36 hours ago Hollywood Reporter critic Todd McCarthy posted a “yeah, not bad, pretty good” review of The Hunger Games (Lionsgate, 3.23), declaring that “the arrow hits an outer circle of the target in this faithful adaptation of Suzanne Collinsyoung-adult best-seller, which could have used a higher blood count in more ways than one.”

Still, director Gary Ross “gets enough of what matters in the book up on the screen to satisfy its legions of fans worldwide.

“A speculative fiction piece about a 16-year-old expert hunter, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), who becomes one of 24 teenagers to compete in an annual televised combat spectacle from which only one will emerge alive, Collins’ tale rips along on the page with unflagging momentum while generating legitimate suspense and a strong rooting interest in its resourceful heroine.

The film has “visual spectacle but, along with it, a feeling of being slightly shortchanged; the long shots of gigantic cityscapes, of a fast train gliding silkily through the country, of massive crowds gathered to see this year’s gladiators before they set off to kill one another, of the decorative flames emanating from the leads’ costumes as the pair is presented to the public for the first time — all are cut a bit short, as if further exposure would reveal them as one notch below first-rate.

“Most noticeable of all, however, is the film’s lack of hunting instinct. The novel conveyed a heady sense of blood-scent, of Everdeen’s lifetime of illegal hunting paying off in survival skills that, from the outset, make her the betting favorite to win the 74th edition of the Hunger Games. While present, this critical element is skimmed over onscreen, reducing a sense of the heroine’s mental calculations as well as the intensity of her physical challenges and confrontations.

“One senses that the filmmakers wanted to avoid showing much hunting onscreen, for fear of offending certain sensibilities; stylistically, one longs for the visceral expressiveness of, say, Walter Hill in his prime. It’s also clear that the need for a PG-13 rating dictated moderation; a film accurately depicting the events of the book would certainly carry an R.”

Variety‘s Justin Chang feels the same way: “The first novel in Suzanne Collins’ bestselling trilogy is a futuristic fight-to-the-death thriller driven by pure survival instinct,” he notes, “but the creative equivalent of that go-for-broke impulse is absent from director Gary Ross’ The Hunger Games.

“Proficient, involving, ever faithful to its source and centered around Jennifer Lawrence’s impressive star turn, this much-anticipated, nearly 2 1/2-hour event picture should satiate fans, entertain the uninitiated and take an early lead among the year’s top-grossing films. Yet in the face of near-certain commercial success, no one seems to have taken the artistic gambles that might have made this respectable adaptation a remarkable one.”