When I read The Hunger Games back in December, I enjoyed it. The fast-paced, action-driven plot narrated primarily from the constantly oscillating mind of sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen was exciting and emotional, and well worth the time it took to read. However, it didn't have the feel of a story that could ascend to the height of Timeless Tale.
Having seen the movie, I think that assessment is still true. But it sure holds up as a good tale for right now.
As with any movie based on a book, there's always the question of how much can be understood without reading the book first. It seems to me that Gary Ross and team brought together a coherent story, hitting all of the major points with competence and style.
One of the strongest aspects of the movie is that we get to see Katniss act rather than read her stream of consciousness. Jennifer Lawrence did a good job conveying Katniss' constant indecision without giving a play by play of every thought and counter-thought. By necessity, some of the nuance of her shifting feelings for both Peeta and Gale is lost, but I think the movie still conveys enough of the complexity in her relationships with the two boys to get the point across. Lawrence also convincingly portrayed the two sides of Katniss' personality as both a scared girl and a strong young woman.
Perhaps the biggest change to the story is the portrayal of the uprising in District 11 after Rue's death. In the books, open rebellion by any of the districts doesn't occur until much later (after the victory tour described in Catching Fire). However, showing District 11's return salute and the riot as a lashing out of grief helped to put the games in stark context of the larger injustice in which they were forced to play.
Over at Reason, Kurt Loder bemoans the paucity and quality of the digital effects. He's right that the "rampaging beasts" were a bit cheesy — they looked suspiciously like hornless relatives to the Minions of Gozer — but otherwise I thought the effects were just right. In particular, I liked the Gamemakers' control room. I also liked that the arena itself didn't have an overabundance of effects.