‘Hunger Games’ film franchise gets off to a thrilling start

The young protagonists of Gary Ross’ riveting sci-fi parable, “The Hunger Games,” may not have Edward Cullen’s tousled hair, Jacob Black’s six pack, or Bella Swan’s damsel-in-distress appeal—but, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) and Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) don’t need to take their shirts off or brood vacuously to keep viewers on the edge of their seats!

The jump from page to screen has been the year’s most anticipated pop-culture event, anchored around Suzanne Collins’ edgy young-adult novels, which follow teenagers who negotiate romantic woes as they fight for survival in a dystopic, post-apocalyptic world ruled by androgynous oligarchs with a demented craving for violence, romantic manipulation and the God-complex over-indulgence of reality TV.

Into the lion’s den

Sixteen-year-old Katniss has been thrust into the lion’s den after she volunteers to take the place of her younger sister, whose name has been unexpectedly drawn in a raffle to pick a boy and a girl, between ages 12 to 18, from each of the ruling Capitol’s 12 districts.

The 24 contenders then compete in The Hunger Games—an annual “punishment” that serves as a reminder of the now docile residents’ rebellion 74 years ago. But, the competition they’re thrust into isn’t just a high-stakes game: They must fight one another to the death—until only a lone survivor is left standing!

The script quickly establishes that Lawrence’s character is no damsel in distress who requires a dashing prince to save her: With bow and arrow in hand (and innate intelligence, to boot), she can more than fend for herself—a strength of character embodied in heaps by the Oscar-nominated actress of “Winter’s Bone.” She is the fuel that keeps this modern fairy tale’s motor running.

Humor

True, given its gloomy and cautionary premise, it’s impossible to tell “The Hunger Games’” tale without violence. But, Ross’ treatment is never gratuitous—in fact, it’s full of humanity, irony and, yes, even humor.

In fact, more than the thrilling action that takes place onscreen, it’s the meaningful relationships Katniss forges with the other characters that keep moviegoers glued to their seats. The production’s concept seems grand, but its actors manage to make their stories intimate and empathetic. Would that other sci-fi flicks could be as riveting and relevant.

In Tinseltown’s latest blockbuster franchise, the audience doesn’t just find a strong heroine to root for, they also witness the birth of a budding, three-way romance, whose “authenticity” will keep them guessing unless they’ve read Collins’ books. Will Lawrence fall for Hutcherson’s self-effacing, Everyman charm, or will she end up with the dreamy, sensitive Hemsworth? Let the screaming—and swooning—begin! 🙄

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