Tuesday, December 10, 2013

It Came From The Cineplex: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Catching Fire is of course based on the super mega successful novel by Susanne Collins and is the sequel to 2012's The Hunger Games. It was directed by Francis Lawrence (guy Francis, not girl Francis, and no relation to Jennifer Lawrence). Lawrence also directed Constantine (meh) and I Am Legend (not bad). It was written by Simon Beaufoy and Michael deBruyn. 

I liked this movie quite a bit. I haven't read the second or third books, so for once I had no idea where the story was going and was quite surprised. The plot proceeded logically and was very well thought out, and didn't seem like a sequel for the sake of a sequel. It was a little on the long side though, clocking in at a butt-numbing 146 minutes. 

By the way, the third and final book of the trilogy is being split into two movies, because according to the producers, "the story's just too big to fit into one film." Translation: we make a billion dollars every time we release one of these things, and we'd split it into ten parts if we could get away with it."

CAPITAL-SIZED SPOILERS AHEAD!

The Plot:
After surviving the previous year's Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen has become a symbol of rebellion among the various Districts, much to the chagrin of President Snow. He tells her to tone it down a notch or twelve and even contemplates killing her.

Plutarch Heavensbee, the new Head Game Maker, fears that killing Katniss outright would turn her into a martyr, causing further rebellion. He suggests to President Snow that she be recruited for the Quarter Quell, a special version of the Hunger Games made up of past winners.

Katniss and Peeta are selected to participate in the Quarter Quell. During the games Katniss is knocked unconscious and when she wakens, she's surrounded by her mentor Haymitch, her best friend Gale and the Head Gamemaker (surprise!), who are all part of a rebellion against Snow and the Capital. 

Pros:
• Pretty much everyone from the first film returns for this one, and once again they all do a great job.

• The success of the first film obviously led to a bigger budget for this one, and it shows. The scenes of the Capital are much more expansive and expensive looking, and we get to see more impressive glimpses of this world.

Even the Game Arena gets an upgrade this time, looking much more like Hawaii than a forest in Georgia.

• Once again Stanley Tucci is amazing as Caesar Flickerman. It's too bad he's not a real person; he'd make a perfect host for the Oscars.


• Someone actually utters Effie Trinket's name in this film, so we no longer have to wonder who the hell she is.

• Woody Harrelson's wig actually looks like real hair. You'd be surprised at how many horrible and obvious wigs there are in most movies and TV shows (see many, many episodes of LOST for example). It always impresses me when I see a good one.

Cons:
• In the first film it's mentioned that the winner of the Hunger Games gets food and riches for life, and their District receives extra food for one year.

So why were Katniss and Gale risking their lives by sneaking out of their District and hunting turkeys at the beginning of the film? They shouldn't need to hunt for food anymore, right? Were they just trying to keep their hunting skills honed, or do they just really, really like wild turkey?

• All through the film President Snow wrings his hands and frets that the people of the various Districts see Katniss as a symbol of hope and may stage a revolution.

Personally I never understood why they've never revolted before now. The point of the Hunger Games is to remind the people of the Districts that they tried it once and failed. But they remind them by killing two kids from each District once a year. That seems like a needlessly provocative action that practically guarantees a revolt. Wouldn't raising taxes or something be less likely to start an uprising?


Yes, the Capital has a brutal and effective police force to subdue the population, but I'm pretty sure the people of the Districts far outnumber them.

• Like many big budget films these days, the marketing team created a slew of character posters, each focusing on one particular character from the film. For example, G.I. Joe Retaliation made a whopping TEN different character posters.

Why do they keep making these things? It's unlikely that even the biggest cineplex would ever have room to display them all. They must be making them for the collector market (gotta collect 'em all!).


Anyhoo, among the many character posters created for the film is this one of the 80 year old mentor of Finnick Odair. Wow, Mags is hot!

• Once again I don't get why the Game Maker sets fatal traps for the Tributes during the games. Like the deadly blistering fog for instance. The whole point of the Hunger Games is for the decadent people of the Capital to get to see kids kill one another, right? Wouldn't seeing someone be killed by fog be kind of, I don't know, anticlimactic?

Think of it this way-- the ancient Romans loved watching gladiators fight to the death. Wouldn't they have been disappointed if one tripped on his sandal and broke his neck before the fight even began?

• At one point Katniss climbs a tree to see the lay of the land. While in the tree, she wastes an arrow by shooting it straight up into the air, where it strikes the apparently holographic inner surface of the dome that covers the Game Arena. 

Obviously this scene was for the benefit of audience members who either forgot or don't know that the action is taking place inside a dome. Katniss certainly already knows this, as it's the second time in as many years that she's fought inside one. 

It's also probably included to set up the scene later in the film in which Katniss causes the domed ceiling to partially collapse.

• During the Quarter Quell, a former tribute named Beetee notices that a particular tree gets struck by lightning twice a day. He tells Katniss and the others that he plans to string a spool of wire from the electrified tree to the lagoon, which will electrocute anyone in the water.

First of all, where the hell'd he get the wire? Was it part of the weapons cache in the Cornucopia? If they did say where it came from I missed it.

Secondly, he loudly announces this plan to his allies. Did he forget that when they're in the Game Arena they're surrounded by cameras and microphones and the Game Maker can see and hear everything they do? Maybe he should have whispered his plan.

• As I mentioned earlier I haven't read the book, but even so I could tell that the film was getting ready to wrap up and end on a cliff hanger. All that was missing was the dramatic "Da da DUNNNNN!" music.

Of course this is the traditional structure of a trilogy. The first part sets up the world and the conflict, the second part ups the ante and ends on a hopeless note, and the third wraps up everything.

Catching Fire is that rarest of cinematic animals, a sequel that's as good or better than the original. I give it an A-.

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