ADAPTING Suzanne Collins' dystopian young adult novel The Hunger Games was always going to be an ambitious undertaking.
The story centres on a televised fight to the death between 24 teens representing 12 districts which unsuccessfully tried to rebel against the wealthy metropolis known simply as The Capital.
The visceral drama of the Hunger Games lends itself easily to the big screen.
But the origin and evolution of such a brutal event is a much more complex subject.
Director Gary Ross has captured the story's post-apocalyptic undertones but has not fully explored the story's themes of class and preservation of personal identity under the thumb of a 'Big Brother' totalitarian government, despite the film's 142-minute length.
District 12 "tributes" Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark observe the excesses of The Capital without comment and seem numb to their overlords' bloodlust.
And unfortunately shaky camera work and out-of-focus zooms make some scenes disorienting and hard to watch.
But luckily for movie-goers the action scenes are thrilling overall, and Ross manages to hold the tension throughout the entire duration of the cut-throat games.
The highlight of the film is the performances by the lead cast.
Star Jennifer Lawrence balances bravery with raw, heart-stopping fear as heroine Katniss.
Elizabeth Banks is superb as the gaudily dressed Effie, our first glimpse into the bizarre mindset of The Capital's citizenry.
She also provides occasional and much-needed comic relief in her quips with Woody Harrelson's character Haymitch - Peeta and Katniss's mentor.
Josh Hutcherson portrays Peeta's vulnerability well but fans will have to wait for the sequel Catching Fire to see Aussie Liam Hemsworth get decent on-screen time as Katniss's best mate and possible sweetheart Gale Hawthorne.
Despite its flaws, The Hunger Games has enjoyed a $214 million global debut and rightly so.
It does justice to the character of Katniss, and that was the most important thing to get right.
The Hunger Games
- Stars: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson.
- Director: Gary Ross
- Rated: M
- Verdict: ***