By Ashley Bergner
Box Office Buzz

I’m pretty sure by now, I’m one of the last people on the planet to read “The Hunger Games” novel. 😉 However, I finally picked up a copy last week, and since then, I haven’t been able to stop reading it. It’s a smartly-written, fast-paced and thought-provoking novel, and the good news for fans is, the film version is just as powerful.

The story takes place in a civilization called Panem, a post-apocalyptic society in North America that’s divided into 13 districts. Years ago, the districts of Panem tried to rebel against the oppressive government but were brutally crushed (the 13th district was even obliterated). As punishment for the rebellion, the government started the “Hunger Games,” a televised gladiator-style competition where teenagers are forced to fight to the death.

The names of all 12- to 18-year-olds are placed in a lottery, and each year, two names are drawn from each district (one boy and one girl) to compete as “tributes” in the Hunger Games. The tributes are trained and then placed in an arena with weapons and a limited number of supplies. The last one standing wins.

It’s a rather horrific and brutal concept, and at times, “The Hunger Games” isn’t an easy film to watch (or an easy book to read). So what makes the story so compelling, and why has it attracted so many fans? The answer lies with the story’s main character, Katniss Everdeen.

Katniss is a tough, smart 16-year-old from one of the poorest districts in Panem, who’s had to fight for survival her whole life. When her 12-year-old sister Prim’s name is drawn in the Hunger Games lottery, she volunteers to go in her place. It’s this act of selfless love and devotion that gives the story its humanity.

In the film version, Katniss is embodied perfectly by young actress Jennifer Lawrence, who also appeared in last summer’s “X-Men: First Class” and was nominated for an Oscar for her role in “Winter’s Bone.” Lawrence’s intense, emotional performance brings the “Girl on Fire” from the pages of Suzanne Collins’ novel to life, and we can feel her pain as she struggles to come to grips with what competing in the Hunger Games will mean. She hates the injustice of the games but realizes that in order to survive and get back to her sister, Prim, she’ll have to commit horrific acts in the arena. She also knows eventually she may be forced to fight the other tribute from her district, Peeta Mellark. He’s declared his love for her, and while she isn’t sure how she feels about him, she doesn’t want to have to take him down in the arena.

It’s a terrible choice to force teenagers to make, and as I mentioned before, the movie isn’t an easy one to watch. It’s rated PG-13 and isn’t overly gory or bloody, but that doesn’t make it any less horrific. It’s disturbing to see the teenagers fight each other while the people in Panem’s capital casually watch the televised competition as if it were nothing more than a season of “American Idol.”

However, I think “The Hunger Games” is a film people should see, and it’s definitely a conversation starter. In our post 9/11 society, we know what it’s like to live in a world where people can die suddenly and unjustly, and I think that’s why this book has really resonated with young adults. There’s several other themes in the film that emerge as food for thought, such as poverty, government control and the way a culture can sensationalize violence to the point people become desensitized to it.

The film may not be for everyone (I have some friends that really liked it and some that didn’t), but it certainly lingers with you after you watch it. I thought it was a powerful, well-made film and a faithful adaptation of the books, and it is one I’d recommend watching.

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