Catching Fire Movie Review

I know you have all been anxiously awaiting my review of Catching Fire, the movie based on the second book of Suzanne Collins‘ trilogy The Hunger Games.

Well, you can finally relax. It’s here!

I have already written a review of the books and the first movie; check them out here and here.  (In my opinion, the book review qualifies as “not to be missed.”)

Please note that I use the term “review” loosely. You will find no technical terms or expert analysis…just me, my thoughts, opinions and sometimes wacky connections to life and God.

First Impressions:

  • What a fantastic story. The whole concept is brilliant: a futuristic, dystopian society at the mercy of a corrupt, oppressive system that pits teenagers against each other by making them fight to the death on reality television. Brilliant! Horrifying, but brilliant!
  • Liked it better than the first HG movie.
  • Great casting! Finnick, Beetee, Maggs, Johanna, Cashmere, Gloss…almost exactly as described in the books.
  • Special effects significantly improved from the first movie.
  • So fast paced! I couldn’t believe that when the Quarter Quell finally began, there were only 45 minutes left to the movie.
  • Gale, Gale, Gale. I confess that if I hadn’t read the books, I would want Katniss to choose Gale. He’s just…so…Gale.
  • Prim. What is she, like 35 now?

Bad News First – What I Hated:

  • Not knowing Katniss’s internal dialogue. The books, written in the first person, allow us to understand her internal struggles, fears, doubts and hopes.  Whether it’s the fault of the screenwriters, the actors, both or neither, the movie limits our ability to identify with Katniss.
  • Peeta is not as strong a character as he was in the books. While he comes across way better than he did in the first movie (more on that here) he’s still too feminine and puppy-doggish towards Katniss for my taste.
  • The failure to develop Katniss and Peeta’s relationship on-screen. Maybe no one could figure out a good way to transition back and forth between the story’s fierce intensity and its deep, sometimes painful, tenderness. (Except in the case of Rue.) And I guess that if one side of the story had to be sacrificed, this was the way to go. Otherwise, you run the risk of making just another sappy, teenage love story.
    But in the books, the relationship between Katniss and Peeta illustrates of the running theme that hope is the only thing stronger than fear. Because the only thing that conquers Katniss – a wounded girl, walled off from love and driven by fear – is Peeta – the boy with the bread, the dandelion in the spring, the embodiment of hope. Many things help save her life in the arenas but Peeta saves her heart.
  • Katniss’s mother, when tending to Gale’s wounds, is nervous and ineffectual, and Prim has to take over. Yet in the book, the mother is actually composed and competent. Perhaps this was done to demonstrate Prim’s maturity, but it was unnecessary. Anybody with one good eye can tell that Prim’s not a little girl anymore.

What They Left Out…But Shouldn’t Have:

  • Plutarch showing Katniss his Mockingjay watch at the party. If the goal was to keep people in the dark about his part in the revolution, well, the book’s kind of gave that away already.
  • When Peeta takes care of Katniss after she injures her foot and they experience “normal” life together.
  • When Peeta says, “My nightmares are usually about losing you…I’m okay once I realize your here.” (page 86)
  • Katniss & Peeta on the rooftop, watching the sunset together, a couple of days before the games.

What They Should Have Left Out…But Didn’t:

  • Katniss kissing Gale then kissing Peeta then Gale then Peeta then Gale then Peeta. OK, I may be exaggerating. But this is my least favorite part of Catching Fire, the book and movie.  It’s so Bella-from-Twilight. Pick a man, sister. And until you do, stop kissing and holding hands and “just cuddling.” It’s bad role-modeling and selfish and just plain embarrassing!

What I Loved:

  • A funnier, smarter script that seemed to follow the book more closely than the first movie.
  • No major fails like in the first movie. (Yes, I am referring to the bread scene, the worst massacre of the first film, which given the nature of the story, says a lot.)
  • Peeta & Katniss’s speeches in District 11. Rue & Thresh’s families, the old man whistling the Mockingjay tune. I cried. Like a baby.
  • Peeta holding the morphling girl as she died, coaxing her to look at the beautiful colors in the sky until she passed.
  • Cinna and the Mockingjay dress. No. Explanation. Needed.
  • Peeta. His character is better. Funnier. Stronger. But still not taller. I will always love Peeta.
  • Effie. Funnier. Kinder. Human. Even likeable!
  • Haymitch. Still Haymitch.
  • Snow’s granddaughter. The perfect foil of her ruthless, evil grandfather.
  • Individual Assessments when Peeta painted Rue and Katniss hung an effigy of Seneca Crane.
  • The elevator scene. Hilarious.

Favorite Lines:

  • Haymitch: Nobody wins the games. Period. There are survivors. No winners.
  •  Katniss: What can you see? Prim: Hope.
  • As graffiti: The odds are NEVER in our favor.
  • And the best line of the movie: Remember who the enemy is.

So good.

Finally, I can’t think of a better way to end this post than with the last few paragraphs of my trilogy review. (Read the whole thing here.)

Do humans universally long for…a love that sacrifices one’s self to save another? If our music, movies, plays and books are any indication, then we must… it should come as no surprise that so many people love these books…the story stirs something deep within us.

As a baker, Peeta literally feeds and nourishes people in a starving community. This, I imagine, was no accident on the author’s part because he is ultimately the one who satisfies Katniss’s deepest hunger. I can’t help but smile a little at his name, which is actually a homonym for a kind of bread eaten by millions of people the world over. But I wonder if as Collins was writing Peeta, she considered the One who truly satisfies.

We, every one of us, are part of a Hunger Game. Only this is no game. This is real.

Look around you. Think about it. Why are you here? Who’s really in control? Are you still a slave to the unseen powers of this dark world? Do you know who the real enemy is? Are you hungry? Starving for the truth? Desperate for something…or someone to satisfy your soul?

He’s out there, you know. Your Rescuer. The One who said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven” is all the food your starving soul needs.

And He’s the only chance you have of getting out of this arena alive.

Recognizing God’s Voice

Dear friends, I have a new post on our church’s 40 Days blog. Here is a taste, then you can keep reading at their site if you like:

Photo by Rose Braverman

Photo by Rose Braverman

Recognizing God’s voice…that’s a phrase packed with will all sorts of potential reactions. Here’s some that come to mind:

  •  Oh, so now you think God is speaking to you. Great.
  •  I don’t hear God. I pray. I meditate. I sit in silence. But guess what? Crickets.
  •  Umm…does this mean I’ll hear a voice? Or have a vision? Or fall down on the ground and start screaming and hollering? Because I really don’t want to cause a scene. Just sayin’.
  •  God has already spoken. The Bible is His final word.
  •  Are you hearing voices in your head?
  •  How do I know if what I hear is from God?
  •  I’m actually kind of afraid to hear from God. What if He’s angry with me? Or worse…what if He doesn’t say anything at all?

And of course there’s the unspoken fear of many comfortable Western Christians:

  • What if He tells me to sell all my belongings, shave my head and move to Zambia? ‘Cause that happens…like all the time…right?

Listening for the Lord, hearing from Him and then understanding what He’s saying can be scary and frustrating. But it can also be exhilarating, freeing and life-changing. I am grateful that some of my first experiences as a Christian included Listening Retreats. At those retreats...keep reading this post

Hungry Anyone?

If anyone had told me a month ago, that my next favorite book would be about a futuristic society that punishes their citizens with high-tech, Hollywood style gladiator games, I would have thought they were crazy. But when my cousin showed me The Hunger Games movie trailer on his phone at Christmas, I was hooked before I even had the book in my hands! My daughter and I spent two nights reading it aloud to each other, alternating chapters. Shouting when it was time to trade the book, “Hurry! Give it over!” or if the person reading paused to catch her breath, “Keep going! Read! Read!” On the last night, we stayed up until 2:00 a.m. sustaining ourselves with granola and chocolate just so we could make it to the end. Which of course was only nominally satisfying….because it is a trilogy!!! We devoured the next two books in a matter of days.

A book that keeps me up at night is one thing. Lots of books keep me up at night. So how do I know if a book’s really gotten to me? If, when I get about 50 pages or so away from the end, I stop reading, because I just don’t want it to be over, don’t want to let the characters go. When I pick it back up, I take my time, savor those last few pages. Even with my daughter waiting anxiously to talk about the final book that she’d already finished, I read the ending slowly, mourning its passing with the turn of each page.

The Hunger Games trilogy, by Suzanne Collins, hardly lacks attention on the blogosphere. In fact, I may be the last blogger in the world to write about it. That’s why I am not going to give the standard review, critique the book or conjecture about whether this trilogy is a rip-off from a Japanese novel with a similar plot, as apparently some have suggested. (The one thing I have to say regarding those rumors is that good writing requires hard work, creativity and talent, and while these books might not rise to the level of classic literature, they are riveting. That doesn’t happen by accident.)

For those of you wondering if you should read the book, I will offer these general thoughts: Many people may be turned off by the overall concept, the graphic violence or the complete lack of anything spiritual in such a dark world, but the novel itself isn’t dark, like say The Golden Compass. The Hunger Games trilogy is about hope and the power of life to endure, spring up even, in the most neglected of places. If your kids read it, I suggest you read along with them so that you can discuss it together. My daughter and I are still talking about it!

So why am I really writing this post? What do I have to share of any real substance? Well, perhaps nothing more than to say this book confirms the relevance of Christianity’s message and the power of its imagery even in our post-modern world. I am not suggesting The Hunger Games is a Christian book or even that the author was using Christian themes. In some ways, I think Collins was avoiding religion altogether. Why else would she have created a society who faced death every day, but spent so little time thinking about the afterlife or searching for meaning? Don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining! Just acknowledging that some of the treasures I found hidden in this book were likely not put there on purpose.

*Spoiler Alert* The next several paragraphs contain some spoilers. I tried not to give away too much, so I think you could read it without ruining the books or movie, but proceed at your own risk!

First, I find that the premise of the story – that a higher power, The Capitol, rules over the masses by deceiving, oppressing, enslaving and dividing them, causing them to fight one another instead of their real enemy, the sinister President Snow and his government – is not all that different than the spiritual battle depicted in Christianity. Are we not being deceived on a daily basis? Are we not oppressed by doubt, fear, self-righteousness, pride and resentment? Do we not war with one another, if not with swords and guns, then with words and emotions?

Then, there is the love story. Peeta, who represents hope, practically oozes all things good and light. He is a baker, an artist, a natural leader and a man willing to sacrifice his own life for the one he loves, Katniss. In fact, at one point he dies and – wait for it – comes back to life. I’m pretty sure I don’t have to spell this one out for you, but the material’s too good – I can’t not write about it.

At a pivotal moment in their relationship, when they are far from home and in danger of dying, Peeta gives Katniss a locket with pictures of her mother, sister and best friend, Gale. Gale, like Peeta, is in love with Katniss; however, Katniss is unsure of who she loves, unsure if she is even capable of love. While Katniss doesn’t know what she wants, Peeta is unwavering in his love for her. When she needs him, he is there. When she pushes him away, he loves her from afar. When she’s at her worst, he loves her anyway. As they look at the pictures of her family and Gale, Peeta offers Katniss his life, asking her to let him die in her place – he wants her to live, to be happy, to marry Gale and have a full life, even if that means giving her up, giving everything up. That, my friends, is sacrificial, selfless love – the truest form of love there is.

Do humans universally long for this kind of love? A love that sacrifices oneself to save another? If our music, movies, plays and books are any indication, then we must. Images of heroes surround us – heroes that can save us, from loneliness, grief, pain, danger, self-obsession, self-loathing, even death. So it should come as no surprise that so many people love these books. Whether we know it or not, the story stirs something deep within us.

Finally, as a baker, Peeta literally feeds and nourishes people in a starving community. This, I imagine, was no accident on the author’s part because he is ultimately the one who satisfies Katniss’s deepest hunger. I can’t help but smile a little at his name, which is actually a homonym for a kind of bread eaten by millions of people the world over. But I wonder if as Collins was writing Peeta, she considered the One who truly satisfies.

We, every one of us, are part of a Hunger Game. Only this is no game. This is real. Look around you. Think about it. Why are you here? Who’s really in control? Are you still a slave to the unseen powers of this dark world? Do you know who your enemy is? Are you hungry? Starving for the truth? Desperate for something…or someone to satisfy your soul?

He’s out there, you know. Your Rescuer. The One who said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven,” is all the food your starving soul needs. And He’s the only chance you have of getting out of this arena alive.