I was worried about The Hunger Games movie living up to expectations and not trying to become the next Twilight. Luckily, the movie succeeded and has been a runaway smash. It was well-liked by critics and fans, and outgrossed every single Twilight and Harry Potter film. I was grateful that the film didn't shy away from the dark tone of the book. But just when I stopped worrying about The Hunger Games, I began to fear for Catching Fire.
With Catching Fire, Lionsgate, the producer, is trying to make a release date - not a good movie. Eight months before The Hunger Games was released, they had already staked out a release date for Catching Fire. November 22, 2013. The Twilight and Harry Potter sequels came out in quick succession, and Lionsgate wanted to follow that trajectory. I guess in our short-attention-span age, they worry that some other phenomenon will overshadow Hunger Games in the next two years and make Catching Fire a non-event. But then the director of the Hunger Games, Gary Ross, dropped out of Catching Fire, because he wouldn't have enough time to make that release date. The movie needs to begin shooting by the fall to make the November release date- so all writing, pre-production, costumes, etc have to be ready to go by then. Instead of pushing it back, Lionsgate frantically searched for another director.
Why is it so important to make this Thanksgiving release date? Because Harry Potter and Twilight once occupied it? Hunger Games came out in the middle of March and has earned close to $400 million. Obviously, release date doesn't matter to fans. But now, everyone on Catching Fire will be rushing. And when we rush, we tend to get sloppy. Catching Fire is a more complicated book. The story isn't as straightforward as The Hunger Games. Half of it is the Victory Tour, the other half is the Quarter Quell. You don't want to get sloppy adapting this book. Yes, you can create a shoddy film and it will still make piles of money. But that'll piss off your fans and keep them from Mockingjay. You don't want The Hunger Games to become the new Matrix trilogy.
First Matrix (1999) = awesome. Grossed $171M
Matrix Reloaded (May 2003) = confusing, annoying, overall disliked. Grossed $281M
Matrix Revolutions (November 2003) = slightly better, but people had already given up. Grossed $134M
Because of the tight timing, they had a limited pool of available directors to draw from. So they went with Francis Lawrence. I'm not sure how I feel about this. Lawrence went from directing music videos to making films like I Am Legend, Constantine, and Water for Elephants. I liked I Am Legend, but I have heard bad things about the other two. It seems that Lawrence is great with visuals, but not with story or character. We need a director who can bring The Hunger Games to the next level, the way Alfonso Cuaron did with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Catching Fire delves further into the main relationships and the mythology of Panem. You need a director who can handle those elements carefully. I'm not sure if Lawrence can pull that off. I don't care about the flashy action scenes as much as I do about the characters. Maybe he will surprise me. I'm holding out hope.
I must sound like those typical fanboys that criticize every decision made about their favorite franchises. I just don't get the obsession with trying to make an arbitrary release date. Whatever happens with Catching Fire, I'll still see it probably. I might not like it, but it's besides the point.
And I guess that's good enough for Lionsgate.