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The Hunger Games' a satisfying meal

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Film adaptation a well-told tale

Literature aimed at young adults has served as the basis for two of the most popular (not to mention lucrative) film franchises in history. Both J.K. Rowling's 'Harry Potter' series and Stephanie Meyer's 'Twilight' books have spawned movies that have made hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office.

Suzanne Collins's book 'The Hunger Games,' as well as the two subsequent books in the series, aims to be the next blockbuster in line.

'The Hunger Games' follows young Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence, 'X-Men: First Class'), a girl who lives in far-flung District 12 in a dystopian future nation called Panem. This society revolves around a yearly competition known as the Hunger Games, in which two 'tributes' a boy and a girl between the ages of 12 and 18 are selected to compete in a battle to the death. When her sister is selected, Katniss offers herself up as a volunteer replacement.

Katniss leaves her village, along with fellow tribute Peeta (Josh Hutcherson, 'Journey 2: The Mysterious Island'), handler Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks, 'Man on a Ledge') and mentor Haymitch (Woody Harrelson, 'Rampart') and heads to the Capitol, where she and the others train under the watchful eyes of Game Maker Seneca Crane (Wes Bentley, 'Gone') and the mysterious and menacing presence of the enigmatic President Snow (Donald Sutherland, 'Horrible Bosses').

The battle that unfolds in the arena is a gruesome one, manipulated at every turn by the powers that be. With enemies at every turn some of whom who have been training their entire lives for this fight Katniss will have to rely on every weapon she has at her disposal, whether it be physical, intellectual or emotional, if she is to have any hope of survival.

As someone who has both read and enjoyed the books, I was looking forward to this film, and for the most part it didn't disappoint. While fans of the novel might be perturbed by some of the omissions, director Gary Ross did a fine job translating the story to the screen.

Lawrence is a stoic and stone-faced heroine, which only serves to accentuate the effectiveness of those moments when emotion shines through. Katniss hides her complexities behind a mask; Lawrence certainly evokes echoes of that feeling.

The surrounding cast is excellent across the board Harrelson and Banks are both great, though Harrelson feels a bit underused. Hutcherson is the perfect blend of starry-eyed and stolid in his portrayal of Peeta. And Bentley and Sutherland are just the right amount of oily and sinister, respectively. Not to mention Stanley Tucci ('Margin Call') as TV host Caesar Flickerman and Lenny Kravitz ('Precious') as Katniss's stylist Cinna.

The world of the film is a vivid one. From the totalitarian bleakness of the outlying districts to the lush forest of the game arena to the lurid vividness of the Capitol, the backdrop is a world just close enough to our own as to be unsettling. Of particular note was the Capitol, which looked for all the world like David Bowie mated with the future and gave birth to a casino. Just the right kind of jarring.

Put it all together and you get a film that, despite its nearly 150 minute run-time, moves along with a crisp pace. The action flows and very little feels extraneous. Happily, while some details have been changed or omitted in the name of cinematic flow, the film is still an apt representation of the book. It's an experience that will satisfy both long-time fans and neophytes alike.

4.5 out of 5 

Last modified on Thursday, 05 April 2012 12:11

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