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“The Hunger Games,” by way of “24”

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With the “Twilight” franchise set to take a break of nearly a year and a half, studios are even more furiously trying to find the young-adult books that could soon take that franchise’s place as a big-screen genre event / the best way to send 12-year-olds into a state of barely controlled delirium.
One prime candidate: the dystopian fantasy “The Hunger Games,” which Lionsgate and Nina Jacobson (“Diary of a Wimpy Kid”) are producing.

Suzanne Collins’ series about a strong-willed heroine named Katniss in a world devastated by global disaster (two of the books are out, the third, “Mockingjay,” comes out next month), doesn’t have quite the rabid fan base that “Twilight” had at this point in its evolution. But the story of a girl who steps up to take part in the titular games, in which several dozen teens fight to the death every year in a brutal, large-scale competition (think “The Running Man” meets “The Road”), has a growing group of young female fans, a genre conceit and a strong teenage protagonist.

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Now there’s momentum on the project, as well as a a bit of news: The veteran screenwriter Billy Ray has been doing a draft/polish of the script that was initially written by Collins herself.

Ray has a number of action movies under his belt, including “Flightplan” and “State of Play” (as well as “Breach” and “Shattered Glass,” both of which also saw him sitting behind the camera). But perhaps most notable is that the writer-director has been chosen as the man to adapt “24" for the big screen. (His pitch, which has Jack Bauer running around Europe, Jason Bourne-style, was favored by Fox executives.) There’s probably not a lot of overlap between the globetrotting battle to fight violent terrorists and fighting to survive in the futuristic nation of Panem, though, now that we think of it, there are looser comparisons out there. (It’s also worth noting that “Hunger Games” comes from Scholastic, the same publisher as the Harry Potter franchise.)

Fans have been wondering who’ll pay the young heroine in “Hunger Games” -- Chloe Moretz, Dakota Fanning and Saoirse Ronan are among the fan favorites, as far as we can tell -- but first the project needs to find a director. That could happen soon; Ray’s script is about to come into producers, if it hasn’t quietly been slipped to them already. And with that will commence the next step in the battle to create the next “Twilight,” a competition as fierce as anything in “Hunger Games” itself.

--Steven Zeitchik

http://twitter.comZeitchikLAT

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