Welcome to The Hunger Games Countdown, our resident expert's continued guide to all things Hunger Games on the way to the film's sequel, Catching Fire.
I’d say 2012 is the year of The Hunger Games, but 2011 kind of felt like just that, too, and I have a feeling the same will be true of 2013, 2014 and 2015. We knew The Hunger Games would be big the moment the world was consumed by the first film’s casting craze, but now that the film is here and it’s very good, it’s even more likely that Katniss and co. will nestle their way into pop culture and our lives in general, and stick it out for the long haul.
With high hopes for the future, we pause to take a look back at a defining year for the franchise; the year The Hunger Games hit theaters and proved this really could be a series of the highest quality. Here are your Hunger Games highlights of 2012.
Biggest Bummer: Katniss’ Mother Is the Mystery Character: I don’t like kicking things off on a sour note, but ending a piece on a downer is even worse, so let’s get this out of the way fast. Kudos to Lionsgate for putting together a top-notch cast for Catching Fire, but what was with the mystery character? The studio sends the fandom into a tizzy, speculating a minor character is getting a raise, a new character is being introduced, or a Mockingjay character is enjoying an early debut, only to reveal that the mystery character is just Katniss’ mother? Not cool.
10. Hunger Games Figurines: Ever since I was a kid, I was always a big fan of collecting things. It’s one thing to just go out and buy a complete set, but it’s a whole different thing to buy something not knowing what’s inside, hoping it’s a piece of the set you don’t already have. While there’s tons of great, higher end Hunger Games merchandise on the market, the fact that those tiny tribute figurines, some of which don’t even look like their real-life counterpart, rouse that same sensation made buying them more of an experience rather than a means to an end. And yes, I’m the sucker that would pay up and get duplicates rather than open up the box for a quick peek in the store so as not to spoil the surprise before I got home.
9. Hunger Games Stars, One Big Happy Family: Ultimately what matters is that the people involved in bringing The Hunger Games to the big screen do the source material justice and deliver solid films, but wouldn’t it be such a bummer if the cast and crew didn’t enjoy doing it? Thanks to social media, we know that’s not the case with the Hunger Games gang, and getting to see off-set shots of the cast hanging out is endlessly charming. Nelson Ascencio (Flavius) has some group photos from the Catching Fire Atlanta set, Lenny Kravitz (Cinna) posted this one of Woody Harrelson (Haymitch) rocking out to his music, and now that the release of the first film has come and gone, many of the original tributes like District 3’s Kalia Prescott have gotten the OK to load up great behind-the-scenes moments. There’s many, many more out there that are worth tracking down.
8. Catching Fire Motion Poster: The release of The Hunger Games motion poster was an absolutely chilling experience, but how could they possibly swing the same thing and have an effect? Talk about a nice surprise. Not only does the new motion poster draw a connection to the original by keeping the design and background tune intact, but it stirs up a brand new set of emotions through the gorgeous and incredibly detailed transformation from the Hunger Games logo into the Catching Fire one, backed by a fresh score that offers up a sense of urgency. How appropriate when that clock is just ticking away?
7. Cinna and Katniss Hunger Games Clip: Trailers are thrilling and all, but you get a much better sense of the quality of a film through clips, and the one that sealed the deal for The Hunger Games is definitely this moment between Katniss and Cinna. By the time this little gem dropped, we already knew the costumes and set design were spot on, but how about tone, emotion and, more specifically, that unique bond between Katniss and her unusually compassionate Capitol stylist? These 44 seconds certainly answer that question, and in the best ways possible.
6. Hunger Games on DVD: What’s better than a movie worthy of repeat viewings? Sure, many caught The Hunger Games on the big screen time and time again during the theatrical run, but the movie proves itself yet again on DVD and Blu-ray by verifying it’ll never get old. But hopefully it’ll get old, even just for a little bit, because The Hunger Games DVD and Blu-ray are oozing with excellent bonus material worth watching. You’d think knowing the behind-the-scenes secrets would break down the movie magic and possibly even detach a viewer from a film, but throughout the whole process of bringing Suzanne Collins’ book to life, there’s been a blur between the show makers, and those meant to be swayed by the show. We Hunger Games fans were never just moviegoers waiting to be wowed by the big-screen adaptation; we’ve been part of it from day one, and, thanks to the special-features menu, we’re more entrenched in the process as ever.
5. The Hunger Games at San Diego Comic-Con: This might be personal more than anything – unless you all really enjoyed my interviews – but having the opportunity to hang out and chat with Jack Quaid, Dayo Okeniyi, Alexander Ludwig, Willow Shields and Amandla Stenberg was certainly a 2012 highlight, and just enough to forgive Lionsgate for not having a proper panel. However, even without its leading trio hitting Hall H, Hunger Games can still draw a crowd and the pandemonium at the Lionsgate booth proved it. Signing time with Quaid, Okeniyi, Ludwig, Shield, and Stenberg was crazy time with fans lining up around the booth, eagerly awaiting an autograph or even just an opportunity for a mere glimpse at the tributes in the flesh. Can you imagine if Katniss herself was there? Hopefully we’ll find out next year.
4. Danny Strong to Pen Mockingjay - Part 1 and Part 2: The Hunger Games had a writing dream team – Billy Ray, a talented screenwriter, Suzanne Collins, the author responsible for penning the source material, and Gary Ross, a seasoned writer himself and the man who would ultimately bring the text to life. Now look at the writing situation for Catching Fire – we get to start with Simon Beaufoy, an Academy Award-winning writer, which is great, but then there’s news that Michael Arndt is stepping in for some rewrites. He’s got an Oscar statue of his own, too, but rewrites can hint at problems no matter who’s doing them. And then there’s the fact that, so far, Collins isn’t listed as an official screenwriter even though Beaufoy has said she’s been there to help him. Yes, it could turn out to be great all over again, but there’s something reassuring about having Danny Strong and only Danny Strong listed as the screenwriter for the final two films. The guy is an Emmy winner with a knack for handling politically driven material. I’d love to see Collins take another screenplay credit on the Mockingjay movies, but, either way, the script should also be safe in Strong’s hands.
3. Francis Lawrence Forever: Gary Ross’ exit was close to becoming this list’s Biggest Bummer, especially after Katniss herself, Jennifer Lawrence, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer she was devastated when Ross opted out, but since the news that Francis Lawrence would take his spot broke, Lawrence actually managed to earn my trust – even without having seen a drop of footage. All the ups and downs of Lawrence’s long-term gig are still in the back of my mind, but this is Lionsgate’s most prominent property we’re talking about. Why would the studio ever hand over the franchise unless the folks in charge were sure Lawrence would keep the bar high? No, we won’t know what Lawrence really is capable of until Catching Fire hits, but at the moment, the fact that no skepticism has been voiced by anyone involved and the studio only seems to want more of him is certainly enough to keep me optimistic.
2. Casting Catching Fire: Admittedly, those who have yet to read the books might find Lionsgate's casting process a bit over the top, but for those of us who know and have grown to love the characters of this universe, it’s immensely exciting watching the studio put real faces to names. And, this time around, Lionsgate wasn’t just filling up the roster for the 75th Hunger Games; the studio was committing to actors that’d help carry us through to the franchise finale. Even for the actors playing tributes that will inevitably meet their maker before the second film’s end, this more intimate and individualized casting process makes his or her death that much more powerful. The first film proved it; even a nameless Hunger Games cast member lives on through the fandom.
1. The Hunger Games, the Movie: It really doesn’t get much better than this. Not only did The Hunger Games go on to accumulate over $680 million at the worldwide box office, but the film was very well-received, almost across the board, posting a wildly impressive 85% on Rotten Tomatoes. Say what you want about Gary Ross’ shaky cam technique, but, overall Hunger Games is a notably well acted, enthralling adventure that does its source material justice by presenting each and every layer of the story, and all with a great deal of emotion. Not only are we now one for one, but the success of The Hunger Games puts us in great shape for Catching Fire and beyond. Gary Ross may be long gone, but the first film still stands and should the next three fall in line, we will end up with a proficient and truly special film franchise.
Hunger Games in Hall H: San Diego Comic-Con is a very special place for the entertainment obsessed, and while I’m truly looking forward to covering the best the TV and film industry have to offer, battling the Convention Center crowd for a new Mondo poster, and reuniting with some wonderful writers, the thought of seeing The Hunger Games: Catching Fire cast taking the stage in Hall H makes me more eager to get to San Diego than ever.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Trailer: Yes, I know I said that clips are key, but one step at a time. The promotional campaign for The Hunger Games was light on arena material, which turned out to be a very smart move, but can the filmmakers play that card again and still deliver a first full trailer that rouses so much excitement and anticipation? (I’d like to bet we’ll find out during the MTV Movie Awards.)
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, the Movie: Really, how could this not be the highlight of 2013?
A happy and healthy New Year to all you Hunger Games fans and Countdown readers. Looking forward to another year of enjoying and supporting the franchise with you!
The Hunger Games Countdown runs here on Movies.com every other Wednesday. There are 330 days until the release of Catching Fire.