BY EMILY GAGNE
It’s rare that you see a movie that perfectly encapsulates everything you loved about the book it was based on. It’s even rarer to find a flick that takes the captivating plot, characters and dialogue to the next level. In this arena then, you might consider The Hunger Games: Catching Fire a token of pure gold.
Although I remain adamant that Mockingjay is the best of the Hunger Games series (you better believe I can’t wait for the two movies penned by none other than Buffy‘s Danny Strong), the second book, Catching Fire, is, much like its heroine Katniss Everdeen (newbie Academy Award winner Jennifer Lawrence in the films), something truly striking. Building off the already-intriguing concept of the first book, it presents Katniss and boy friend/boyfriend Peeta (the adorably spot-on Josh Hutcherson) with a new, exciting and frightening challenge. While the end of The Hunger Games, the book and the movie, suggested that the pair had somewhat succeeded in toppling their dystopic society, the Capitol, by becoming the first team to survive the fight to the death of the title, Catching Fire suggests that their battles are far from over. The Capitol’s corrupt leader President Snow (Donald Sutherland) slowly begins to catch on to their possibly revolutionary plans and decides to do everything in his power — including forcing them into another games! — to stop them.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire follows this plot to a tee, only missing out on some very, very minor plot points. There will be purists that will complain, for example, about the first scene between gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee (the latest Oscar winner to join the series cast, Phillip Seymour Hoffman) and Katniss, and, perhaps, the decision not to show footage of Katniss and Peeta’s mentor Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) during his own games. But these small things are so quickly overshadowed by everything else that’s so right about the film, particularly the second half, which sees Catching Fire‘s high production, high stakes arena come to life just as everyone imagined it.
Immense care was obviously taken by director Francis Lawrence to make the arena scenes perfect, from the higher budget CGI (the monkeys look 100 per cent better than the mutts at the end of the first games did) to the detailed waterside production design to the more-than-game performances from Lawrence, Hutcherson, Sam Clafin, Jena Malone, Jeffrey Wright, Lynn Cohen and Amanda Plummer. The only thing you won’t like about the arena is the fact that you know time is quickly tick-tocking away while you’re there, and that means there are only so many areas — and only so much movie — left to explore.
Really, there is little about Catching Fire that doesn’t catch. There is a lack of soundtrack again, with original songs from the likes of Patti Smith, Sia and The Weeknd pushed aside for a simple score, but it actually works in the film’s favour, as it allows us to focus in on the emotional performances from the cast. And believe me, you’ll want to pay close attention to Katniss’s new competition. Malone makes a particularly spunky Johanna Mason, completely owning the character’s highly revealing, endless J. Law reaction gif-producing intro scene. And oh, what a wave of babe Clavin is as the book’s triton — I mean, titan! — of a new character, Finnick Odair. Prepare to melt like a freshly-popped sugar cube whenever he and his devilish, yet damaged smirk are on screen, especially as he interacts with the adorable Cohen, who plays elder competitor and Finnick mother figure Mags.
In terms of tributing both book and movie fans, I’d say The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a capitol — not to be confused with Capitol (!) — success.