LAS VEGAS -- Hunky love interest Liam Hemsworth is promising the highly-anticipated "Hunger Games" sequel will not disappoint fans.

It was a low-key pitch at the movie theater convention CinemaCon, where most stars boasted their films would be the biggest, loudest, splashiest blockbusters of the summer.

Then again, "Hunger Games: Catching Fire" is not a summer blockbuster. It doesn't come out until Nov. 22.

Yet the franchise based on Suzanne Collins' trilogy of young adult books has become such a phenomenon that Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. made it the star of a look-ahead presentation in Las Vegas on Thursday.

This led to the appearance a director and a few actors in not quite movie-promoting mode.

Director Francis Lawrence, who is new to the series, revealed that he was still "furiously" cutting the film.

Hemsworth, who plays Gale Hawthorne, the childhood friend of the series' heroine, kicked in a vote of confidence.

"I know that he's not going to disappoint anyone," he said.

In a blow to the super fans, or "tributes," who have been scrounging for news of the sequel for months, there was no sign of Jennifer Lawrence, who plays Katniss Everdeen, a teenager who survives a reality television-style battle to the death in an imagined future and becomes a symbol of resistance.

The industry audience was treated to a trailer, which will soon appear in theaters, full of dystopian grays and blues, dirty children with hopeful, upturned faces, visions of a steely-eyed Katniss, and snippets of bureaucrats planning her death.

Fans have watched the teaser more than 20 million times on YouTube since it was posted on Sunday.

In the sequel, Katniss and fellow tribute Peeta Mellark embark on a victory tour of downtrodden districts as figureheads for the oppressive Capitol.

An impoverished tomboy in the first movie, Katniss now looks as made-up and richly outfitted as a doll. But she is not a willing puppet.

"Catching Fire" raises the stakes from the story of two teens fighting for their lives to the fate of an entire population.

In the trailer, we see Katniss' half-hearted smile turn into a scowl of resistance as frou-frou, ultra-tan advisers in the Capitol, inducing Philip Seymour Hoffman, fret about what should be done with her and other Hunger Games victors, finally deciding they must be "eliminated."

"I think we've actually been able to really ratchet up the emotion and the scope this time," Francis Lawrence said.

Elizabeth Banks, who plays a deliciously hateable tribute chaperone, recalled her superficial character Thursday with a perky, sharp edged, "heloooo!"

Keeping in the vein of her pragmatic, image-conscious character, she gave a nod to the early studio's marketing efforts.

"They're getting really excited," she said. "They're kicking it into overdrive on this one."

___

Hannah Dreier can be reached at http://twitter.com/hannahdreier

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