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.

Review – The Hunger Games Movie

Photo by Mya Jamila

Photo by Mya Jamila

After all my obsessing over the trilogy, I feel I must at least give you some sort of review of the long awaited movie The Hunger Games. (Read my “review” of the books here.) First off, in situations like this, it almost goes without saying that the book was better than the movie. Both Jacquelyn and I were grateful for having read the books, so that we could fill in what the movie dismissed.

Overall, the film was good, exciting and entertaining, which is the most important part because “They just want a good show. That’s all they want.”  Lots of action and strong characters – loved Haymitch and Effie. The books are written in first person, from Katniss’s perspective, so the movie allowed us  to see what the book did not: what happened in the gamemaker’s room, the Seam and the other districts while Katniss was in the arena. I liked that! However, I missed hearing Katniss’s internal emotions, thoughts and conflicts; and I don’t believe the movie provided good alternative ways for viewers to understand her. I wonder how those who haven’t read the books are responding to her character.

My biggest disappointment was no surprise, but disappointing nonetheless. As expected, filmmakers feminized Peeta. In the book, he is not only physically taller, stronger and dangerously skilled with a knife, his entire personality is more self-assured, courageous and unflappable. Filmmaker’s traded Peeta’s original sense of integrity, determination and desire to protect Katniss for wavering emotions, fear, uncertainty and all the trappings of a love-sick schoolboy. In the film, he comes across as googly eyed over and dependent on the girl who must save him, but in the book he is her equal – equal but different.

I do not understand, nor will I ever, why Hollywood insists that all artistic male characters be emasculated. So he paints and bakes. So what? For heaven’s sake, I know a boatload of men, several in my family, who are artists, musicians, and cooks, and not one of them has traded in their manhood for an apron or a banjo. Believe it or not, they can handle both.

I must confess that weak male characters are a pet peeve of mine – just ask my best friend and our daughters, they can tell you all about it! There’s a whole list of male characters I won’t even tolerate – including, yes, the guy from The Notebook. Yuck! You can analyze it all you want, but regardless of what you come up with, half this world is populated with men and I’d like to keep it that way. No, I do not want women to rule the world! And, no, I do not want men to be more like my girlfriends! I want men to be men. And yes, they can be artistic and sensitive and good in the kitchen, without being stripped of their masculinity. Oh, Paula Cole, have you yet found the answer to your burning question…Where have all the cowboys gone?

I have one more question for the filmmakers and screenwriters (including Suzanne Collins who was not only the books’ author but also a screenwriter). Why in the world didn’t you use children to play the flashback scene where Peeta feeds a starving Katniss??? There is no excuse. NONE! And, I can’t help but add a correction for my readers and potential movie goers. In the book, during the flashback scene, Peeta  is a young boy who artfully burns the bread on purpose and endures a beating from his mom, hoping that his mother will force him to feed the burned bread to the pigs. She does, enabling him to sneak out back and give the bread to a young, starving Katniss instead. The movie took this strong portrayal away from Peeta by showing him as an uncertain teenager who threw leftover bread toward Katniss like she was a dog.  In the book, Peeta saved and sustained her, even when they were young –  a- beautiful picture of his character and love for her, that was completely lost in this ridiculous scene!

Finally, a word on the violence. I believe the filmmakers did a great job handling such a violent story for a young audience that included many grade school children. Personally, violence does not generally upset me as a movie-goer and so believe me when I say, the movie definitely pushes the boundaries of PG-13 when it comes to violence. All other content, however, was well within the bounds of the rating.

Even with all its imperfections, I still very much enjoyed the movie. I wiggled in my seat like a schoolgirl, waiting for it to start. And afterward, Jacquelyn and I analyzed the movie over the phone for two hours. Perhaps I am a harsh critic who likes giving her opinion too much, but there you have it, my feedback on The Hunger Games.