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The overwhelming response to The Hunger Games proved that The Twilight Saga was no fluke: If you create interesting stories for female moviegoers, they will turn out to support them. But when time came to make Catching Fire, the franchise’s second installment, a new director faced the same challenge as Chris Weitz did with New Moon– namely, keeping that success going. Thankfully, director Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend) was careful to preserve the elements that worked so well in the first film.
“One of the things that I wanted to make sure of was that there was still an aesthetic unity to all of the movies,” Lawrence explained at the recent Los Angeles press day for Catching Fire. “I thought Gary [Ross] had done an amazing job with the world building in The Hunger Games, so we worked with the same production designer to make sure that the Capitol was still built from the architecture, that District 12 still had the same, almost 1930s Appalachian feel.”
He indicated he would preserve that aesthetic all of the way through the adaptation of the final novel of Suzanne Collins’ bestselling series, which is being split into two films. “And we’re going to do the same with Mockingjay,” Lawrence said. “The funny thing about Mockingjay, though, is that we actually get to see a bunch of the districts. We’ll actually get to see the Capitol in a very new way. We’ll actually go down to the middle of the streets in the Capitol, which will be fantastic. But we worked with the production design team to make sure that there was an aesthetic unity all the way through.”
In the sequel, Panem has fallen into the first stages of a class war, after Katniss’ victory at the Hunger Games incited an uprising among the poor and disenfranchised. Despite President Snow’s efforts to placate and distract citizens with celebrity gossip and superficial hope, he begins to recognize that more drastic steps must be taken to restore order – including killing Katniss, the young woman who has become the symbol for the rebellion. The clash between haves and have-nots erupts in the districts as the Capitol insulates itself from poverty with irresponsible, egregious opulence.
Producer Nina Jacobson added that the films connect with audiences because of the specificity of their point of view, which they were also careful to maintain. “I think the heart of these movies is Katniss’ point of view, and we remained firmly in her shoes,” she said. “I think that’s what will always be the consistency throughout because she’s a complex character, she changes but she sort of grounds us throughout the series.”
At the same time, Lawrence indicated they faced numerous challenges – albeit fun ones – in bringing to life the things that actually would be different, such as the arena where the Hunger Games are played.
“Figuring out the puzzle of making a movie is sort of the fun part,” he admitted. “I knew, very early on, that the arena in this was going to have to be figured out — it’s a place that doesn’t exist anywhere in the world. So we were going to have to build part of it and shoot different parts in different locations, and we ended up building the island in the cornucopia in Atlanta, and unfortunately in 40-degree water. So the actors had to jump in and out of that, and then we did the jungle in Hawaii. I always take it as a really fun challenge.”
Jacobson said they combined the familiar with the novel, which expanded the world in much the same way the story grows deeper and more complex. “This movie opened up a lot of new opportunities for us,” she observed, “because we spent so much more time in the Capitol, and we have an arena, which is itself the opponent – as opposed to the characters being each other’s opponents.”
Ultimately, however, Jacobson argued the key to their success was relatability: Even if the film takes place in a futuristic society, it still has to connect with viewers on a more basic emotional or intellectual level. “We try to ask ourselves, really, how would you be affected by these events if they happened to you? Not if they happened to you in the book, not if they happened to you in the movie, but if they actually happened to you,” she said. “And subsequently, you see the effects on them as human beings, the way that humans are affected by violence and by war.”
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire opens Friday nationwide.