Twelve Things about The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
12. A few days ago, I mentioned this movie to a French trainee who loves cinema but doesn't really watch much stuff out of Hollywood. Naturally, she asked whether she should see this one, too. And I surprised myself by saying . . .
"No . . . Not unless you saw the first movie and really liked it--or read the book and really liked it. The Hunger Games movies are like the Harry Potter movies: they were made for people who were already fans, but they likely won't stand on their own for anyone who doesn't already like what they're about."
11. So what are they about? Honestly, the poster on the left tells you 80% of what you need to know. It just needs its own Edward and Jacob to be completely accurate. You see, despite my off-the-cuff comment to my trainee, the true comparison is between The Hunger Games and Twilight.
So the next time someone asks me whether he should watch this, I'll say, "If you thought that Hermione Granger should have been in a love triangle with Harry Potter and Ron Weasley, then yes." (Oh, hello there, LTG!)
10. Now, I can't deny that I enjoyed Suzanne Collins's books the first time I read them (Put down the knife, Christopher!) and that this movie was made for me, too. But it was because it followed the book so closely that it helped me to put my finger on the real problem with Collins's fantasy.
(Hint: It's also everything that's wrong with this story.)
If you said, "A froufrou fashion fright," I applaud your good taste and your alliteration . . . and cattily add that it's supposed to be the world's most breathtaking wedding gown. (I know, right???) But costume design has been hit-or-miss since the first movie, and it's not the hill I want to die on today.
If you said, "A very beautiful girl who would steal the show from everybody else, dress or no dress," I have no argument with you. But I have also reached my hill of death.
9. You see, the Hunger Games trilogy expects us to believe that there were absolutely no significant attempts at reform before this point in Panem's history . . . That it really took seventy-five years before enough people in the Capitol and the surrounding twelve districts grew truly disgusted with the practice of sending teenagers into an arena to kill each other and covering the carnage for television . . . That nobody but Katniss Everdeen could have inspired an entire civilisation to push back against injustice and barbarism . . . That what Bella Swan is to Edward Cullen, Katniss Everdeen is to Panem.
If you prefer images to analogies, let me put it this way: we're supposed to believe that the old man who was brave enough to give the mockingjay salute to Katniss and Peeta in public . . .
. . . which led to everyone else in the public square having the courage to commit the same act of political defiance . . .
. . . presumably hadn't done anything to indicate that he had a problem with the barbaric ritual until he watched the series in which Katniss was the star. Formerly a feckless coward, he liked what he saw of Katniss on TV and became a hero. (Unfortunately, that's not a non sequitur.)
8. But I must give some credit where it's due and I applaud the treatment of District 12 escort Effie Trinket, whose butterfly-inspired ensemble is my favourite costume in the whole movie. (Do you see the little ones in her eyelashes? I love those details!) We all know that Effie is frivolous and a little shallow, but now we see that she is also very affectionate.
I was touched by the scene when she reveals how much Katniss, Peeta and even Haymitch have come to mean to her. In the novel, her thinking of them as a team is just another sign of how clueless she is (since she and the other three are hardly on the same page); but in the movie, her wish that they all wear matching "tokens" as a sign of unity stays true to her fashion-obsessed character while letting her grow.
The best part is that it's organic, not miraculous. Effie doesn't become a better person just because she touched the hem of Katniss's garment or something.
7. While I totally agree that our protagonist deserves admiration for volunteering to take her sister's place and for trying to save another little girl in the arena, it seriously floors me to think that this sort of thing never happened before. "Career" tributes aside, did no one else ever step forward to take the place of someone younger, smaller and weaker who had been "reaped" to die for their whole district? No one else in seventy-five years???
Since the answer is no, I can only conclude that The Hunger Games is another of those Special Snowflake Freak fantasies that are the great enablers of our time. I'm not sure if its reflection in Katniss's white gown is a Freudian fashion slip or a deliberate part of the dress's design.
6. And frankly, I find all the tributes/victors interesting, not just Katniss and Peeta. In fact, I always have--and I wish that I could look them all up, learn their stories, and yes, even watch their games, to get a better sense of them as three-dimensional human beings. But some of them get more screen time in this fan-made video than they do in the entire movie.
Of course the only ones we ever get to know properly are those whom Katniss wants for her allies or those who want Katniss for an ally. Because, you know, Katniss is the centre of the universe. (I find it quite telling that the age which is least sympathetic to the "Great Man" theory of history has no trouble with the "Great Girl" fantasy of literature.)
5. My favourite new cast member was Jena Malone, who is great as District 7 victor Johanna Mason. Although Johanna easily stands out in the novel as the most disgruntled of the returning victors, her characterisation struggles to rise above the level of a stereotype. Jena takes that uninspired material and makes it come alive. I always like Malone when she is in a movie, and now I kind of wish that she were the one playing Katniss.
On the other hand, I wasn't too impressed with Sam Clafin. His character Finnick Odair is supposed to be so gorgeous that he makes women faint by reading love poems aloud, and I simply was not hit between the eyes when I first saw the guy. But my sister assures me that he has a nicer than average body, my mother finds him "very cute," and I think that David Tennant (no slouch at reciting love poetry!) is the sexiest man alive, so what do I know?
Who were your favourite and least favourite of the returning victors?
That is, whom would you be most likely and least likely to sponsor? ;-)
That is, whom would you be most likely and least likely to sponsor? ;-)
4. The sense that this is All About Katniss is reinforced by another change by the filmmakers. In the original story, the special twists for the Quarter Quells were written long in advance. That is, the changes in the rules which define every twenty-fifth game were devised by the people who first thought up the Hunger Games and the Capitol just carries them out religiously. There is a moment in the novel when Katniss wonders whether the Quarter Quells are rigged because of her, but the possibility is never brought up again . . . possibly because it would take a paranoid schizophrenic to believe something so outrageous. So by explicitly revealing that the quell is rigged and that it's all because of Katniss, the movie opens itself to the interpretation that she was knocked into a coma during the last games and that all subsequent events are a self-absorbed dream she can't wake up from. (But that's another Jena Malone movie, isn't it? Bwahahahahahahaha!)
Now, I don't mind the change itself too much, because what is lost in world building is gained back in plotting. What I do mind is that we're bumping up against the walls of Collins's imagination and finding out how limited it actually is. It's just too incredible to believe that the Capitol doesn't have PR people savvy enough to manipulate the narrative to their advantage without killing anyone. After all, remember that they still have control of the media, that Katniss's plans are not half as good as her dumb luck, that she has started to play along for other people's sake, and that even her biggest fans seem to believe everything they see on TV. In our world, PR people would give anything for odds like those!!!
3. One sequence which probably won't age well is Katniss's archery demonstration in the training centre, which you can see a little bit of in the following clip . . .
Our children will find it as laughable as we find the stop-motion monsters in the original Clash of the Titans. Yet I mention this not to mock Catching Fire, but to give it cuddles for when it can't help being cheesily adorable. I like this part! =)
2. When all is said and done, though, the training centre sequence will never be a tenth as embarrassing as the scene in which Katniss gets to be Jesus. It's almost exactly like this moment from Alien 3 . . .
. . . only a lot less subtle. =P
But to be truly fair to the filmmakers, who probably aren't believers, it's not a totally indulgent connection. Jesus caused a lot of trouble just by existing, too--and his enemies wanted His execution to be as public as possible as well. They might have even televised it, had they access to the technology.
Of course, the true and proper distinction is that ontological chasm between a projected or perceived messiah and The Real Deal.
1.And then there's the cliffhanger ending . . .
Image Sources: a) The Hunger Games: Catching Fire poster, b) Katniss and the Tributes, c) Old man's mockingjay salute, d) District 11 mockingjay salute, e) Effie Trinket's butterfly dress, f) Johanna Mason and Finnick Odair, g) Alien 3 screen cap