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Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in "The Hunger Games"

Murray Close

You haven't read the books. Or what feels like at least 100 million tweets and blog posts. In fact, you still don't know who Katniss is or why adults (people you even know) are talking about this trilogy-turned-blockbuster. Herewith, a shame-deflecting cheat sheet on the basics:

What the hell are the Hunger Games, anyway?

The Hunger Games are a gory reality show-like tournament that pits 24 tweens and teens (called tributes) in a fight-to-the-death for the entertainment of Panem's ruling elite (yes, it's must-see television in this twisted dystopian realm).

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Why the buzz?

It's the coming together of a perfect storm – great word-of-mouth for the books, a viral marketing campaign and a solid film that stays true to author Suzanne Collins's vision. The movie also has the requisite hunks in Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth, as well as an Oscar-nominated actress Jennifer Lawrence (who wowed in last year's Winter's Bone) as its lead. To top it off, The Hunger Games has already scored overwhelmingly positive reviews and record-breaking ticket pre-sales.

What's with all the weird names?

The three main characters – Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) and Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) – all have names just off-chord enough to stick in your head like a pebble in your shoe. A badass with a bow and arrow, Katniss gets her name from a plant that's also known as the "arrowhead" because of the shape of its leaves. The hunky Gale, Katniss's best pal and hunting buddy in District 12, shares his name with a strong wind – which fits a silent, brooding personality who's itching for a fight. Peeta is chosen as the male tribute to compete in the games alongside Katniss. His name is harder to figure, but one theory suggests that since Peeta comes from a family of bread bakers, it could be a twisted spelling of pita.

Sticking with names, why did Collins call her dystopic future state Panem?

There is no middle class in The Hunger Games, just the "haves" (1 per cent of the population who live in the Capitol of Panem) and the have-nots (who live in the impoverished 12 Districts). Collins put a great deal of thought into choosing the names of both the people and places in her books. Anything to do with the ruling elite has a Roman influence, while the poor have nature-linked, earthy origins. Panem, derived from the Latin phrase Panem et Circenses (Bread and Circuses), refers to the famous Roman method of keeping the masses pacified.

Is the premise of The Hunger Games – children killing children – generating any flack?

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Somewhat surprisingly, not really. Sure, people are talking about the kid-on-kid violence, but the movie is getting raves for being tastefully done (there is far less blood and gore in the film than in the books). Children degenerating into barbarians is familiar territory, with William Golding's Lord of the Flies – required reading in high schools – serving as the template.

Just how big is The Hunger Games expected to be?

The first film in the trilogy could gross $125-million on its opening weekend in North America (with some saying it could go as high as $140-million). That's a nutty number when one figures The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (first film in that franchise) grossed $47-million its opening weekend, while Twilight rang in $70-million.

Who would love the architecture in the Capitol?

Mussolini, it's all neo-fascist.

Who would love the fashion in the Capitol?

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The late Alexander McQueen because it's all retro-glam.

Both the Harry Potter and Twilight franchises are chock full of magic and supernatural phenomenon. Is this young-adult-aimed film the same?

There is virtually none of the mysticism and magic that was so prevalent in J.K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer's work in Suzanne Collins's The Hunger Games. Sure, there's some ferocious critters (they're called muttations), but there are no vampires, no wizards and no magic wands. There's virtually nothing in the movie that doesn't seem within the realm of reality.

What do Shakespeare's Coriolanus and the Capitol's evil president Coriolanus Snow (played by Canadian Donald Sutherland) have in common?

Starving subjects rioting over food shortages.

What's the secret to success in winning the Hunger Games?

As Woody Harrelson's Haymitch Abernathy says: "To get sponsors, you have to make people like you."

What's the secret to success among teenagers in high school?


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