Catching Fire, the sequel to the somewhat-loved and somewhat-hated Hunger Games, is getting all kinds of awesome reviews all over the place. People love it because it adheres to the book pretty strictly, which is very true, and I applaud them for that. It can be difficult to stay true to a book (*cough*PrisonerofAzkaban*cough*), especially when it’s one jammed full of so much action.
Following the events of the 74th Annual Hunger Games, the districts are revolting against their Capitol oppressors. They look to Katniss and her act with the berries as an example of defiance, and President Snow personally comes down to District 12 to ask—well, threaten—Katniss to keep everyone in line by setting a different kind of example. So she tries to be the very example of Capitol loyalty, but this blows up in her face as the people of the districts only grow more and more angry at her obvious performance.
And then the president announces the Quarter Quell. Every 25 years, the Gamemakers throw a twist into the Games to make things more entertaining for the watchers back in the Capitol, and to keep the people of the districts in line. In this case, “[on] the 75th anniversary, as a reminder to the rebels that even the strongest among them cannot overcome the power of the Capitol, the male and female tributes will be reaped from their existing pool of victors.”
Obviously this doesn’t go well, as the people of the Capitol have grown attached to their victors. Katniss, the only female victor in 12, decides to keep Peeta alive in the arena. But she doesn’t know about the plot to keep her alive, as she is the face of the revolution. And so the Games arrive, she and Peeta try to stay alive. In the end, she is rescued along with a handful of other victors, and Peeta is taken back to the Capitol to be interrogated for information. And Katniss receives the news that her district has been destroyed.
Catching Fire was similar to its predecessor in that the first half is all beauty pageant and the second half is people brutally murdering each other except without the amount of blood you’d expect. But there’s a pretty heavy streak of political intrigue running through it, and maybe it’s not along the same lines as Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, but it’s pretty damn intriguing all the same.
A big part of this movie involved tearing down all the important things from the previous one. For one thing, the relatively peaceful District 12 is overrun with Peacekeepers, the Hob is razed, and Gale is whipped bloody. For another, Katniss’s stylist, Cinna, is beaten and (presumably, although anyone who’s read Mockingjay can tell you for certainsies) killed. And not to dwell on the romance angle or anything, but the relationship between Peeta and Katniss is pretty damn chilly when compared to what they had in The Hunger Games—even if it was all an act on her part.
There were a lot of things that didn’t make the transition from book to film, and I’m okay with most of those. The part where Katniss goes to Madge’s house and sees the footage from Eight had to go, because obviously Madge wasn’t around in the first movie and really didn’t need to be. I thought the Peacekeepers watching the footage on the train was a great solution, although I kept picturing the guards from the island in The Incredibles when they’re sitting in the RV and watching people run from the giant robot.
There’s also the bit with Katniss falling out of a tree because the supposed-to-be-electric fence has been electrified for a change. And then she breaks her ankle and there’s all that business with that, and I guess that wasn’t strictly necessary either. I was kind of expecting it, although I can absolutely live without it. The same goes for Peeta and Katniss’s day together on the roof, because nothing happened except maybe Katniss sort of develops a few almost-feelings for Peeta except not really, and nobody cares about that.
And then there’s the big with Plutarch Heavensbee’s gold mockingjay watch, which also wasn’t strictly necessary but would’ve been rather nice and so easy to put in. I mean, they’re already dancing; what’s ten more seconds? It just would have been a nice indication that he’s actually on their side. I dunno, maybe the filmmakers were trying to make it more of a big reveal at the end for those who hadn’t read the book.
So that’s a sort of transition into the two biggies that got left out, and frankly I think the movie suffers for them. First off, there’s the baby. There’s this big announcement that Katniss is pregnant (false), which is not only hugely exciting for the romance angle but also awful because hello, she’s going back in the arena and there’s a solid chance she could actually die, taking the baby with her. There’s so much hubbub around it that they actually have to cut the power on Caesar Flickerman’s show… and then, much like Peeta’s prosthetic leg, they never, ever mention it again. Seriously, nobody even thinks to mention it. It would take literally two seconds to mention the fake baby, but nobody does. And I think that shows a lack of detail-orientedness on the screenwriters’ part, and a lack of dedication to what should have been a bigger issue.
And then there’s the part where Katniss and Peeta go through the past victors’ tapes to see how they won. That’s not even mentioned. People watching The Hunger Games probably wondered, “How the hell did Haymitch win his Hunger Games?” And that’s even leaving out the part where he played in the 50th Quarter Quell, which pitted him against 47 other tributes.
The worst of it is, his victory was totally relevant to what happened in the 75th’s arena. He used the forcefield as a weapon, and he was punished for it with the deaths of his family and the girl he loved. It was meant to foreshadow what Katniss would do in the arena, and the price she would pay as a result. But it wasn’t there, even though it had every reason to be.
Look, I get it. I know that not every part of a book can make it into the movie. And don’t get me wrong, I think this was an absolutely stupendous adaptation with several great additions that weren’t in the original book.
For example, we find out briefly in Mockingjay that Snow has a granddaughter, who will have to pay for her grandfather’s crimes. And we see her here, which is fantastic, because she wears her hair like Katniss’s and wants a love just like Peeta and Katniss’s, and she seems like just the nicest girl. And it’s interesting that she’s presented now, as opposed to later in the series. Because she hasn’t done anything wrong, and yet people will expect her to pay for the actions of those who came before her. Funny, but that’s what the idea of the Hunger Games was predicated on in the first place.
Then there’s Katniss’s PTSD. At the beginning she tries to shoot a wild turkey and has a flashback to the Games, when she shot Marvel after he killed Rue. And that’s incredibly realistic and a great addition, because in the book that always rang false for me. She seemed remarkably cool about the fact that she shot several people with arrows and was directly responsible for their deaths. Granted, she had the nightmares, but her waking hours were pretty focused on other things. So it was great to see that she’s not okay with hunting, not yet, although of course it’s great that she got over that in time to kick some serious ass in the arena.
Finally, there was the Reaping. When Effie drew the names, Katniss’s was the only one in the girls’ ball. It was such a sad and pitiful act, fishing around in there for a single slip of paper, even though everyone knows the name that’ll be on it. And the look Effie gives her, that expression of deep sorrow, that unspoken “I wish I didn’t have to do this to you”… it’s really heartbreaking, and that’s a depth of character we never saw in Effie Trinket before.
But here’s the thing. I don’t want this to be a straight-up book-to-movie comparison. I feel like I need to make some big statement about how this is a largely political movie, how it illustrates the kinds of conflicts people go through in love and in war, how it shows us what’s important in life and why it’s so important to keep that stuff alive. The problem is, all those statements have already been made.
People talk about the Katniss-Gale-Peeta love triangle and how that’s become the biggest part of this world-changing revolution, and how that’s a sad commentary on our society. They talk about the commercialization of the franchise and how it’s a reflection of the Hunger Games themselves, and how that’s a sad commentary on our society. They talk about how we’re so focused on the action and the killing that we lose sight of the issues behind them, and how that’s a sad commentary on our society.
But here is the real thing. Our society sucks. And it’s not just us; it’s the world over. How is us outsourcing our clothes and technology to China any different from what the Capitol did to the districts? Maybe we don’t suppress dissent with guns—although I’ve never been over there, so I don’t know that for a fact—but we keep them in poverty so we can live well over here. I once heard a figure that said an iPod would cost thousands of dollars if it were made here, because workers’ compensation and fair wages and all that would jack up the manufacturing costs astronomically.
And look at what people pay attention to. You think people care about the events in Syria and Egypt? They don’t. They care about what Kim and Kanye are up to, and what fresh horror Miley Cyrus has landed in, and about Facebook and gifs and all kinds of things that aren’t even relevant to anything, and in the meantime people suffer.
I don’t know if Suzanne Collins intended it this way, but the Hunger Games series made me think about all that. I know she came up with the idea when she saw some beauty pageant or singing contest or whatever, and then changed the channel to a war zone and thought, “Let’s combine the two.” It’s an interesting concept, but it’s the political stuff behind it that has real significance. See, when we find entertainment in this, when we forget that this is a real thing and not just something on TV or in the movies, that’s when we’ve lost something important. That’s when we’re no better than the Capitol.
It’s not a new concept. But it’s definitely food for thought.
Final Grade: A+
Final Thoughts (basically further comparisons to the book):
- The kiss between Katniss and Gale. Seriously, I ship Jennifer Lawrence and Liam Hemsworth so hard. They need to get together right this moment.
- Seriously, how sweet was Mags?
- The old man getting shot was horrible. I think I remember him from the first movie, too, maybe.
- They did the blood thing with President Snow’s wine!
- I feel like Wiress and Beetee were too young, compared to how they were described in the books. Although kudos to the actress who played Wiress, because she absolutely nailed the shell-shocked crazy lady bit.
- In the book, Peeta and Katniss’s kiss on the beach was built up to be this whole big defining moment in their relationship because there were actual feelings behind it. But when I saw it, I was like, “Wait, that’s all? I mean, that was nice, but where’s the rest of it? Where’s the tearing off clothes? Not that I want to see that, but yes, I kind of do!”
- Katniss shooting things in training. What a baller.
- I like that they didn’t take the time to focus on the proposal, because it really didn’t mean anything. Although it would’ve been nice for them to say the thing about how Peeta wanted to do it for real, not for the cameras.
- Why does nobody ever have decent wounds. Gale’s back was all right, and the acid blisters were wicked cool, but Katniss took a lash across the face and just ended up with a tiny cut by her eye. Big fat whoop.
- Haymitch is stupendous, as per usual. Woody Harrelson is the perfect Haymitch and I couldn’t imagine anyone else playing that part.
- The way they did the Mockingjay dress was incredible. It looked so fantastic and I can’t even get over it.
- FINNIIIIIIIIIIIICK. I would let him feed me sugar cubes and tell him all my secrets.
- JOHANNA MASON YOU GUYS. She was in Pride and Prejudice, and when she started stripping in the elevator I was like, “LYDIA WHAT ARE YOU DOING.” AND THEN SHE SWORE AT THE CAMERAS. OH MAN. That is all.