There's Great Expectations, the novel. Then there's another type of great expectations- one that comes with a bestselling book, months of crazy hype, and millions of rabid fans wondering whether the inevitable movie version will ruin the original story.
We can all breathe a sigh of relief, because in the case of The Hunger Games, the Hollywood adaptation stacks up in a big way. Staying true to the plot from the very beginning, the film opens with Katniss Everdeen [Jennifer Lawrence] playing the part of the big sister- she puts Prim back to bed after a bad dream- and then follows her as she quickly morphs into warrior mode, hunting across Panem's District border with her best friend Gale [Liam Hemsworth] on the eery morning of The Reaping. Moments like this show Katniss's survival skills, as well as her vulnerability, which make her character so universally beloved.
It also sets the tone for the rest of the movie- filled with quiet, shallow breathing instead of music, the suspense is inescapable from the beginning. So what if we already know what's going to happen? It's still exciting, so it doesn't matter.
Although Lawrence is the clear star of the film (and she does an amazing job, we might add), the rest of the cast, including Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks step into their characters' big shoes seamlessly. Stanley Tucci (as TV host Caesar) and Lenny Kravitz (as the stylist Cinna) bring some much-needed comedic relief to the film, which runs about 2.5 hours long.
It's a tough call in movies like this, because we don't want them to leave anything out- in fact, we wished they had touched more on Katniss's dad's death and her relationship with Gale. But at the same time, the brisk pacing is key to living up to its page-turner inspiration. Between the intense action scenes, on-screen chemistry between Lawrence and Hutcherson, and some very scary circumstances, it manages to strike a pretty happy medium.
Bottom line: we know The Hunger Games movie was a success because even after it ended, we were still dying for more. Guess that means it's now time to start the countdown to Catching Fire....
The Hunger Games opens today nationwide.