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OFFICIAL SILVER SCREENER REVIEW
– THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE –
IMDB Rating: 8.2 out of 10 (101,889 votes)
Director: Francis Lawrence
It’s not often that a sequel reimagines, repeats, and maybe even surpasses the success of it’s predecessor. Possibly ‘Toy Story 2’, and ‘The Godfather Part II’ (to some perhaps, but for me it isn’t nearly as brilliant as ‘Part I’) are the best two examples. And that’s exactly the situation here with the second installment in the Hunger Games series, ‘Catching Fire’. It is a better film than the first in pretty much every way: the action set pieces are more impressive, the character development and focus on character psyche is more detailed, and the special effects are better. From what people were saying about this film, I had high expectations, and to my extreme satisfaction those expectations were passed with flying colours.
Having read the books – actually, having LOVED the books (I literally could not put the first book down) – I found this edition in the Hunger Games series as true an adaptation of the novel as humanly possible. At least, much more so than the first one. And I say ‘humanly possible’ because of course there are certain lengths a writer needs to go to in order to keep the material he’s writing for the screen fresh, entertaining, and unpredictable. A novel is a completely different medium to a film, because it can do different things than a film. It can describe even the deepest, darkest emotions by just writing them down, rather than having to sometimes rely on dialogue to express such things. That’s just one example and that’s why adapting a novel exactly as it was written in to a screenplay format, is near impossible, unless your text is superbly written to the point where it makes the perfect film (I’m again thinking of ‘The Godfather’.)
Thank goodness writers Simon Beaufoy (‘127 Hours’, ‘Slumdog Millionaire’) and Michael Arndt (‘Toy Story 3’, ‘Oblivion’) have been given a brilliant text to work off. Suzanne Collins’ novels created a very strong, wise yet vulnerable female lead in Katniss Everdeen. She was such a great heroine and this was elevated thanks to the way Collins wrote in her emotions and feelings. One of the problems with the first film was that it really didn’t capture the essence of Katniss’ character, mainly her feelings, even though it had similar mood to the novel. But Beaufoy and Arndt nail it here, writing Katniss’ dialogue almost perfectly. In ‘Catching Fire’, the state in which she’s in, one of total confusion and unwanted responsibility, is exactly how I remember the books to portray her.
See, what I thought the first film did well was set everything up. It created the dystopian future of the districts and the completely over-the-top glam of the Capitol. The casting was also perfect; from Woody Harrelson being the Haymitch I imagined while reading, to Liam Hemsworth being just right for the role of Gale. So director Francis Lawrence and the screenwriters were extremely lucky to have the groundwork laid down for them.
But rather than the slightly tackier colour palette of the first film, Francis Lawrence gives us a darker vision, more blacks on white, more dead trees, more hollow and empty places, more dour scenery. This, among other things (namely the performances), is why this film works on a level higher than the first film did.
So, let’s get to those performances, shall we?
For starters, every single performance in this film is one of fantastic devotion to the character, as well as being totally enthralling. I fear using words like ‘amazing’ because they are all too generic, and describing characters like Stanley Tucci’s Caeser Flickerman as just “amazing” would be putting it lightly. No, no, that will not do. Stanley Tucci is absolutely fantastical as Flickerman, who is actually given a little depth himself later in the film. Tucci is having so much fun here that it’s hard not to laugh and smile when he is on screen.
Then we get Jennifer Lawrence, who is such a great young actress, that I’m sure by the time we get to Hunger Games film #4 (‘Mockingjay’ will reportedly be split into 2 films, which makes sense seeing as the book is a hot mess) we will be saying how she’s grown out of the role and will be winning Oscars if only she wasn’t doing Hunger Games movies. She’s so impressive here, so much more so than her first effort at Katniss. She explores the inner psyche of Katniss with her eyes, face and body language; she’s definitely matured as an actress.
Josh Hutcherson is kind of played down here, but I think that’s mainly so that they can put the focus on Katniss, which is a shame because he’s kind of wasted. When he is required, he’s as good as any on screen, tugging at our heart strings and being the strong man all at the same time. Woody Harrelson is also great, although one of his on screen counterparts Elizabeth Banks is sometimes dialling up the camp a little too much.
But without a doubt my favourite thing about this film is the portrayal of the dystopia, the total sense of confusion in the districts, and the role Snow plays in it all. President Snow was my favourite part of the books, and I don’t know if it’s perfect casting or what, but when I read the books I imagined it was Donald Sutherland the whole time. He’s so good at being so evil, and his chemistry with the flawless Philip Seymour Hoffman is outstanding. Francis Lawrence also chooses to show the districts in such a depressing way, with what I mentioned before (the scenery, the dead trees in the forest). It’s the finer details of it all that got me invested in the story, invested in the roles that everyone plays in “keeping the peace”, and the role of Katniss as a symbol of hope, even if it means holding three fingers in the air just to get beaten to death.
It’s hope that keeps these people alive, much like it’s hope that keeps Andy Dufresne alive and well in ‘The Shawshank Redemption’. Hope plays such a key role in ‘Catching Fire’, and it’s so fitting that now we have a great second film, all we can do is hope that the last 2 films reproduce the wonderment that ‘Catching Fire’ does. Hope is really what will get diehards through the next twelve months, and what will get me through it too.
MY RATING: 8 out of 10.
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