Who shall play Katniss Everdeen? That’s the 16-year-old gray-eyed heroine of Suzanne Collins' “The Hunger Games," the bestselling dystopian novel that is aimed at the “Twilight” set and is now in development at Lionsgate.
Set in a grim future where the U.S. has collapsed in the face of war and climate-change calamity, the book presents a North American nation called Panem where the ruthless ruling government, The Capitol, randomly selects one boy and one girl from each of the 12 districts to fight in a televised competition that ends with one survivor. How savage is the contest? Well, there's only one rule -- no cannibalism is allowed on air.
Born into the poorest of the divisions, Katniss helps feed her family through illegal hunting. When her younger sister, Prim, is chosen for the bloodsport, Katniss steps up to replace her in the 74th Annual Hunger Games. The premise may remind some moviegoers of futuristic bloodsport fantasies such as "The Running Man" or "Gamer" but the inspiration was Greek myth and the tale of King Minos of Crete who, after defeating Athens, demanded that every nine years his vanquished foes send seven boys and seven girls to be devoured by the Minotaur.
"Mockingjay," the third and final installment of the "Hunger Games" book series, is due in August, and some famous names will be among the readers racing to see how the tale ends; "Twilight" author Stephenie Meyer has said she became "obsessed" while reading the first novel, and horror icon Stephen King (who, by the way, wrote the short story that was adapted for "Running Man") says he couldn't stop reading once he opened the book.
It's all quite a change for Collins, a former TV writer for such cuddly Nickelodeon fare as “Clarissa Explains It All” and “Oswald." She is writing the screen adaptation of "The Hunger Games" herself, in part to make sure that the Hollywood version doesn’t end up glorifying the media-saturated universe that the books critique, according to producer Nina Jacobson.
The Hunger Games cover “There’s a scenario in that book that could be turned to celebrate everything the book detests," Jacobson said. "She walks this line and she does it so well."
Of course, it helped Collins’ case that there were five bidders for the property. “She was able to attach herself as a condition of the sale,” Jacobson said. Then she added: “We were lucky to have her.”
So who should play the role of the young survivor?
Should it be Princess "Twilight" herself, Kristen Stewart, or her 16-year-old “Runaways” cohort Dakota Fanning? There's also 15-year-old Academy Award nominee Saoirse Ronan (“Atonement”, “The Lovely Bones”), now playing an assassin in the new Joe Wright film “Hanna,” as well as 13-year-old Chloe Moretz, who is making waves as the profanity spewing Hit Girl in the upcoming “Kick-Ass” and just got a role in Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of “The Invention of Hugo Cabret."
Sure, Moretz is too young for the role right now, but sometimes the projects take time -- it takes nine years of development for the typical movie to hit the screen. That probably won't be the case here, though -- Hollywood has a major appetite for "The Hunger Games."