Jennifer Lawrence in 'The Hunger Games'/Photo © 2011 Lionsgate
It’s only been seven months since Austrian-born filmmaker Francis Lawrence signed on to direct “The Hunger Games” sequel, “Catching Fire,” after Gary Ross exited the project. But apparently Lionsgate, the studio financing the adaptations of Suzanne Collins‘ gazillion-selling series, liked what Lawrence was serving enough to order second and third helpings before they’ve finished the first meal. That must have been some appetizer.
Adaptations of young adult phenoms have suffered due to a lack of consistent parenting. But it appears that the producers behind “The Hunger Games” series are working to change that pattern. This decision to commit to one director represents a radical departure from the playbook established by recent blockbuster YA franchises like “Twilight” and “Harry Potter,” both of which cycled through new filmmakers in each successive installment until settling on the right creative vision to close out the series, somewhere around the final book. In both cases, the quality of the early iterations varied widely, depending on the filmmaker in charge. Looking back, the results of this trial and error approach have been spotty at best, sacrificing the integrity of the series to a cacophony of creative voices has arguably compromised the cinematic legacies of these beloved books.
As they say, a chain (of sequels) is only as strong as its weakest link. And fans have been left to roll the dice with each new directorial hire, hoping for the best and girding for the worst. This translates into an outpouring of rabble-rousing blog posts and speculative message-board grousing that foments dissent among the faithful and leaves movie marketers working overtime to combat the perception of bad buzz. And things can really get ugly when a film just barely makes it over the bar of acceptability — as arguably happened with “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” and “The Twilight Saga: New Moon.”
Though there were a few bursts of inspired filmmaking over the course of the seven Potter films – most of which came courtesy of Alfonso Cuaron – J.K. Rowling’s septet didn’t reach its cruising altitude until the fifth film, when David Yates seized the captain’s chair and piloted the series through its conclusion. Likewise, “The Twilight Saga” seemed to struggle with a cinematic identity crisis until Bill Condon embraced the novel as a spooky Gothic coming-of-age story full of the requisite angst, and a slight hint of self-aware camp.
Beyond sharing a surname with his leading lady, there isn’t much in Lawrence’s filmography that makes him particularly suited to capturing the epic war picture wrapped in a morality tale wrapped in a love story that is “The Hunger Games.” “Constantine” proved he’s in possession of the twisted and sadistic chops to reinvent psychological horror. And with “I Am Legend,” he established himself as a virtuoso of post-apocalyptic action. But it’s Lawrence’s experience directing music videos for the pantheon pop deities — Lady Gaga, Janet Jackson, Beyonce, Shakira, Gwen Stefani – that may have most directly equipped him to capture Katniss’ crusade to conquer the corrupt forces of oppression (aka The Man). In other words, with Lawrence behind the camera, strong women shine brighter and roar louder
It hasn’t gone unnoticed that Catherine Hardwicke remains the sole female director chosen to shepherd a single installment of three series whose strong female characters are only to be outdone by the badass women who created them. But for the time being, it’s an encouraging sign that Lionsgate has committed to Lawrence for the duration of Suzanne Collins’ series. And we’ll take it on faith that Lawrence will continue to promote heroine chic and the idea that diva behavior is something to be admired, not admonished.