Tuesday, November 26, 2013


The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is based on the book Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Catching Fire commences six months after the conclusion of The Hunger Games, where Katniss and Peeta are expected to visit each of Panem’s districts on their victory tour. For this tour Katniss is given a special task by President Snow - convince everyone, especially Snow himself, that her supposed all-consuming love for Peeta is real; that her final act in the arena was one of desperate love, not rebellion.  Snow is looking to distract and appease the increasingly agitated, overworked and underfed people of Panem who have rallied around Katniss after her defiant acts in the games; but the people of Panem are fed up being exploited by the Capitol and find themselves at the brink of a revolution. Katniss and Peeta start their tour in District 11, the district of Katniss' ally, little Rue, and Thresh, who showed Katniss mercy rather than kill her when he easily could have.  In thanks and commiseration Katniss and Peeta donate to Rue and Thresh’ families one month of their winnings every year for the rest of their lives.  Katniss and Peeta receive a three finger salute followed by Rue’s whistle.  This sign of defiance against the Capitol means the death of the old man who initiated the salute.  Their visits to the remaining districts make it clear to Katniss and Peeta that the people of Panem are rebelling against the Capitol, and an uprising may be unavoidable.

It becomes clear to President Snow that Katniss is very much loved by the people of Panem, and that she has become a symbol of rebellion and defiance.  He is adamant that she must be killed.  Plutarch Heavensbee, the new head game-maker, convinces Snow to make Katniss the darling of the Capitol instead – to make the rebels hate her.

Katniss and Peeta at the Capitol party held for them at President Snow's mansion

Back home Katniss and Peeta find it even harder to return to their normal lives when stricter restrictions are placed on District 12.  New peacekeepers enforce the Capitol's law with an iron fist.  Following a certain successful intervention by Katniss, Peeta and Haymitch, President Snow realises that all former victors have a kind of power that he is not comfortable with.  

Katniss, Peeta and Haymitch interfere with the new Peacekeepers' punishment.  Harrelson's acting here is top-notch, and perfectly portrays Haymitch's fast-thinking, glib-tongued, drunken charm, hiding a much more serious, very intelligent rebel 

As reminder to all of Panem that nobody is beyond the reach of the Capitol, that even the strongest among them cannot overcome the Capitol, President Snow declares that the tributes of the 75th Hunger Games will be reaped from the existing pool of victors.  He means to eradicate what he calls Katniss’ species – have former victors kill each other and in so doing he removes the threat the former victors, the darlings of the public, pose to the Capitol.  As Katniss is the only existing female victor of District 12, she is automatically going back into the arena, and facing older, more brutal tributes who have all tasted victory, President Snow has no doubt that Katniss will not survive the games this time.  

Every tribute this year has tasted victory. Peeta and Katniss survey who they're up against

Snow even chooses an arena meant to douse her flame – an island with more water than land. 

Film adaptations rarely do the books justice, but The Hunger Games movies get it right. Catching Fire is brilliant in every sense, and won’t let even the most die-hard of fans down.  The acting is superb, the wardrobe and visual effects are stunning and the plot is even more intense than in The Hunger Games

Here are my thoughts on my favourite scenes, and scenes where I would have liked just a little bit more.  Spoilers ahead, so don’t read if you haven’t seen the movie and would like to go into the theatre without little details.

Katniss and Peeta’s appearance in District 11 on their victory tour, and all that followed, was brilliantly done.  It was very emotional and no less intense and upsetting on screen than it was on page.  Jennifer Lawrence in particular outdid herself here.  She was spectacular in these scenes.  Subtle signs of the rebellion were also cleverly inserted at most District visits and throughout the movie.

District 11

The announcement that the tributes for 75th Hunger Games will be reaped from the existing pool of victors was the most shocking scene for me reading the book, and seeing it on screen was just as gut-wrenching.  Seeing Haymitch, Katniss, and Peeta’s reactions to finding out that the tributes are to be reaped from the existing pool of victors is without a doubt one of the most heart-breaking moments of the film. Katniss being the only female victor from District 12 is automatically set to fight again. Peeta and Haymitch each have a 50/50 chance of being reaped.  The way Francis Lawrence portrayed this scene, panning between these three characters and showing us their reactions, their disbelief, anger and fear was brilliantly done.

Katniss, Peeta and Haymitch on their way to the reaping. I love how Katniss is not wearing a pretty dress to please the Capitol this time around

During the reaping, seeing Effie and Katniss silently cry, and witnessing Peeta volunteering, to be with Katniss, is heartbreaking.  The fact that Katniss' mother starts the three finger salute, swiftly followed by Prim and Gale is a beautiful moment where they not only give the Capitol the finger, so to speak, but silently tell Katniss don't worry about us, we support you - go do your thing.

Peeta and Katniss return their district's three finger salute after being reaped

I loved seeing the vulnerability in Effie this year.  While she is undoubtedly Capitol all the way, she has really come to love Katniss and Peeta, and she too hates what the Capitol is doing to them.   She is not nearly as chipper as she was during the 7th Hunger Games; instead she appears saddened and ashamed.  Effie has come to realise that she is playing a role in something that cannot be justified - it's not games, it's war.  Katniss and Haymitch’s relationship is wonderfully portrayed – I LOVE Woody Harrelson as Haymitch.  We didn’t get to see too much of him this time, but the scenes he did have were brilliant.  Prim’s maturity and medical skill was cleverly displayed and foreshadowed her stronger personality in Mockingjay.

I wondered if the film would include Johanna's famous stripping scene, and I am thrilled that it did!  Keeping the shots PG13, we still got to experience Johanna's somewhat brash attitude in this attempt to unnerve Katniss.  This is very possibly my favourite scene in the movie!

Katniss' reaction to Johanna stripping, was spectacular!

While Katniss’ wedding dress is breathtaking, it is the mockingjay dress that really gave me chills.  Snow orders Katniss to wear her wedding dress to the final interview, much to her dismay, to remind her of what will never be.  After revealing the gorgeous dress that Cinna designed, Katniss does her famous twirling, which sets the dress on fire and the dress burns away to reveal a different dress underneath - Katniss is turned into a mockingjay.   After giving this silent yet very loud “screw you” to the Capitol and Snow in particular, Katniss joins the other tributes.  I always worry that the film version won't do Cinna's creations justice, but they always do. What a lovely scene!

Katniss as the mockingjay - the symbol of the rebellion

Following Peeta’s interview and the bomb he dropped, the tributes hold hands in unity to show how angry they are at the Capitol for having to participate in the Games again. This was one of my favourite scenes in the book, and I am so glad this scene was included in the movie.  I love how it showed that the Capitol was losing control of the situation already; the victors didn’t hate each other like they had hoped, but were united instead in their hatred of the Capitol.

The Katniss/Peeta/Gale love triangle was skilfully handled and realistically delivered.  The love triangle is by no means the central part of the story, it has none of that annoying teen angst so prominent in stories nowadays, and rather than come off cliché Katniss’ true feelings for both Peeta and Gale were believably brought to life, and Katniss’ struggle to determine who she belongs with is honest, raw and only just beginning. 

The arena was really well done, very much like I had imagined it (only I expected much more water) - I just wish they somehow worked in the line “This is no place for a girl on fire”, making non-readers understand that Snow had the arena set up specifically to send a message to Katniss; he will do everything in his power to douse the flame she has ignited.

I also love all the subtle and not-so-subtle ways the Allies were protecting Katniss and Peeta in the arena.  Blink and you’ll miss it – if you see it, it’s a clear indication that something bigger is going on than Katniss or Peeta realise: Head game-maker Heavensbee, Haymitch and others in positions of power were planning on breaking Katniss and Peeta out of the arena, and to officially start the rebellion.  The tributes from Districts 3, 4, 6, 7, 8 and 11 had varying degrees of knowledge about the plan to break the tributes out, and had also agreed to die if necessary in order to keep Katniss and Peeta alive, because Katniss is the symbol of the rebellion and while she lives, the revolution lives; Peeta because he is powerful with words, and together Katniss and Peeta can lead the rebellion.  Plus, everyone knows Katniss wouldn't keep an alliance with the others and co-operate if Peeta got hurt.

Sam Claflin was undoubtedly the perfect choice to play Finnick Odair – perfect! He did a really good job highlighting Finnick’s charm and flirtation, but also his strength.  I just wish his relationship with Annie was made more clear, for non-readers to understand that Mags volunteered in Annie’s place because Annie is the love of Finnick’s life, and Mags was sacrificing herself so that Finnick’s love could live – Mags never expected to make it out of the arena.  Claflin and Lynn Cohen did a magnificent job of portraying Finnick and Mags’ relationship – so sweet!

Mags and Finnick

Jena Malone surprised me! Her portrayal of Johanna was amazing.  In the book it took me quite a while to warm up to Johanna, but Malone’s portrayal had me on Team Johanna very early on.  She was fantastic and brought even more heat to Johanna than I was expecting.  She gives Johanna more depth than we get to see in the book.

Jena Malone as Johanna Mason

Phillip Seymore-Hoffman was truly great as Plutarch Heavensbee. His acting is so clever that it is only in hindsight that you realise he was protecting Katniss all along. 

My only complaint is that the existence of District 13 was not explained to my satisfaction.  Non-readers can’t possibly know that District 13 was never destroyed in the previous rebellion as Districts 1-12 believe, but is actually hidden underground and fully operational.  District 13 was responsible for mining graphite and nuclear science and technology.  In exchange for not starting a nuclear war with Panem, the Capitol agreed to let District 13 remain independent, but in secret.  At the end of the book Katniss learns that District 13 is now the base of the rebellion.

The acting in Catching Fire is absolutely fantastic all round; I’m very impressed with every single person who appeared in this film.  Once again, as with The Hunger Games, the movie is a very faithful adaptation of the book.  Scenes which were added for the audience’s benefit (in the book the reader only sees what Katniss sees) were still true to character and plot, and only added to the story. 

I would have loved a little more Cinna before the heart-breaking scene which shall not be named.  I also wish movie goers were alerted to the fact that what happened was Cinna’s punishment for the mockingjay dress as much as to unnerve Katniss right before the games.  All in all, I am very, very pleased with The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.  I especially love the spectacular ending with a very powerful, memorable last shot.  Lawrence's range is prominently displayed in these few seconds where her facial expressions clearly portray Katniss' dismay, sorrow and fear which swiftly turns into rage against the capitol.  And so, finally, the reluctant heroine embraces her destiny and turns into a full-fledged rebel leader before our very eyes.  We see Katniss turn into the mockingjay.

Speaking of which, the cast have already started filming Mockingjay, which will be released in two parts.  Mockingjay, Part 1 hits theaters November 20, 2014 and Part 2 arrives November 20, 2015.  

Jennifer Lawrence filming Mockingjay

Related posts:
Review: Mockingjay ~ Suzanne Collins


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