It had been quite awhile since I started the books (almost 18 months, according to my post on the first book), which I think was a good thing for me. I didn't spend the entire movie picking out all the differences between the book and movie versions.
**Spoiler Alert!! If you have not seen the movie and don't want to know details about it, STOP here.
Overall, I was very, very happy with the way The Hunger Games was translated to the screen. I didn't notice many differences between the book and the movie that I felt made a big difference. Many people mentioned the fact that the movie doesn't show District 11's gift of bread to Katniss following Rue's death. That generosity was fairly important in the book, to show how the people of the Districts are beginning to look to Katniss as a sort of inspiring martyr figure. While I can see where that scene would have added a bit of depth to the movie, I think the depiction of the riot in District 11 and Katniss making the District's sign got the point across well. If I remember correctly from the book, we only hear later that there was a riot in 11, and I thought inserting that scene carried a lot of symbolism in the movie.
The situation between Peeta and Katniss is a lot more clear in the book, which is to be expected since it is told from Katniss's perspective. In the book, we see that Katniss is confused about Peeta and is largely playing a part during the games. In fact, the end of the first book ends pretty sadly for Peeta, as he realizes that Katniss was not taking their 'relationship' as seriously as he was. Her ambiguous feelings are not conveyed nearly as well in the movie. Those who have read the book might have picked up some of Katniss's confusion, but those who have not read it may very well believe she is falling in love with Peeta. It is hard to imagine how those subtle emotions could have been more clearly depicted on the screen, so I'll just trust that the writers and producers will work that out in the future movies. (The cave scenes are not nearly as long and intense as they were in the book, which surely disappointed some 'Team Peeta' fans.)
ALL of the characters were pretty amazing, as a matter of fact. Josh Hutcherson's Peeta may not have been quite as compelling as Peeta in the book, but I attribute that largely to the fact that we have to take him at face value. His dry wit and people skills didn't shine through as much in the movie, but I think the actor will be able to portray all the various sides of Peeta accurately in the coming sequels. Woody Harrelson's Haymitch was a bit of a letdown, but only because the character is softened a bit from the book. He was definitely more likeable in the movie, and even made me laugh...but Haymitch was a not a likeable or even a particularly sympathetic character in the first book. Harrelson can play a drunk though, no doubt about that.
As for the violence in the movie, it is often implied rather than shown directly, with many of the deaths happening off-screen. I keep saying the games scenes are somewhat sanitized...but when you're dealing with a book/movie in which the main plot involves kids killing kids, that may not be such a bad thing. Watching it with a group of teenagers put it into perspective for me, and I know lots of kids younger than my group who read and/or watched it. I really can't imagine that more direct onscreen violence would do them any good. At the same time, as a parent who can be pretty sensitive to situations involving children, I didn't want to see any more violence either. While reading the book, I often had to remove myself from the situation a bit, and avoid thinking too deeply about the whole idea of the hunger games.
In case it's not clear, I thought the movie was extremely well done. There were a few 'extras' that were not portrayed in the book--such as the behind-the-scenes look at the Gamemakers and expanded scenes with Caeser Flickerman (the always-endearing Stanley Tucci)--that added a lot of explanation to the movie that would have been hard to work in otherwise. Transposing any book to the movie screen has to be a difficult task, but it seems especially daunting in a book like The Hunger Games that relies so heavily on internal dialogue. Despite a few imperfections, I just can't imagine how it could have turned out much better. I'm only disappointed that we have to wait more than a year for Catching Fire.
Have you seen The Hunger Games? Did you read the books? Tired of hearing about it?? I'd love to hear your thoughts!
Even though Jeremy hasn't read the books (and doesn't intend to, I'm sure), I want to see the movie again with him. I think he would like it pretty well, and I'm also interested in getting his impression as someone who doesn't know much about the story at all. Plus, that's two and a half more hours of relaxation in a cool, dark theater for me. : )