By The Book: Catching Fire

Catching_FireCatching Fire is the best installment in The Hunger Games series. The book is essentially two different stories. The first is rich in theme and looks at the very real consequences of the first novel. The second part takes Katniss back into the arena and this time she has to make friends.

The second film opens with Katniss hunting on the day the Victory Tour starts. But even here, Katniss does not feel safe and an intimate encounter with Gale just makes her life more difficult. She leaves for the Tour with instructions from Snow: convince me you and Peeta are in love or your loved ones will die. But Katniss cannot end a revolution that has already begun. To try and put out the fire, Snow announcing the special requirement for the Quarter Quell: only previous Hunger Game victors will compete. Katniss is going back in the arena.

The movie minimizes the events in District 12 in order to spend the most time with the arena and training. Gale has a shining moment, but the depth of his involvement in the revolution is underplayed. Any traces of “cousin” are removed. Pivotal moments, including Plutarch’s watch and Katniss meeting the escapes and escaping the electric fence are gone.  There is no flurry of wedding dresses or preparation. While Gale’s most important scene is intact and Katniss’ love for him truly shown, the whole experience seems rushed. The book takes time to deal with the themes of revolution, causality, love, and family. The movie just manages to make Katniss scared while not truly seeing the desolation the District comes under.

But the Quarter Quell is spot on. The Games is the most faithfully adapted from any of the books so far, following the catchingfirekatnissevents pretty much to the letter. This is when the movie is the best: putting the action of the arena onto the screen. Each of the traps in the arena come alive with great care and detail to attention. The obstacles are as scary to the view as the characters. The biggest change in the arena? Peeta can swim.

What really makes this adaptation shine is the casting. For once, the casting is well done and the character truly comes alive. Jena Malone as Johanna Mason is perfect. Malone gives the perfect edginess to the character. At first glance Sam Claflin doesn’t seem like Finnick but when he turns Finnick’s arrogance into charm and brings to life the struggle with emotional depth that theta the character keeps hidden behind that facade. The rest of the candidates, also, look like I had imagined them.

The producers of the movies decided to split Mockingjay as two movies. I argue that Catching Fire should have the one spilt. Not only does it contain two different stories but the themes with in these stories are very different and seem like different novella in and of them. The starting of the revolution would not have been so rushed and the emotions could truly play out. This would lend easily to two self-contained movies, ending with the announcement of the Quarter Quell.

Of course as a movie, Catching Fire is amazing and the whole production pretty well captures the books. But this one would never have been split in two: you can’t keep the audience from their violence. Like the Capital, we want The Games.

By the Book: The Hunger Games

A comparison between book and film. Contains spoilers

 

Hollywood manages to finally gets a teen novel translation right. The Hunger Games film takes the essence of the books and makes a strong stand alone feature. Unlike Harry Potter, the film is self-contained and one can enjoy and understand it without having read the books. The film’s script stays faithful to the book with most of the changes minor things like the look of the Cornucopia, the dresses for the interviews, and several changes that help move the story along. There are three major differences that make an impact on the story, some in good ways, and others in bad.

The first change is one that does well for the film. The book trilogy was written entirely in first person from Katniss’ perspective. While these allow the reader to experience her thoughts and emotions, but it leaves the reader wondering about what is really going in Panem. The film breaks from this perspective giving viewers a look into other aspects of the Games. We see President Snow and his reactions to Katniss, as well as the Game making process. This allows us to really understand what is going on within this world. The biggest change this takes, though, is when they show District 11 rebel. This is a powerful scene but alters from the story where they send Katniss bread in thanks for taking care of Rue. But this scene lets viewers know that that retaliation is imminent and more is riding on the 74th games than Katniss’ life.

The second big difference takes a rather neutral affect in the film though I am sure the changes to the last day in the arena made some angry. The violence level has been minimized to earn the PG-13 rating it needed for the target audience. It is a harmless change for the majority of the movie showing no one’s actual death but Rue’s and cutting down on Haymitch’s drinking problems. But this change does culminate in one specific incident.

The muttination in the last day of the games are drastically changed in the film. The movie portrays them as some sort of pug/rottweiler mix and incredibly deadly. They are shown being made by the Gamemakers proving they are nothing but a created creature to scare them. But these creatures are nothing compared to those in the book.

“As they join together, they raise up again to stand easily on their back legs giving them a human quality. Each has a thick coat, some with fur that is straight and sleek, other curly, and the colors vary from jet black to what I can only describe as blond…The green eyes glowering at me are unlike any dog or wolf, any canine I’ve seen. They are unmistakably human. And that revelation has barely registered when I notice the collar with the number 1 inlaid with jewels and the whole horrible thing hits me. The blonde hair, the green eyes, the number…it’s Glimmer.”  (Pages 332-333)

In the book it seems that the creatures are manifestations of the dead tributes. They have been created to psych out the remaining tributes. And the plan almost works. Needless to say, the movie veers away from this and also has Katniss kill Cato fairly quickly. Though this makes the scene less psychologically creepy, the scene is still intense.

The last difference is the change that most affected the theme of the book and film. I felt betrayed by the fact that the screenplay did not mention that Panem was set in North America specifically in the United States. Katniss is from the Appalachian area with the Capital being tucked away in the Rocky Mountains.

It seems somewhere along the way, someone decided that stating this would make the film too politically controversial, and with recent events I can see that paranoia. The book is rife with political commentary and conflict. Published in 2009, Suzanne Collins was writing in a post 9/11 world with the Patriot Act in full swing. In an atmosphere of Weapons of Mass Destruction, lies in the media, and the suspension of habeas corpus, everyone in the country has been affected by the changing political/military air. While I am not saying that she is making any specific comment on a particular incident it would be hard to believe that they would not affect the books and their themes.

To remove the idea that the film is making any political statements, especially how our world is affecting our children, seems to go against everything that is put forth in the books. Can’t Americans speak out against the government? Can’t we make a stand? Or maybe, just maybe, omitting this from the film is a statement in itself about what we can and can not say as Americans. (I have recently disregarded this theory. It seems in an effort to rectify this complaint the DVD/Blu-ray description contains the words “in the ruins of what was once North America.” Even the wording of this downplays the political aspects)

The Hunger Games is a fabulous film (unlike the Twilight adaptations) having the merits to stand alone as a movie. But don’t miss the books or you’ll miss out on the depth and philosophical discussions that are the heart of the series which were glossed over in the movies.

 

 

The Hunger Games is a Technical Wonder

Blu-Ray, DVD, Wal-Mart version with mocking jay pendant, Target version with a third disk of extras

Usually, in a movie review, I break down the plot and break down the quality of the story and then talk about a few technical aspects. But everyone knows what The Hunger Games is about and about the quality of it as a film. So I want to spend some time discussing the technical aspects that really make this film stand out.

It’s hard no to discuss violence when talking about The Hunger Games. Some people boycotted the movie based on the ideas, but these people hadn’t seen the film. They are totally unaware of how the violence is downplayed in the theatrical version. In an effort to keep the film rated PG-13 and bring in its target audience, very little of the violence is shown. While you see the action of the tributes, you never see them as they make contact with their target. For example, you may see a spear in a body but you don’t see it actually impale the tribute. Deaths are shown after the fact and the only tribute you actually watch die is little Rue. And even this is not gory or showy. It keeps things simple for the emotional impact.

In the same vein, the movie even minimizes Haymitch’s drunkenness. Gone is the scene where he falls of the stage drunk and when Peeta has to clean him up. The film makers only show him drinking long enough to establish his characters background and what he has to overcome to help Katniss and Peeta.

Director Gary Ross seems to have spent a lot of time deciding how to film the movie in order to effectively portray each scene. When filming Katniss, the Districts, and the games themselves, the handicam adds a very documentary fill to the arena and the uprising. Though it makes me nauseous for the first twenty minutes, it helps portray the urgency and fear that Katniss feels. This are contrasted with the smooth shots as the tributes move through the Capital giving a sense of peace in calm in the city that has no fear of these games.

The filming technique is not the only thing that sets the Capital apart. The set designers, costumers, and make-up and hair artists worked hard to develop the distinct look of the capital. The grays, greens, and browns of the Districts and the Arena, are not seen in the capital. The jewel toned, futuristic city stands out vividly in all aspects from Effie’s voice, to the Tribute’s costumes, to the prep team’s make-up.  It truly is a whole other world.

The editing is done well combining a mix of shots that tell the whole story. Breaking from the first person view of the book, the audience is able to see the full affect of the 74th annual Hunger Games. Mixed in with action of the arena are shots of Snow and his commands concerning the games and the game makers themselves adding logs and muttinations to the grounds. Including footage from the District 11 uprising really gives a feel of what is riding on the games, so we’re not surprised when President Snow is very mad at Katniss in the end.

But the movie couldn’t survive without quality actors. It’s refreshing to see a young casted movie with quality acting. Jennifer Lawrence (X-Men First Class) is excellent as Katniss. She manages the variety of emotion well and never seems as cynical as the book’s version of Katniss. Josh Hutcherson (The Vampire’s Assistant) is perfect as the lovable Peeta. He and Lawrence have a great chemistry that propels the star struck lover’s story line.  Liam Hemsworth (my favorite Hemsworth brother) was both lovable and stony as Gale, and I can’t wait to see what he does with his expanded role in Catching Fire. Of course, I can’t leave out the adult cast that gave life to their characters: Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, and Stanley Tucci give amazing performances. Wes Bentley is fabulous as the Head Game maker, and he made you even feel sorry for him.

The Hunger Games tells a brilliant story. The quality of characters and the plot draw you in, but it’s the technical aspects of the movie that give it its flair.

Extras:

A second disc of extras gives viewers the most generic features: making of featurettes, an interview with the author and photo gallery. The best extra is the full version of the Capital propaganda give, giving viewers a look at the destroyed District 13. In fact the most fun feature is the previews on the main disc. The screen states that viewing of the previews is “mandatory” and the Capital takes “control” of the TV to make you watch them. You can fast forward through them but don’t miss the trailer for Breaking Dawn Part 2.

Honestly, the second disc of extras could have been eliminated and a DVD/Blu-ray combo pack established instead.

Bottom Line: A great story, a strong cast, and a technical beauty.

Make sure to pick this on up on Blu-ray.