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Excited fans worry 'Hunger Games' film may not live up to books

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Katniss Everdeen
Jennifer Lawrence plays Katniss Everdeen the central character of the Hunger Games trilogy. She says she was attracted to the character as an ordinary girl who becomes a heroine by default.
Photos courtesy of Lionsgate Films

Fifteen-year-old Anna Silkey of Chaska, Minn., admits she hesitated when she first heard about "The Hunger Games" novel.

"I didn't really think much of it," she said. "It kind of sounded a little weird at first." 

A bunch of her friends were reading it. But she didn't pick up a copy until she heard it was a New York Times bestseller. Now, she's hooked.

"When I first read it I was insanely shocked at how amazing it was," she recalled.

With "The Hunger Games" movie opening across the nation on Friday, fans of the Suzanne Collins book are both excited and worried. Despite the huge excitement about the film, many young fans fear the movie won't do the book justice.

"The Hunger Games" is the first book in a trilogy set in a bleak future America that's been devastated by civil war. The autocratic rulers of a country now called Panem force each of the 12 areas it controls to hold an annual lottery to select one male and one female between the ages of 12 and 18. They are sent to fight to the death in the annual Hunger Games. The gory spectacle is televised. Every move of each contestant is followed by an audience of millions.

The novel follows Katniss Everdeen, a 16-year-old girl who volunteers to go in place of her little sister. It's a complex fast-moving story, dealing with fear, mortality, abuse of power, ordinary people doing extraordinary things, and even a little romance. Silkey just hopes the film gets it right.

Reaping
Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) waits nervously as names are drawn at the annual Hunger Games lottery known as the Reaping.
Photos courtesy of Lionsgate Films

"I am a little worried," she said. "I don't want them to like mess it up, or just make it seem like a weird book and no one likes the movie so no one likes the book, when the book is really amazing,"

That's a common reaction, said Julie Poling, book buyer for the Red Balloon Bookstore in St Paul. 

"You have it all pictured in your head and you know exactly how it goes," she said. "Then it gets on the screen and it's completely different or they take away what you think is the most important part."  

Poling said blockbuster book collections like "Harry Potter," the "Twilight" series and "The Hunger Games" are important not just for sales, but because they can convert reluctant readers into bookworms. She said a good movie can spur sales but a bad one stops them dead.

The Hunger Games
Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) prepare for the arena in "The Hunger Games."
Photos courtesy of Lionsgate Films

Poling said the series have enjoyed an unexpected audience — grown-ups. Older readers are buying the books for themselves.

University of St. Thomas senior Andrea Gussell, who caught the Hunger Games bug from her younger brother, understands why.

"Some people are saying that there's more of a political undertow to this series," she said. "It is a little bit more aimed towards adults and not as much children, even though children are getting into the series."

Gussell went early to the recent Mall of America appearance by stars from the film. She soon discovered 4 a.m. wasn't early enough.

"There were thousands of people; the line wrapped at least halfway around the mall," she said.

That fan passion pressured the cast of The Hunger Games.  Josh Hutcherson plays Peeta, the young man selected with Katniss to represent District 12 in the contest. Isabelle Fuhrman plays the knife-wielding tribute Clove in the movie.

Before their appearance at the mall, they said everyone on set was fueled by a desire to satisfy readers. The entire cast and crew have read the series.

"We are right there alongside all the fans," Hutcherson said.

Fuhrman has read the first book 13 times and the entire series nine times.

"I am a little bit obsessed," she said.

For her, the strength of the series is in its characters.

Jennifer Lawrence, who plays the lead role of Katniss, agrees. She was drawn to the part of an ordinary girl in a terrifying situation who becomes a hero by default. However she said as an actor it was important not to let the outside expectations get to her.

"You kind of have to let that go and make a movie, just like you would make any other movie, and just hope you don't disappoint or make anybody mad," Lawrence said.

Fans will soon have their questions answered. Both Silkey and Gussell have tickets for midnight screenings of "The Hunger Games." They're both re-reading the novel in preparation. Silkey said she already has another ticket for a screening Friday.

VIDEO

Stars of "The Hunger Games" talk about their recent appearance at the Mall of America.

"The Hunger Games" stars on pressure from fans.