Welcome to The Hunger Games Countdown, our resident expert's continuing guide to all things Hunger Games on the way to the film's sequel, Catching Fire.
It ain’t easy being a young-adult book-to-film adaptation in a post-Hunger Games world. Tone, topics and characters may vary, but the moment it’s revealed that a new film comes from source material in the YA realm, comparisons are inevitable, and when you’re going up against a film with an 85% on Rotten Tomatoes and $686.5 million at the worldwide box office, that can be tough to handle.
While The Hunger Games will almost undoubtedly go on to accumulate another three films, it’s likely that film one stopped the Beautiful Creatures series dead in its tracks. According to Box Office Mojo, the film ran Warner Bros. a $60 million production tab on top of the millions it probably cost to promote the thing, so a $7.6 million opening with a measly $2,569 per theater average is an immensely disappointing start. Even worse, with the Valentine’s Day hype long gone, it could be heading towards a 45% or even 50% drop in its second weekend, and with two new wide releases hitting theaters on Friday and both Side Effects and Silver Linings Playbook holding strong, Beautiful Creatures might only end up with one weekend in the top 10.
While we can’t entirely blame Beautiful Creatures’ poor performance on The Hunger Games, it’s almost impossible not to pit one against the other -- and by doing so Beautiful Creatures, in some respects, may seem worse than it really is.
Lena vs. Katniss
In the midst of the awards season hype, it’s safe to say that Jennifer Lawrence is an anomaly. Hunger Games fans didn’t just get the right actress to play Katniss; we got the actress. On the other hand, in the case of Beautiful Creatures’ Alice Englert, she’s just playing Lena and it shows. But that’s not to say Englert delivers a poor performance. In fact, one of Beautiful Creatures’ high points is the acting; Englert just doesn’t get all that much to work with due to the weak script.
But even if the writing had been beefed up, Lena just isn’t as magnetizing and inspiring as Katniss. While there’s nothing wrong with a script that features dual protagonists, in Beautiful Creatures it makes it very tough to adapt to this strange world. In Twilight, we were very firmly in Bella Swan’s shoes and were introduced to this outrageous life of vampirism in Forks through her. In Hunger Games, Katniss is very much the audience’s anchor. Gary Ross presents a warped future highly different from present-day society, but because we have this very clear centerpiece to learn the basics with, it’s far more digestible.
Even if writer-director Richard LaGravenese had presented all of Beautiful Creatures from Lena’s perspective, it still wouldn’t have been good enough. Lena is the Edward Cullen of Beautiful Creatures – pale, dull and rather lifeless; not the kind of person you want to root for, making it impossible for her to earn a sizable following like Katniss.
The Hunger Games clocked in at a lengthy 142 minutes, but it needed and earned every single one of them. On the other hand, Beautiful Creatures manages to be both too much and not enough at 124 minutes.
While the movie does start out strong, providing the much-needed description of life in Gatlin, it then wades in the failed relationship between Ethan and Emily Asher, an element that serves no purpose whatsoever and doesn’t do anything to enhance Ethan as a character. Emily does make for a nice in-school adversary for Lena, but that doesn’t necessitate the need to know the lengthy past she shares with Ethan. Now that’s about 20 minutes of the film wasted.
Instead, LaGravenese should have fast-forwarded to the most interesting part of Beautiful Creatures – the caster population in Gatlin. One of the best parts of a film franchise is the opportunity to build upon a world with each iteration of the series, but that also doesn’t mean you can skimp on details in the first installment. LaGravenese is so clearly scrambling to dish out the basics that he seemingly forgets the need to earn each piece of information. Sure, you can simply state that Sarafine is the enemy, show that the casters’ form of keeping an unruly kid grounded is by shooting lightning out of their fingertips, and claim that Ethan and Lena actually share a rich history, but there’s a big difference between saying it and making an audience believe it. The details of life as a caster as presented by Beautiful Creatures the movie are far too peppered with plot holes to ever take seriously.
While the idea of 24 kids fighting to the death in The Hunger Games is also pretty outrageous, it’s also a very straightforward scenario. There are a number of major story details beyond the Games, but by keeping the event in focus at all times, it serves as the anchor. Beautiful Creatures has no such keystone. You could argue it’s the fact that Lena will be claimed for the light or dark, but that whole situation isn’t nearly defined enough to have the same binding effect the concept of being sent into the Hunger Games does.
Ross and co. turn Panem and the Hunger Games into a reality in a way that makes you feel part of the story and deeply wonder how you might fare in such a society. Beautiful Creatures, on the other hand, feels more like playing dress up with a group of actors who are way too good for the screenplay.
It’s undeniable; a major part of the appeal of futuristic or supernatural YA material is the romance, so the fact that Lena and Ethan’s relationship is entirely botched in Beautiful Creatures is devastating.
Twilight set the YA romance standard – average girl spots unique boy and the two fall madly in love. It may have worked for that franchise, but how often will even the most rabid YA devotees believe in such an idealistic scenario? The Hunger Games, however, pushed the boundaries of teen love, proving you can get a similar yet exponentially more profound satisfaction from a relationship plagued with true drama. But, back with Beautiful Creatures, LaGravenese tries to make bank on the pitch-perfect human/supernatural love.
The first problem is that Ethan is attracted to Lena for no reason whatsoever. At least Bella’s eye for a good-looking guy is followed by a degree of courting from Edward. Even though Lena is clearly not interested, Ethan continues to follow her around, almost to an irritating extent. Despite persistently pushing him away again for no reason whatsoever, something changes and Lena can’t live without him. Then Ethan undergoes an abrupt mood swing himself when he accepts the fact that Lena’s a caster as though he’d accept someone with a pimple on her face. To steer clear of spoiler territory, let’s leave it at that, but towards the tail end of the film the relationship is plagued with even weightier unjustifiable decisions that almost entirely devalue the bond.
The YA Expectation
Thanks to Twilight, being of the YA book-to-film adaption realm comes with negative connotations – it’s just for tweens, another schmaltzy human/supernatural creature romance, bad acting, etc. Twilight got away with it having gotten in on the craze early, but since The Hunger Games no more subpar attempts at banking on Twilight fame are going to sneak through. I Am Number Four managed to beat the system and earn a nice chunk of cash back in 2011, but now that The Hunger Games has hit and proved there’s a totally achievable degree of quality, the bar has been raised much higher and Beautiful Creatures could be just the first to feel the effects of it.
The Hunger Games Countdown runs here on Movies.com every other Wednesday. There are 274 days until the release of Catching Fire.