It’s back: the second film in the Hunger Games series was just released a few days ago, and needless to say, I went to see it with my new cinema buddy on opening day – so here’s a few words on that, then. It’ll probably be one of many movie reviews to come in the next few months, now that I found someone to accompany me regularly. So stay tuned!
The Hunger Games, for those who have managed to avoid the hype, is a book trilogy set in a sci-fi, dystopian, post-apocalyptic world. The world of Panem is divided up into twelve districts and a Capitol. Starvation and poverty is everyday life especially in District 12, the home to our protagonist Katniss Everdeen, while life in the Capitol is wasteful, glamorous, and blissfully ignorant of the rest of Panem’s hardship. To keep their subjects in check by installing fear of the government in them, the Capitol hosts and broadcasts the ‘Hunger Games’ on an annual basis, in which 24 participants, two from each District, are sent to an enormous, dangerous outdoor arena controlled by the Capitol as well, killing until only one victor remains…
Reading the novels was one of those ‘eating up a book whole’ experiences; I believe I read the complete first one on a flight to the US and was done by the time I got there. They were written in a captivating manner, with a lot of suspense, a lot of action, and a lot of inner conflicts. Although sometimes (or most of the time) the protagonist was rather questionable, she was understandable, and I suffered just as much as she did. Watching the first movie, then, was a completely different experience: it describes the Hunger Game that Katniss participates in after volunteering in her sister’s stead, together with Peeta, another boy from her District. I was quite disappointed by the first film, I have to say. The camerawork was unnecessarily awkward, and the film was lacking what made the first book such an incredible experience: Katniss’s mind. Now, it is hard to portray mental processes in a film, I know that, but considering that these were one of the driving forces, if not the driving force of the novel, a large part is neglected. Instead of complex personal development and inner conflicts, the film merely focused on the action part, failing to address what is really going on, not only on the outside. Katniss’s deception does not become obvious at all; instead, it just looks like your everyday love story, a little twisted but still rather ordinary. I suggest you read the novels before watching the films, especially in the case of the first one.
But this one, on the other hand…
I found Catching Fire an amazing experience. Just like the first one, I’d seen it in the cinema, which raises any film to a more epic scope anyway – or maybe just the way it’s supposed to be. Here, Katniss and Peeta are forced to return to the Hunger Games through the government’s scheme against them, to quench the revolution that is in its wake. Their competitors are previous victors from the Hunger Games, and the focus is different – it’s not about survival, it’s about politics, the people, and resistance – and self-sacrifices for the greater good abound.
The second novel is a lot more action-heavy than the first one, which focused so much on interior things that the action, while fascinating, was not the main focus. In this sense, the second novel lends itself to adaptation a lot more than the other one – and the visuals, the way it was made, differs quite a bit from the first one. It probably helps that a different director came to the table after the first; as of the second film, we are dealing with the director of Constantine and I Am Legend, both incredible films in my opinion and among the movies I keep re-watching.
Character development – yes, we see it. Of course we already know Katniss and yes, she can be slightly annoying, but the movie captures so well her sense of fear, helplessness and stubbornness, and her constant problem of not knowing the right thing to do. Unassuming, she is an inspiration without wanting to be, and continues to be so even when she pointedly tries not to be. Her being dragged into a political scheme that she really doesn’t want to be part of, being used by various people because of her influence on the public, all this is eating her up and confusing her immensely. By now, she has set her priorities straight – her loved ones – and does everything in her power to protect them – but the action happens on a much larger scale, of course. Again, she is forced to deceive, to act, and she is now much more comfortable with it than in the previous work.
Visuals – part of the film is set in the Capitol, of course, and focuses on her public appearance. In these parts, it is important to shine – to be noticed, to be someone, you have to be magnificent. Her stylist Cinna – one of my favourite characters in both novels and film – makes an amazing job of this. In general, the costumes in the film are great – especially the lavish, extravagant, ridiculous Capitol costumes, but Katniss manages to outdo them all. “The girl on fire”, as she is known, makes blazing fiery appearances, deeply symbolic and meaningful. And, simply put, extremely stunning. Just for the amazing visuals, the film is a must-see. Yes, I would like to have that wedding dress, too.
I’ve heard someone complain that “not much happens” in the film. But, really? I didn’t think so. Naturally the action is a little condensed in contrast to the novel, but it didn’t bother me that much. (Then again, it’s been two years since I read it, so my memories are not completely sufficient here. But I’m sure I’d have noticed had there been major inconsistencies.) I also found the film quite emotional. I even had tears in my eyes during one particular short scene. The film manages quite well to convey the mental state of the participants – the trauma they’ve been to, the way it’s changed them, and the agony, fear and anger of being screwed over by the government again. And it shows that there is good in people even when they are forced to kill one another. It just… makes you think.
Definitely worth it
As far as book adaptations go, I’ve seen much worse than this movie, really. It may however be one of those films that work best if you see them in the cinema – I can’t imagine all the striking visual effects being as impressive on a small screen, and they make up a big part of the movie indeed. We’re even thinking of seeing it once more – this time, in 3D. I’m quite curious what this is going to be like. Normally I am not too much of a 3D fan when it comes to live-action movies, but we shall see, it might just work incredibly well – or not.