I FINALLY got to see The Hunger Games yesterday afternoon and I was very pleasantly surprised.

Other reviewers liked it, but I was still not sure how they could accomplish translating a very good book, written from the first person perspective of Katniss–a girl who really doesn’t say much out loud but certainly thinks a lot–into a successful film.  I wondered if most of the film would be narrated by Jennifer Lawrence.  Not, so:  director Gary Ross took a different creative approach.

Ross decided to film it mostly with handheld cameras and close in-your-face shots.  There was also no narration, no first person.  Going from the printed page to the medium of film definitely required change, and Ross grabbed the bull by the horns.

First off, the casting was very good.  Jennifer Lawrence was perfectly cast.  She could play the tough, smart, tomboy Katniss very believably.  The one thing she did really well was convey Katniss’ silence, her working things out in her head.  Her lack of respect for the Capitol, but her need to survive.  Josh Hutcherson plays the perfect Peeta, likeable, good on camera.  Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci and Liam Hemsworth all worked perfectly.  (I loved Tucci’s Caesar Flickerman).  I’m still not sure about Lenny Kravitz as Cinna.

The emotion and spirit of the books is what shined the most.  It was obvious that Gary Ross gets it.  The handheld camera technique really captured the way Katniss was feeling:  overwhelmed by everything, fighting for survival.  Also since we weren’t in Katniss’ head, some other scenes were added to clarify those things that were merely implied in the book.

The music worked.  It wasn’t as sweepingly epic as The Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter scores, but it really worked.  In a way it captures the bleakness of the situation, supplementing Katniss’ lack of expression and her silence.

The cinematography and approach to this film is what could win it awards.  The explosion in popularity in the past months is what is making it money.  The story and spirit of the books is why I would really like to see this one again.

The one thing I wish they would have perfected were the muttations at the end of the games.  I wanted to see each of the deceased tributes in them.  It really adds to the horror and tyranny of the Capitol.  (Also, having Cato being slowly eaten with his body armor and Katniss’ mercy kill would have be effective as well, but alas, it was PG-13.)

The Hunger Games runs 142 minutes and is rated PG-13.  You want to teach a kid about authoritarian government, show them this film (or give them the book, which I still like better.)  I give The Hunger Games 10 ramheads out of 10.  This film lives up to the hype.