How the Catching Fire film gets it (mostly) right

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Category: Reading
Tagged: film

 I still vividly remember the day back in my former life as a Children’s Bookseller when I was handed a proof copy of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Booksellers had spent months behind piles of vampire novels and I was thankful for a book without fangs or sparkle. It was a bleak but utterly gripping read, so it’s no surprise that the books have since become a huge phenomenon.

The second instalment of the films, Catching Fire, was released last month, and here are my thoughts:

Team Peeta or Team Gale?

Of course, there has to be a love triangle. It would be unrealistic for a teenage protagonist to go without some kind of love angst, even one living in Panem. However, it’s interesting how much of a dichotomy the films have managed to generate.

In the book, Katniss appears much more conflicted between her two leading men. What started as an act for the camera with Peeta soon becomes a confusing mess of feelings and the brooding Gale is a steady figure that she finds her mind frequently wandering back to. In the films, I’m surprised there’s even a notion of ‘Team Peeta’; Josh Hutcherson plays the puppy dog eyes pretty well, but it all looks very one-sided from where I’m sitting. There isn’t enough time to focus on the uncertain but improving nature of their relationship as she learns to trust him again, particularly during the victory tour. It’s obvious that Katniss cares for him, but it’s more like a survivor’s bond than anything profound. With Gale, her actions scream far louder than her words but Liam Hemsworth mostly just stands around looking handsome. Fair enough, I suppose.

What’s most interesting is how the boys spend a lot of time being trapped in a world of angsty moping, despite the horrors going on around them. Katniss, meanwhile, has more important things to worry about. It’s hugely refreshing that she doesn’t get consumed by the ‘love triangle’ but I think the whole triangle suffers in translation from the first person narrative in the books.

Shift in tone

The shift in tone from the first film is notable. The focus is very much on violence as a spectator sport and the sustained threat of the Capitol. It took a considerable amount of screen time to get to the arena (which was brilliantly realised), but once we did the action was pretty relentless. I found the jabberjays scene particularly difficult to watch. It’s a long film but I didn’t look at my watch once - the pacing is pretty much perfect.

Cast of awesome

The understated performances really drive the film. Once again, Jennifer Lawrence is engaging and moving as Katniss, a beacon of hope shoved under a grubby spotlight. Her controlled reserve makes her moments of emotion even more raw; you can feel her sheer horror at the thought of losing anyone she loves. Another notable performance comes from Woody Harrelson as the ever-beleaguered Haymitch, a role which could have been a sad caricature in less skilled hands. Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman always steals the screen with his creepy grin and Capitol-sponsored sunny personality. Philip Seymour Hoffman takes a fantastic measured turn as the new Gamesmaker Plutarch Heavensbee, while Jena Malone manages to imbue Johanna Mason, a rather flat character in the book, with rebellious intent.

Treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

The film’s treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder should be applauded. The film favours some subtle glimpses into the horror these characters have endured without resorting to melodrama, lending it keen emotional weight. However, one omission in the adaptations is the amputation of Peeta’s leg (which occurs in the first book but was eliminated from the film), which presented some challenges for him his second time in the arena. This could have been an opportunity for the film to explore the struggles of someone with a physical disability. Granted, this is a sensitive issue and in the books we’re not privy to Peeta’s experiences directly, but it would have been a very interesting and challenging element to retain in some sense in the films.

Overall, Catching Fire is a very enjoyable addition to the Hunger Games franchise. It takes a step up from the first film, and it will be interesting to see if the tone can be maintained over the final two instalments.

Do you agree with Lynsey's take on the movie adaptation of Catching Fire? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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