Does 'The Hunger Games' live up to the hype?

(Courtesy: ABC News)

Lowcountry Movie Night: By Justin Peterson

Before seeing the trailer a few months ago, I had never heard of The Hunger Games or knew it was a book trilogy. But, I am happy to say, the hype surrounding this anticipated spring blockbuster{}is well-deserved.

I was surprised to see the{}theater nearly full in Summerville Friday afternoon when I went to see the movie. I had no idea it would be so popular. Several theaters had lines of people stretching to the door, waiting to get in.

The movie takes place in the post-apocalyptic nation of Panem. We learn that each year one young man and woman are selected from each of the nation's 12 districts to fight to the death in an ultimate game of survival. The movie explains this is an accepted ritual because the ruling party uses the death match to show power over the districts ... especially the more rural outlining ones.

The heroine, Katniss Everdeen, who is beautifully played by Jennifer Lawrence, is from one of those rural districts -- a coal-mining community. She is forced to volunteer to compete in the Hunger Games in order to protect her younger sister, who was actually the one randomly chosen to compete. Lawrence is spot-on in the role, showing deep compassion for her sister and strength in her skills as a competitor.

In{}Katniss' district, there is an overwhelming fear of being selected to be in the{}Hunger Games, while those who live in the capital see the event as entertainment. It's much like the Romans during their gladiator battles.

The movie's PG-13 rating is fitting, since it is about teens and kids killing each other. But, this sounds worse than it really is. The filmmakers do a great job of hiding the majority of the hack and slash violence by using extremely fast motion camera shots. This means you hear more of the gory details, than you actually see. That being said, there are still plenty of intense moments, so parents may not want to bring younger children.

The story of The Hunger Games is engaging to the audience throughout the nearly 2.5-hour production, due to the strong underlining themes it presents.

The movie does a great job of drawing the audience in, as Katniss faces fear, loss, love and strength. Also, the star-crossed lovers' Shakespearian reference, leads to a fitting climax.

Along with the themes that make the story come to life before your eyes, the outstanding cast led by Lawrence transforms the typical teen fantasy drama. These kinds of movies often suffer from over-acting, often cheapening the feel of the movie.

Instead The Hunger Games features amazing performances from its well-rounded cast which includes Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland, and Woody Harrelson. The low point of the cast is the dreadful acting of Josh Hutcherson who plays Peeta Mellark. Thankfully most of his scenes are with Lawrence,{}who manages to help his{}acting be less{}annoying.

By far my favorite part of the movie was the overall art direction. In the beginning, the audience is transported to a rural community which is beautifully illustrated by the subdued earth tone color and simplistic dress. Later you see a drastic contrast when you are sped off to a futuristic city full of people wearing elaborate colors and designs. Both of these settings, coupled with a 1984 Big Brother motif, help bring a chilling political element into the mix. The under tones eventually erupt during one of the movie's most stunning{}moments, when one of the districts begins to riot over the death of one of its representing competitors.

I highly recommend experiencing The Hunger Games at the movies. The outstanding acting, art design, and themes make it one of the most captivating movies of the year. Plus, you can't go wrong with Katniss and her bow and arrow skills.

Lowcountry Movie Night gives The Hunger Games a 4 1/2 out of 5 stars. The well-written teen drama combined with excellent film making, hits the bull's eye.