MOTW: "Catching Fire": Is "The Hunger Games" Sequel Living Up to the First?

Photo Credit: Lionsgate
November 25th, 2013

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MOTW: "Catching Fire": Is "The Hunger Games" Sequel Living Up to the First?

In 2012, "The Hunger Games" was released to wide critical acclaim. Its appeal was not limited to critics, however; fans of the series went back to see the film repeatedly, and the high-budget film became a megahit. A film based on "Catching Fire," the second novel in the trilogy, was planned from the beginning. Some are skeptical that the second film can duplicate the success of the original blockbuster. Various factors will determine if "Catching Fire" will succeed.

In many ways, "Catching Fire" is clearly poised for success. Katniss Everdeen returns, and she's played again by Jennifer Lawrence. Katniss remains a popular character, in large part because of her fleshed-out, complex portrayal in the books, and Lawrence has shown remarkable acting ability at her young age. Even though she will have a new director in the sequel, few doubt her ability to turn in yet another stellar performance.

The choice of a new director, however, has caused many to speculate about the visual elements of the film. The original film received acclaim for its stylistic flair, which helped bring to the screen the backstory and emotional elements of the novel. Because of this, many expected Gary Ross to return as director for the sequels. With the choice of Francis Lawrence for the new film, fans and critics alike have been uncertain about what to expect.

However, there are reasons to expect strong work from Lawrence. While his career as a film director is not extensive, he has directed music videos for a number of renowned musicians and groups, and his films have demonstrated the ability to draw audiences with their strong visual elements. Some of his previous films have met with lukewarm reviews, but most critics note that "Constantine," "I Am Legend," and "Water for Elements" were solid directorial performances.

"Catching Fire" departs from "The Hunger Games" in several key areas. While the first film stands alone as a strong story, the second broadens the world considerably. The time Katniss spends in Denver plays a crucial role in the first novel of the trilogy, but the role of the government is expanded in the second novel. In addition, many members of the government are major characters in the second novel. Many critics have noted that author Suzanne Collins handles this expanded universe well, but others have found it to be a distraction. Despite these criticisms, these characters are necessary; while the competitors are the most direct threat to Katniss, the government is responsible for placing her in such a dangerous scenario, and to succeed, the film must portray them as the true enemies, as the book does.

Fortunately for the producers and investors, expanding the universe is a tried and true path to create a successful film sequel. From "Star Wars" to "The Lord of the Rings," the second film is a great opportunity to introduce new characters and build more menacing environments. As a source novel, "Catching Fire" succeeds, and the filmmakers have at their disposal a number of great opportunities to create riveting cinema. It is impossible to predict whether they will succeed, but all the necessary ingredients are in place.

It is also important to consider the film's target audience. Many fans of the series claimed that the first novel was the best, but most of them read the book shortly after it was published in 2008. In the five years since, these fans have grown up, and many will find that their tastes have changed. They may not have been interested in the nuances of political conflict in the past, but they may find these elements more interesting as they enter early adulthood. The "Harry Potter" novels and movies grew up with their audiences, and "The Hunger Games" series is poised to replicate this formula.

The growth in "The Hunger Games" series, however, will take a unique path. The original film was already dark and mature, and its portrayal of violence was straightforward and harsh. In terms of darkness, the sequel will likely remain similar to the first film. In terms of maturity and complexity, however, the second film may be more profound. Predicting how audiences will react is always a challenge, but most believe that audiences will enjoy the deeper, richer environment of the second film.

Viewers will expect a strong story acted well. They'll expect an increasingly complex story to be handled in a mature manner that retains the political complexities of the second novel. They'll expect strong stylistic elements and insist that their favorite scenes are handled deftly. The second novel provides great material for the upcoming film, but it will be up to the screenwriters, director, and cast to bring these elements to life. Nobody yet knows whether they'll succeed, but most industry experts are optimistic.