The Hunger Games: Catching Fire ReviewJoe Shaffer
I enjoyed The Hunger Games, both the film and the trilogy of novels that preceded it. Unfortunately, I wouldn't say that I loved the movie. It was a fun dystopian flick with plenty of conspicuous social and political commentary and a fair bit of action, but it lacked polish. The picture quality was subpar, and the non-urban set pieces that made up the arena felt more ordinary than treacherous. Also, the movie skimped on a few nice touches from the novel that could have easily been included in the finished product, such as a subtle exchange between protagonist Katniss and District 11 that came at a key point (read: tearjerker scene) in the original story.
I was worried that The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, the second film adaptation of Suzanne Collins's novels, would suffer the same fate. However, as I sat in my theater seat and took in the gorgeous visuals that came with the opening segments, I soon laid my woes to rest. From the get-go, I could see that the production values were much higher than in the previous outing. The film looked less grainy and rushed, no doubt benefiting from a more careful and well funded post production. All in all, it led to a more visually striking sequel.
The grander budget is not only evident in the picture quality, but also in the film's mood and set pieces, especially in this installment's arena. Rather than a typical forest, Katniss and her co-victor Peeta find themselves in the middle of a jungle surrounding a lake-like body of water. The brilliant sun and still waters belie a peaceful a setting, but the truth lies deeper in the woods. For it's there that the film treats viewers to wonderfully eerie shots, shadowy pathways, and thick walls of vegetation. For me, it wasn't the many perils waiting within the jungle that gave it an air of ominousness, but the jungle's seemingly impenetrable darkness.
More than the improved production values, I appreciate that the producers and director Lawrence Francis remained true to the source material. While the previous outing stayed fairly true to its respective source, it eschewed many small details that were effective in the novel. This time around, though, some such touches made into into the film, including Effie Trinket's near-emotional breakdown and the implications of a resistance movement building steam. Although some might charge Catching Fire with excluding too many of the novel's early scenes, I would say the film's screenplay mostly skipped the book's duller segments. For instance, do we really need to see Katniss's and Peeta's entire tour from the opening chapters of the novel? Thankfully, most of those scenes were relegated to a montage in the film.
Catching Fire also does a fine job of capturing the distrust that crops up in the latter half of the story. Once Katniss arrives in the arena, she's forced to forge shaky alliances with shady competitors. The feeling that any one of them could stab her in the back at any moment lingers throughout the film's arena scenes, creating more tension than any of the Quarter Quell's (the name of this film's Hunger Games competition) many hazards.
Although I'm not big on romance, I would be remiss not to mention Catching Fire's lovey-dovey scenes. Thankfully, they're not overloaded with sugar or horribly contrived. However, the film didn't capture Katniss's inner conflict with having feelings for both Peeta and her childhood friend Gale very well. It did at least imply that both men satisfy different needs for her, which aided in making the love triangle seem less like a soap opera device. Thankfully, what few romantic scenes the movie displays are not atrociously written, nor do they egregiously take the narrative's center stage.
Eventually the film arrives at its denouement, and that's when the experience really starts to pick up. That's also when the credits roll and you feel like the words "To Be Continued..." should fly across the screen. As per the novel's ending, it's expected that Catching Fire end with a cliffhanger; I don't mind that, anyway. What I do mind is that the producers sped through the finale and wrapped up everything in a somewhat haphazard manner, then hastily shooed you out of the theater. "Comeback for the next movie, wherein we'll needlessly split a fairly short book into two parts!" they seemed to say.
Despite the rushed conclusion, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a good flick for fans of the novels. It stays true to its source material, and even plays out the drama in a more efficient manner. It's visually striking and fairly well acted, and it doesn't shove its romantic scenes down your throat. For that I recommend Catching Fire, although the ending feels like a cleverly disguised promotional spot for the upcomingMockingjay films.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.