The Hunger Games was first published in 2008 but I read it last year, in response to all the hype and in anticipation of the movie. I started the book and almost gave up because the first few chapters are some of the most inane; heavy in exposition, these chapters set up the world that allows for the Hunger Games, but does it in such a way that no one, not even the characters, seem to care. If their personalities are affected by the trauma of their pasts, it is because it is the proper way to feel, not because their souls have depth. Granted, as the book progresses, this changes and the characters do round themselves out a bit. Which brings me to my second point.
The book is written in the first person view of Katniss Everdeen. Her father is dead, her mother emotionally unavailable, her little sister innocent and naive, and their life tough. Katniss plays the martyr, growing up too soon in order to take care of her family and resenting the years her mother spent mourning her father's death. Her one consolation has been her friend Gale, who becomes her only friend, companion, confidant, and hunting buddy. He asks her to leave with him, to set out into the woods alone to try and make a better, off-the-grid life for themselves. But Katniss refuses on account of the responsibility she feels for her sister.
Hopefully that gives you an idea of the emotional topography of Katniss at the time of the first book. Now to sum up the plot a bit. Basically, America has crumbled and been replaced by a dictatorship. The remaining land (California has sunk into the sea) is divided into districts based on agricultural and economic commodities. There used to be 13 but then there was a rebellion and now there are 12. Every year each district has to send a boy and a girl to compete in The Hunger Games, which are very violent and brutal and only one person comes out alive. This is to discourage the people to start another rebellion, because it shows just how in charge the government is! Anyway, the ruling class all live in what is never named as, but is definitely hinted at, basically Denver, Colorado. They live ridiculous lives of wealth, luxury, frivolity and excess. So there you have the two main conflicts, a ruling class super out of touch with the very poor providers and a game in which 12-18 year olds kill each other for their quasi-historical amusement.
The book is engrossing. I was so into it that I read it while walking to work. The narration is annoying, because Katniss is annoying. She is oblivious to a good deal of the motives of those around her and is extremely narrow-minded. This causes a lot of conflict with the other characters, something the book thrives in dragging out and utilizing for plot purposes. But it also succeeds in allowing the reader to connect emotionally with Katniss and feel her pains and frustrations. The reader hears and knows Katniss and the other characters. In the movie, the watcher only sees Katniss and co.
I was extremely excited about the movie. This book was begging to be made into a good movie. They cast some big names, many of whom did a FANTASTIC job. Stanley Tucci for one, Donald Sutherland for another. Some of the casting was uninspired and contrary to the book, like Liam Hemsworth as Gale. The sets were more or less acceptable but now we come to a pet peeve of mine: costuming. Suzanne Collins wrote at length about the weird fashions the people of the Capitol wear: skin that has been permanently dyed, purple lipstick, eyebrow tattoos, hair in every shade of the spectrum and in outlandish hairstyles. But you only ever see a fraction of that weirdness in the movie. Nicki Minaj is basically a Capitol citizen but would have stuck out like a sore thumb in the movies. Shame on that costumer. It was your chance to wow us all with your weirdness and you failed our fantasies!
The camera work was also patchy and quite shoddy in places. The entire beginning of the movie is shot in shaky-cam. I CAN'T STAND SHAKY-CAM. Seriously, it does not add a single thing to the movie. Then, instead of using valuable screen-time elaborating on the inner struggles of the main characters, they use it making quick cuts between fast-panning background shots and extreme close-ups of faces. There is absolutely no narrative in that kind of movement.
Which leads me to my final, and most critical, point. Because the book is written in first person the reader is inundated with emotions, thought-processes, and opinions of other people. These are crucial to understanding the choices Katniss makes as the books go on. Yet there is little to none of this going on in the movie! The movie relies solely on the gazes of close-cropped actors to convey hundreds of complex ideas. If you hadn't read the books before seeing the movie you would be lost and nonplussed at some of the turns the plot takes, because no one explained it to you. This movie could have been so much better if the writers had just added some dialogue. Sure, those conversations don't happen in the books, but in a movie they are necessary! The transition from first-person to screen is hard but you fix it by hiding exposition in conversations. Katniss's relationships are twisted, muddled things and in the books this is clear because of how much she frets over them. But you can't have relationships without interactions, and the movie just doesn't deliver those.
So, in essence, this movie just wasn't what it could have been. I attribute it to someone in Hollywood hearing it was a trend and deciding to cash in on it before the trend faded out. They rushed it, in other words. With just a few extra inputs and a few more critiques they would have been there! But instead they pandered to an audience clamoring for a movie. It was fast-food, not gourmet.