I don’t suppose anyone’s heard of this little movie that’s coming out in a couple of days… It’s called “Catching Fires” or something?… I dunno, it really doesn’t seem like a big deal. Don’t think anyone of note is in it either…
JOKES GUYS, JOKES. To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t feeling the whole post-“Hunger Games” movie realness for a while, but a couple of weeks ago, it hit me: the second “Hunger Games” film is coming out, and it’s kind of a big deal. (Full disclosure: I work for a company that’s partnered with Lionsgate to run publicity stuff for CF. But, that didn’t influence how much I personally cared about the film until recently.)
It’s been kind of weird for YA sci-fi/fantasy book-to-film adaptations as of late. Like, Percy Jackson is technically still alive and kicking, but its latest installment and the City of Bones movie fell pretty hard on its face, and the upcoming “Divergent” is… anticipated? Kind of? Maybe those books are just being read by people outside of my particular friend/acquaintance group, but I didn’t know it was a thing until my boss was fangirling over Theo James and I was like “…huh?”
The point is, this latest cinematic trend isn’t really a trend at all. See: “Twilight,” and a little thing about a boy named Harry Potter? But there’s a mini-trend within this general trend/not trend, and that is: dystopian/apocalyptic visions of a world, anchored by a fearless heroine. And right at the foreground is Jennifer Lawrence wreathed in flames, the very vision of pragmatism, selflessness, and bravery — an accessible point of aspiration for many people of all sexes/genders/races/cultures.
Why is it that “The Hunger Games” became such a big name franchise despite its “ordinary” YA sci-fi roots? This story is far from original, and beyond that, the kinds of tropes fulfilled by its narrative and characters are also far from original. But THG isn’t one of those fandoms that is relegated to the depths of Tumblr, not that Tumblr is the slumbering cesspool of unchecked fandom fetishes that a lot of people seem to think it is (hell, there are some shows/films that actually actively engage their Tumblr fandoms, like “Hannibal” and “Sleepy Hollow” and “Teen Wolf,” but that is neither here nor there).
A large part of it does have to do with the fact that Lawrence, who’s an incredibly skilled actress, is at the helm of the franchise and has become its bubbly, relatable face. Sure, there are plenty of actresses who are nothing like the characters they play, but the disconnect is so much realer for Lawrence because she almost never takes herself seriously when she speaks but as soon as there’s someone behind a camera calling a scene, something changes, and she becomes the face of seduction or the stilled mask of a young woman seething under a repressive regime or she becomes utterly “ordinary” and the only part of JLaw the person you see in her face is the spark in her eyes. She’s someone you could pass on the street and think “Oh, she’s cute,” but then she turns it on (not necessarily in a ~*sexxxy*~ way) and it’s like, whoa.
As Katniss, she got some flack for being unemotional, but if you read the books, Katniss really isn’t this super expressive person, and in fact has trouble being a more open, inviting personality. She’s someone struggling with odds that are ridiculously stacked against her, and she’d much rather focus on the things she can control than how people view her. That’s why she flourishes as a book character, but then again, any first person characterization is going to be much fuller because it’s written… from that person’s view… so like…
Unless you’ve got an unreliable narrator, but that generally isn’t the case with THG because Suzanne Collins is much more concerned, and rightly so, with portraying the realism of Panem. This outward focus makes a lot of sense because from the onset in any non-real universe, you’re asking viewers to buy into something they have to create for themselves. Whereas for stories based in “the real world,” you can pretty much accept the ground rules of reality and thus spend all your time sidestepping or distorting that reality, in fantasy/sci-fi, world building is absolutely step one. In film, you’re able to show much of that, but writing world building is, in a word, exhaustive. That isn’t to say that there isn’t ever room for introspection, but that anything that exists in a written medium has to lay a groundwork before it can get into the intricacies of its background/character interactions.
Speaking of the film: the team behind the first movie did a decent job bringing the technological savvy of the Capitol to life, and everything about the visuals was meant to highlight the distinction between urban and rural, between lavishness and ascetic necessity. The casting was initially a point of contention for book readers, but most of the actors have grown into their roles, especially Josh Hutcherson as Peeta. And judging by the film’s early reviews, the story, whose first outing I personally found intriguing but ultimately just okay, appears to have finally settled into its new medium.
You can dismiss “Catching Fire” as another big budget studio gambit, and yeah, the original film was. But Katniss’s story has indeed, as the title of the film might suggest, caught on, and to dismiss the film and the story in general “on principle” of its mass appeal is, oddly enough!!!, a pretty childish reaction. There’s no real formula for engineering the perfect film “hit,” but when it comes to “The Hunger Games,” imitation apparently only flatters this particular iteration of original.