We are a nation starved for news from the front lines of the apocalypse. Or so it has seemed for the past month or so, when every news outlet with an RSS feed has been churning out banner headlines about every potential player in the big-screen version of The Hunger Games.
Consequently, there have been few casting derbies that have reached the fever pitch of heated speculative furor that engulfed writer-director Gary Ross‘ search for the young actors with the right combination of sensitivity and studliness to play Peeta and Gale in his adaptation of Suzanne Collins‘ bestselling future-shock saga. So we’re marooned somewhere between exhaustion and excitement now that the guessing game has finally come to an end with today’s announcement Josh Hutcherson, the sullen son with two moms in “The Kids are All Right,” will play the self-sacrificing Peeta Mellark; and Liam Hemsworth, best known as Miley Cyrus’ love interest (on and off screen) in “The Last Song,” will take on the part of Gale Hawthorne.
These two characters are among the most compelling and pivotal inhabitants of Suzanne Collins’ saga about a dystopian future in which teams of teenagers are chosen to participate in a televised competition in which they’re required to battle to the death. However, we’re not feeling the ineffable sense of rightness we did two weeks ago, when Jennifer Lawrence landed the role of the series’ protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, a fiercely principled and physically unstoppable sixteen-year-old who conspires to undermine the games and spark a resistance movement with the help of Dale, her hunting partner, and Peeta, the competing combatant with whom she pretends to be in love in order to win the support of TV viewers. Even in the midst of post-apocalyptic anomie, ratings rule.
If done right, “The Hunger Games” has the potential to join Harry Potter and Twilight in the pantheon of four-quadrant multimedia sensations. However, after the cinematic mangling of beloved works like “Percy Jackson and the Olympians“and “The Golden Compass,” we’ve learned that it takes a filmmaker or producer of extraordinary sensitivity, talent, and power to pull off an adaptation that musters a modicum of the magic of the source material. Peter Jackson had an intrinsic understanding that it would take over nine hours to capture J. R. R. Tolkien‘s The Lord of the Rings trilogy on the big screen and waited until he could do so without compromise. Longtime Harry Potter producer, David Heyman, proved himself to be a canny custodian of J. K. Rowling‘s septet. And Nina Jacobson should also be commended for the critical and commercial success of the first two installments of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid franchise.
But the truth is that there are more ways Hollywood can go wrong than right in adapting a beloved work of fiction. We’re cautiously optimistic that Gary Ross will capture some of Suzanne Collins’ electrifyingly emotional storytelling and socially resonant themes in his film. He did a decent job at conjuring Laura Hillenbrand‘s populist uplift in his version of “Seabiscuit.” But, frankly, we’re not completely sold on whether either Hutcherson or Hemsworth has the mettle to hold the screen opposite a force of nature like Jennifer Lawrence.
Let’s just say we’re eager to be swayed out of cautious optimism into tentative excitement. Does anyone else find this news to be a little anticlimactic? Go ahead, make your case. Give us a reason to celebrate.