The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Catching Fire

Peeta, how are we going to kill all these people?

There has been a lot of Young Adult (YA) literature adapted to film the last few years.  Since the success of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001), born of the personal identification of a large and reliable audience with its main characters, a virtuous circle has developed between Hollywood and novels.  The readership supported the adaptation which brought in new devoted readers to new books, which supported new films.  And while the Twilight series brought as much dishonor as liquidity to this market, these books often have timeless qualities that seem almost to ridicule their readers.  They have the love interest–preferably triangular–but a reader/viewer has to seriously delude themselves into finding it satisfyingly romantic.  These readers/viewers typically oblige, but the seeds of insight might just be planted in their subconscious.  Cheer, yes.  Giggle, please.  But recognize the difference between the doe-eyed foolishness and the brutal reality around it.

After surviving the 74th Hunger Games, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) are back home in District 12, playing the part of a loving couple.  Trouble is brewing in the other districts, taking their cue from this pair’s defiance in the Games.  Katniss used the public obsession with their love affair to force the Citadel to allow both to live when there should only have been one.  President Snow (Donald Sutherland) challenges Katniss to toe the line and quiet the rumblings or else cause the slaughter of all those near her.  When she inevitably fails, Snow and the new Games Master, Plutrarch (Philip Seymour Hoffman), devise the 75th Hunger Games to be drawn entirely from the surviving Victors of prior Hunger Games–which brings Katniss back into the arena.  But perhaps the spark of defiance has started something larger.

If you didn’t see The Hunger Games (2012), you might not fully grasp the details of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013).  Having read all of the books, I found it more difficult to keep the details out of my mind than it would be to pick up context clues.  The brutal repression on display and thinly veiled threats are enough to announces the stakes for even the dimmest viewer.  The one benefit to reading the books is to de-sacrinize the mixed love interests of the Katniss character.  In the books, real love is pretty far from her mind and it’s the eager attentions of Peeta and tough-boy Gale (Liam Hemsworth).  So I basically blocked out the times where she kisses either of the boys in their moments of weakness.  Much the same as my experience with the first film, I struggled to quiet my brain until they found themselves in the arena.  There, where no writer (Simon Beaufoy and Michael Arndt) can hurt me with expository dialogue, the events play out as I vaguely remember them with the added benefit of another imagination.

Director Francis Lawrence and cinematographer Jo Willems use CGI as well as the beauties of nature to full advantage.  There are plenty of pretty pictures for me to enjoy like silhouetted figures against a fictionally fictional dawn.  That’s about as brave as they get with the camera.  About thirty minutes of the film is so dark that it’s difficult to make out the figures on screen.  I suppose that takes a kind of bravery.  Or is that foolishness?  How similar they can be.  Like The Hunger Games, Lawrence can’t quite make up his mind as to perspective.  Are we in Katniss’s hip pocket or are we seeing a full picture of events?  Lawrence splits the difference and films everyone from three yards away.

What that afforded was some interesting non-trio characterization to play out.  Elizabeth Banks‘s Effie Trinket came just a bit out from under the butt-end of the joke and the Finnick (Sam Claflin) character was completely interesting.  All others played out just as you might expect them to.  Jennifer Lawrence–and we can blame editing here–kept most everything on the surface.  Those hooded eyes that might have communicated how dead Katniss is inside were completely disregarded as she screamed and shouted when all the bad things happened.  We needed a bit more Ellen Ripley here.  The boys were shades of silly with Haymitch again played by Woody Harrelson instead of Ray Winstone.  Harrelson can play drunk and he can play clever, but he can’t seem to master the clever drunk.  That isn’t the problem, none of this is the problem.  The problem is that the only one on screen who really seems to be taking their lines and molding them into something like a character is Philip Seymour Hoffman.  Is that a surprise? No, I suppose not.

I still had plenty of fun.

Mentioned in this review…


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About Prof. Ratigan

A semi-lawyer and amateur enthusiast.
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