Friday, November 29, 2013

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

It's hard to believe that it was only a year ago when The Hunger Games was released. A little over a year later The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013) hit theaters with what seems like even more hype and excitement than there was with the first movie. This time, I think the hype was justified.
After winning the 74th Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) return home to District 12. On the day the two are set to begin a Victory Tour of the country of Panem, President Snow (Donald Sutherland) visits Katniss. He explains that her approach to ending the last Hunger Games, where she and Peeta attempted a suicide pact after learning they could not both survive, inspired a rebellion in the districts. He orders Katniss not only to convince the entire country of her and Peeta's supposed love as their reason for their actions, but to convince Snow himself. Last year's mentors, Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) and Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), escorts the two victors and try to help act as distractions from the Panem's real problems, even as law enforcement cracks down on the districts. Fearing this is not enough, President Snow announces that for the 75th Hunger Games, the Quarter Quell, all tributes are selected from the existing pool of victors. Not only does this ensure that Katniss and Peeta will be returning to the televised fight to the death, but they will also be pitted against older, stronger, and more experienced killers including Johanna Mason (Jena Malone) and Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin).
The budget for Catching Fire was nearly twice that of the first movie, and it really shows. It's simultaneously more of what we liked about the first movie combined with a bigger story. There are a lot more sets as we get to explore more of Panem, there are bigger and more detailed CGI effects seen when the tributes train against holographic opponents and are faced with insane dangers in the games. Everything about Catching Fire is bigger, better, and more dramatic. It's not just a group of fellow kids after Katniss in an arena this time. The Hunger Games is a tool to tell a bigger story, with the story being a nationwide revolution. With the political intrigue, a nation in turmoil, and an oppressive government tightening its grip, it's not Katniss versus the televised death match contestants; it's Katniss versus an entire world that wants her dead.
One of my favorite scenes was just before the Quarter Quell games when Katniss is being interviewed by Stanley Tucci's TV host Caesar Flickerman. Katniss twirls about in her would-be wedding dress meant to distract the downtrodden populace of Panem. What initially looks like a multi-tiered, white-frosting cage is engulfed in flames and transforms into a midnight blue winged symbol of insurrection that emulates the Mockingjay, the mascot of Panem's growing rebellion. One gown represents female entrapment and expectations, the other human freedom and opportunity. It's like a Barbie meets Joan of Arc moment. Lawrence silently conveys the haunted psyche of Katniss's post-traumatic state of mind beautifully in this scene. The poor girl from District 12  grows into her role as an inspiration and a rebel fighter. She's a good, strong female protagonist, and a delightful change of pace from the surplus of male superheroes out there.
When I saw The Hunger Games, I had not yet read the book trilogy. I have since read them all, and I can honestly say I'm a fan. Now as a newly converted fan I can say they did a remarkable job transitioning the two books into movies. There is very little in the Catching Fire book that did not make it into the movie, and even then I could see why the relatively minor details were left out. The purpose of such story detail were either insignificant to the overall story, the same idea was established in other scenes, or it would have revealed a little too much too early in the story. Still it was a truly excellent transition from the book.
Catching Fire exceeded my expectation in nearly every regard. The visuals were better, the scale was bigger, the actors were excellent, and the story was more dynamic. Even the camera work was better than in The Hunger Games; no more obnoxious shaky cam to blur the brutality of the combat scenes! The costumes were phenomenal as well; seriously I want that shirt Peeta is wearing during the reaping scene. I can't think of anything meaningful that is negative to say about this movie. Catch this in theaters if you can, but make sure you've seen The Hunger Games first. I plan on getting a copy of Catching Fire on Blu-Ray once it's available.

What's the best book-to-movie transition you've ever seen? What are a few runners up that you liked? I think Catching Fire is a pretty darn good one. Comment below and tell me some good ones!

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