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'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire' movie review (spoilers)

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"The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" movie

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I finally ventured out to see “Catching Fire.” I went in with pretty high expectations after the success of “The Hunger Games”. I had also been hearing great things about the movie. “Catching Fire” did not meet those expectations. It exceeded them. This was by far one of the best book to movie adaptations that I have ever seen. But before I ramble on too much further, let me give you a little back story.

I read all three of these books right before the release of “The Hunger Games” to theaters. I cried my way through these books. I connected deeply with Katniss’s desperation to protect her younger sister Primrose. The intenseness of her feelings for Prim echoed my feelings toward my little sister. I understood Katniss’s decision to volunteer and could see myself doing the same.

I am not a crier, so I was quite shocked at my visceral reaction to this book. I would find out two weeks later that I was pregnant. Naturally, I wrote off these emotions as hormones. Watching “Catching Fire” in theaters brought all those ‘hormones’ back in full force. I started tearing up as soon as they arrived in District 11 for the Victory Tour.

Okay, now let’s dive into the particulars! Don’t read any further if you don’t like spoilers.

Seriously, don’t.

Last chance.

Didn’t listen? Oh well.

President Snow’s visit to Katniss in Victors’ Village before the Victory Tour was spot on. Donald Sutherland bring such a quiet, elegant, menacing presence to each scene. The subtle (and not so subtle) verbal sparring between President Snow and Katniss set the tone for the conflict brewing in the rest of the movie.

Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson portray the tension between Katniss and Peeta superbly. My heart broke almost every time they were on screen together. Hutcherson let Peeta’s longing bleed through his mask of indifference. The emotional wounds inflicted upon him by Katniss color his ever interaction.

The first stop on the Victory Tour is District 11 and is the most glaring reminder that this is a very different movie from “The Hunger Games”. Seeing the families of Rue and Thresh remind you that all the tributes (not just Katniss and Peeta) are/were so much more than just participants in the game.

The anger of the citizens hangs in the air and with each subsequent stop strips away any remaining bit of naivety or hope for a quiet future from Katniss and Peeta.

Upon arriving at the Capital, the excess of the Roman empire is on display in full force. At this point, if you haven’t realized that the Capital is an allegory for the Roman empire, then perhaps even young adult books are a little above your comprehension level.

The filmmakers choose to not include Katniss’s chance meeting with the runaways from District 8, as well as scrubbing most references to District 13 (saving that for the big reveal at the end). I applaud this decision as it would have definitely slowed the pace of the movie that they were trying so hard to build to a slow burn.

One of the high points of the whole movie is Effie’s gradual awakening to the dark side of the Capital. Elizabeth Banks is amazing at every turn. Her farewell to Katniss and Peeta on the eve of the games is another of the emotional high points of the movie. My stomach turns knowing what is in store for her and the other members of Katniss’s team in Mockingjay.

Meeting the other Victors was very satisfying. The casting was absolutely on point. Sam Clafin’s Finnick Odair is strong, charming, and all together yummy. I was honestly sketchy on Jenna Malone as Johanna Mason but she delivered a Victor with grit, attitude, sexuality, and personality.

While we are talking about excellent casting, I have three words for you: PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN. What a perfect Plutarch Heavensbee and foil to Donald Sutherland’s President Snow. The filmmakers wisely used conversations between Heavensbee and Snow to explain the some of the various deus ex machina that pops up every so often in these books.

The action in the arena was very well done and fast paced. Deaths of Mags, the Morphling, and Wiress were all very well done. The final scene in the arena with Katniss and Finnick had the tension turned up to 11 thanks to the audience being treated to President Snow’s reaction in the viewing room.

Now that’s not to say that everything was perfect. The interaction between Gale and Katniss was kinda blah. And as great at the movie was, it couldn’t make up for a couple of the more glaring oddities in the book. Since Beetee was in on the rebellion plan and that it obviously revolved around his expertise with the wiring and the lightning, wouldn’t he have known that the arena was a clock? Why did it take Wiress’s “tick tock” to Katniss to finally have it dawn on anyone?

Also, why the heck did the careers attack the cornucopia when they were outnumbered? You don’t attack the high ground without the numbers. What did the careers hope to gain from this? Let’s remember that these aren’t just newly culled tributes. They are all victors. Everyone of them outlasted/killed/outsmarted 23 (or 22) other tributes. Sure they succeeded in killing Wiress but at the cost of Cashmere and Gloss. So now instead of being outnumbered 6 to 4, they are outnumbered 5 to 2. It was Collins was ready to wrap up the book and was stuck with the dilemma of what to do about Wiress (she didn’t factor into the sequels) and the careers. It was the easy way out and it bugged me when I first read it and bugged me again when I saw the movie.

But those are flaws in the book itself and you can’t really fault the filmmakers. The movie was the best book-to-movie adaptation that I had seen in a long time (perhaps ever). I was very pleased with the finished product and can’t wait for “Mockingjay”.

Additional Resources

Erin Eymard aka The Bookworm has been an Examiner since May 2013. She also has her own book blog,The Bookworm's Fancy, and contributes to The New Podler Review of Books. For more updates, subscribe to the New Orleans Book Examiner.

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