Earlier, Hollywood.com reported that Lionsgate’s rabid search for The Hunger Games sequel director had finally come to an end. Reportedly, Francis Lawrence, the man behind Constantine, I Am Legend, and Water for Elephants, is currently in negotiations to helm Catching Fire, is taking over the position recently vacated by Hunger Games writer/director Gary Ross. WIth a set release date, a tight window for shooting (there have been reported scheduling concerns with Jennifer Lawrence’s commitment to the X-Men: First Class sequel), and a script that’s in flux, Lawrence has a pressured task on his plate. But as Lionsgate knows, if there’s anyone who can pull it off, it’s Lawrence.
At the beginning of his career, Lawrence cut his teeth in the world of commercials and music videos. He’s a director with a keen eye — basically, the complete opposite of Ross, who started as a writer. When he made the jump to features, he found a project that fit his sensibilities. Constantine is a visually wild comic book movie, tackling some heady ideas but executed with a spectacle flair that would become Lawrence’s signature. I Am Legend continued the trend, an adept ability to construct large-scale, FX-driven films, and even Water for Elephants, Lawrence’s foray into historical drama, is as interested in the production design of the circus as it is Robert Pattinson’s performance.
Lawrence isn’t entirely style over substance. In 2009, the director executive produced and helmed the pilot for Kings, a twist of the Biblical tale of David set in a dystopian future. Lawrence accommodated a TV budget for the project and the result was a restrained, thought-provoking piece of entertainment. Catching Fire feels like a blend of the director’s strengths — when the movie needs to go big, as the next round of Hunger Games will ultimately demand, Lawrence is in his wheelhouse. When the movie scales back, he has the TV skills in his back pocket. Kings (which starred up-and-comer Chris Egan), as well as his big screen team-up with Pattinson, honed Lawrence’s skills working with young actors. Stepping into a trio of professional twentysomethings could be a bigger challenge for the untested, but the director has proved himself capable of weaving that kind of talent into his projects.
Anne Thompson at Indiewire makes an astute observation on why Lawrence would take the job: The guy is guaranteed a hit, and is willing to compromise with the studio to make it happen on time, on budget, and on the track Ross has laid out. There were a handful of directors on Lionsgate’s shortlist, but none that really needed a blockbuster like Catching Fire, or who would be willing to bend backwards on their own visions. With a very short span of time in which to plan the movie and get it in the can, the studio needs a guy with the knowhow to step in and make it happen. That’s Lawrence.
It’s the Harry Potter vs. Twilight debate: Is it better to roll out the films at lengthier intervals, affording new directors time to craft the installments from their own imaginations, or is the momentum of continual releases key? The Twilight films satisfy fans, but they’re not groundbreaking cinematic experiences. They all feel the same. Lawrence, for better or worse, can build upon Hunger Games in an identifiable way.
With a great writer, Oscar-winner Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours), and a purist author guiding the series along (Suzanne Collins has the final word on nearly everything related to the Hunger Games franchise), there’s no reason to think that Catching Fire won’t match the expectations coming off the first movie. Francis Lawrence is a competent filmmaker who can whip up an in-tune sequel without breaking a sweat. If he accepts the deal — which most insiders believe he will — we can expect Catching Fire to make its Nov. 23, 2013 premiere date. Now what that means for I Am Legend 2…