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Mar 23

“The Hunger Games”: Believe the hype?

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Studio executives hope “The Hunger Games” are the next “Twilight”

Unless you’re young, female or an avid reader of young adult fiction, it’s unlikely you’d heard of “The Hunger Games” until a few months ago.

That’s when Lionsgate Entertainment released the first trailer for the highly anticipated science fiction flick, which follows a teenage Tribute (Jennifer Lawrence) forced to compete in a government-sanctioned gladiatorial contest.

Now, of course, it’s hard to avoid all the “Hunger Games” hype.

With all the sneak peaks, promotional websites and pop-culture mashups that have been flooding the Internet in recent days, it’s clear that studio executives see “The Hunger Games” as the heir apparent to “Harry Potter” and “Twilight,” two wildly popular fantasy franchises that successfully made the transition from the page to the silver screen. (How else could you explain a “Hunger Games” Snuggie?)

“The Hunger Games” is aimed at a slightly older audience, due to its fight-to-the-death storyline and dystopian setting, and it deals with some decidedly dark themes.¬† But what really sets the series apart from its peers is its main character, Katniss Everdeen.

As portrayed in Suzanne Collins’s books, Katniss is the glue that holds her impoverished family together. She’s gorgeous, smart and resourceful, the sort of girl who’s willing to risk life and limb to keep her little sister safe.

Sure, Katniss has her share of romantic entanglements. But while Bella Swan, the emotionally tortured heroine of the “Twilight” series, seems to spend most of her time moping, Katniss relegates her relationships with hunky hunting companion Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and fellow Tribute Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) to the back burner most of the time. She’s more interested in staying alive.

Did I mention that’s she’s murder with a bow and arrow?

I have no problem believing that Lawrence, whose previous roles include a determined Ozark teen in “Winter’s Bone” and a shape-shifting mutant in “X-Men: First Class,” will do Katniss justice.

I’m more curious to see how her co-stars and director Gary Ross will handle this far-flung, futuristic material. Ross’s earlier projects, period dramas “Pleasantville” and “Seabiscuit,” deal primarily with the past.

Should¬† “The Hunger Games” succeed at the box office, there’s the potential for two more movies and mountains of merchandising. If it flops, the franchise could go the way of “The Golden Compass,” another hot science-fiction property that failed domestically but sizzled overseas.

That’s a lot of pressure to place on three young actors and one relatively untried director. I hope they’re up for it.

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“The Hunger Games” opens today in theaters everywhere.

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