Some fans are still a little unsettled about Francis Lawrence taking over ‘The Hunger Games‘ franchise. Well what better way to determine what Lawrence might bring to ‘Catching Fire‘, then to analyze his past films? Movies.com has done just that, an in-depth look at Francis Lawrence and his work on ‘I Am Legend‘ and ‘Water for Elephants‘.
I AM LEGEND
Opening with the Plot vs. the Main Character: Rather than begin I Am Legend with Will Smith’s character, Lawrence puts the focus on Emma Thompson’s Dr. Alice Krippin and how she cured cancer. Gary Ross actually opted for a similar start to The Hunger Games, kicking off the film with a chat between Seneca Crane and Caesar Flickerman rather than opening the story from Katniss’ point of view. While that was an appropriate start to the first film of the franchise, now that we’ve got most of the introductory material out of the way, putting the audience right back in Katniss’ shoes might be the smarter move. Then again, he could approach Katniss’ current position from a different stance, sticking with the I Am Legend TV tactic and begin with the opening credits playing over the full coverage of Katniss and Peeta’s big return home from the Hunger Games and then roll right into their Victory Tour prep.
Vast Landscape Shots: After the New York City population succumbs to the negative effects of Dr. Krippin’s cure, the city is left in ruins. Thanks to The Hunger Games, we’re already familiar with the primary locations, but in Catching Fire, the arena is a whole new world, just like this new version of New York City. In I Am Legend, Lawrence does a nice job of introducing us to the new terrain, but still leaves much to be discovered once we’re firmly in Robert Neville’s shoes. That duality is going to be key in understanding the mechanics of the new arena, but also keeping the audience eager to learn more, just like the tributes.
Intimate Coverage: While Robert Neville is our main man, Lawrence successfully puts us in Sam’s head as well. Yes, Sam the dog. The dog lover inside of me would have put me on Sam’s side regardless of Lawrence’s tactics, but it’s Lawrence’s shot selection that makes Sam a universally engaging character. It’s a dog that can’t emote quite like Will Smith, but it’s Lawrence’s shooting and editing choices that puts us in Sam’s place at the most opportune moments, ones that use the material before and after to help us understand how Sam is feeling. Of course he gives similar attention to Smith, keeping us close enough to always experience the story from his perspective, but reserving hyper close-ups for the most profound moments, like right after waking from a dream during which the infected horrify his young daughter.
Camera Movements: Not a fan of Ross’ super shaky-cam? In I Am Legend, Lawrence does go the handheld route, but in a much more controlled way. Many of the wider shots, as expected, are secured, but when Smith is the focus, he tends to go off his sticks, giving the material a looser and more realistic sensation. As far as movements are concerned, in this film, Lawrence generally sticks to motivated moves, not just moving the camera for the sake of moving it, but doing so as dictated by a character’s movements. However, one unmotivated move I find particularly effective is when a heartbroken Neville can’t drive any further and Lawrence lets the camera quickly track back, showing how truly alone he really is.
The Action: I know people have their gripes with those white vampire-like creatures, but before they’re revealed, when Smith is looking for Sam in that dark building, Lawrence achieves a lot with very little. There’s something about the creatures’ noise that make them particularly unnerving, which makes me think Lawrence will know exactly what to do with those eerie Jabberjay sounds to make that scene particularly horrifying. When it gets to the more active material, unlike in The Hunger Games, Lawrence opts to go with a mix of shaky-cam and static shots, something that’s equally effective, but far less dizzying.
The Effects: Until I was aware of how disappointed some moviegoers were with the I Am Legend digital effects, I never minded them much. On first watch, Smith and the situation were both engaging enough for me to simply accept the world Lawrence presented. However, when watching the film with a keen eye on the digital elements, there’s no denying that those creatures are cartoonish.
To read their analysis of ‘Water for Elephants‘, head to Movies.com.
Category: Catching Fire