As with the first volume of this trilogy, I had the good fortune to attend an exclusive press screening of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Once again, a hearty thanks to @Fyodor Fish for the invitation.
And, also like last time, I should note that this is not so much a review as a comment on the adaptation. So, if you haven’t read the books and don’t want to be spoiled, or, if you don’t want to be spoiled for movie-specific details, stop reading now!
The casting: Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss remains a casting coup and I’m happy to say that both her leading men, Josh Hutcherson as Peeta and Liam Hemsworth as Gale, seem much less awkward this time around. I was really looking forward to seeing more Haymitch in this volume, but alas, due to adaptation choices, he doesn’t play as big a role as I expected. But Woody Harrelson is still great, as is Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman. I loved Jena Malone as exhibitionist bad-girl Johanna.
The pacing: This is where the second film really improves on the first. The tiresome first third of the book, while still being covered in a good chunk of film, is mercifully more interesting, with a lot less of Katniss being clueless and wishy-washy than in the book. Yet, this is where there are major cuts in terms of information for the non-reader (see below). The central third of the book seems the most radically condensed, but I think most of the key information about the reaping, tributes, and time in the Capitol is portrayed.
The perspective: While in the first volume I think the film went overboard in playing up the reality-show angle as a replacement for the first-person perspective, here I think they strike a good balance, using Snow’s conversations with Plutarch Heavensbee to good effect in order to fill in information gaps and provide context.
The bad mostly comes down to missing information.
1) Madge. This wasn’t surprising given her absence from the first film and the fact that her role in this book is minimal. However, we don’t get the fuller story of her aunt, or the information on the previous Quarter Quells and how Haymitch won his. That’s a shame because it’s a great story and obviously part of how Katniss gets her force-field idea in the end. Also, it makes the special rules of this Quarter Quell seem to come out of nowhere.
2) More surprising than the Madge omission is the complete absence of Twill and Bonnie, the story of the rebellion in District 8, and the possibility of a District 13. This is probably to give more of a punch to the end but then it’s not really given the play it should have been. I think this could have been a good choice for a cut (because the District 12 opening is far too drawn out in the book), but then the reveal had to be really good. Instead the ending is as swift and sudden as in the book.
3) Plutarch’s secret mockingjay watch. Instead of this brilliant touch, we get fairly cryptic remarks during a dance with Katniss and a flash of a graffiti mockingjay from the train. While this means Katniss is less frustratingly clueless in the first part, when most readers have already figured out that the gamemaker is or will be part of a widespread uprising, the moviegoer is ignorant of the fact that Plutarch is on her side for the whole film. Also, you miss his “it starts at midnight” hint for the arena.
The UglyThe Funny
There was really nothing I hated in this adaptation; I thought it was very successful and better than the first film, as did my non-reader companion. So, instead, I leave you with this brilliant Muppet parody: