An honest effort to adapt some very risque material that doesn't quite live up to the hype.
To start off, I think it's appropriate to discuss what made the film for me and what is probably the only reason I would ever watch it again other than my current uncertainty on how I truly felt about the overall movie; and that is the protagonist, "Katniss Everdeen" or more appropriately, the actress who portrays her: Jennifer Lawrence. It only took three films, including this one, to convince me that Lawrence WILL win multiple Oscars in her career, it's only a matter of time. She brings a certain life to Katniss that more films should have for their main protagonist ("Harry Potter" anyone?). Seldom does a movie come along where in only two and half hours do I feel like I fully know and understand a character as if they were my best friend or something. And all of the credit for this can go directly to Lawrence instead of the writing, because Katniss is a character we've seen before (Ellen Ripley), but she tries her best to distinguish herself from the rest and, boy, does she excel at it. She knows exactly how to convey her emotions and in what quantities, most other actresses her age and with her amount of experience would either over-kill it or just not give a crap. And to be fair, we get to see nearly every side of her personality in one film; even for Ripley it took three. I won't give away what kind of scenes she is given to express herself simply because they are the highlight of the film and should not be spoiled.
Beyond Lawrence, this is where Hunger Games is either just decent material or even extremely lackluster; one of the biggest issues being the character development. Now, we can't have all the characters given as much time as Katniss, but there could've been a bit more effort than we are given. All of the side characters seem to play everything at one note and don't stretch their wings ever. Peetah is given something for the first half hour after he is introduced, but once training begins, he plays the modest tribute who is "certain" he will die. It's almost to the point where we are HOPING he will die just so we can focus on someone with a stronger personality. The only real development any of the characters are given is how they relate to Katniss. We only care about two or three side characters, and it's all because we know whatever happens to them will affect Katniss and the audience is no doubt rooting for her. One of the few times development should've been given to a relationship or a side character was the wrong time as it ruins one of the most suspenseful and uncertain tones that the books had. Fans will hopefully know what I'm referring to.
One of the comparisons I will make to the book is Katniss' relationship with her mentor, "Haymitch Abernathy", because like the film's rating (which we'll get to soon), their relationship has been so dumbed down to something so simple and so heart-warming. Haymitch in the book was a rather unlikable character because he was such a bastard towards Katniss and Peetah, he would never sugar-coat anything and was always harsh. In the film, he still tries not to humor the characters, but he certainly is a lot nicer to them and shows that he cares. In the end, this just makes him predictable, bland and forgettable when he could've been highly distinguishable and be imprinted in the audience's memory for better or worse. To the cast's credit, they did act out their characters finely, it was just the writing seemed generic.
The directing style by Gary Ross another thing that REALLY brings the film down and connects to no doubt the biggest issue to die-hard fans: the rating. Ross, just like the overall film, has a mixed bag with his style. He knows how to use the camera to create the atmosphere needed for emotional scenes and, hell, he even knows how to use James Newton Howard's orchestrations effectively during the adaptation's biggest controversy. The scenes leading up to the actual Hunger Games are done superbly; all of them being either emotional or creating the needed atmosphere for this sci-fi. To think, a film about a fiction sport event and it still the only time I felt like I knew what the character was feeling when they were given fame and attention. But once the actual games start, this is where it seems Ross just didn't know what to do to handle the PG-13 rating, so he just started waving the camera around. If you're one of the, what, four people who don't know, the books are incredibly gruesome in their violence and it elicits many emotions from the reader when you realize, "THESE ARE KIDS KILLING EACH OTHER!". Ross decided to with the gore, but then never focused in on it. You're lucky if you can even tell who was killed in what way. It would've been more effective if it was sacrifice gore for a steady camera. I would've liked to have seen the start of the games done in one swooping wide shot or rotation, not "Cloverfield". This directing trick has been used endlessly since "Saving Private Ryan", and it rarely is ever anything more than something that just retracts from the reality rather than add to the brutality. It's become quite laughable, actually, because it's so obvious why most directors choose it now. Violence can be necessary in a story if it is portrayed correctly; this film does not make an example of this.
I'm losing focus here and feel like I can't properly continue with this review. To wrap up, any other major problems I had with the film were present in the books as well, but I guess that just means the film is more faithful than most. This is a good film, don't get me wrong, especially for fans I would hope. It's just not anything I would go crazy over due to its flaws and I don't imagine too many people who haven't read the books would disagree. Even though it seems like I've ripped on the film for the majority of this review, I will still give it 3 out of 5 stars due to Lawrence's performance. It just left that much of an impact for me.