Review: The Hunger Games

I'm constantly reading three or four books at a time, and I made the mistake of trying to read The Hunger Games alongside a book by Umberto Eco and another by Graham Greene. To say the writing style wasn't very good beside those two was an understatement. I made it three or four chapters, interested in the story, but the writing left me wanting more. Eventually it simply fell by the wayside, waiting for me to revisit it.

I'm still planning on revisiting it at some point. I want to.

After seeing the movie, I think I have to, if nothing else so I can read the next two installments of the series.

I just wanted to get that out there so people reading this know where I'm coming from as far as the faithfulness of the adaptation is concerned. It all matched what I read, but I hadn't read very much.

As for the movie itself, I'm very pleased to report that the movie is very good. The filmmaking that went into making the movie was much better than the writing that went into the novel.

The movie, as the book does, begins with Katniss Everdeen on the day of the Reaping, and follows her story through the constant government manipulation of The Hunger Games. Jennifer Lawrence brings the character to life vividly, giving us her internal monologue without having to say a word. There is no narration of her thoughts, but her performance is so strong there doesn't need to be.

In fact, there's not a performance I can point to that felt out of place (with the exception of Donald Sutherland as the president, but we'll talk about that in a minute). Looking at trailers for the film, I was convinced Woody Harrelson was going to gnaw through the scenery, as distracting as a goat eating the set in the background, but his character, Haymitch Abernathy, was much more complex than his limited screen time would imply. Though their costumes bordered on distracting, Stanley Tucci and Elizabeth Banks (as Caesar Flickerman and Effie Trinket, respectively) brought a much needed big city contrast to the bland lives of the denizens of District 12. Even Lenny Kravitz, who I would have assumed to be distracting, felt right for his part.

For his part, Donald Sutherland was fine as the president, adding an air of menace, but the reason he felt out of place was because he was a villain who had no plan and did nothing but twirl his mustache. When the film ended, I was left with the feeling that I was missing something. Imagine how unsatisfied you'd feel if Star Wars had ended with Luke and Han getting Princess Leia off the Death Star and the movie just ended there before they could go back and blow it up. I understand there are more books coming, and this film telegraphed the plot of the next one so completely that I shouldn't be surprised, but it still felt odd and out of place.

And, to be honest, the odd structure was my only complaint with an otherwise well-made film. The emotional climax comes right in the middle of the movie and, even though it was blatantly and repeatedly telegraphed from the beginning, it had a significant punch, eliciting more than a tear or two from me. But nothing got bigger or better than that. The movie peaked in the middle, the consequences of that peak causing a riot in District 11 toward the overthrow of the government, and then the film went strictly by the numbers from that point.

Sadly, there's too much of a reverence to the source material filmmakers have for films of this sort that seems to render them incapable of fixing major mistakes in order to make a better film. (Which is why fans of the books rarely seem to understand why Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is hands down the best film in the Harry Potter franchise.)

Other than that one minor complaint, I thought this film was incredible. It invested me wholly and is forcing a desire to read the books.

Is this the best movie I've seen this year so far? No. That honor still belongs to John Carter (which if you don't already have tickets for The Hunger Games, you should this weekend while you wait for the crowds to die down). But it's still a very excellent film.

Will I see the next one? Absolutely. And I will come having read the source material this time. I'm a fan, now, and nothing is going to stop that.

I saw it with my 9-year-old son and he loved it as well, winning over the kid vote. I'm not sure I'd bring my 8 -year-old daughter, though. Not because there was anything too graphic or intense, but because I don't think that mid-film emotional climax would sit well with her particular personality. It's not exactly fun for the whole family, but for most of the family it's just right: challenging, thrilling, intense and well-made.

Bryan Young is the editor-in-chief of geek news site Big Shiny Robot and the author of "Man Against the Future."