The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
A disclaimer to start this review: I have never read any of the Hunger Games books by Suzanne Collins nor have I seen the first Hunger Games film. Now why on Earth would a reviewer, who just admitted his ignorance in a franchise, watch a sequel of a planned tetralogy? Never let it be said that you can’t try new things and also go outside your comfort zone. While I might be in a bit of a haze going into this film it would be interesting to step into a beloved series and see what all the hub-bub is. Luckily the sequel, Catching Fire, is very easy to jump right in but unfortunately that’s where most of the good times end.
Taking place right after the first film, Catching Fire follows the aftermath of Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) defying the rules and faking their love to survive the Hunger Games. Now being major celebrities the two survivors have to watch out for the ruthless President Snow (Donald Sutherland), witness the start of a revolution, and quite possibly endure yet another trial of The Hungers Games. Give credit in that this sequel is very easy to follow and for newbies, like me, the opening scenes do a good job recapping the story without blatantly spelling it out. It was easy to get intrigued on what was going on in Katniss life and to also see what kind of universe these people suffer through. Unfortunately the intriguing setting is only in place to give us yet another boring, and predictable, Young Adult adaptation.
There is actually something else to praise about this film and that is the production design. The world that revolves around The Hunger Games is filled with subtle technology (at least until we get to the second half). Yes, there are holographic televisions and hovercrafts but it’s never flashy and it feels very realistic in that it is where we could be heading in the future. Production Designer Philip Messina does a good job making each locale believable whether it is the slums of several districts or the white, sterilized control rooms for the games. The costumes in this also stand out and with designer Trish Summerville there is a gambit of outlandish designs. The uniforms for the Games participants are sleek, the normal attire for citizens look ragged, and the insane designs for the people of District One bring Lady Gaga to shame.
Where the film starts to derail is how unimportant the cast is. Now that isn’t to say people like Jennifer Lawrence, Woody Harrelson, or Donald Sutherland does a bad job because they don’t. But they are there because they are doing the roles they have done so many times. For example, Lawrence as Katniss is so much like her characters in Winter’s Bone and Silver Linings Playbook that this role is a cakewalk. Because of that, they don’t seem to be giving the most effort and it’s hard not to imagine they’re reading the script during some of these takes. Even a man like Philip Seymour Hoffman gets nothing much to do but stand (or sit) around and spout typical villain speak. It’s the side characters that really bring energy to this film and it would have been better to see even more of Elizabeth Banks in ridiculous outfits and Stanley Tucci clearly having a ball by laughing his head off.
Time and time again it is hard not to notice that most adaptations of Young Adult novels never translate well to screen. Simon Beaufoy and Michael Arndt (under pseudonym Michael DeBruyn) might be working with Collins words but it shows just how weak writing has become for this generation of readers. Characters tend to spout the obvious, including their emotions, and apart from Katniss there really is no development here to evolve anyone from start to finish. Plus the villains in this are so evil and so stupid that it gets quite funny to see him get constantly foiled because they can’t believe the most obvious outcome happened. Then you have a lot of downtime and more cuts could have been made to make this shorter. While the target audience might sigh at the ‘romantic’ moments they tend to repeat themselves endlessly and you can tell most scenes are in the final cut to stall for time.
At the end of the day it is quite obvious that this reviewer is not the intended target for a movie like this. The universe involved in The Hunger Games is very intriguing and the good production designs make the movie visually interesting. Catching Fire though is just another pre-teen film with a lot of repetition, love triangles, and barely enough action to warrant a PG-13 rating. Thankfully the movie has a strong cast and even if they get little to do outside the script it shows how weak this franchise might have been with lesser talent. If there is one thing I learned while conducting this failed experiment is that we really need to get our kids to read much better literature than what’s being offered.