Went and saw The Hunger Games last night and was suitably impressed. While the film didn't always work for me, it was a strong adaptation, sticking close to the source material. Which was a benefit in this case. I can't imagine fans of the book will be too disappointed.
Having only just read the book myself, I can't consider myself an expert, but I did think director/writer Gary Ross did a good job envisioning the world of the Hunger Games. Not without flaw, however. Faith Erin Hicks' criticism of the overuse of close up obscuring the first 20 minutes is perfectly valid and while the world of the Capitol is wonderfully realized, they clearly spent their budget there, while the District 12 scenes were apparently shot on a shoestring. It leads to an unevenness in the movie. While we're meant to recognize the difference between the opulent Capitol and District 12, it's hard to believe that the rich lifestyles of the hundreds of thousands shown in the crowd scenes in the Capitol could be supported by the work of the few dozen we see in the group shots in District 12.
That may be the biggest criticism - that the time spent on world building appears to be entirely focussed on the Capitol and nowhere else. Thus we lose any sense of the scale of District 12, which was less district and more village; we don't hear anything about District 11 from Rue because her role is abbreviated and so on. It's omissions like this that weaken the narrative slightly. You can see why things were left out for time, but, for example, the scene where the people of District 11 group together to send Katniss bread is one of the most powerful in the book, but is missing entirely from the film.
In other areas, however, the movie fleshes out the book. Shifting the focus onto the crew behind the production and the transmission of the Hunger Games does mean that the exposition can be delivered more neatly and in context, but in the process a lot of Katniss' character is left behind. With the book's first person perspective we know what's going on in Katniss' head, and while Jennifer Lawrence does a good job conveying her personality, I felt like the film would have been stronger with an occasional first person narration to add that intimacy to the character. However, Lawrence's performance is a strong one and, while she may not be my idea of Katniss, she should be applauded.
A great supporting cast, too, with Woody Harrelson as Haymitch standing out. But the movie was crying out for more Rue, more Effie, more Thresh and especially more of Lenny Kravitz's Cinna. But Toby Jones and Stanley Tucci are always a joy.
So, a flawed adaptation, but nonetheless a strong one, despite a slightly messy ending, which loses clarity in the closing minutes. But what disappointment there is at omissions from the book is counterbalanced by the fact that the movie stands by its own merits, and they are numerous. It's ambitious, beautifully acted, intense and empowering. And for that I can applaud it.