I saw the film Sunday Night in an as expected packed theater.
I had just read the first book the week before, simply because I heard Jennifer Lawrence was going to be in the starring role and I absolutely loved her in Winters Bone and I really wanted to fully appreciate her performance (or lack thereof) in this film plus I kept hearing how Katniss was a strong female protaganist and that really got me interested.
Hunger Games was like the first popular Young Adult book I've read in ages, since maybe The Giver back in High School. Never read any of the Harry Potter or Twilight books etc and I can say that I found the book pretty decent, nothing amazing, but a good quality and fairly engrossing and easy to read book.
But reading the book before I saw the film likely helped me appreciate the film far more because I felt the film was a great adaption. I really think if you haven't read (or liked obviously) the book that the film likely won't be as appreciated as by those who did read it. If I hadn't read the book, I'd probably think this was simply a pretty decent action-adventureish movie with some nice scifi, teenage and romantic twists. But having read the book, I really, really enjoyed the film and was super excited to watching it.
For me it made the action scenes all the more exciting, the sad and emotional moments all the more tender and heartrending and the romantic bits all the more sweet and so forth.
First off, I loved Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss. Her role in Hunger Games had some strong similarities with her character in Winters Bone (an amazing film btw) in both characters being strong willed, resourceful, and somewhat reserved characters. Both in the book and less so in the film, Katniss is portrayed as a somewhat cold, wary, aloof and almost dispassionate type of woman and not an extrovert or particular angsty or emotional or kind hearted, and yet still evokes a lot of sheer likability.
Of course, she's still human and realistic, so the softer side comes out, but neither side of her character really comes out and dominates and thus the portrayal is still fairly reserved and thus really effective. Jennifer Lawrence did a great job in bringing out her character. And she looked great in her role too, and was perfectly believable in her hunter and tribute roles.
I also loved the actor who played Peeta. Hutcherson just did a great job bringing out the Peeta-ness in Peeta that it almost seemed natural. He's more or less her opposite in personality and demeanor and their interplay was great. Liked Banks' and Harrelson's and Stanley Tucci's performances as well.
Lenny Kravitz did good, but I just felt... it could've been better still. Rue was perfectly cast. And I loved what assholes the career tributes were and unlike some (or just Damar ) didn't try to overanalyze the situation when it didn't matter to the film thematically. The initial fight scene in the cornocupia, including the countdown, was totally exciting and heart rending at the same time, since it was essentially kids killing kids.
The scenes of the poorer districts was well done, especially the initial scenes showing the relative poverty of District 12 which evoked a kind of Great Depression sort of feel. But I will admit Liam Hemsworth looking every bit the pretty boy with the perfect hair and clothes and clean face really took me out of it unfortunately. I'm not sure if his fault or someone else in the production. He was too pretty boy to be a D12 citizen IMHO.
Loved the costumes in the Capital. it seemed to pretty much bring it out to life what the author was trying to convey when it came to the excessive pageantry of the the capital citizens. And there were a lot of awesome moments sprinkled throughout the film as well. As a reader of the book, I really appreciated it. And finally, I didn't even notice the shakey cam all that much to be perfectly honest.
Basic bottom line is, if you read the book, I think you will absolutely love the film adaption. If you didn't read the book, it might simply be just a 'above average' or merely decent adventure style film with some innovative twists.
And I don't find this film or the book to be derivative of Battle Royale (an inferior film IMHO) or Running Man beyond some generally shared elements.
Hunger games is no more similar to Battle Royale then Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels is derivative of (or vice versa) Italian Job, and Tower Heist, or the Fast Five because they are all 'heist' films.
Or that Punisher and Kill Bill and Kickass and Super are all the derivative of each other people people dress up in costumes of varying silliness and engage in brutal vigilantism. Such comparisons completely ignore the majority of the films that are being compared.