Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend and Constantine) has chosen to direct Catching Fire, the sequel to The Hunger Games. Reportedly, the competition came down to Lawrence and Moneyball’s Bennett Miller, but Miller didn’t like the rushed production schedule needed to meet the studio’s already-announced release date of Nov. 22, 2013. (Let’s hope that’s not wishful thinking.)
Lawrence is an interesting choice. I think of him more as a visual stylist coming off Constantine, but he did handle a pretty sprawling story in Will Smith’s I Am Legend. Both of those films were fantasy/sci-fi projects, and both were adaptations of existing material – Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend novel, and Constantine is the star of the comic book series Hellblazer – so he has experience translating stories. (For what it’s worth, Moneyball was a book, too, so that’s probably why Miller was a front-runner.) Also, Lawrence built a compelling and complicated world overrun by mutations for I Am Legend, and world-building was Hunger Games helmer Gary Ross’ Achilles’ heel.
On the plus side for Lawrence (left), people are going to see Catching Fire no matter who the director is. Also, Ross did not set the directorial bar very high. I would suggest that just eliminating Ross’ nausea-inducing shakycam will win Lawrence the undying allegiance of fans. Also, Lawrence did direct last year’s chick flick Water for Elephants, so perhaps he can inject some emotion into the Katniss/Peeta and Katniss/Gale relationships.
I am going to err on the side of hope and predict that Lawrence will give us a good movie. His dark visual style could be very effective in bringing to life the sinister atmosphere of… well, I don’t want to spoil anything for folks who haven’t read the book yet. But I think Catching Fire could play to Lawrence’s strengths.