Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

***1/2 out of ****

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is an honorable sequel. I’m not sure that it is a better movie than the original. I just know that it is tonally different from the first one. What I am sure of, is that this movie was shot better -but lacks the editorial pace of the original.

The new film has a more interesting story to tell. Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), the winner of the 74th Annual Hunger Games -a battle-to-the-death game in a future totalitarian society- is suffering the consequences of her defiant victory. The fascist President (Donald Sutherland) - of what is known to remain of human civilization - pays the young victor a visit in her coal-mining district. He communicates his dismay for rebels and he feels that her actions have provided hope to the all the districts surrounding the capitol, which have been under oppression for generations following a war. He fears that another war is brewing.

Katniss is due for the Victory Tour of all of the districts and is threatened by the President that she must do what is necessary to sway the masses from another revolution or he will make sure that the people she loves the most, will suffer a terrible fate. Katniss is terrified, but with no ability or will to control the animosity she has awoken in the people against their rulers, she starts to take desperate measures to save the ones she cares about.

Meanwhile, a new Gamemaker (Philip Seymour Hoffman) advises the President with strategies to undo Katniss’ influence. She was the only one to ever win the game alongside another tribute. This tribute was Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), and they won together by pretending to be in love. While Katniss has another suitor, Gale (Liam Hemsworth), with whom she shares a deeper connection, she is forced to play out the charade of the romance that conquered all. Peeta, who really is in love with Katniss, does his best to respect and honor their partnership as survivors.

With the help of their alcoholic mentor, Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), Katniss and Peeta must plan for a new strategy in response to a terrifying announcement made by the President, about the upcoming games… and who will be in them.

When I saw the first Hunger Games movie, I was delightfully surprised that the genre of dark dystopian science-fiction, of which I hold so dear, was making a splash with young adult fiction. At the time, I had not read the books. Some disappointed people, in regards to the movie, were big fans of Susanne Collins’ novels.

I liked the movie so much, that I read the book and it made me appreciate the movie more for not trying to replace the book. Considering that the three books are written from a first person narrative, I have a lot of respect that they did not try to emulate this in the movies with voice-over narration. They left these characters and their mysterious future world up to interpretation for a fresh audience. I also thought that the pace of the film was very respectful of the characters’ emotional passages.

In Catching Fire, the second installment of what is now a four-part movie series (based on a trilogy), Jennifer (Louisville loves you too) Lawrence continues to be a tremendous asset in bringing these books to the screen. Her professional ability to apply herself in a genre, that some actors might not take seriously, gives us a hero to root for. She’s really good.

While Gary Ross did a very good job on the first film, I prefer any kind of series to have variety. Changing directors can do this. Francis Lawrence, who did a great job directing an incredibly flawed script in I Am Legend, has thankfully been given a good project, with which to apply his visual talents. His aesthetic approach, through cinematographer Jo Willems, is much more grounded in smooth well-composed shots. The drama is strong and the action is damn intense. There are some pretty great-looking CGI apes too. Ferocious apes always make me happy.

Now that I have seen a Hunger Games movie after reading the book on which it was based, I can sympathize with the complaints that the hardcore fans have but not enough for me to call it a poor adaptation. While many passages feel distractingly overstuffed with essential information, there are so many important elements of suspense missing from the story. Hopefully, they will use the extra time they have afforded by turning the third part into two films. Maybe they will finally explain to the movie audience why the Mockingjay is so significant!

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