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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

The Hunger Games

An exhilarating debut from the bestselling series about teenagers engaged in a deadly bloodsport.
By Tom Glasson
March 21, 2012
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By Tom Glasson
March 21, 2012
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Depending on whom you talk to, The Hunger Games is either the greatest threat to or most suitable replacement for Stephenie Meyer's inescapable Twilight saga. Both series certainly share a lot in common, with each featuring beautiful teenagers locked in mortal combat, love triangles locked in mortal geometry and original authors locked in enormous vaults of money. The only difference, really, is that The Hunger Games is actually worth watching.

Adapted from the book trilogy by Suzanne Collins, the story is set in a postapocalyptic America divided, courtesy of a brutal uprising, into 12 separate districts. Each year as punishment for the rebellion, two children from each district are randomly selected as 'tributes' and ushered away to the capital city to compete in the barbaric bloodsport known as the 'Hunger Games'. Twenty-four contestants enter an isolated wilderness arena; only one is permitted to leave alive.

With the participants' every word and movement broadcast to the masses, The Hunger Games plays a little like The Truman Show, except that in The Truman Show not all of the extras were trying to kill Truman. Nonetheless, both films cleverly explore similar themes of voyeurism, exploitation and the power of audiences to dictate content if only they were prepared to stop watching. Yet it's courage and sacrifice that underscore the movie's central narrative.

Both qualities radiate from the film's protagonist, Katniss Everdeen (played by Jennifer Lawrence), a 16-year-old villager who selflessly volunteers as a tribute in order to save her younger sister from the Games. Lawrence is fantastic as the reluctant hunter suddenly forced to pursue human prey, and she's backed by an impressive supporting cast that includes Donald Sutherland, Stanley Tucci, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks and even Lenny Kravitz as Everdeen's quietly compassionate stylist.

Fans of the book series will be happy to learn that Collins insisted on collaborating with the screenwriters to ensure the adaptation didn't stray heavily from the source; however, newcomers will also have no problem keeping up. Superbly directed by Gary Ross (Pleasantville), the film adroitly exhibits the terrifying violence without ever glorifying it or lapsing into gratuity, and the pace is utterly relentless. While there are naturally a few 'first in the franchise' stumbles, The Hunger Games represents a fine opening salvo in what promises to be an electrifying and massively successful series.

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