So, back last summer I was living in Bristol during the height of studying for my film degree. I shared a house with two other film students and an English student, so many of our group activities involved us going to the cinema, for both enjoyment and study alike. One day it was decided that for our week’s trip to the cinema we should go see a film called The Hunger Games. At the time the name merely struck an irritating chord. I recognised it, but knew nothing about it, and a little research only gave rise to cynicism within me.
“Another film based on a popular teen-fiction series?” I thought, casting my mind over the debacle of a certain series to whom I do not wish to make much reference (but you all know precisely what I mean *sparkle sparkle*) “And all this nonsense of kids fighting each other to the death in an arena screams too loudly of a Battle Royale rip-off…” so when I left that darkened room with a deep sense of satisfaction, I can assure you I was very, very surprised. Pleasantly so, I will add. I absolutely loved The Hunger Games and found myself deeply irritated that I had not gotten around to reading the books before going to experience Jennifer Lawrence in what is probably going to remain a focal point of her career with many people for a long time (I had first seen her a few days before when I watched Winter’s Bone, a film well worth checking out, if you haven’t already) but it would still be another year before I got around to the books themselves, but I’ll save a deeper look into them for some other time, what mattered was that I was now hooked on this series, and knowing that all three books would be getting the silver-screen treatment offered me an excitement I hadn’t felt for a while when it came to films (it also helped that my mum, who almost had to be forced into watching The Hunger Games, had become a bigger fan of the series than I had).
And so we come to today, November 21st, 2013, and Catching Fire, the second in the trilogy (though, as per the tradition now set in place by Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the third book will be made into two films, because of course) has been released and I had the absolute pleasure of going to see it.
(Warning: spoilers may be forthcoming, though they may be mostly aimed at absences rather than present content, and may make more sense to those who have already read the books. I will try my best not to do it, but hey, it happens)
First off, I’d like to say that I may be in love with Jennifer Lawrence. I mean, wow, Right? Yeah. OK.
Yes, I very much enjoyed this film. Francis Lawrence, our film’s director, had a bit of challenge in ensuring that everything that needed to be here was, thanks to the noble efforts of Gary Ross with the first film, and I think he handled it well. Sure, there are a number of things that were left out, some mostly due to the fact that they were absent from the first film (for example, the exclusion of the avoxes from the first film meant that Darius and his noble role during Gale’s punishment, as well as Katniss’ guilt concerning the Red Headed Avox are entirely absent) and some because the film’s pace couldn’t particularly allow it (I had entirely forgotten about it, but after leaving the cinema I heard a group of fans chattering manically about how the bread was not there, and damn it all if that didn’t suddenly open a massive hole in it for me) but everything that did remain in was done wonderfully and, given the limitations, faithfully, including a few scenes I had been sure while reading the books would not make it into a 12-rated movie, such as Johanna’s introduction (guys, I’m sure you’ll be happy) and the rather jarring execution of the old man in District 11 (OK, so I’m thinking I’ll stop trying to avoid spoilers, since I’m obviously failing at this point, and actually stop mentioning specifics), all of which help to greatly impact the film as a mature experience.
There is a significant amount of blood in this one, in comparison to The Hunger Games’ fairly tame and almost fearful approach to the (obviously rather sensitive) child-slaughter aspect of the story, which I think I can deem as a good sign of the film taking a more adult approach to such a thing. It doesn’t glorify the idea, far from it, in fact, but it’s there enough for you to at least comprehend the intensity of the situation. It also has a few moments of amusingly censored language (and a couple of outright curses) so again, it feels less like it’s trying to appeal to everyone and more like it knows that some of its audience will be young, but that they know what they’re getting into isn’t exactly a fairy tale.
The faces we all know from our first outing to Panem have all returned to their accustomed roles, and are set to do so again for the series’ finale Mockingjay. Jennifer Lawrence is once again a believable protagonist, a young woman doing her damndest to ensure she and her family can just survive this mess of a world, while Josh Hutcherson and his impressive jaw-line sing a soft counterpoint to Lawrence’s jagged survivor, being both dragged along with the events of the story and throwing himself bodily into the violence to protect the one thing in his life he cares about. Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks bring interesting colours and shades with the sour Haymitch and sickly-sweet Effie Trinket and I don’t think I’ve ever found Donald Sutherland quite so imposing and menacing as when he simply sits and watches the events he’s trying to orchestrate with that piercing glare of his.
Newcomers to the series also make some great impacts during the film’s impressive run. Philip Seymour Hoffman makes a fantastic addition as the new Games Master Plutarch Heavensbee while Sam Claflin and Jena Malone actually manage to take a little attention away from our heroes as previous victors Finnick Odair and Johanna Mason when they are onscreen during the latter half of the film, though, sadly, not everyone has their chance to shine. Many of the other victors get very little screen time, often appearing and being removed again within a matter of seconds and it’s a shame that, despite his importance to the story, Jeffrey Wright’s Beetee seems almost nonexistent at points, even during the film’s final moments.
Visually, Catching Fire is very similar to The Hunger Games, with a lot of drab greys and browns during the pre-games scenes, though a few notable locations in the Capitol live up to Collins’ descriptions of decadent beauty and excessive colour, and the design of the arena’s jungle is pretty lively, albeit a little smaller than I had imagined, somehow managing to set itself apart well from the previous film’s forest. We are offered a little more of a look at the world of Panem through the various Victory Tour scenes, though very little sets them too much apart from one another to truly bring to life the varied lives and lifestyles of the twelve districts.
Ultimately, I think fans of the books will be pleased with Catching Fire. It contains all the suspense and surprise of the book (though, if you’ve read them, nothing will actually be a surprise, but I can assure you that, if you haven’t, it will be a little unpredictable) as well as a few little nods to the fans, things that may be missed but fresh observers, but will surely give you a little knowing grin. I was certainly pleased, and I am looking forward to Lawrence, and co. returning once more to Panem when Mockingjay – Part 1 gets released next year.
Written by Guest Writer Nathan Finch.