As a self confessed pop culture addict I feel it my duty to consume everything that flourishes in the zeitgeist. Yes, duty. No one pays me to, no one cares if I’ve read all the “Twilight” novels (I have, and can assure you, don’t do it) or can recite every single episode title of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (I can, you should watch them all, except maybe “Beer, Bad”), but to me, there are no more shameful words to utter than “you know I haven’t actually seen/read/heard that”. And then I hang my head wondering what I have been doing with my life. No doubt working or catching up with friends or some such other useless endeavour.
This is kind of a long winded way of saying – yeah, I jumped on the Hunger Games train only when it became clear this was a film was going to be gif’d (a litmus test of anything pop culture if there ever was one). I joined the book store queue (yay for films retroactively making people read) after the first film came out, so viewed “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” with more knowledge than I did their first outing. I only read “Catching Fire” once, more than a year ago, but I can tell you, if you loved the book, you will love the movie. If you didn’t love the book, well, at least they didn’t make any worse additions? I’m a glass half full kind of girl.
Personally I found this book the best of the trilogy, and whatever worries I had when producers proved completely unprepared for the sequel post first film success, followed by the last minute dumping of original director Gary Ross, were laid to rest when I had tears in my eyes about 15 minutes in. What can I say, Katniss and Peeta begin their “victory” tour in district 11, and it’s all emotion and heartbreak from there. Also, aesthetically it looks better. A lot better.
Let’s first just acknowledge: The film has a big message at its heart and there is no room for subtlety. Dialogue is basic and often monotone. Characters have one defining trait. There is an uneven distribution of wealth, the one per cent (the Capitol) waste every resource, and the 99 per cent (all the other districts) suffer for it. It’s all bread and circuses to control the masses (from Latin: panem et circenses). Panem, also the name of the districts. Subtle. While not exactly ground breaking, I’m a big believer that pop culture has a way of influencing behaviours that can be beneficial; did you know a study in the UK found that a whole generation of Harry Potter readers tended to be more open to diversity, less authoritarian, less likely to support the use of deadly force, and more politically active? Harry Potter and The Hunger Games to the rescue of society guys. No really. Now who’s been wasting their time working and catching up with friends, hmmm? Okay, all of us.
Back to the film, the first half builds the tension in the districts to breaking point, at which stage President Snow feels that the oxygen for their rebellion, Katniss herself, must be wiped out. Thus we re-enter the games. Bringing on previous year’s victors as Katniss and Peeta’s competition this time provides a rich history to the games in a short amount of time, and new cast additions Sam Claflin (as Finnick Odair) and Jena Malone (as Johanna Mason) are superb in their allotted roles and screen time. This much tension and seriousness can be tiring however, and by the time the 75th Hunger Games begin, you’re well on your way to emotional exhaustion. Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) and Effie (Elizabeth Banks) do provide some lighter moments, but it would be nice if these didn’t have to be so spread out. Jennifer Lawrence embodies Katniss wholeheartedly, and while the character in another’s hands might be wooden and unlikable, it is this dedication that veers her into relatable and sympathetic territory instead.
Clint references “The Empire Strikes Back” in his review, and “Catching Fire” certainly expands the universe the way a successful sequel should, as well as offering that dark cliffhanger feel, complete with one main member of the gang being torn from them. Whether it makes the pop culture classic status that series enjoys remains to be seen, but we’ve got two installments to go, and you never know.
Okay, yeah we do know, there’s no way it’s on the same level as “Star Wars” no matter what the prequels did to diminish its status. Still, you should go see it.
You can skip “Twilight” though.
*Shout out to my friend Annie who made me jump on “The Hunger Games” train when I did. so I never had to say those shameful words “I haven’t seen that”.