Straight off the bat, I should say that Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins is one of the best books I have ever read, the Hunger Games Saga being at the top of list of Young Adult fiction. This book has everything — romance, action, tragedy, drama — its a little light on comedy but laughter is mostly in short supply in dystopian novels. Catching Fire is really perfect to be picked up for screen adaptation mainly because it has a very progressive plot that continues to build until the grand finale — or rather the grand finale for the meantime until 2014 and 2015 when Mockingjay finally concludes the series.
Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) leave the Cornucopia as victors of the 74th Hunger Games but their act of defiance in refusing to kill one another unwittingly became the inspiration of oppressed people in the lower districts to rise up against the Capitol. President Snow finds it hard to stomp the rebellion without blatantly harming Katniss, who on the one hand is the darling of the wealthy and on the other, the hope of the poor. So, with the help of new gamemaster Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman), he devises a clever plot to bring the two, along with 22 other Victors from the 12 districts in the line of fire again as tributes to the 3rd Quarter Quells (75th Hunger Games), where he seeks to tie up the loose end he left in letting the District 12 tributes live in the previous games.
At first, I was on the fence about some of the casting choices. I had no problem with Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Gamemaster Plutarch Heavensbee but my reservations were more for Sam Claflin as Finnick Odair. I thought of Finnick more as a tall carefree charmer and Sam was more of a quiet brooding type. I did not think he looked the part, especially after he bulked up in the past year, with his neck sticking out like a trunk. I pictured Finnick differently, that’s all. When the movie started however, I found my fears laid to rest because apparently, director Francis Lawrence (Constantine, I am Legend) knew whet he was doing. Everybody played their part and the movie progressed without a hitch.
Catching Fire had a different feel to it. From the set to the acting, everything was better. It was more subdued but it had more of an impact than its predecessor. While in the first movie, Jennifer Lawrence bordered on manic in some of the scenes, director Lawrence knew how to reel her in and choose moments to make her shine, making her dramatic sequences more pronounced. While before, it was one level all the way for Katniss, this time around, Jennifer Lawrence was able to showcase her Academy Award winning acting arsenal, making Katniss a more relateable heroine, despite being a twit and going back and forth between Peeta and Gale. Supporting actors Woody Harrelson, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth also deserve applause for their excellent performances — Liam despite his limited appearance. Generally, there was really a vast improvement in the portrayal of the characters and its great that the movie benefits from the actors’ growth and maturity. A shoutout to Stanley Tucci for pulling off the flamboyant host Ceasar Flickerman. I loved the way he laughed.
The screenwriters — Simon Beaufoy and Michael Arndt also deserve credit for their excellent use discretion in editing out and modifying the book to suit the film audience. While I would have liked for them to flesh out some of the backstories, I appreciate the fact that they stuck with the important stuff and wrote the characters so that they will shine like their literary counterparts did even with less screentime.
I especially loved the scene in District 11, the home of Rue and Thresh and thought that the teary eyed goodbye of Effie Trinket was a nice touch. The set and the effects were also much more fluid than the first movie, and the use of gaelic scoring in some parts with the slow motion made the film feel more epic.
All in all, with a book as good as Catching Fire, its pretty hard to measure up to one’s imagination. Most of the time, movies fail to fulfill the expectations of book fans leading to anarchy — okay scratch that — violent reactions online that eventually affect the movie’s blockbuster hopes negatively. They often fall in the pit of doing too much or too little. Catching Fire did neither. It relied on instinct and common sense, and a grasp of its source material to guide them through the development of the movie. Catching Fire, for me, was still not at par with the book, nor my imagination, but dang, it came really close. I really enjoyed this movie. It was well made and the effort and care that came with the film really shone through. And as a fan of the franchise, that’s really all that I could hope for. Can’t wait for Mockingjay.