Nov 25, 2013

[Movies] The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

The success of the first Hunger Games movie pretty much ensured that the rest of the trilogy was going to receive a similar treatment. And I did enjoy that first movie - it was a great adaptation indeed. And here we are with the second movie in the trilogy just a year later.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is the direct sequel to that prior movie and Jennifer Lawrence has returned to reprise her role as the protagonist Katniss Everdeen. And I have to admit, she totally brought the character to life in a manner that  few other actresses her age could have managed. And I think it's a fair statement to say that a lot of the success of the first movie has a lot to do with her.

Given I had read the book, I knew that this wasn't going to be a particularly happy book. Then again, the overall setting involved a weird post-apocalyptic world that celebrated fighting for their lives in the ultimate reality TV show. But yes, things get worse, as is the way of such trilogies. And things happen in a manner that does make this feel like The Empire Strikes Back all over again.

Synopsis:  The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is the 2013 adaptation of the novel Catching Fire by Susanne Collins. The movie was directed by Francis Lawrence with a screenplay by Simon Beaufoy and Michael Arndt.

It is pretty much a year after the events of the first movie and Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), the winners of the last Hunger Games, are trying to get used to life in District 12 again. Katniss continues to escape into the woods with her friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth) to escape the rigors of District while Peeta is back to repressing his feelings given Katniss does not return his affection. But they have to get back into their former role as two youths hopelessly in love given they're about to go on the victory tour across all 11 other districts and eventually the Capitol itself.

But before the tour begins, Katniss receives a surprise visit from President Snow himself. He discusses with her how some districts may have taken their noble sacrifice not to be one of love but of defiance - a sentiment that could lead to further unrest and even outright revolution among the districts. Thus he threatens to hurt her family and those she loves unless she puts on a very, very convincing show that she and Peeta are indeed in love. To add insult to injury, this year's Hunger Games is extra special. Given it is the 75th Hunger Games, it's also time for what is known as a Quarter Quell - and a change in the rules will lead to Katniss needing to get back in the arena once more.

Now I cannot stress enough how great an actress Jennifer Lawrence is - and you can really see her in great form in this movie. The book went into a fair amount of detail in order to describe the complex turmoil that Katniss deals with. Yes, she loves Gale, but she and Peeta have certainly bonded because of the events in the Games. She also wants to keep her family save, but President Snow certainly puts that at risk. And so she needs to deal with all this stress but put on a good show for all the camera crews from the Capitol. And Lawrence is brilliantly able to convey all those emotions and switch from reliving her trauma to smothering Peeta with kisses.

The men continue to pale in comparison to their female counterparts. We know little about Gale other than the fact he loves Katniss, hunts with her and now works in the mines. Peeta remains the devoted baker, painter and general doormat who'll let Katniss do pretty much whatever she wants just because he loves her. Haymich (Woody Harrelson) is a drunk and yet somehow also a master strategist. The list goes on and on with guys really only having singular, limited roles in the movie. That's partly an issue with the original story, but in this venture the director also bears some of that weight in terms of how he told the story.

Beyond that quibble though, the movie is quite the brilliant translation of the book into a movie. Once again they manged to capture quite a lot of detail in this movie. A lot of other movies throw out a heck of a lot of stuff and bring in new elements in order to make things fit their concept of movies better. This was clearly a dedicated effort to bring the book to life and they selected a great cast to do just that.

I did enjoy the scenes involving President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the new gamemaker who runs the hunger games. Hoffman isn't exactly a wild and maniacal madman as we've seen in some movies. Here he taps into that slightly more disturbing side of his acting where he's all cool, calm and collected despite the rather harsh orders that he's issuing in support of the Games.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is an excellent follow-up to the first movie and a great adaptation of the book. From acting to visuals to a lot of the in-betweens, the movie is just stellar all around. Thus I'm clearly going to still give this sequel a full 5 outstanding yet outlandish costumes worn by Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) out of a possible 5.

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