The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Review
By Alec R. Lee
Lionsgate really seems to be making a killing with all of the young adult adaptations it now has under its belt. From Twilight, Ender’s Game, and now the Hunger Games Saga, the company is now appearing to market itself to a wider audience rather than its emphasis on more dramatic films a few years back. With Twilight being the exception, both Ender’s Game and The Hunger Games have proved to be fairly popular with fans of their respective sources (that are at least intelligent adaptations). When The Hunger Games first debuted in 2012, fans eagerly flocked to the theaters and the idea for a sequel was immediately approved. And judging from the reception that I saw in the theater, it is going to make a killing at the box office. And why not? Catching Fire appeals to several demographics. You have a strong female protagonist in a science fiction/gladiatorial setting, you can fill a theater with that premise!
But let me elaborate on that point a little further. I’ve had good luck with the theaters where I live in the sense that I’ve never seen any movie sell out or had to adjust plans because of a sold out film. When I arrived, I was told that the movie I wanted was sold out, but luckily a film had started 10 minutes ago that was not sold out. This meant that I missed maybe the first two minutes of the film so if something happened in those few minutes that was important that I did not cover in my review, then sorry, princess. Throughout the film, I was bombarded with a barrage of annoyances throughout the film. It appeared that, for a movie with several mature themes, the majority of the filmgoers were children. But these children could not keep their freaking asses still. I kept on getting distracted from the kids stomping up and down the isle, the kids repeatedly trying to edge their way out of the row to go to the bathroom, and the little **** that would not stop kicking my seat. It was one of the most uncomfortable experiences I have ever had in a theater and will probably have an effect on what movies I will review from now on.
Speaking of the review…
If you’ve read the book then you know how it pans out. The movie is quite loyal to the book, although it excises some parts due to time constraints (typical for any adaptation). The fact that the book is told in third person allows the movie to explore the point of view of several other characters that it would have been impossible to see, such as scenes inside the Games Center, private conversations with President Snow and so on. The plot, for anyone who has not read the book, is that Katniss and Peeta, having been victorious in the last Hunger Games, now embark on a victory tour of all the districts. However, Katniss is indirectly responsible for inspiring rebellion in the districts due to events of the last movie. This means that Katniss is now walking a fine line with the capitol and her people. She is forced to support the capitol, in exchange for them not killing her friends and family, in order to quell any sort of rebellion. Katniss’ efforts prove fruitless in the end and in response, is picked to be in the next Hunger Games, along with Peeta, as a clever way to get rid of her without making her a martyr. This sets the stage for another showdown between 24 more contestants and the difficulty has now been set to “Hard.” Actually, the first half of the film is completely devoted to life after the Hunger Games, how the protagonists are trying to adapt and so on, while the other half is focused on the actual Hunger Games. The marketing people really did a good job in not showing too much of the new arena that we are not fully prepared for the theme this year before watching it. It features an interesting concept, although I wish they had elaborated more.
Watching the film, it’s easy to tell that another director was working on it. Gary Ross, who directed the last film, baffingly departed the project shortly after the first film was released. Luckily for the franchise, a new director was found in the form of Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend) and proceeded to nix all of the distracting handheld camera shots that were infamous in the last film. This does not mean that handheld cameras (or “shaky cam”) are not utilized in the film, it’s just that the camera operator must have had less caffeine than the previous one so the picture is much easier to see and details are more immediately apparent. The CGI is also slightly improved due to the film’s larger budget but it still does look like CGI and not the photorealism that you would find in Gravity or Avatar. It’s not much of a problem because the filmmakers did try to limit the use of computer imagery in order to get a more realistic feel and for the most part, it pays off. Composer James Newton Howard returns for the sequel and improves upon his performance from the last film. For the first Hunger Games film, Howard was brought on late in the film, replacing Danny Elfman who had either quit or was fired, but this meant that he did not have enough time to write a fully developed score so what we ended up with was a functional but anonymous soundtrack. For Catching Fire, Howard uses his extra time to develop the sound palate to create action cues with a little more style, atmosphere with a little more dreariness, romance with a little more emotion. The combination works well and is the start of a functioning musical identity for this franchise.
The cast is also a huge factor in this film’s success. Main players such as Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, and Donald Sutherland all fill their characters nicely and do a great job in their interactions with the rest of the cast. Philip Seymour Hoffman is a newcomer to the series and brings his usual calm demeanor to a small but pivotal role. Stanley Tucci takes every opportunity to ham up his performance to the camera as the boisterous Caesar Flickerman, and Liam Hemsworth is okay as part of Katniss’ love triangle. (his brother Chris would have made this film a lot more interesting…) Sam Claflin as Finnick Odair was a surprise for me, because I did not like his performance as the preacher in Pirates 4, but here he seems to have gotten a role that he is more suited for, and on top of that resembled Michael Biehn both physically and emotionally that it was simply uncanny (the removal of that scraggly beard might have helped). But of course, the one that makes the entire film work is Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen. And…my good god, Jennifer Lawrence is HOT. And she’s not just a pretty face, she acts up a storm here in this film. (She didn’t win an Oscar for nothing, you know) It’s fascinating to watch her convey a wide range of emotions: frightened, depressed, defiant, fierce, heartbroken, and even forced happiness. There’s little more than I can say about her except: wow.
So, what did I think about the film? I thought that it was a good film. “Good” as in “kept me entertained throughout” kind of good. If you liked the first movie, you’ll like the second, no question about it as it is similar both visually and thematically that it feels like an extension of the story, as a sequel should be. The acting was great, the story was well told, the ending felt a little rushed, though and one major plot point that isn’t revealed until the end only occurred offscreen, which just felt kind of off to me. I won’t judge that point too harshly because that’s how the book was structured as well so I might as well concede that the writers effectively adapted their source material to the screen. If you see this movie, sit in the back so no one can kick you.
Final Score: 80/100