The most highly anticipated movie adaptation of the bestselling series by Suzanne Collins will likely be reviewed by better than me, and more thoroughly. But I thought I'd give my impressions here.
SPOILER ALERT: If you haven't read the books...well, why haven't you???
Overall: I enjoyed this film. It managed to distill all the important parts of the book into a 142 minutes, and included more in-depth looks at the universe that were not included in first-person narrative of the novel. There was lots of action, enough world-building to understand the basics of Panem, and lots of great performances by the main cast, who really brought the characters life.
The Good: Jennifer Lawrence played Katniss with aplomb, capturing her conflicting emotions, her coldness and her laserlike focus. Josh Hutcherson grew on me very quickly. He was convincing on many levels, and his likability and chemistry with Katniss will make it hard to root for the other guy when the inevitable love triangle comes into play. Gale didn't get a lot of screen time, but what I did see, I liked.
The scenery and sets are terrific, the costumes are fantastic, the writing sharp and not overexplained. It's an easy movie to watch and like.
The Meh: President Snow as portrayed by Donald Sutherland lacked any real bite. He's supposed to be scary, but he just came off as lukewarm. Cinna, played by Lenny Kravitz, did not make much of a splash, and part of that, I figured, was because his assistant stylists who are a constant, chattering presence in the book didn't appear much in the film. Likewise, we didn't see much of Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), another key figure. I can only imagine some of his best scenes are on the cutting-room floor.
The Bad: Excessive use of shaky-cam and quick cuts made many of the more horrific sequences easier to film/stomach and kept the film PG-13-friendly, but they got tiresome. Not quite Michael Bay-tiresome, but I was definitely googly-eyed by the end.
Since this franchise is going to be spread across four movies, I felt there needed to be more contrast between the Capitol and Districts. An overreliance on CGI didn't ground me in the excess of the Capitol--things were just a little too blue screened at times, and as colorful and fanciful as the costumes were, the transition between District 12 and the Captiol was too jarring. The costumes, while beautiful, were used almost too much. I really wanted to see the banquet scene from the book.
I also felt they could have gone a lot darker. As has been pointed out on Twitter, it's a strange world in which a movie about kids killing each other in an arena bloodsport gets a PG-13 rating, while a documentary about bullies gets an R for swearing. The horror of the Hunger Games was well done, but they could have gone two shades darker and really hit the nail on the head. I can only hope the sequels will be a little more unflinching in their treatment of violence.
The Conclusion: This may be one instance in which I recommend reading the book before watching the movie, only because it's a great book, and it translates fairly well. I'll go see the sequels, no doubt about it. Hats off to the cast and crew. I look forward to Catching Fire.