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January 31, 2012


Casting The Hunger Games

Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games

The movie adaptation of The Hunger Games is coming out in a couple of months, and since I just recently finished reading the book, I've joined the swarms of 14 year-old girls who are braiding back their hair and perfecting their rabbit-skinning skills in anxious anticipation. I'm just starting to understand how important these books have become to young fans of dystopian fiction, so I can imagine how big a deal it was when the role of Katniss Everdeen was cast.

The first time I heard about the books was when Jennifer Lawrence was cast back in March. After reading the book, I feel like I can work backwards and envision director Gary Ross looking around for young actresses that could bring a combination of toughness and teenage vulnerability to the role.

Cue Winter's Bone. Lawrence's character in that movie, Ree, is so similar to Katniss I almost feel like Debra Granik should get some sort of retroactive casting agent fee. After all, Granik is a small independent filmmaker who spends years raising money between movies. She cast Jennifer Lawrence in a difficult role where she lives in a poor, rural, dangerous environment, she's lost her father, her mother is distant and useless, she's responsible for the care and feeding of her younger siblings, and knows how to shoot and skin squirrels to make really gross-looking stew. She can get the crap beaten out of her and keep on going. She's a gutsy-yet-terrified survivor in pretty much exactly the same way Katniss is. Gary Ross says putting her in The Hunger Games was "the easiest casting decision I ever made in my life."

(By the way, Gary Ross may not be the most exciting director (Seabiscuit) but he wrote and directed Pleasantville, which was OK, and he wrote Big, one of the better 80's hits and, I would argue, the best work Tom Hanks has ever done.)

I think Lawrence is perfect, but there was some outrage when the casting decision was announced, partially because of Katniss's indeterminate race in the book. The character has straight black hair and "olive skin", and many readers assumed she was probably racially mixed. But the casting call requested only white actresses, and the selection of blonde, blue-eyed Jennifer Lawrence was regarded as white-washing by some readers eager to see a non-white ass-kicking heroine. In stills from the movie, she's dyed her hair brown, but she's definitely a big ol' white girl.

The male leads also show how their characters were translated for the movie: Gale is played by Liam "Thor's little brother" Hemsworth, and he's hot and hunky. Peeta is played by the kid who played Laser in The Kids Are Alright. I worry that they'll make the character too sensitive and wimpy and lovelorn--the unrequited teenage romance isn't the greatest part of the book, in my opinion. But I guess protracted love triangles are the name of the game for young adult fantasy series, so I'll just have to cover my eyes for the mushy stuff, i.e. any time Katniss has to suspend her survivalist awesomeness to pretend to like Peeta.

Here's the trailer. I'm very excited to see Woody Harrelson as the hero-turned-drunk, staggering around boozily and slurring "sweetheart" to the girls.

Here's the cover of this year's Hollywood issue of Vanity Fair, with a re-blonded Jennifer Lawrence front and center.

categories: Books, Celebrities, Movies
posted by amy at 11:39 AM | #

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What, no mention of Chloe Moretz or Hailee Steinfeld? I think it should've been one of them.

Posted by: adm at January 31, 2012 2:43 PM

Just watched the trailer. So, it's like Battle Royale? I don't care how big the budget is, I doubt it will be better than (the theatrical release of) BR.

Posted by: Tim at February 1, 2012 7:38 AM

ADM: I saw the gigantic list of actresses considered for the role, and much as I love Chloe Moretz, I think she's too young. Katniss is only 16 (Jennifer Lawrence is older than that) but she's a very adult 16, and Chloe still looks like a little girl. Jennifer Lawrence may be in her 20's, but she's got that baby face that I think will work.

Hailee Steinfeld would have been perfect, too. No-nonsense, tough, self-reliant, not cute. Of the two, Jennifer Lawrence might be a little bit of a better actress.


Tim: Yeah, it's exactly like Battle Royale. And The Running Man. Both of those movies(/books) also involve the battle-to-the-death contestants exposing the corrupt system that's forcing them to participate, right? I haven't read the other two books in the Hunger Games series, but I bet I can re-watch those two other movies and pretty much figure out what happens next.

Posted by: amy at February 1, 2012 9:42 AM

On further reflection, I guess my comments were a bit stupid. Battle Royale seems much darker and more surrealistic than the Hunger Games. Does the Hunger Games have a "message" about society? BR definitely has a message, buried under the mayhem and over-the-top violence.

As I may have mentioned to you before, until 9th grade-the third and final year of junior high school-Japanese kids are taught to work together as a group. This is done through the homeroom system, where the students stay together in the same classroom, with the same group of students all day (the teachers go to a different classroom each period while the students stay put).

It's estimated that the average Japanese school year includes about thirty days devoted to non-academic activities that aim towards gakkyuzukuri, or creating classhood. There's the music festival, the sports festival, the cultural festival, etc. At the public junior highs I worked at, classes would end at lunchtime for the entire two weeks leading up to the sports and music festivals to allow the different homerooms to prepare their routines/performances.

Then suddenly, in ninth grade, the students are thrown into the cut-throat, very nearly zero-sum competition to get accepted to a good high school (if little Taro from Toyo jr. high gets accepted to a certain school, it seriously lessens the chances of another student from his school getting accepted).

The best high schools draw from a huge area, and it is not unusual for students to commute TWO HOURS each way to school. Anyway, in BR, the students are ninth graders, and are suddenly thrown into the competition of the title, where they have to suddenly start fighting each other. The film dramatizes this in a horrible gore-fest. What's the point being made in the the Hunger Games? Is there one?

Oh, and the movie version of BR left out an interesting bit from the novel it was based on: The novel is set in an alternate reality where Japan fought America to a stalemate in WW2, so the military government is still in power. The novel makes it very clear that this is a much worse alternative to what actually happened.

This is interesting to those of us who have lived in Japan for a long time, because in Japan, the Japanese themselves have used the dropping of the atomic bombs to paint themselves as the victims in WW2. Hilariously, they seem completely clueless about why this angers the Koreans and Chinese. Some peopel trace the beginning of this narrative of national victimhood to the movie "Twent-Four Eyes" from 1954, which shows how a small island community suffered during the war.

I'm not sure when this all started, but it is everywhere: Music festivals feature sad songs about the suffering of Okinawans during the war, and recitation contests are chock full of Hiroshima narratives. The odd thing being that these events are talked about as if they just suddenly happened for no good reason, without any connection to Japan's own war-time aggression.

There were criticisms of the government immediately following the war (there's an amazing, devasting trilogy called "The Human Condition" that highlights Japanese atrocities in Manchuria during the occupation), but such self-critical opposition voices have been largely silenced these days. The Battle Royale novel was one of the few recent instances I've seen of this sort of criticism of Japanese militarism.

Whew, I'll shut up now. Was that the longest post ever made to Amy's Robot?

Posted by: Tim at February 1, 2012 11:57 PM

Great stuff, Tim! I think you just single-handedly raised the rhetorical value and overall smartness of this blog.

I actually haven't watched all of BR start to finish (though it's now #1 on the Netflix queue,) and didn't know it was based on a book at all. The fight-to-the-death story as an allegory for the cut-throat, zero-sum game environment of high school is really interesting, and I'm glad that when I finally see the whole movie I'll have a sense of where it's coming from culturally. The alternate reality of a militaristic (and more brutal) Japan is totally fascinating.

This reading highlights what to me was the subtext of The Hunger Games, which is the way our society selects compelling, talented young people for its own entertainment, puts them on reality TV shows or launches pop music or movie careers, and in doing so, chews them up and spits them out. Then finds new ones.

If you look at the career of someone like Lindsay Lohan or the entire child cast of Diff'rent Strokes as the real-life version of Hunger Games, it takes on something of a culturally critical tone (though it's pretty obvious and a little clumsy about it.) The kids selected to participate in the Hunger Games usually don't ask to be there (while child stars and the casts of The Real World do) but once they're put there, the whole world is watching intently, waiting for their inevitable destruction. I thought the subtext of the story was our predatory and inhumane entertainment industry, esp as it deals with child stars. The heroine, Katniss, exhibits some effective rebellion against the system toward the end, which I'm guessing is the subject of the later books.

Unfortunately, her rebellion takes an implied self-destructive form, which isn't an especially politically powerful tactic, though it's apparently one that appeals to a lot of teenage girls.

Posted by: amy at February 3, 2012 10:13 AM

Amy, watch the thearical-release version, if at all possible! The director's cut includes extra material that kills the pacing of the story. And looking over my post, I see that I made it look like heavy social commentary, but it's not: It's an exploitation flick, first and foremost. The gruesome fun is in seeing the creatively different ways the kids kill each other. Wow, I feel unclean just typing that.

Anyway, I haven't seen the movie in about a decade, actually, but I might watch it again to see how it's aged. The DVD is finally officially being released in America apparently (no doubt due to the popularity of The Hunger Games), but it seems that you can only get the superior theatrical release of Battle Royale if you buy the 4-disc version, which also includes the terrible sequel.

Oh, and I looked at the BR page of IMDB, and most of the comments seem to revolve around the questionable logic of the competition in the movie, and Beat Takeshi's tracksuit. There are some serious plot holes, but it's just a mechanism to set up the mayhem. Oh, and the tracksuit? Go into any Japanese junior high school teachers' room and you'll always find some teachers in tracksuits, not just the P.E. teacher.

Posted by: Tim at February 3, 2012 6:00 PM

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