shows how the low rating was dragging the film down.
Then there were some characters that weren't adressed properly. Haymitch for instance had great scenes and great lines, but I didn't get a feeling of purpose to his character that I got in the book. He also didn't really seem to connect with Katniss at, all as he does in the books. Instead he seems more distant, and not extremely insistent on how she goes about doing what she does for the audience to love her. Similarly the antagonist (President Snow) isn't portrayed as antagonistic enough. He isn't overtly evil nor is he really evil in a subtle way until the end. He does react badly and say some dark things but otherwise didn't carry the film as he was intended. Donald Sutherland did a marvelous job but sadly he wasn't given much to work with.
The movie also ended to abrubtly. It didn't deal with the lingering issues Katniss and Peeta felt, save for one brief piece of dialogue. Katniss needed to have some sort of breakdown and begin her Post Traumatic Stress experiences, which she doesn't seem to portray at all. So they had better deal with that well in the next movie. Snow's appearance at the end is rather insignificant as he just strokes his beard in a sort of 'Hmmm' way before walking out. A piece of dialgoue as simple as 'We will have to keep an eye on her' to an aide or showing him making plans of some sort would have been well done. But otherwise it just seems rather anticilmatic.
Then I have one minor nitpick. Though the CGI was well done and it did offer us some gorgeous visuals, they did skimp on the hovercraft. They were either displayed indirectly or not at all. That was a bit disapointing as you didn't really get a feel from their presence or any sort of vibe about them at all. They were supposed to be floating symbols of the Capitols power, and the scene where it is implied one is hovering overhead in the riot is particularly odd as we see its effects but not it. I just found it rather weak.
The film is overall a well done adaptation of a stellar novel and will hopefully expand into a good series. Though well acted and well played it has some lacking qualities in camera shots and visuals in general, There are some loose ends on characterization that really need to be tied up and many points that could be fixed in regards to character interaction. It also suffers from its low rating thanks to attempts at pandering. Otherwise it is a stellar film which I have to say is one I would certainly watch again and encourage others to do so as well.
6.5 out of 10.