Whatever you expected of The Hunger Games, you were wrong.
Anticipating a simpering teenage tear-jerker of the Twilight variety? Well, think again because this is no teen romance but a gripping thriller about survival, more closely resembling Lord of the Flies than a Robert Pattinson love-fest.
Huge Hunger Games fan already? Then you’ll know that Suzanne Collins’ saga, though it has a love triangle at its centre, as a tale about a state-sponsored juvenile bloodbath offers a far more brutal vision.
But don’t you get too comfortable either, because Gary Ross’s film is not an exact replica of the books. It’s better. Because unlike the books, this gritty, clever film barely feels like a blockbuster at all.
At its heart is Jennifer Lawrence as the stoic heroine Katniss Everdeen, who hails from the impoverished District 12. Every year, in this post-Apocalyptic America now known as Panem, two “tributes” - a boy and a girl - are plucked from each of the 12 districts as penance for an earlier rebellion, and sent to the Capitol, a greedy metropolis run by the ominous President Snow.
Here, they are trained in weaponry and paraded around town in the finest fashions for the superficial locals, before being deposited in a camera-filled arena for a fight to the death from which only one victor can emerge. And all the while the carnage is broadcast live on television throughout the nation.
It’s a theme which feels old - think Battle Royale, The Running Man - but Ross delivers it with such commitment and imagination that it feels fresh.
The poverty of District 12 is brought to life with grainy, muted colours - a dusty, desolate place where impoverished elders look suspiciously from their rickety porches and illegally hunted squirrels must be sold for bread.
Meanwhile, the Capitol is resplendent in its vulgarity, with the seductively vile TV presenter Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) representing all that is voyeuristic and glib about this brave new world.
The rest of the ensemble cast is terrific too with Elizabeth Banks unrecognizable as the flamboyant and bizarrely attired Capitol’s minion Effie Trinket. Woody Harrelson arrives as some welcome light relief as the drunk mentor and former Hunger Games champion. And as one of Katniss's two potential love interests Peeta, the boyish Josh Hutcherson (Journey To The Center Of The Earth) is very likeable too.
But among all the brilliant performances, Lawrence’s is the one that binds the film together. There are only a few young actresses who can give a performance as mature and silently expressive as this (Carey Mulligan also springs to mind). Katniss isn’t fearless - in fact, her face tells us that she is very much afraid. She simply feels that she has no other choice but to be brave.
Every so often, as with most book-to-film adaptations, the pacing does feel a little off, for example during the fleeting scenes featuring Lenny Kravitz as the stylist Cinna.
But it is hugely to Ross’s credit that, unlike so many directors, he makes the film his own rather than remaining a slave to the book. Some moments here are of Ross’s invention, including a menacing, behind the scenes-look at the futuristic hub where the gamemasters operate, offering a nice visual contrast to the woods of the arena.
As well, of course, as reminding us that the tributes are little more than puppets. The odds are never in their favour.
Like the book, this film ends abruptly, unfinished. And, similarly, it will leave audiences quite desperate for the next chapter in this thrilling, dystopian fantasy epic.
Whether you're a teenager or not, you will care what happens next.