So today I went to see the last showing of Hunger Games in my local cinema. I’ve been hoping to get a chance to go see it since it was released so happy that I got to see it before it went out of the cinema.
Catching Fire is the second instalment in the Hunger Games trilogy, which is set for four films with the third book being split into Mockingjay Parts 1 and 2. The first film (simply The Hunger Games) was one of my favourite films, I don’t think I’ve seen many films that I’ve loved from beginning to end every time I see it more and more. It made me pick up the books and fall in love with the whole series even more.
But did the second film do it for me?
I will admit to being a late comer to the Hunger Games series, as I just said I didn’t read the books until I’d seen the film, heck I hadn’t heard of The Hunger Games before the film started to be promoted. It wasn’t until someone on Twitter started going on about the books just before the film came out I knew there was a book series. So I can’t say I’m one of these super duper fans of the series.
The books are very interesting, and I loved how the first film stayed true to it (obviously only knowing this after the fact) but that it also expanded on the world. The books one flaw is that you are stuck in the mind of Katniss. I say flaw… It isn’t really a flaw, but it limits you to what you see and what you know for a fact. Everything is muddled, can you trust this person? Do you really know what is going on? The first film expanded on it, not enough to take any of the mystery away but enough that it answers small questions that pop up from time to time.
And the second film did just the same. It stayed true to the book but expanded that little bit. The big problem with adapting books like this is that you can’t portray what the book does, we see the world through Katniss’s eyes, we hear her inner most thoughts. The problem being she doesn’t talk about these thoughts, she doesn’t communicate, she’s a very closed person. So unlike say Harry Potter who wore his heart on his sleeve therefore the films were able to portray his inner workings, Katniss doesn’t. Therefore you will lose a little of what makes the books special. But it doesn’t feel that way in the films, and Catching Fire was able to portray her inner feelings in a way that didn’t change Katniss. It makes her a tad more likeable, which is a good thing in itself.
So to the film itself. It starts off pretty much where we left it, a few months have passed and Katniss and Peeta are about to make their Victors tour. On the morning of the tour President Snow visits Katniss telling her what we knew from the first film. People were starting to see her as a beacon of hope, hope against the Capitol. So if she wants to keep her family and closest friends safe, she needs to convince him that she’s in love with Peeta.
Well, it goes wrong from stop one (District 11, home to Rue and Thresh) where Katniss witnesses an old man being killed purely for saluting her in the crowd. From there on in no matter what her and Peeta do there is no going back. Peace Keepers are sent out to Districts to stop them from rebelling and President Snow is working with his new GameMaker Plutarch Heavensbee on how to bring down the Mockingjay.
The opportunity arises with the coming Quarter Quell (every 25 years they have a special Hunger Games, it doesn’t say it in the film but in the book you learn the first one people had to vote for who went into the Games, the second one saw four tributes instead of two sent from every District) the special ruling being that the tributes would be pooled from the current victors.
We then enter the world of past Victors, something we delved into slightly with Haymitch in the first film. Katniss exclaims at one point that they are all crazy, but seeing what Katniss and Peeta had to go through in their Hunger Games you can kind of understand why. Before you know it they are all thrown back into the Games and Katniss is forced to trust District 4 Tribute Finnick, along with his partner Mags (a lovely old lady who volunteered in the place of a distraught girl called Annie) and the very brash Johanna from District 7. Many do fall but the games are stopped abruptly when Katniss destroys the arena and is saved by Haymitch and to her surprise Heavensbee.
The last thing we learn is there is no more District 12. We are also on the way to District 13 and Peeta has been captured by the Capitol.
The film doesn’t lose any of the emotion or beats of the book, there are big parts of Katniss’s life after the Victory Tour missing, you only get a small dose of the horrors they faced when Romulus Thread was sent to be head Peace Keeper in District 12, you never see the two run away girls from District 8 it kind of goes straight from the tour to the Quell. I don’t think this was a bad idea, as with the first film it doesn’t lose anything from not showing these things, the imagery itself was enough for us to get the picture of how bad life was. The only bit I would have added, probably because Haymitch is my favourite character besides Finnick and Peeta, is finding out that Haymitch survived the 50th Hunger Games and how he did it. It really does in the books paint Haymitch up a little more, gives him that background and really gets you on his side. You find out that Snow hated how he won as much as he hated how Katniss did and leaves you wondering what really happened to him. If anything it was one of those things I was hoping would be explored a little more in the films, it doesn’t for me do anything to worsen Haymitch, Woody Harrelson plays him wonderfully and even without the background story you just get the feeling of what has happened to him through his portrayal. But it is a small thing that I would have liked to see.
The imagery of the Capitol doesn’t change at all in the film and is brought to life really well by the cast. In the book Katniss starts to see the people of the Capitol for what they really are, these people were raised with the Games, they know no better then to act the way they do but this Quarter Quell even confuses the people in the Capitol. To them its a game, nothing more, just like Big Brother is to us (without the killing.) But just like the guys in Big Brother when you win your a celebrity, and they love them, they really truly love them, and seeing their favourites being sent back really upset them. Effie’s stiff upper lip at having her Victors put back in was truly heart breaking to be honest, for me at least. It is easy to say she’s a monster because she accepts the Games but the true fact is she was born thinking they were a bit of fun (you see this with Snow’s granddaughter hoping to be like Katniss and in love with someone like Katniss and Peeta are in love) and if anything she is just a bit dim. She truly has her heart in the right place, the Games mean something different to everyone (lets not forget District’s 1 and 2 love the Games and train for them.) In a way this film lets you see more of what makes the people in the Capitol tick, its still foreign for us to believe that people could ENJOY these Games, but they honestly do. In a way it helped remind you that these people AREN’T monsters, none of them are, its a different world, we can’t possibly understand how they feel. I think that was the wonders of having Snow’s granddaughter in the film you can see how the propaganda surrounding the games hits the kids at a early age, she just see’s the love story, the romance and finds heroes in the Tributes. She doesn’t understand what they are about, she doesn’t really understand probably that people her age are dying for no good reason, for her this is as normal as sitting down to watch Doctor Who is for me.
And THAT is important. That is the one story worth expanding on.
We don’t have something as terrible as the Hunger Games going on in life, these people don’t just have it but they’ve learnt to LIVE with it. The rebellions aren’t even about the Games, they are about a repressive Government. The Games just gave them a figure of hope, the Games themselves are a reminder of their repression, a reminder that bad things happen if you don’t do what you are told. The actual people of the Capitol aren’t evil, they aren’t touched by the Games in the same way as the District’s are. They are just people, raised differently and desensitised to the violence of the Games. The thing that makes these films and books so scary is that its people that have gotten used to a lifestyle that allows them to watch innocent children fighting to the death. Its the fact that some of the Districts have embraced these Games and enjoy them. Its the fact that the others are just so used to being repressed that they have given up.
Katniss and Peeta become a beacon of Hope. Their survival in their first Games was a slap in the face to the Capitol and people stopped being afraid and started becoming angry. They realised through Katniss’s and Rue’s friendship that the Districts could come together.
This is a big thing to try to portray and I think the film did it in wonders. You see the normal people hero worshipping the Victors, you see kids not really understanding that people are dying, you see adults upset because they are going to lose a celebrity, you see the repression. The monster in all of this isn’t the Tributes, it isn’t the system. Its Snow, the man on top who will do anything to make sure the world is seen in his ideal way.
I liked how the film was able to show this, one moment that made me tear up was when a little girl from (I’m guessing) District 1 or 2 told Katniss when she’s old enough she’s going to volunteer for the Games. Its the diverse opinion of what these Games mean and the fact that the Games are just hiding a bigger truth. Snow uses the Quarter Quell to try and stop a rebellion, he uses it to discredit Katniss. It doesn’t work, but its like the world is meant to have stopped just for these Games.
The Game itself was very faithful. Unlike the 74th Games it was a very short affair, what with the escape and everything. The book to me felt a bit heavy on the side of building up to the Games, it gave it a bit more life to be honest. It was a very simple Game set up as well which I think helped because the big story in this book wasn’t the Games, the Games were the main story in the first book, the main point of this book (and the film) was understanding. We needed to understand the world around Katniss better before we went straight into a rebellion. We learnt more about the people around her, the ideas surrounding the Games and what happens afterwards. That was the important thing, but the film did a good job of still making the Games feel important. They weren’t an important part of the second book, more like a reason to get so many “Idols” together in one place and then have them escape together. To the audience, especially ones that haven’t read the books, the Games are important still though and it would have been easy to have left the Games to a small 5 or 10 minute segment. It was nice that we got the feeling of the uniqueness of each Games even if we didn’t get to see the past Games like we got to hear about them in the books.
This film really wouldn’t work without the cast though. If you didn’t like the characters to some degree then you’d never be able to understand them.
Finnick was wonderfully brought to life on the screen by Sam Claflin. In the book I wasn’t too sure on him until we got into the arena and I was a little worried that they could overplay that, but from the moment you first saw him in the footage of him and Mags being reaped till the end of the movie you just felt like you could trust him. It isn’t a bad change from how I felt in the book because it opened our world up a little. He was like the Rue of the film. The same can be said about Johanna, she’s so brash and its hard to like her in the books but Jena Malone plays her in such a way that you just feel…. Sad.
The film doesn’t have enough time to even introduce you to all the Tributes! So the hard work was making you feel sorry for these Games. You felt for Katniss and Peeta in The Hunger Games, you were on their side, this time there was a whole arena of characters that you really did have to feel for. The film really didn’t have any time, I can remember feeling a tiny bit more for the Morphalins in the book then you really got from the film, though it was a poignant moment when the female one sacrificed herself for Peeta. Most of these Tributes were in on a plan from the beginning to save the beacon of hope, the Mockingjay Katniss, but you aren’t told that and neither is she and it truly is sad seeing them fall. That wouldn’t have happened without a stellar cast.
And I mean come on they put Philip Seymour-Hoffman in the film as Heavensbee…. I’ll admit to being biased I’m in love with that man, he’s one of the greatest actors I’ve ever seen. I don’t really need to say much more than that!
The film does make you think, it is a very dark film, there is no hope for the audience, you see it slowly dying as the film goes on. Katniss is blind to what she is, she just wants her life. We see the plotting and we see the damage slowly being done. Whether its Finnicks hour with Katniss with the Mockingjay or Johanna’s speech about having nothing else she cares for. You see the lengths people will go to fight the “true enemy”, Mags giving her life for the younger Tribute, the torture their Games left on them all. The scars run so deep.
I started crying about 5 minutes in, it really did hit me that hard.
Some people have said its too long, I don’t think it was long enough I’d have loved (like in the first film) to have seen everyone being interviewed, I’d have liked to have seen more of the tour, more of the Tributes. I wanted more, but what I got was a masterpiece in itself.
It won’t be a film for everyone, as I said its a very dark film. You could have left the first film believing that there was life left for Katniss and Peeta to live, by the end of this film there is nothing. Katniss and Peeta aren’t even together anymore (and to me without the both of them there isn’t any hope. Peeta was the hope in the relationship.) You can see from now there isn’t going to be a happy ever after because the main characters have already had their lives ended. Nothing that can happen will take the pain of the Games (now doubled) away, we see this in Haymitch, Finnick, Mags, Wiress, Beetee and Johanna. The scars will run deeper then just them though, you’ve already seen the change in Prim, you see the effect of these Games on kids in the Capitol, innocent and lovely people have died for little more then disagreeing with Snow.
I’ll be interested in seeing how the next book can be split into two. There are two distinct parts of the book but a lot of it from memory is about the growth of understanding of herself, the people around her and what is happening in the world for Katniss. I’m not sure how they’ll expand that beyond one more film but it’ll be interesting. If anything Catching Fire gave me the hope that the last two films will blow me away.
My biggest positives of the film?
Definitely the fact that the characters are so true to the book. My favourites from the book were always Peeta (so innocent and sweet), Haymitch (you always could tell there was something he was running from but he DID care, more then Katniss sometimes did) and Finnick (a bit like Peeta really just in a different District.) The acting was great in the first film this time around it was 10 times better, it had to be though. The two last books are a lot more about the people then it is about Katniss and what happened to her and Peeta.
Also the fact that it makes you think. It isn’t just a film you can watch and turn your brain off whilst watching. It will make kids think about what is going on.
It was the first film I saw in the cinema this year and its going to be a hard one to beat.