Now hold on just a second. Can it be possible? Can a film based on a bestselling young adult saga, with a fan base frighteningly similar to that of the “Twilight” series (a moment’s pause to shudder at the memory…), hit all the right notes? Yes, yes it can! “The Hunger Games,” with its flawless cast, perfectly paced action and dramatic intensity, is everything we’ve been waiting for and more. Breathe easy, Suzanne Collins — perhaps Hollywood’s finally learning how not to mess up a beloved piece of fiction.

The Hunger Games

At Quality 16 and Rave
Lionsgate


Though, the movie’s victory has to be due in part to Collins’s contribution to the screenplay. Director Gary Ross’s (“Seabiscuit”) decision to hire Collins, writer of the original trilogy, yields a film that’s true to its literary counterpart even after certain scenes from the book are cut and altered. If anything, it ensures that the books’ multitude of fans get what they pay for — a movie that’s loyal to the material it’s inspired by.

To most, the story is familiar. Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence, “Winter’s Bone”) lives with her mother and younger sister Prim (newcomer Willow Shields) in an exhausted part of District 12 called the Seam. As happens annually, all children between the ages of 12 and 18 from the 12 districts have to submit their names for the Hunger Games — a competition in which 24 children battle to the death, used by the Capitol to maintain totalitarian control. When her 12-year-old sister is picked to compete, Katniss volunteers in Prim’s place.

When it comes to the Capitol, Ross lets his imagination fly. It’s precisely as over-the-top, colorful and extravagant as readers undoubtedly expected. But just as Katniss and fellow District 12 tribute Peeta (Josh Hutcherson, “The Kids Are All Right”) are pawns in the Capitol’s games, the Capitol is a pawn in Ross’s game. It’s a means for him to break the emotional intensity of the games themselves, to occasionally hide the fact that under the love triangle most teenagers in the audience have come to see, this film is actually about survival, death, desperation and unrestrained animalistic instincts.

Execs at Lionsgate must have really pushed hard for the film’s PG-13 rating. While not as Tarantino-esque as most would have liked, “The Hunger Games” stays true to the blood and gore of the first book. Herein lies the film’s greatest strength — it’s all about raw emotion. There are no obtrusive, overwhelming soundtracks that detract from the emotional trauma of the lead actors at the death of their friends.

This organic approach allows the actors to shine in their roles. Hutcherson is believably love-stricken and embattled as the guy who knows he can’t win but wants to make sure the girl he loves does. Woody Harrelson, as the tributes’ mentor Haymitch, is equally perfect as a drunk mess trying to get his act together. Of course, no one can forget the adorably naive Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks, TV’s “30 Rock”). Her comedic one-liners are as invaluable as Donald Sutherland’s (“Horrible Bosses”) cold stares as President Snow.

But while the games have two winners, the film only has one. Lawrence is a powerhouse of talent. She churns out arrogant, impatient, sweet, sexy, traumatized and desperate faster than the speed of one of Katniss’s arrows.

There’s no other way of saying it — this film is a cornucopia of surprises. Instead of capitalizing on its love triangle, it sticks to its roots and captures the frustration of an oppressed society that’s just trying to survive. More than anything, it’s a beautiful ode to ‘hunger’ and ‘passion’ — the hunger that drives people physically and emotionally, the passion that causes people to act against their better judgement. As such, “The Hunger Games” definitely leaves you craving more.

So long brooding, pouting vampires — this is how a young-adult adaptation is done.

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