New 'Hunger Games' thrills fans, divides critics

LOS ANGELES, US, Michael Thurston- Movie-goers worldwide will flock to see the new "Hunger Games" film this week, likely making it another blockbuster mega-hit -- even if critics are divided on Katniss Everdeen's latest adventure.
"Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1" is the third installment of the franchise based on Suzanne Collins' best-selling young adult books, starring Jennifer Lawrence as the survivor of a bloody reality TV contest among children and teens in a dystopian future.

In this episode, she moves beyond fighting just for her own life in the annual titular games, as she takes on the Capitol from the rebel base of District 13, becoming the "Mockingjay" symbol of an entire revolution.
The film is dedicated "in loving memory" to Philip Seymour Hoffman, the Oscar-winning actor who died of an accidental drug overdose during back-to-back filming of the movie and the "Mockingjay - Part 2" finale, due out next year.
With much of the original cast back and music by superstar New Zealand teen Lorde, the movie presses all the buttons of its predecessors, 2012's "The Hunger Games" and last year's sequel, "Hunger Games: Catching Fire."
Adding to the hype, a mobile game has been launched, and a stage show is in the works in Britain.
Box Office Mojo predicts it will score the biggest domestic box office of the year of $350-400 million -- slightly less than its two predecessors but still a highly creditable performance.
- One film too many? -
Part of the reason for lower box office expectations is the fact that, as with the "Twilight" and "Harry Potter" franchises, the final book in the series has been turned into two movies.
In both cases, the penultimate film saw a slight decrease in its earnings. But the lowered forecasts could also reflect some underwhelming critical response to the movie.
"Like an overgrown and bloated trailer for a film yet to come, (the film) spreads perhaps 45 minutes of dramatic material across two far-too-leisurely hours," commented the Hollywood Reporter.
Industry journal Variety meanwhile opined that "the series' two-part finale gets under way in solid, absorbing if not exactly inspired fashion."
The film returns to the devastated autocratic future world of Panem, where Katniss has taken refuge in rebel-held District 13 after escaping from the Hunger Games at the end of the second movie.
She agrees to become the symbol of the rebellion to rally resistance forces from the 12 other districts against the Capitol -- but only if the rebels help to free her boyfriend, Peeta, held captive by the Panem leaders.
British actress Natalie Dormer -- known to many as Margaery Tyrell from "Games of Thrones," and who plays propaganda video maker Cressida in this film -- paid tribute to Lawrence.
"Everything that people have come to understand about Jennifer Lawrence is true .. She has a very buoyant energy, and it filters on a set like that, with such a long intensive shoot -- it filters down from the top," she told AFP.
Not all industry analysts are downbeat about the film's prospects.
"There is no slowing down 'Mockingjay' or 'Hunger Games' for that matter," said Jeff Bock of box office tracker Exhibitor Relations.
"This will undoubtedly be the biggest opener of the franchise, possibly reaching up to $170M in its debut," Bock told AFP.
Fans seem to agree: while the movie has a tepid 74 percent approval rating from critics on the Rotten Tomatoes review website, a scorching 99 percent of movie-goers said they want to go and see it.
While much of the world will be able to see "Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1" starting this week, fans in China will have to wait a little longer, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
The industry journal said its release in China had been delayed until January, because ""Transformers: Age of Extinction" had done better than expected there, making the box office higher for foreign than domestic films.
"The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2" is due for release in the United States on November 20, 2015.

Thursday, November 20th 2014
Michael Thurston

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