Yes, it's true. "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" is as terrific as everybody says it is, which is a lot harder to pull off than it looks. (Our TOH review from London is here.) It took at least three great writers to massage Suzanne Collins' second novel in her bestselling "Hunger Games" trilogy into a taut, thrilling movie that is balanced between reluctant symbol Katniss Everdeen's pure mission to protect her family by surviving and her conflicted feelings for her two loving swains, Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). Jennifer Lawrence carried this movie on her shoulders with nary a wrong move--athletic but feminine, strong but vulnerable, loving but resolute. So she can be forgiven for a rare sartorial error: she wore a daring sheer purple Dior evening gown to the premiere. Pixie cut: yes. See-through dress: no.
As big as the first "Hunger Games" was ($684 million worldwide), this one will be much bigger. There are so many ways that this movie could have gone wrong without original director Gary Ross at the helm. After developing "Catching Fire" with him, Simon Beaufoy ("Slumdog Millionaire") kept working with Lionsgate production chief Erik Feig, producers Nina Jacobson and Jon Kilik and new director Francis Lawrence, who had the visual chops to execute a well-constructed narrative. For Effie Trinket and Everdeen's astonishing outfits, Trish Summerville ("The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo") deserves an Oscar nomination for costume design.
Clearly, Lawrence had a somewhat bigger budget (about $130 million), but to his credit the movie doesn't float away on pixels. Such well-drawn characters as Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), Cinna (Lenny Kravitz, who wore silver boots to the premiere), Finnick (Sam Claflin, who elicited screams from the fans in the back of the packed Nokia Theater Monday night) and new games master Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) anchor the drama.
Michael Arndt took the baton from Beaufoy as he continued to craft the next "Star Wars" movie, before passing that script to Lawrence Kasdan, who had been drafting a "Star Wars" spin-off. And Scott Frank ("Minority Report") took over from Arndt before the "Hunger Games" script was deemed complete. The best news of the night: after toiling in other people's vineyards, both Beaufoy (The Full Monty") and Arndt ("Little Miss Sunshine") plan to write originals again. Yes!
The scale of the premiere was huge, on the scale of Summit's "Twilight" events, with long snaking lines of fans and a tented after-party on the roof of L.A. Live complete with movie-inspired rows of drummers at the entrance, huge klieg lights and Capitol-attired extras inside, and talent tables scattered throughout the hall to disperse traffic. I greeted Donald Sutherland for the first time in years--he's a hearty 78 years old. And I wasn't the only one to bring my daughter, who like me sped through all three "Hunger Games" books. We both loved the movie--even if we had to leave our smart phones behind.