You would have to live under a rock to overlook the recent popularity of The Hunger Games, the hot young adult series written by Suzanne Collins. The books take place inPanem, the futuristic version of North America, which comprises 12 distinct districts all controlled by the Capitol. Ever since the districts rebelled against their tyrannical rulers and lost almost a century ago, each district has been forced to send two tributes picked via a lottery system, one male and one female, to compete in a fight to the death known as the Hunger Games. Our story follows the braveKatniss Everdeen, a tribute from District 12 who volunteers to compete in place of her younger sister.

For a science-fiction film, there weren’t a whole lot of fantastical special effects; the world is, after all, designed to look like a futuristic version of our own. The cast features rising actors still working to make their names big: Jennifer Lawrence (also Mystique in X-Men: First Class) plays 16-year-oldKatniss. And while ladies may swoon at the appearance of Miley Cyrus’ current beau Liam Hemsworthas Gale Hawthorne, the true gems are the array of actors who took on less prominent roles. WoodyHarrelson as the abrasive, alcoholic mentor Haymitch Abernathy and Lenny Kravitz as Katniss’ stylist and personal ally, Cinna, were pure gold. I found their characters to be far more critical of Katniss in the movie than in the book. And costume designer Judianna Makovsky definitely deserves a shout-out for creating a dynamic juxtaposition of simple costumes for poor district dwellers and a wardrobe for the Capitol that looks like it came straight from the Haus of Gaga. In their element, the players on screen looked as if they had never been more comfortable in their exaggerated apparel.

The plotline alone of the series could make it a blockbuster without any special visual or sound effects; there’s definitely no need for a 3-D version of it to give viewers an even more powerful experience. But what struck me most about this movie was not the sad moments in these characters’ lives, nor the elaborate Gaga-esque costumes, nor even the dashing good looks of the entire male cast. What really made this movie into such a moving film are the additional visual and auditory effects. I rarely credit film editors for perfecting a movie, but Director of Photography Tom Stern, under the leadership of director Gary Ross, really outdid himself. The quick movements of the camera give the audience the sense that they are trying to decipher the many mysteries of Panem and the Arena in real time with Katniss. The jerky style took some getting used to at first, but I easily learned to see through Katniss’ eyes. Additionally, the subtle choices to either muffle or articulate specific sounds — hushed dialogue or the overpowering volume of forest life in the Arena — gave you a feeling of what matters with eerie accuracy.

The only disappointment is also a spoiler: Although Jennifer Lawrence fully convinced me of her moments of terror before entering the arena, Katniss’ relationship with Peeta never developed the way it did with Katniss as a constant narrator throughout the books. I expected to see some reference of internal conflict in Katniss as she begins to fall in love with Peeta, but Lawrence didn’t quite deliver. Perhaps, though, this particular plotline is just too complicated for the big screen.

I’ve never left a movie feeling as though I really experienced the same emotional and physical trauma as the protagonist; it certainly wasn’t an uplifting feeling, but it was a powerful one. I’d bet that this film will have at least one Academy nominee.

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