Friday, November 21, 2014

Film Friday: Catching Fire

NOTE: The second in a three-part series leading up to Mockingjay, Part 1. To see the one on the original novel, The Hunger Games, click here.

I rarely watch television and when I do, I actively avoid reality shows. So it wouldn't surprise you when I say I dislike Survivor, especially its All-Star editions. The same idea is behind part 2 of The Hunger Games trilogy, Catching Fire.

Katniss and Peeta thought they had escaped the clutches of the Capitol for good. But when the 75th Hunger Games (also referred to as the Quarter Quell) rolls around a year after the events in the first novel, they are back in with other victors from previous editions of the Games. Meanwhile, unrest continues in the districts as Katniss and Peeta's act of defiance at the end of the first Hunger Games sparked talk of a revolution.

Of the books in the series, Catching Fire is my favorite. The spectacle of the arena continues to be peeled away for the grotesque and macabre rampage that it is and the political subtext that started in the original becomes more apparent. Peeta is elevated from being the damsel in distress and Katniss rounds into form as the take-no-prisoners heroine the reader knows she will eventually become. The book also has one of the better cliffhanger endings of any book I've read in recent years and showed a willingness on author Suzanne Collins' part to shake up the formula her books had held to up to that point.

A lot of people like the side characters in the original novel, namely Rue and Prim, but I like the supporting characters in Catching Fire better. Each of the previous victors that are being forced to return to the Games rebel against the Capitol in their own unique way, from Beetee's knowledge of electricity to Finnick's inner rage at what happened to his sweetheart Annie. There are major consequences to side characters we've known since the original novel, so the stakes are raised more than they ever were in The Hunger Games.

One caveat on Catching Fire is the audiobook version. I briefly flirted with trying to listen to audiobooks last year and the first one I tried was Catching Fire. I made it about two hours in before I couldn't take it any more. Katniss came across as a whiny heroine that didn't have a backbone.

When the first Hunger Games film made $152 million in its opening weekend, still the highest-ever for a non-sequel, a green light for Catching Fire was a foregone conclusion. The studio swapped director Gary Ross for Francis Lawrence (no relation to series star Jennifer) in order to make a November 2013 release date. Some were concerned because Francis' most notable film up to that point was I Am Legend, the Will Smith zombie action film. The worries turned out to be for nothing.

Catching Fire managed to improve on the original in every aspect. Less shaky cam, better character development, and with some minor exceptions it stayed true to the text. The movie is second only to Silver Linings Playbook on my "best Jennifer Lawrence performance" list. She managed to show Katniss' growing confidence in her role as the eventual Mockingjay well.

Like the first movie, my favorite scene has Stanley Tucci's Caesar Flickerman in it. Main characters Katniss and Peeta pull a surprise on the capitol that leaves the audience upset at Caesar. Again, as was the case in The Hunger Games, the book's more political subtexts really stood out here.

The movie is intense and managed to leave the cliffhanger from the novel intact. When I saw the film with my sister and brother-in-law, I could hear him saying something to the effect of, "Oh man, they're going to cut it on that last shot" while I said "Just like the book." Below is the last scene, in its entirety, that set up the countdown clock to this weekend's Mockingjay Part 1.

Catching Fire managed to raise the stakes, change up the world of The Hunger Games and was a page turner from beginning to end.

Grade for the book: 4.5/5 stars
Grade for the movie: 4/5 stars

What did you think of Catching Fire?

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