The Hunger Games ★★★

I’m struggling to review the film I saw and not the film I wanted to see. Gary Ross’s adaptation stays particularly close to Suzanne Collins’s book in some parts but strays particularly far in others.

All the important set pieces were in the film, as were the important characters. What wasn’t in the film, though, was character development and a great number of details. Those who read the book could easily fill in pieces that were missing thus providing a richer experience. But those who didn’t read the book lost some context and perhaps were left confused or unaware in places.

In the arena, all the scenes of action and violence that are in the book are included in the film: trackerjackers, cornucopia booby traps, neck snapping, etc. But absent from the arena—from the Hunger Games—is the actual hunger part. In the book, Katniss nearly dies of dehydration. This is skipped over in favor of including all the moments of action and violence that take place inside the arena.

Also absent from the film: mockingjays. The film gave no explanation why mockingjays are an important symbol and a dig at the Capitol—and thus why Katniss’s pin is important. In the film, Cinna smuggled it in instead of the Gamemakers deliberating if it was allowed. But had the film stuck with the book, the film would have needed to explain the significance of the mockingjay to show why the Gamemakers would have considered it a mockery. So the solution was to chuck it all—including any visuals of actual mockingjays inside the arena. Curious omission.

The film was good, but I expected more—especially on the character-development front. Peeta and Haymitch especially were entirely two-dimensional. The film was over two hours, but I could have sat through another two—which led me to wonder what a Game-of-Thrones-style mini-series could have produced by splitting the book into ten one-hour episodes. Imagine all the character development then—not to mention the inclusion of missing plot details and secondary characters.

While the film earned three stars, Jennifer Lawrence earned five. She was distant yet caring, fierce yet enchanting. She commanded her scenes with poise and confidence. And she’s reason enough to see the film.

Although the film excludes many details that will make those who read the book irritated, it includes the most important part: the kick-ass girl from District 12 superbly portrayed by Jennifer Lawrence. After this performance, she’ll no doubt be a girl on fire.