Post-apocalyptic teen movie "The Hunger Games", adapted from a bestselling fight-to-the-death novel, hits screens worldwide from Wednesday in one of the most-anticipated box office releases of the year.
The film is based on the thriller of the same name by the US novelist Suzanne Collins, part of a trilogy that has sold 30 million copies worldwide, the latest teen publishing phenomenon in the wake of the "Twilight" saga.
Set in Panem, a fictional land born of the ashes of a ruined North America, the film stars Jennifer Lawrence as a young girl forced to fight for her life in a Roman circus-style televised bloodsport -- known as "The Hunger Games".
Hyped by marketers as a potential new "Twilight" or "Harry Potter", the movie hits screens in France and across much of Europe on Wednesday, followed around the world on Thursday and Friday.
Online bookings ahead of the film's US release on Friday are higher than for the third instalment of the "Twilight" vampire saga, its distributors say, with several hundred US movie houses sold out.
Adapted by "Pleasantville" director Gary Ross, with Collins as co-writer, the film conjures up a dystopian world midway between George Orwell's "1984" and the Ridley Scott blockbuster "Gladiator".
A former children's television writer, Collins set her trilogy in a North America ruined by global warming, endless wars and the battle for ever-scarcer resources, Ross explains in the production notes.
In such a post-apocalyptic world, "The Hunger Games" are a tool imagined by the powers that be, to keep a downtrodden population living in fear, and under their thumb.
Once a year 24 boys and girls are summoned to the seat of power, the Capitol, where they battle to the death, live on television, in a vast, densely forested arena set with lethal traps -- be it monsters or landmines.
Only one will survive.
The story is told through the eyes of 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen, a miner's daughter from Panem's outlying 12th district, played by Lawrence, whose "Winter's Bone" performance was nominated for an Oscar last year.
Collins says she drew inspiration from the Greek legend of the Minotaur, which holds that King Minos sent a group of boys and girls once every nine years into a labyrinth, to be devoured by a monster half-man, half-bull -- until it was slain by one of them, Theseus.
Since its release September 2008, "The Hunger Games" has spent more than 180 weeks on New York Times bestseller list, with two sequels, "Catching Fire" and "Mockingjay" fleshing out the teen saga.
The fast-paced movie version treads a line somewhere between the reality TV genre and a close-up, high-intensity war-reporting style.
Reviews so far have been upbeat, with Variety predicting it to take a lead among the year's top-grossing films, thanks largely to a "spunky protagonist who can hold her own alongside (Twilight's) Bella Swan and (Millennium's) Lisbeth Salander in the pantheon of pop-lit heroines."
The Hollywood reporter also gave Lawrence full marks as the "cool-headed" Katniss, while Britain's The Guardian gave a nod to "that rarest of beasts: a Hollywood action blockbuster that is smart, taut and knotty."