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Review: Catching Fire

Originally published at Faith Seeking Understanding. You can comment here or there.

Because I had to go in to Manhattan to retrieve my keys this afternoon, I decided to catch a showing of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. One benefit of living in New York is lots of early-bird screenings (officially, the movie opened at midnight tonight, I think). My particular screening had a phalanx of what I can only assume were teenage girls who screamed every time the Gale actor came on screen, like you see in old video clips of Elvis concerts. It did break the mood, but that’s obviously not the movie’s fault. Aside from that… B, maybe B+, for the movie itself. My spoilerific thoughts behind the cut.

As far as book adaptations go, this one did a remarkable job of feeling like it was the same basic story and with the same basic characters. There are no Denethors and Faramirs, characters that felt essentially different from their canonical selves. For that matter, no Frodo chasing Sam away or Eowyn proffering soup, you know, those moments that aren’t in the book and don’t really add to things. The additions are brief and well done. One of my favorites was at the very beginning, where Katniss has a flash back of shooting Marvel. There was also a lovely moment toward the end as well, where she very nearly shoots Finnick. Was that in the book? Regardless, the actual additions felt very necessary and were minimal.

I also get that in any adaptation, certain details will get lost. You can’t take a 400-page book and sort it into a 2.5-hour movie without having to cut some things out. The problem is that some of the things that were cut out of the book undercut some of the emotional resonance of certain arcs. For instance, Bonnie and Twill are cut out of the story. Fair enough; Madge was cut from the first flick (and this one as well). But because of that, you lose a lot of the explanation for why the mockingjay symbol is such an act of rebellion, and why Cinna’s turning Katniss into a literal mockingjay was such an act of treason (and bravery). Or even why it matters to Katniss that he did this for her. In the movie it comes across as just a pretty dress. It’s made clear in the movie that this is a rebel symbol, but not why or why it might be meaningful.

Another… well, not quite a breaking with the book but certainly a lost opportunity is the victory tour. So much of it presents Katniss and Peeta as reading prepared speeches in the districts after Eleven. Which is true to the book, but they are doing the most unconvincing portrayal of sincerity, let alone young love, that I think I’ve ever seen. It’s one thing not to ad lib, and after Eleven cutting that out seems like a good move. But if you’re trying to protect your family back home, then you want to make a good enough show of it that the president doesn’t think you’re mocking him. There’s simply no suggestion of innocent young lovebirds who aren’t worth all the fussy. In fact, the interview at the end of the first movie had about ten times the cute romance as anything we got in this movie.

This was a lost opportunity because the Capitol felt more like a Scooby-doo villain than a real threat. I needed to see summary executions and true totalitarian trappings (and not just the fence at Eleven). I needed to see the capricious punishments, and also the way Twelve’s being spared this was extraordinary. I needed to see the Hob burned down, and Gale whipped within an inch of his life for trying to sell a turkey. Heck, I needed to see Thirteen, to have some kind of proof of what the Capitol was capable of. There was a lot of room for this kind of show-don’t-tell on the Victory Tour. Instead, we get a few scenes of Katniss and Peeta all but mocking the Capitol. I was reminded of nothing so much as the scene at the end of Sherlock‘s “The Great Game,” where John comes out dressed in explosives and reads Moriarty’s words as slowly and blandly as he possibly can. This is either stupidity or rebellion. And it left me wondering: first, why does the Capitol need to go so very badly, and second, why couldn’t a few firebrands like Gale and Joanna take it out?

So what did the movie get right? Quite a bit, actually. Everything involving Joanna, for one. I never liked her in the books that much, but here, her anger is such a good juxtaposition for what I called Katniss’s own journey into righteous anger. Prim was very well done, as well. The whole thing with the speeches in District Eleven was really well done, and I liked the small touches of rebellion, the graffiti. I thought Effie’s character was quite well done, and while I thought Haymitch and Cinna were criminally underused, I quite liked what we saw of it, too. Loved the feel of the woods, how they seemed like Katniss’s refuge, and I loved the way this version played up the friendship with Finnick and Joanna, making it more ambiguous whose side they were on. Wiress was charming, the layout of the arena was just how I imagined it, and Mags? Though her death was over entirely too quickly, her character itself was so moving and played very well.

Above and beyond all that, though, what I really liked were the iconic moments. I’ve mentioned a few of them. The show-down between Finnick and Katniss at the very end in the arena. The monkeys. The fog. Joanna utterly dripping with blood. Snow’s shaking his head that the districts weren’t placated. The old man shot in Eleven. Prim going into action when Gale is brought back after the whipping. Pretty much everything from the entrance parade into the Training Center – the sugar cubes, the way Chaff kisses her, especially how Joanna undresses in the elevator (love that!). These are things that really need to be seen on screen, and are wonderfully done. Some of the exposition that gave them their punch was done too quickly or relied on left-out bits, but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to read the final moments in the Arena without imagining it just like that. Oh, and Katniss’s reaction to the news about District Twelve? *mwah*

Although: Francis Lawrence? What the heck, man. The whole being gripped in claws and lifted overhead and almost falling back dead? You have heard of Thorin Oakenshield, yeah? Or even Frodo Baggins? Because that’s so been done…

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