Book vs Movie: Catching Fire

Book vs Movie Catching Fire review
As a reader of The Hunger Games series, but not a passionate enough fan to call myself a "volunteer" or "tribute", Catching Fire was my favorite installment of the trilogy. Our fictional heroine Katniss Everdeen, and her romantic companion Peeta Mallark, had just defied the Capitol's ruling that only one winner can survive their yearly games where competitors fight to the death. Her journey becomes a symbol of hope and this is not something President Snow is willing to stand for.

Now as victors, Everdeen is forced to realize that winning is more complicated than merely surviving the games. As a regulation for the winners, she must live outside her home of District 12 and mentor future gamers for the rest of her life. To stop another rebellion on his hands, and to end the reign of Everdeen as an inspiration, President Snow summons Everdeen, Mallark, and twenty-four former victors to compete in another round of his homicidal games.

I liked the first movie. Despite the use of the shaky cam and cutting important sequences out of the first adaptation, director Gary Ross created an atmosphere I felt was gritty and raw. When director Francis Lawrence was named to helm Catching Fire, I wasn't very surprised and still excited to see what he would make of it.

No doubt the second book tackles more than a new creative vision. The story itself is more elaborate. Everdeen's relationship with Mallark has to be proved to the Capitol and the rest of the nation that it's more than a farce. President Snow believes that if he can convince Panem she is not their new leader for a rebellion, it must be through their romance. When all else fails, he summons her, Mallark, and others into another round of assassinations in order to make an example out of all the victors.

Though the book is told through Everdeens' points of view, Lawrence continued to showcase multiple plots. I'm not sure if I was entirely in love with this because I didn't feel it added definition to Everdeen's story. This practice was used in the first film showing us how the games were created and manipulated behind the scenes. They made me feel anticipation for what Katniss was about to face. Used again here, we let in on the backdoor plans between President Snow, and his new gamemaker Plutach Heavensbee, to annihilate Everdeen. Those scenes captured the Capitol's political undercurrent but didn't explicitly evoke any sort of emotion towards our heroine.

I tried to keep in mind I finished the series more than a year ago. Suffice it to say, I know the ending and the fate of all the characters. I knew where the film was going - just like many other book adaptations I come across - and didn't feel invigorated or excited.

In fact, for a majority of the film I felt the movie was flat. Its special effects, costumes, and sets take full advantage of the blockbuster freedom the studios awarded it. The script covers practically every aspect of the book except for a few microscopic details that really can't even be complained about - they're so small. While I was watching Catching Fire I couldn't help but feel very underwhelmed. The bigger scope of the film created distance from the gravity of Everdeen's circumstances and it lost a bit of the story's unpredictability. With steadier cinematography, it's almost like the entire film was harnessed to the ground and never took flight. 

In terms of performances, Jennifer Lawrence was never my imaginary interpretation Everdeen. My mind doesn't only accept what I saw her as, but I feel like her acting is unsatisfying. Contrary to John Hutcherson as Peeta Mallark, I feel like she is a blank canvas that knows what to emote but doesn't necessarily have a backstory behind her emotions. When it's her to cue to scream, cry, grimace, smile, etc. she does it well but not with conviction. Throughout the film her well-documented off-screen personality seemed to show through more than the character we saw in the first film.

Digging deep, fleshing out, and making us care about the characters may be where the director loses the ante of this second film. Woody Harrelson as Haymitch falls into a campy personality as the alcoholic mentor. Donald Sutherland pops up as President Snow to emote the strict power of the Capitol. Phillip Seymour Hoffman as the new game-maker Plutarch Heavensbee pretty much phones it in. The acting in general doesn't push boundaries that make me terribly excited except that many actors were cast in the right parts and that's about it.

When re-entering the arena, Everdeen essentially has her pick of allies that are older, a bit deranged, and some definitely not reliable. Few of these supporting characters have limited screentime but make a strong impact. Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin) was one of my favorites, and I felt he accurately interpreted being more than a pretty face through sarcasm, protectiveness, and heartbreak. Jenna Malone as the uninhibited sly Johann Mason is a complete wild card. You never know if you can trust her or if she'll take an opportunity to screw you over, and Malone balances this with having nothing to lose - which is exactly what Mason is all about.

While Lawrence continues to shine in both fans and critics eyes, Elizabeth Banks returning as Effie stole the show for me. Her character's fluffy personality leads us to believe that she is blinded by the Capitol's violent corruption. Slowly Effie comes to a heartbreaking realization that her friends are going to die and the games are no longer meager entertainment. Passed being dolled up in Capitol Couture and her luxurious lifestyle, she wears the biggest facade of everyone. When it comes for the moment for her to say goodbye to Everdeen and Mallark, this time after relating o know them as a team, Banks delivers a heartbreaking farewell. She superbly translates Effie's epiphany about the deadly reality her friends are facing and her own little rainbow-colored bubble she tries hides in.

The second half of the film establishes Everdeen's journey and political gambits of a Victory Tour that riled up the nation more than subdued it. Teaming up with Peeta, and her pick of the litter with allies, she is thrust into an entirely new arena with reconstructed obstacles. Reading the book, I was so interested in how this would turn out on-screen.

As the characters venture on an island shaped like a clock, every hour pours out different challenges such as ferocious monkeys, a toxic fog that makes skin boil, and flocks of birds that mimic loved ones being tortured. If you step over on hour into another, a force field blocks you from escaping until the hour is over.

One of the things that the movie successfully heightens moreso than the book is the visual world of the arena. It's bigger, bloodier, more unpredictably cruel and savage. Besides Everdeen's bow and arrow or more simpler techniques of hunting, technology (mostly in the third book) is a blur to me. The prose isn't laid out in a way that is digestable to see. The movie was by far the most dramatic and hair-raising. It inhibits the senses and the environment becomes even more of a threat than her competitors and sketchy allies.

The first film defined Katniss as the unexpected symbol of hope. The second film's script lacked to formalize the importance of her well-being; not only as a solo character but what she means to the resistance as well. As a reader who knew the series' ending almost a year ago, this sequel didn't inspire me to ask how does Katniss dare to move forward. The production itself has the story, costumes, sets, and fanbase. The edge of guessing what will happen to her becomes way too soften.

As a geek girl who often tries to share her latest obsessions with her fandom-less family, the movie didn't open up many doors of communication for why or how the sequel was important or riveting. A change in director was by all means meant to inject new life into the series but I fear it kept it flat. Overall, the movie is an honest adaptation. The story just doesn't tread far enough passed the epic blockbuster scope it was given. More or less it floats on the girl on fire phenomenon but doesn't charges a battle cry forward in support for her.

Winner: Book
Book: ★★★
Movie: ★★

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