Monday, April 15, 2013

Lessons Learned from First "Catching Fire" Trailer

The first trailer for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire premiered last night at the MTV Movie Awards, and while the trailer was billed as a teaser trailer, it actually gave a good look as to what can be expected from the change of directors and how they're approaching the material.

When I heard that the first film's director, Gary Ross (coincidentally the winner of my Best Director award from last year), was not returning to do the sequel, I was worried.  Then, when they hired I Am Legend director Francis Lawrence to fill in, I was even more worried, seeing as how Lawrence just doesn't have as stellar of a track record as Ross did, not to mention the usual fears that are associated whenever a franchise changes directors.

It's my biggest complaint with the Harry Potter movies.  Tonally the films changed a lot from the first movie to the last.  For example, the first two movies were made with the intention in costuming and set design that this was a movie that could have been set in the 1940s or modern day.  They kept everything timeless in feel, but as the director of the first two movies, Chris Columbus, left the series and other directors came in, the other directors kept making the movies more and more modern, and by the time the movies ended it was as if you were watching a completely different world at times.  It led to a feeling by many fans who loved the style of the first movie, that there was something missing.  All of that to say, this was my fear for Catching Fire with the change of director.  This is not to say that I feel Francis Lawrence is a bad director.

While many of Francis Lawrence's movies have never quite connected with me, he has one of the best eyes for visuals of any director currently working in mainstream Hollywood.  All of his films look beautiful, but considering the fact that the first movie was shot entirely with long lenses, handheld cameras, and desaturated colors, I didn't see how his usual visual style would aid Catching Fire.

Okay, fast forward to last night, when I first saw the trailer, and my initial impression of how Francis Lawrence has approached the material is one of relief, and I'm happy to say I was wrong.

You may ask how can I glean so much from a trailer?  And this is a good question to ask in regards to the story and getting a sense of what has been cut, changed, or added, from the book.  I can't really say much of anything about that, though it does look as if the filmmakers are fully relishing in the larger budget and are wholeheartedly embracing the imagery of revolution from the book.  As well, I can already tell that Philip Seymour Hoffman's just going to knock it out of the park with his portrayal of Plutarch Heavensbee.  What I can also affirm though from just these brief 2 and a 1/2 minutes is that Francis Lawrence has managed to find a visual style that makes these movies his own, but is in keeping with the original film.

The first movie's muted color palette is once more applied to the country of Panem, and Lawrence seems to be utilizing an if-it-aint-broke-don't-fix-it mentality with the costume and set designs from the first movie, which I like, seeing as how the design work was one of my favorite things about the first movie.  However, what I loved the most about Lawrence's visual approach was his use of wider lenses and more static cameras.  I kept on racking my brain hoping he wasn't going to just try and copycat Gary Ross's style and not do as good, but I also was hoping he wasn't going to go too fanciful either and add tons of unnecessary camera movement, losing some of the grit that Ross's style lent the first movie.  In many of the shots shown in the trailer, the images appear as if they are being shot by some unnamed character that's just behind the camera filming footage for the Capitol, not by an omniscient camera operator.  You still get the feeling of grit that you're watching reality unfold, while getting a little bit more bang for your buck in that you're seeing and comprehending more of the magnificent design work that's being put into these movies.

Personally, I'm psyched.  Catching Fire is my favorite installment of the series, and upon seeing this trailer I am no longer worried about Francis Lawrence.  I can't wait for November, when the movie is released, but for now, enjoy the first trailer:

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