The countdown is on until March 23, when ‘The Hunger Games’ — Suzanne Collins’ best-selling young adult thriller — hits theaters. If you haven’t seen the awesome trailer or read any of the three chart-topping books, you may not know what the ‘The Hunger Games’ is about; it’s not only one of the most anticipated releases of 2012 but it’s set to become the Next Big Movie Franchise. In other words, this is the latest page-to-screen series with a hardcore built-in following that’s stirring up teen and adult fans into a veritable frenzy.

Here is a handy primer of what you need to know to get ready for the big screen adaptation of the popular series.


WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

The dystopian thriller takes place in a bleak, post-apocalyptic future, where North America — now called Panem — has been divided into 12 Districts that serve the controlling Capitol. During a morbid public lottery, 16-year-old huntress Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) takes her 12-year-old sister’s place to compete in a televised battle-to-the-death contest that pits her against 23 other teens, including her fellow District 12 “Tribute” Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson). As they train to compete in the titular Hunger Games, it’s obvious their developing friendship complicates their ability to kill each other in the Arena. But no matter their feelings, they will have to outlive the 22 Tributes from other Districts to return to home.


WHO’S WHO IN THE CAST

The impressively large cast is led by Academy Award nominee Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen. The three most important men in Katniss’ life are her best friend Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth, Miley Cyrus’ on-and-off-camera love in ‘The Last Song’), her fellow District 12 tribute Peeta (Josh Hutcherson, from ‘The Kids Are All Right,’ ‘Bridge to Terabithia’ and 15 other movies), and her often-drunk Hunger Games mentor Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson). Other important cast members include Elizabeth Banks as Capitol representative Effie Trinket; Lenny Kravitz as Katniss’ personal stylist Cinna; Paula Malcomson as Katniss’ mom; Stanley Tucci as the Hunger Games’ host Caesar Flickerman; and Oscar winner Donald Sutherland as Panem’s President Snow. And that doesn’t even include all of the 22 other Hunger Games Tributes!

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THE VIOLENCE WILL BE INTENSE

The Hunger Games is an annual televised battle to the death between 24 adolescents aged 12-18. There are 24 “Tributes” — one boy and one girl from each of Panem’s 12 Districts — who must compete every year for the amusement of the Capitol and as a reminder of the power the central city holds over its Districts. Think ‘The Running Man’ meets ‘Battle Royale’ by way of CBS’ hit reality show ‘Survivor.’ Once in the Arena (the intricately controlled battleground), the Tributes have one goal: to be the last one standing. That means a LOT of teen-on-teen murder (hand-to-hand and weapons based, not to mention some help from the dangerous Arena), because in the end, there can be only one victor.


IT’S NOT APPROPRIATE FOR LITTLE KIDS

Yes ‘The Hunger Games’ series is published by Scholastic, but it’s definitely for young adult readers — a.k.a. middle-schoolers or mature tweens. Common Sense Media rates the three books as best for kids 12 & up, so on the big screen the PG-13 film will be even more difficult for younger fans to process. Even some teens are too sensitive to handle all of the kid-on-kid killing, so consider yourself warned.


THE DEAL WITH THE FIRE

ka300dpi Hunger Games Crash Course: Everything You Need To Know About Katniss Everdeen and MoreYou might be wondering what the deal is with all the fire in the movie’s trailer, key art and posters. Let us explain, although it’s a SPOILER: When Katniss and Peeta are introduced to Hunger Games viewers in the Tribute Parade, they’re wearing ensembles custom designed by Cinna to symbolize their District’s main industry: coal mining. The costumes are form-fitting black “unitards” covered by synthetic fire, making Katniss and Peeta utterly unforgettable from the first moment they’re seen. Katniss is then dubbed “The Girl Who Was On Fire.” As for the bird emblem, it’s a “Mockingjay” — a hybrid between the mockingbird and the fictional “jabberjay,” a genetic mutation the Capitol unleashed to kill off the mockingbird. It’s a metaphor for all the Capitol can’t control and also the gold pin Katniss’ friend gives her to wear during the Games.

Check Out ‘The Hunger Games’ District Trading Cards


THIS IS NOT LIKE ‘TWILIGHT’ OR ‘HARRY POTTER’

Although everyone (including us!) loves comparing the box-office potential and popularity of ‘The Hunger Games’ to the international phenomena of ‘Twilight’ and ‘Harry Potter,’ the three stories are nothing alike — except for the fact that they deal with extraordinary teenagers overcoming dangerous circumstances. The Girl on Fire has no magic like the Boy Who Lived and no need for saving like “The Girl Dazzled by Vampires.”

Listen to Taylor Swift’s ‘Hunger Games’ Song ‘Safe and Sound’


THERE’S A LOVE TRIANGLE

OK, so there is one teeny-tiny way ‘The Hunger Games’ mirrors the ‘Twilight’ saga: there’s a trilogy-long love triangle between the beautiful protagonist and two worthy suitors, one of whom is her best friend. Katniss’ two swoon-worthy prospects: her fellow hunter and close pal Gale and her fellow Hunger Games contestant Peeta, who’s been secretly smitten with her for years. Who she’ll end up with we’ll never tell, but let’s just say the fan divide between Team Gale and Team Peeta is as fierce as Team Jacob vs. Team Edward. Either way, they’re both amazing (and gorgeous) guys.


THERE WILL BE TWO SEQUELS

35769901 1325258720 Hunger Games Crash Course: Everything You Need To Know About Katniss Everdeen and MoreIt’s not a spoiler to confirm that Katniss survives the titular Hunger Games; after all, what protagonist dies in the first story of a series? The second installment, ‘Catching Fire,’ introduces the audience to more than a dozen new characters, most of whom are veteran Hunger Games survivors who can’t wait to meet the competitor from District 12.

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IT’S BETTER TO READ IT, THAN SEE IT

ka9300dpi Hunger Games Crash Course: Everything You Need To Know About Katniss Everdeen and MoreIf you really want to be ready for the March 23 premiere, start reading the Scholastic book series now. It’s un-put-down-able, and once you start reading about Panem, the history of the Hunger Games, and Katniss and Peeta’s ordeal in the Arena, you will NOT stop until you’ve blazed through ‘Catching Fire’ and ‘Mockingjay.’ One tip — buy or borrow all three books at once, so you don’t end up frantically running to the nearest Barnes & Noble for the next installment.


CHECK OUT MORE PHOTOS FROM ‘THE HUNGER GAMES’

(Photos courtesy of Lionsgate.)

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