“May the odds be ever in your favour”
THE HUNGER GAMES
Gary Ross . 2011
The Lord has turned the rings into bullion.Bat, Spider and Super men(and Bourne) have new boots.Harry Potter has graduated. Twilight’s last gleaming is also released in two halves.So what’s next? Where is the next franchise?
The answer is not Peter Jackson resurrecting the Hobbits but a book that begins... “When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold.”Which is no clue whatsoever as to what follows - the start of Suzanne Collins’ trilogy (26m books sold)for teenage girls... whoops, YAs.Young Adults.
Lionsgate, a once small entertainment company, founded in Canada in 1986, moving to Hollywood (well, Santa Monica), making Affliction, Dogma, Fahrenheit 9/11, Gods and Monsters, Saw, beat all the majors to the Hunger rights - and knew exactly what to do with them.Trilogy plus one - Part Three, Mockingjay,would be released in two halves. Just like Twilight.
“The Hunger Game starts
where the Harry Potter books end”
That was the opinion of David Levithan, head honcho of Scholastic, USpublisher of both formats. “Whereas Harry Potter is about childhood and coming of age and your eyes being opened to the world, in The Hunger Games you’re already in this world, and dealing with its inhumanity.”
In January 2012, Lionsgate paid $412.5 million for the Summit Entertainment, producersof the Twilight saga. Two months later, it opened Hunger... The reviews were excellent, the receipts even better- $152.5m for the opening weekend.WhenGary Ross said he wouldn’t or couldn’t make the first sequel. No one cared. Hunger was bigger than any director.So were its brand new, hot off the screen stars...
These arethe youngstersplaying Katniss, her hunting companion Gale and Peeta, her partner in the titular brutal event. They’re from the coal-mining District 12 of Panem, the dystopian post-America (don’t ask aboutDistrict 13) where, to quote Donald Sutherland’s totalitarian president: “And it was decreed that each year, the 12 districts of Panem should offer up a tribute of one young man and woman between the ages of 12 and 18 to be trained in the art of survival and to be prepared to fight to the death.”
Live on TV.
This is children killing children -
whether they’re called “tributes” or not
The concept is hardly new. Think Lord of the Flies, The Running Man, Series 7: TheContenders. Doctor Who’s Vengeance on Varos, Star Trek’s Amok Time, the ancient Greek Theseus and the minotaur and, more recently, Kinji Fukasaku’s far more violent Battle Royale. Then again, it is difficult to cite a movie not, er, “influenced,” by another movie or movies. (Numerous Hollywood A-List directors havemadecareers out of it; Spielberg turned Lassie films into ET and War Horse). Collins had ever heard of the Japanese film. Ross had: “The main character in Battle Royale didn’t end up in a revolution... I don’t worry about these comparisons. You can just as easily analogise The Hunger Games to Romeo and Juliet...”
Katniss Everdeen . Lionsgate confirmed in March 2011, that about 30 actresses were “met or read” for the most important break for a younggirl since Rooney Mara beat several Katniss contenders to The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. As Katnip (Gale’s name for her), is 16, “with a certain maturity and power,” said her creator Suzanne Collins, the young hopefuls werein two age groups.
The teenage testees included: Jodelle Ferland, a 17-year-old, Canadian veteran of 56 screen roles in a dozen years; Chloë Grace Moretz, the youngest at 14, she was announced as the new Carrie four days after Hunger opened; Mary Mouser, 15, who was Dana Delany’s TV daughter in Burden of Proof; Kaya Scodelario, 19, aka Effy Stonem in the UK Skins; Shailene Woodley, 19, the breakthrough from Tarzana as George Clooney’s daughter in The Descendants, 2011.
The Older Brigade featured: Australian Emily Browning, 23, who refused Belle in Twilight to avoid a franchise interfering with her studies (she made Sleeping (around) Beauty, instead); Dakota Fanning, who grew up (splendidly) before film cameras - exactly the problem; she was too well known; Oaklander Lyndsy Fonseca, 24, who worked in Kick-Ass, 2009, with rival Chloë Grace Moretz (ironically their film was US-distributed by Lionsgate); and Emma Roberts, 20, from Nancy Drew and Scream 4, but Julia’s niece has started studying English Lit at New York’s Sarah Lawrence College.
Fonseca tested at “lovely man” Gary Ross’ house. “There were just a few of us girls by that point. We worked on it for a little bit. It was cool. I was just lucky to get that far, to be honest.” As things turnedout, there was a third category - Oscar nominees... Thedouble-jointed Abigail Breslin, 15, won the nodat nine forLittle Miss Sunshine;actress Saoirse Ronan, 17,was the Irish revelation ofAtonement in 2007; Hailee Steinfeld, 15, acting since eight was nominatedfor her starring debut,True Grit, withJeff Bridges (she became the 2012 Juliet).
A fourth Oscar nominee was a certain Jennifer Lawrence...for Winter's Bone where she played exactly the kind of protectrice that Katniss is.
“I do seem to do that character a lot. I did a movie when I was 17 called The Burning Plain and it was the same thing: me caring for my younger siblings and having to be an adult at such a young age. I don't know what it is. I think that when I get older I'll look back and understand... Right now I don't get it."
She became Katniss because she was “the only one who truly captured the character I wrote in the book,” praised Collins.
“If this is going to be the thing I’m most known for,
I want it to be something I’m proud of”
It took three days of cogitation -plus her agent busily getting her out of accepted roles in Seventh Sonand Oliver Stone’s Savages; she wasn’t so miffed about losing 21 Jump Street - beforeLawrence signed on... and changed her life.
Like it or not, by March 23, 2011, Jennifer Lawrence, with her natural blonde hair dyed brown, was A Genuine Superstar. “The coolest chick in Hollywood,” added Rolling Stone.
Even Hollywood bowed to her new power.And Fox postponed its sequel to X-Men: First Class (Lawrence plays Mystique) so the Hunger Games sequel,Catching Fire, could be shot first.
Peeta Mellark . Katnip’s partner in arms in the 74th annual Games is in love with the heroine. (Aren’t we all? One critic said we long to be protected by her). Actors seen for the baker’s son included: Alexander Ludwig (the 19-year old Canadian was compensated with District 2’s ferocious tribute Cato); Hunter Parrish, 24, Broadway musical star of Spring Awakening and a regular on TV’s Weeds; Evan Peters, 24, the kid from Kick-Ass, won the Amnerican Horror Story series instead;Alex Pettyfer, not exactly Hollywood’s favourite Brit at 21; Lucas Till, the find from X-Men: First Class Office; and Nico Tortorella , from Scream 4. At age 19, the Kentuckian Josh Hutcherson nailed the role…. as Liam Hemsworth was switched to Gale.
Gale Hawthorne . Our heroine's hunting pal back home attracted... Robbie Amell, 23, from Canada and two Scooby Doo DVDs; David Henrie, 22, of Disney’s Wizards of Waverly Place; Chris Massaglia, 19, from the Wanted TV series when he called himself Chris J Kellyand Drew Roy, 25,from another post-apocalyptic number, the Falling Skies series. The role (and more screen timein the following chapters) went to Australian Liam Hemsworth, 21, youngerr brother of Chris Hemsworth aka Thor.
HaymitchAbernathy . To embody Katniss and Peeta’s mentor (the usually drunk ex-winner of aprevious Hunger Games),Lionsgate said:Why not another Oscar nominee…? And so, after discussions with John C Reilly,Haymitch went to Woody Harrelson. He was a Lawrence fan from Day One. “I was on my bus, and on my bus I have a yoga swing,” he recalled. “Jennifer comes on, and she goes, 'Hi Woody, I'm J - is that a sex swing?'Her first sentence to me.”
For her director Jenniferis a once in a lifetime talent. Watching her performance, he said, was akin to seeing the ace soccer star Lionel Messi for the first time. “I’m just a lucky recipient,” added Gary Ross. “You don’t find this much talent in someone that often. Climbing trees, fighting, running through the forest, dropping out of trees and all of that... Her depth as an actress, how subtle she is, how passionate she is, her power as an actress, that doesn’t come along very often and so if she wasn’t there, I don’t know what I would’ve done.”
When Lawrence is asked, as she always is, to list the differences between Twilight andHunger , she says: “What are the similarities? Both the content and the story are completely different.”
Her mother introduced her to the book and like YAs everywhere, Jennifer fell for Katniss and her mental toughness. “She can’t afford to have crushes or anything like we would,” she said. “She just has to survive…. She’s a warrior. She’s this hero that doesn’t mean to be a hero. She’sa symbol of revolt, and freedom, and hope...a futuristic Joan of Arc." Due to thetamed, PG13 violence, London’s Sunday Times critic Cosmo Landesman said Katynip was more Florence Nightigale than Xena: Warrior Princess.
And what is Jennifer? “I am a troll,” she told David Letterman. “I hate myself…
“I think the movie is great
but their biggest mistake was me.”
After three weeks, the film had made a global $460m. Hunger is here to stay. And the knives were out. For one example, the main line of that year’s trailer for The Host, by Stephenie (Twilight) Meyer, for 2013 release was: “The earth is at peace. There are no wars. There is no hunger...”