‘Hunger Games’ Postmortem: Five Lessons For ‘Catching Fire’

In this week's Hobnobbing, we take a look at how Gary Ross' sequel can build upon the success of the first.

To no one’s surprise, the highly anticipated “Hunger Games” opened last week to boffo box-office numbers, all but guaranteeing the second installment in Suzanne Collins’ series, “Catching Fire,” will set theaters ablaze come November 22, 2013.

Director Gary Ross, who will also helm the follow-up, has already begun formulating his vision for the 75th annual Hunger Games, telling MTV News, “I have some ideas about how to do ‘Catching Fire’ slightly differently, but I don’t want to share them yet. Not because I’m being evasive, but just because they’re not fully baked. But yes, I think it will look and feel slightly different from the first.”

With its jungle-like setting, the next arena will be a much different beast than the forested first, so it’s no wonder Ross is re-jiggering his approach. We can only speculate that some of his sequel planning will include reviewing “The Hunger Games” in great detail — what worked and what didn’t. To that end, we’ve compiled a list of five “Hunger Games” lessons that can and should inform “Catching Fire.”

DO keep the arena underwraps
This one isn’t so much for Ross as it is for the Gamemakers at Lionsgate, but we have to recognize the studio’s smart decision to use only pre-Games footage in their aggressive marketing campaign for the film. In fact, I’d go so far as to say my favorite parts of the movie were from the arena, largely because they were fresh and unexpected. With the Quarter Quell’s intriguing new venue, Lionsgate would be wise to build anticipation by keeping the tropical death trap shrouded in mystery.

DON’T skimp on the CGI
If there was a consistent complaint I heard from “Hunger Games” fans following the film’s release, it was that the Girl on Fire scene — in which Katniss and Peeta introduce themselves to the Capitol, riding atop a chariot and flaunting flame-licked jumpsuits representative of their coal-mining home — was … underwhelming. The flame effect just didn’t look real enough. With a slew of new sci-fi aspects introduced in “Catching Fire,” including mutated monkeys, we hope Ross can invest a bit more in the film’s digital technology.

DO capitalize on Stanley Tucci
Say what you will about Jennifer Lawrence’s gripping, gritty performance as Katniss Everdeen, but if anyone could be categorized as the film’s scene-stealer, it was most certainly Stanley Tucci, whose blue-haired, big-teethed Caesar Flickerman was nothing short of mesmerizing (and a handy exposition device to boot!). Heck, I’d pay to watch a Caesar Flickerman spin-off once all three (four?) “Hunger Games” films debut. “Caesar Flickerman: Not So Blue.” Think about it, Lionsgate.

DON’T downplay the dangers of the arena
Between her 23 fellow tributes, tracker jackers and muttations, Katniss had plenty to contend with in the arena. But, as my roommate so astutely pointed out to me long after I watched the film and didn’t notice, we never really see Katniss hungry or thirsty. Limiting the violence for a PG-13 rating is an understandable edit, but why dull down the deadliness of the Games otherwise? In “Catching Fire,” we need to see Katniss and her fellow tributes truly struggle, not simply limp along.

DO make artful additions (especially if they’re directed by Steven Soderbergh)
By shifting the viewpoint of the film from Katniss’ first-person perspective, Ross was able to open up the world of Panem in a way we hadn’t experienced before. The addition of the control room, Seneca Crane’s implied death by berries and, most notably, the District 11 riot only added to the film.

What do you think “Catching Fire” can learn from “The Hunger Games”? Sound off in the comments below and tweet me @amymwilk with your thoughts and suggestions for future columns!

Check out everything we’ve got on “Hunger Games.”

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