It's almost as if the summer blockbuster season has started early, with the much-heralded opening of The Hunger Games.
Based on a best-selling trilogy by former children's author Suzanne Collins, the film seems destined to follow in the footsteps of Harry Potter and the Twilight Saga in its appeal to young audiences, already grossing some $155 million on its opening weekend.
Unlike the Twilight films, however, it appeals—like Potter—to a broader audience, and has much more substance to it than the vampire-themed teen features.
For starters, its young heroine Katniss Everdeen, played by Oscar nominee Jennifer Lawrence, has more depth to her than Kristen Stewart's Bella Swann. For another, the plot is a lot more original, with a depth and appeal that crosses generational lines.
A sequel is already in the works, spawning a franchise that will likely outstrip both J.K. Rowling's and Stephanie Meyer's creations. Author Collins co-wrote the screenplay adaptation herself, along with director Gary Ross.
The Hunger Games PHOTO: Lion's Gate Films Inc.
The film takes place in the fictional futuristic country of Panem, its name derived from the Latin phrase panem et circenses, the Roman catchphrase for bread and circuses. Their modern equivalent could well be encountered in our contemporary fixation with reality TV shows.
In Panem, the post-apocalyptic remains of a North America wracked by climate change and war, the Hunger Games are an annual televised spectacle where two teens from each of the country's 12 districts are forced to fight each other to the death, until only one victor remains of the original 24.
The games are ultimately the revenge of a totalitarian regime for the revolt of a 13th district, which was totally wiped out in a nuclear conflagration.
Televised nationally, the event is compulsory viewing for the remaining subject population in the poverty-stricken outlying areas, and a constant reminder of the price of rebellion.
For the decadent, wealthy capital region that enriches itself on the backs of the hinterland's labour and raw resources, the games are a grotesque source of mass entertainment.
There are elements of Orwell's 1984 here, as well as Nobel Prize-winning author William Golding's 1954 novel, Lord of the Flies, which pits a group of children against each other in a descent into anarchy on an isolated island.
Not surprisingly, author Collins lists both books as influences in her writing.
Jennifer Lawrence's Katniss is the mainstay of The Hunger Games. The 21-year-old Lawrence was nominated in 2011 for a best actress Oscar for her work in the independent feature, Winter's Bone.
She delivers a gripping and compelling performance as the bow-hunting daughter of a coal-mining family, whose skills at hunting game for her siblings' survival help her to conquer the odds in the murderous games.
To prepare for the role, Lawrence trained with an Olympic champion archer in the North Carolina woods, where The Hunger Games was shot.
Also outstanding is young Amandla Stenberg in the small but memorable role of Rue, an elfin-like presence wise in the ways of the forest, whom Katniss befriends.
The Hunger Games has been championed by filmgoers of both left and right-wing persuasions.
One side sees it as a parable for the injustices of an unequal society, where the rich exploit the poor, while the other side believes it illustrates the indomitable will of survivalists in the face of obtrusive government.
Therein, perhaps, lies its undeniable universal appeal.
The Hunger Games plays at the Qwanlin Cinema at 6:45 and 9:30 pm, with weekend matinees at 12:45 and 3:30 pm, and is rated PG for violence.
Brian Eaton is a cinema buff who reviews current films and writes on other film-related topics on a regular basis.