Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013) Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutchenson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright, Amanda Plummer, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland. Directed by Francis Lawrence. Screenplay by Simon Beaufoy. Michael deBruyn. Based on the book Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins. Produced by Nina Jacobson, Jon Kilik. Run Time: 146. Color. U.S. Science Fiction, Action, Adventure.

Feeling a little late to the party, Trophy Unlocked did finally see the latest Hunger Games film, Catching Fire. The film, released late November, has done phenomenal boxoffce, closing in on a billion dollars worldwide. Having seen the first, you sort of feel obligated to see the second and the inevitable third and fourth that will follow as the book trilogy is adapted into four films, the final book getting the Harry Potter treatment by maximizing return by spreading one book over multiple movies. (Perhaps the most blatant example is the trilogy made from The Hobbit book.)

Our lateness at seeing the film has a lot to do with our interest going in, though. Feeling obligated is not the same thing as anticipation. However, while I can say that Catching Fire is a better movie than The Hunger Games, it is not without its flaws.

Since the movie is still in theaters, I will dispense with a detailed plot summary. It’s enough to say that Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), and to a lesser extent, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), are viewed by the power that is, President Coriolanus Snow (Donald Sutherland), as a threat to the power of Capitol City over the Districts and to his own rule. So the Hunger Games rules are apparently revised, since none of the other victors seem to be aware of the clause, and the 75th Hunger Games will be the Third Quarter Quell and exclusively include past champions. The hope is that Katniss, and the revolution she is inspiring, will die in the glory of the Games.

You say you want a revolution...

It is easy to see how Panem would be ripe for revolution. Every District seems to be a drab Gulag. The exception is Capitol City, which is a technicolor overload by comparison. No food in the Districts; well there is plenty in the Capitol, not to mention colorful clothing and opulent surroundings. You get a Roman Empire vibe from the political set up of the place and I guess the Hunger Games would be an equivalent to the Gladiators battling out to the amusement of everyone else.

The movie is both predictable and confusing. We know going in that Katniss survives, hell there are two more movies to come. But I will admit to occasionally getting lost trying to follow the plot. Some of that, I think, has to do with the film spending relatively no time establishing the supporting characters, so when they refer to someone by name, I really don’t know who they’re talking about, so I miss what they did while I’m trying to remember who they are and the downward spiral to confusion starts.

For all of you that have read the book, I’m sure the experience is somewhat different, as you know what names to listen for. Suzanne Collins seems to have named the characters from an ancient book of Roman baby names (which adds to the Empire vibe I mentioned earlier) combined with a London phone book, so the combinations are usually odd sounding to the uninitiated: Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci), Claudius Templesmith (Toby Jones), Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth), Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Johanna Mason (Jena Malone). At the same time, other names in the story seem to have been made up: Katniss Everdeen, Peeta Mellark, Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), Cinna (Lenny Kravitz), and BeeTee Latier (Jeffrey Wright). The first time I heard the name Peeta in this film, I honestly thought they were making some reference to PETA, the animal rights group.

But it’s more than odd sounding names, it’s that the film doesn’t let me get to know these characters or really care about them, so they turn into a blur of confusing similarly dressed people that I simply know are not Katniss and could be out to either harm or help her. The alliances the players form are just putting off the inevitable, so the person that helps you today will try to kill you tomorrow.

Non-Katniss participants in the 75th Hunger Games.
If you don't ask, I won't tell you I can't name them. 

The personal relationships seem muddied here as well. Katniss is in love with Gale, but in the official post-Games story she is romantically linked to Peeta. And while she wants to run away with Gale, she doesn’t want anything to happen to Peeta, even making people promise to spare him over her. That’s taking the play acting love affair to new heights. Perhaps she feels guilty about getting him involved in this, but that would have meant she killed him in the first one. Not sure about her motivation here, but again, maybe that’s fleshed out in the book.

Is this a love triangle or not?

This is something that I think the Harry Potter films were able to do better, as an example. While I had read some of that series and was more familiar with the characters, I still think those films did a better job for the unread in the audience. I get the feeling the Hunger Games films rely more on the books to fill in gaps than the Potter movies did. (And that is not to say all the Potter films were great.)

The film, whatever I might think about the story, is well acted. Add Philip Seymour Hoffman to the growing list of actors I wouldn’t have expected to be in this film, along with Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland and Jennifer Lawrence. Not to mention Amanda Plummer and Jeffrey Wright, who appear as minor characters as past Hunger Games victors.

By now, if you were going to see the movie you probably already have (spect a lot of you saw it more than once) and are anxiously waiting for the next two sequels in the quadrilogy. If you’re sitting on the fence, haven’t seen the first one or read the books, then you’ve got some homework to do. At least see the first film before you go to see this. And the shorter time between viewing the first and its sequel, the better. There were some plot points from the first one that, not having read the book, faded from memory in the year plus since I’d seen it.

No comments:

Post a Comment