The Girl on Fire pt. 1 - The Madness Begins

After completing the Underland Chronicles, I looked to see what else Suzanne Collins had written, and found this book called The Hunger Games.  It looked pretty interesting, with a heavy reference to the ancient Greeks, the social caste system, and supremem governmental control.  I promptly checked it out from my local, smalltown library.
Within only a handful of pages, I was immersed in a world so vastly different from my own, a world so amazingly creative, so utterly frightening, and so outrageously brutal, and yet a world so incredibly believable.

The Hunger Games is a story set in the not-too-distant future, in what was once known as the United States.  The ruling government, known as the Capitol, is located in the general vicinity of what we recognize as Denver.  There are no longer states; instead, the country has been split into 13 very specific, very distinct Districts.  Early in the book, we are given a brief history lesson, setting the stage for the story about to unfold: rebellion was staged, war was fought, the people were defeated, and the government now has almost complete control over the 12 districts that remain.  As a reminder to the people that rebellion is both costly and worthless, each year, 2 children between the ages of 12-18 are chosen from each district to compete in a fight to the death, a glorious pageant known as The Hunger Games.  Twenty-four go in. One comes out.

The book begins on Reaping Day, the day when the year's Tributes - those children who will compete in the Games - are chosen.  What follows is a tale of desperation, love, courage, survival, brutality, strength, and honor.  It parallels the Greek gladiatorial games and the modern fascination with reality TV, and at the end of the book, you will probably want to take a shower with some steel wool, to wash away the evil that has leached off of the pages you've just read.  If you are like me, you will also have fallen in love with Katniss, Peeta, Prim and Rue.  Your heart will break for Gale.  You will grudgingly respect Haymitch, and shake your head in exasperation at Effie Trinket.  You will adore Cinna.  You will despise President Snow.  And you will immediately reach for the second book, Catching Fire.

I read the books before there was ever talk of a movie.  When I first heard that a movie was in the works, I was a bit skeptical.  I love movies, but movies based on books tend to leave me disappointed, and this was an opportunity to royally screw with one of the best books ever written.  I have a big, huge, sprawling imagination, and the movies never live up.  But with hope, I carefully followed as the casting began, and hoped - prayed - that the studio would get it right.

The Hunger Games, directed by Gary Ross
I don't know that any casting decision has been so watched, so speculated upon, as that of who to play the main characters in The Hunger Games.  The main characters of Katniss, Peeta and Gale, plus those of Prim and Rue, are so dear to the hearts of the readers that the wrong decision could break the movie in more ways than one.  And as the casting decisions were released, I, for one, was unsure of the movie's future.

The Tributes
For the Tributes in the Games, most of them were of little matter.  In fact, we're only given names for a few of them.  But for those we do get to know, it mattered only that they get the feel of the character correct.  Casting for these roles was universally approved.
Cato - Alexander Ludwig
Clove - Isabelle Fuhrman
Glimmer - Leven Ramble
Marvel - Jack Quaid
Thresh - Dayo Okeniyi
Foxface - Jacqueline Emerson

The cast of District 12 support team and of the leaders of the Games was of much more importance, and here, the casting went to some Hollywood stars.
The Capital
Caesar Flickerman - Stanley Tucci
President Snow - Donald Sutherland
Claudius Templesmith - Toby Jones
Seneca Crane - Wes Bentley

District 12 support team
Cinna - Lenny Kravitz
Effie - Elizabeth Banks
Haymitch - Woody Harrelson

Prim and Rue
The characters of Rue and Prim may only be in the movie a short time, but they have such a huge impact that casting for these roles was almost as important as casting for the main characters.  As with the Tributes listed above, these two roles were cast with lesser known actors.
Rue - Amandla Stenberg
Prim - Willow Shields

Gale Hawthorne
The character of Gale Hawthorne is only seen in about 15 minutes of the 142 minute movie, and yet he is such a pivotal character to the story.  Assuming the movie was a hit and the full trilogy was made, the character had to be believable, as he is much more prominent in books 2 and 3.  Rumored to be up for consideration for the character of Gale were: David Henrie, Robbie Arnell, Logan Lerman, Taylor Lautner, and Liam Hemsworth, among others.
My personal choice:  Logan Lerman, of Percy Jackson fame.
Gale Hawthorne - Liam Hemsworth
I wasn't sure what to make of the casting decision there.  I'm not a huge Liam Hemsworth fan.  But since it wasn't Taylor Lautner, I tried to look at it positively.

Peeta Mellark
Peeta Mellark is the most important male role in the story, and fans were absolutely rabid over who they thought should play the part.  Rumored to be up for consideration: Liam Hemsworth (yes, the one ultimately cast as Gale), Alex Pettyfer, Hunter Parrish, Josh Hutcherson, Lucas Till, Alexander Ludwig (ultimately cast as Cato), and Evan Peters.
My personal choice: Josh Hutcherson.
Peeta Mellark - Josh Hutcherson
Of all those that were discussed to play this role, Josh was the one that really stood out to me.  I've seen several of his movies, and even though he was quite a bit younger in those, I could see a depth to him that was needed for the part of Peeta.  He also strikes me as a person that I would genuinely adore and be best friends with, a quality that Peeta needs.  We, as the viewers, need to be able to look at Peeta, and not questions whether we could trust and depend on him.

Katniss Everdeen
And the most important role to cast, the role that could make or break the entire franchise, was that of heroine Katniss Everdeen.  I know what she looked like in my mind.  I know what she sounded like.  I know how she moved, and how she acted.  But just how good is Hollywood at reading my mind?  Rumored to be up for consideration: Emma Roberts, Abigail Breslin, Emily Browning, Chloe Moretz, Jennifer Lawrence, Kaya Scodelario, Hailee Steinfeld, Lyndsy Fonseca, Saoirse Ronan, and Shailene Woodley.
My personal choice (neither of which are in the list): Alexandra Daddario (Percy Jackson) or Allison Miller (Kings, Terra Nova).
Katniss Everdeen - Jennifer Lawrence
Honest truth here, neither of my personal choices really fit the Katniss in my mind.  They are both incredible actors, and I love their work, but they weren't Katniss.  They were simply the closest I could come up with.  And I felt they were better than any of the hot Hollywood choices.
With the casting announcement of Jennifer Lawrence, some of my interest in the movie waned.  It had nothing to do with her hair (really, people?  You're biggest concern is the color of her hair?).  I'd never seen her work, and even imagining her with brown hair, I just couldn't see Katniss.  And Katniss is - well, she's Katniss.  She IS the movie.
When, finally, the first still of Jen as Katniss was released to the world, the tightness in my chest loosened. It was as if Hollywood had entered my brain and pulled out the exact image of Katniss Everdeen that I'd been carrying around for so long.  And when, on November 13, 2011, the first official trailer made it's television debut, and the world heard Katniss scream, "I volunteer!" for the first time, when we saw her shoot an arrow, ours fears were allayed.  Because if the trailer was any indication, Lionsgate and Hollywood had gotten the most coveted role of the year - decade - right.

As the months turned to weeks, the weeks to days, I anxiously waited for the March 23, 2012, world premier of The Hunger Games.  I purchased my tickets to the midnight showing on February 22, the day the were released (and I should mention that my local theater didn't put tickets on sale that day until sometime after lunch - I checked each of the three ticket websites every 15 minutes from the minute the clock hit 9am until about 5 hours later before I was able to buy my ticket).  The week of the premiere, I watched every broadcast I could find of the various premieres, awash with jealously over those getting to see the movie early.  And finally, on March 22, I, the one who HATES crowds of people, the one who can't be on time for anything, found myself sitting in the theater parking lot at 10:00pm.  The others in my group weren't scheduled to arrive until 10:30pm.  And at approximately 10:35pm, we entered the theater lobby to join the approximately 1500 people who would see the movie in that building that night.

What followed were some of the greatest hours of my life.