Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), and her friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth) reflect on their lives while hunting in the forest in “The Hunger Games.” The movie, based on the book by Suzanne Collins, is about two teenagers selected to fight to the death against 22 other young people as part of a ritual in their country.

Lionsgate Entertainment/Courtesy

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), and her friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth) reflect on their lives while hunting in the forest in “The Hunger Games.” The movie, based on the book by Suzanne Collins, is about two teenagers selected to fight to the death against 22 other young people as part of a ritual in their country.

At the Movies: Odds favor ‘The Hunger Games’ success

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Andy Bockelman is a member of the Denver Film Critics Society, and his movie reviews appear in Explore Steamboat and the Craig Daily Press.

“The Hunger Games”

3 out of 4 stars

142 minutes

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks.

Now playing at West Theatre in Craig and Metropolitan Wildhorse Stadium Cinemas in

If the creators of “Dancing with the Stars” or “Survivor” had any guts, they’d have a lot higher stakes in their shows for the losers.

When you’ve seen “The Hunger Games,” being voted out of a competition seems like a pretty weak punishment compared to those who don’t live to recount their brief time in the limelight.

It’s a special time in the land of Panem.

It’s time for the 74th annual Hunger Games, a tradition in which one boy and one girl from each of the country’s 12 districts are gathered to face each other in a televised death match, where the lone winner is showered with praise.

Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) has never looked forward to the selection process — known as “the reaping” — but this year is even worse, as she must worry about her sister, Primrose (Willow Shields), being chosen as well. When her sibling’s name is picked, Katniss doesn’t hesitate to volunteer in her place.

Full of anxiety, the stalwart young lady is prepped by a stylist (Lenny Kravitz) who emphasizes the importance of being well-liked and a previous Games winner (Woody Harrelson) whose best advice is to just not get killed.

Ultimately, Katniss can only depend on her own wits to endure the brutal contest, but her willpower may not be enough against those who have been ready for this day their whole lives.

Though she’s going against some stiff competition, Lawrence is unbeatable as the character who’s already iconic after being part of the zeitgeist only since 2008.

Mature, yet slightly inelegant — in a good way — the actress looks like she’s been practicing archery all her life and has a good chance of winning the whole shebang, though she could care less about the glory involved.

Josh Hutcherson needs all the help he can get as her fellow District 12 tribute, Peeta Mellark, whose strategy of passing the two of them off as a romantic couple hides his overall weakness in battle.

Harrelson functions finely as the washed-up mentor provided to them, trying to play all the angles he can to bolster the pair. After all, what can you tell two kids when you know at least one of them is going to die?

Whether you’re about to fight for your life or sit down to a fancy breakfast, it’s all about etiquette according to Katniss and Peeta’s other adviser, Effie Trinket, with Elizabeth Banks barely discernible under day-Glo dresses and cotton candy hair.

Let’s not forget the heavy pancake makeup that puts her among Tammy Faye Messner, Mimi Bobeck of “The Drew Carey Show,” the men of Kiss and Bozo the Clown for the most outrageous face paint ever.

Bodily adornments like this are the norm in the Capitol of Panem, where the president (Donald Sutherland) has a head like a poodle, TV’s top host (Stanley Tucci) boasts an electric blue coif and the mastermind (Wes Bentley) of the Hunger Games broadcasting hub wears a beard shaped like flames.

The fact that people of the Capitol dress like they’re in the land of Oz while folks back in District 12 look like they’re in the land of Auschwitz speaks volumes about the theme of class distinctions in Suzanne Collins’ overnight hit book trilogy.

Dickensian nomenclature among characters also alludes to the ongoing differentiation between the rich and the poor.

The great equalizer of television exists as both a source of pleasure and pain, keeping the districts in line by showing the commoners what could be in store for them if they get any ideas of upsetting the applecart, with a long-ago revolution the reason for the Hunger Games.

Of course, there are some fools who believe being picked to compete is a true honor, like Cato and Clove (Alexander Ludwig, Isabelle Fuhrman) and those are the maniacs Katniss and Peeta must keep an eye out for while they’re in the midst of the slaughter.

And, if you think a strategy of hiding until everyone else is dead, such as that employed by littlest competitor Rue (Amandla Stenberg), think again, because organizers put in fireballs, scientifically altered venomous insects, and more in the playing area just to keep things interesting, not to mention last-minute rule changes whenever it suits them.

Anything can happen and does in this exhilarating ride, functioning as an indictment against cruel, deceptive regimes and the nature of celebrity. There are a few slow spots and even with Collins’ input in the screenplay, not all the deeper elements come through, but as readers of the novels know, things are just getting warmed up.

“The Hunger Games” is deadly serious when stacked up next to the usual fluff of young adult works, and the idea of defying authority is one that’s worthwhile no matter how old you are. To paraphrase Howard Beale of the film “Network,” they’re mad as hell, and they’re not going to take it anymore.

Still, keep in mind: anyone can be killed because of bad ratings.

Now playing at West Theatre in Craig and Metropolitan Wildhorse Stadium Cinemas in Steamboat Springs.

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