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Fans of series hungry for these 'Games'

By by john anderson/newsday/mct
March 21, 2012 at 7:01 p.m.
Updated March 20, 2012 at 10:21 p.m.


WHO'S WHO IN THE MOVIE

To nonbelievers, the featured players in "The Hunger Games" may sound like they have the worst names in the history of cast lists. Nevertheless, the following are the principals in Suzanne Collins' allegorical drama, in which the "tributes" from the 12 districts of Panem will assemble in the Capitol, meet various colorful characters and fight to the death.

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) - With her father dead and her mother an emotional wreck, she's had to be sister and mother to her younger sister, Primrose. When Prim is chosen in the Hunger Games lottery, Katniss volunteers to take her place.

Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) - The baker's son who becomes Katniss' fellow District 12 tribute. When the games begin, he allies himself with the cutthroats of District 2. So is he a good guy or bad?Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) - The only winner of the Hunger Games that District 12 ever produced, he becomes "mentor" to Katniss and Peeta. He's trained a lot of dead competitors at the games, which has turned him into a cynical drunk. But in Katniss and Peeta he sees a chance for something great.

Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) - Katniss' "stylist," which is a lot more important than it sounds: How she's perceived by the populace of the Capitol will determine her number of sponsors, which will in turn determine life vs. death when the games get ugly. Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) - Katniss' sort-of best friend back home, he doesn't see much action, but his presence haunts the story.Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) - Looking like a human fruit salad, Effie represents, visually and morally, the general soullessness of Panem, although she's really not all bad.Cato (Alexander Ludwig) - The "ruthless killing machine" from District 2, he presents the greatest danger to Peeta and Katniss.Clove (Isabelle Fuhrman) - Pretty deadly with a knife.

NEW YORK - Starved for good entertainment? "The Hunger Games" may hit the spot, despite a few reservations: One, Jennifer Lawrence is about six years older than Katniss Everdeen, the gutsy teen heroine of Suzanne Collins' dystopic bestseller. Two, the impoverished, undernourished, dentally deprived denizens of District 12 - which will send Katniss and her pal Peeta to battle for their lives in the Capitol of their oppressive state - look like escapees from a J. Crew catalog. Three, there are references that readers of the first in the "Games" trilogy will find unfamiliar, because they come out of subsequent books.

And you know what? None of this will make a bit of difference.

Collins' adventure trilogy is among the most successful young-adult novels ever. There's simply no reason to think that the first in this planned three-film adaptation won't make a killing.

There is, after all, a considerable amount of violence in "The Hunger Games," just as there is in the books; director Gary Ross, working with Collins, has remained faithful to the story, with some small exceptions, including the strapping Lawrence, 21, playing the skinny Katniss, 15. But Ross was full of confidence.

"She embodies so many qualities that are spot-on," he said of his actress. "The self-assurance. She doesn't filter anything. She's completely candid. When you meet her, she embodies so much of what the character is. And Suzanne was adamant about the choice, and you can't get a better barometer than that," Ross said.

Nina Jacobson, former head of production for Disney, added that Collins was inspired to write her 2008 novel by the weird convergence of the Iraq War and "American Idol," and since then, "the social inequality that's highlighted in the book has become an even bigger part of the national dialogue."

A mash-up of Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery," Richard Connell's "The Most Dangerous Game" and TV's "Survivor," Ross' "The Hunger Games" departs from Collins' format enough to provide a little wider perspective. Written in first-person, present tense, the novel only lets the reader know what Katiss knows, as she knows it. The movie, conversely, shows Katniss and her fight for survival in the "arena" against better-trained and better-armed opponents, but also how she's being viewed in the Capitol, a mix of the Emerald City and "A Clockwork Orange."

What readers will also be eager to see - in addition to Katniss kicking butt - is how Ross and Co. decided to portray the Capitol and its characters, such as Stanley Tucci's blue-haired TV host, Caesar Flickerman.

"My first question was, 'How far do you want to take this?'" said Lenny Kravitz, who plays Katniss' stylist, Cinna. "I mean, I could be taking it all the way. I was thinking Tom Ford meets Yves St. Laurent, really great creative people, not outrageous, more classic, not John Galliano."

As for Ross? He's prepping for the next installment in the "Games" saga, even if he's not exactly ready for it either. "They've asked me to do it, and I'm beginning that process," he said.

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