Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Cinematic Anticipation Part 1: The Hunger Games

"May the odds be ever in your favour": a movie about a Battle Royale style killing game, in a giant arena, for teenagers? Count me the hell in! 

Mad Max (or Battle Royale, if you will) is to The Hunger Games what The Lord of the Rings is to Harry Potter and Dracula is to Twilight. This is the main reason why The Hunger Games has always intrigued me: I love the dystopian future, totalitarian regimes, gratuitous slayings etc. It's not only that though: I have read the books by Suzanne Collins on which the movie (and the other 3: it's a trilogy with the last book split into 2 movies) is based and think they can actually be damn good. Finally, people are saying that The Hunger Games will be the next major franchise after Twilight and Harry Potter. I'm not sure it can achieve those heights, but I'm excited to see how high it can climb. Hit the jump to see more.

What's it about?

The synopsis, courtesy of Suzanne Collins herself:

"In a not-too-distant future, North America has collapsed, weakened by drought, fire, famine, and war to be replaced by Panem, a country divided into the Capitol and 12 districts. Each year two young representatives from each district are selected by lottery to participate in The Hunger Games. Part entertainment, part brutal intimidation of the subjugated districts, the televised games is broadcast throughout Panem. The 24 participants are forced to eliminate their competitors, literally, with all citizens required to watch. When 16-year-old Katniss' young sister, Prim, is selected as the mining district's female representative, Katniss volunteers to take her place. She and her male counterpart Peeta, will be pitted against bigger, stronger representatives who have trained for this their whole lives."

The subject matter is pretty damn hardcore, but the book itself is not as violent as it could be, and I don't think the movie will be either. It needs that PG-13 rating, and the wanton killing of children is likely to push up a rating quite easily. In fact, the focus is likely to be on the love story aspect. Unfortunately, as a hit "young adult" series, a lame love story is an absolute requirement. But it's not so bad in this case. Not Twilight bad at least.

Who's in it?

The Hunger Games has a pretty big cast, and the readers of the books have been anticipating the announcements of the actors who will be playing their beloved characters for ages. At one stage earlier this year, it seemed like there were casting announcements every single day! 

The main character is Katniss Everdeen, who will be played by Jennifer Lawrence, one of the best young actresses out there. To win the role, she basically had to beat out the cream of the crop, including ChloĆ« Moretz (Kick-Ass), Mary Mouser, Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit), Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine), Lyndsy Fonseca (Kick-Ass), Saoirse Ronan (Atonement, Hanna, The Lovely Bones), Emma Roberts (Scream 4, incidentally - the niece of Julia Roberts), Kaya Scodelario (she's a hottie - Moon), Emily Browning (Sucker Punch) and Shailene Woodley (The Descendants). 

 Fans were critical of Jennifer Lawrence, saying all kinds of crap like she is too old (20 as apposed to the 16 year old character) and too, uh, voluptuous. Quite frankly, Jennifer Lawrence is the only one that can pull Katniss off properly. For one, actresses are almost always older than their characters. Second, Katniss is described a skinny (and even frail) in the books. However, in a movie, this would not be entirely believable, because she is damn tough. In fact, for those who have seen Winter's Bone, Katniss Everdeen is basically Ree Dolly who has travelled into the dystopian future. Oh and then, Jennifer Lawrence is a great actress! 

The two "boys", being Peeta Mellark and Gale Hawthorne, are played respectively by Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth (Thor's brother). Pretty decent choices, but mostly because I couldn't really think of better choices.

 The rest of the cast is perfect if you ask me. I can't really say why, but those who have read the books are not likely to disagree. Woody Harrelson first and foremost: did you know his dad was an encyclopedia salesman and convicted assassin? He was. Likely to help him when playing Haymitch, a former District 12 Tribute and Hunger Games champion, raging alcoholic and coach to Katniss and Peeta. Another great one is Lenny Kravitz as Cinna. He must basically play the role he played in Precious, and I will be happy. 

Stanley Tucci (Caesar Flickerman), Elizabeth Banks (Effie Trinket), Lenny Kravitz (Cinna), Woddy Harrelson (Haymitch), Woddy Harrelson (Abernathy), Donald Sutherland (President Snow), Toby Jones (Claudius Templesmith), Levin Rambin (Hot), Wes Bentley (Seneca Crane)

Who's making it?

Gary Ross is in the director's chair, and considering he has been directing for about 14 years, Mr Ross is not very prolific. He has only directed 2 movies before, both of which were pretty damn good though: Seabiscuit and Pleasantville. From a visual perspective, his films to date have been fantastic (both having received Oscar nominations in categories like cinematography, art direction and costume design) which, to me, is the most promising sign of all. The Hunger Games does not have a very complex story, but if the movie is to work, it must look great. Ross has been nominated for 4 Oscars - one for directing and 3 for writing. So, although not overly well known, he has considerable pedigree.

The screenplay was written by Suzanne Collins (the author of the books) and Gary Ross. You can't beat that combination.

Apart from the visuals, music plays an important role in the film and is one of the easiest things to stuff up (not so much the score, but the songs - ooh boy). So, they got legendary songwriter T-Bone Burnett (Crazy Heart, Walk The Line and Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?) and composer Danny Elfman (too many to count, but he is a regular Tim Burton collaborator and did the Desperate Housewives music which is geat) to take care of it. Sorted.

The rest of the crew look pretty good too. Anyway, the budget is between $80 and $100 million, which seems about right (especially because the director and the actors are not likely to be that expensive). However, it is the most expensive Lionsgate film ever! If I look at their recent slate of films, the seem to have really scored with this one.

How far are they?

Well, production has officially wrapped. The following trailer, which I might add is ridiculously short and disappointing, premiered in at the MTV VMAs a month or so ago. But I blame the marketers, not the movie. They were still busy filming at the time, and the point was probably just to wet the appetites a little. I think we can expect a proper trailer very soon.

There is also a teaser poster and a motion poster which I am quite fond of…

And "District" posters, just released, which form part of the film's viral page and some sort of campaign. This is more for the teenies though, not for me...

What's next? 

From the perspective of my Constellation of Cinematic Anticipation, this movie barely counts. Why? Well, filming has already wrapped, the release is only about 5 months away, and, as mentioned above, I reckon we are going to see a proper trailer very soon. After that it's smooth sailing to the finish. Regardless, I am keen to see what they do with this one!

One last thing...

While doing some of the "research" for this post, I noticed how much crazy Hunger Games fan shit is out there. Fan made trailers, photos posing in the forest, chicks wishing they were Katniss, home made short films, Hunger Games lessons you name it, it is there! I really didn't think it was that big... so maybe it will reach the crazy (financial) heights of Harry Potter and Twilight.  Here are some of the fan made posters I saw.... the last one is actually pretty awesome (apart from the tagline: I much prefer the official one).

Kudos to the designers (from left): zahityavuz, tinderbox210, unknown and hesavampire.
Oh, and the toolbar on the left of the page... is Coming Soon!

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