I was in the worst possible situation with this movie: I hadn't read the book, so I didn't know what to expect, but I had picked up so much from book blogging and TVTropes that I knew all the surprises anyway.
One of the annoying things about being a writer is that you can't help looking at other people's stories and thinking how you could write them better. One problem that many people are citing with the film is that the tributes weren't properly developed as characters. This annoys me too, and probably more than most, because there was a golden opportunity in the training sequences. As I noted over at Cyna's place, the smart thing to do here is to start the film with Katniss' arrival in the capitol, cutting all the scene-setting at the start, and expand the training sequences so that we get to know the characters and establish some kind of dynamic between them. You could say that it's necessary to have those early scenes to establish the world these people live in. But they didn't work: Cyna talks about how they didn't portray properly the extent of the poverty in District 12, and I, too, got a very poor feel for what the situation was outside the capitol. Again, shoring up the characterizations of the tributes would have alleviated this. The kind of person you are is testimony to what you've been through. Details can be filled in with the occasional flashback or haunted monologue or puff piece glimpsed on a viewscreen, like the interview between Ceaser and Seneca near the start.
But of course, they couldn't do that, because of the great monkeywrench of modern lit-to-film adaptations: "It was/wasn't in the book." The audience won't tolerate deviation. This is the kind of thing that annoyed me with the anime community. I get how people object to twisting the story to be something it wasn't in the original form. But somewhere along the line nerd rage stopped being about the story and started centering around petty nit-picking. The audience demands the Gale scenes be in there, despite the fact that Gale isn't relevant to the story. They demand that Cinna have a role, even though he does nothing of significance. (Although Lenny Kravitz played him remarkably well, I agree.) What the film spends its time and energy on is dictated not by the needs of the story, but by self-important internet whiners with no idea how to tell a tale in cinematic media and jaded directors more than willing to pander to them. The people complaining about how Hollywood ruins everything are the very people who are the cause of it.
And now I'm nerd raging. God dammit. >_<
Putting all that aside, I did have a good time at the movie. The districts were underdeveloped, but they did a good job representing the capitol's extravagance and shallowness. Acting was generally good, with Donald Sutherland standing out even though his role is little more an extended cameo. I've been told that they pulled a lot of punches in pursuit of a PG-13 rating, which is disappointing but cinema has much different standards for this sort of thing than literature. And Katniss is a compelling heroine, attempting to hold on to her principles and moral fiber in a world that does everything to take it away from her. Carrie Vaughn's review criticized the film for never forcing Katniss to face a moment where she has make the choice to kill someone in cold blood. She's wrong, though: Katniss did have a choice, at the very end. Kill Peeta, and go free. And she made the right choice: say "Fuck that." She held to her principles, even when it meant becoming a martyr: Peeta was not the enemy. The capitol was the enemy. Don't give them what they want.
I liked it and would definitely watch the sequel. But going a few weeks after opening, when the fangirls are tired of it, was definitely the right move.