Friday, November 22, 2013

Thoughts on Catching Fire

I was suuuuuuper excited to see the next installment of the Hunger Games series, and I was definitely not disappointed. I just wanted to share some initial thoughts. I guess SPOILER WARNING IN EFFECT? I'm not sure what will be spoilery about the movie if you've already read the book. There weren't any huge changes or surprises a la Breaking Dawn Pt. 2.

I went to the IMAX double feature with The Hunger Games showing first. I only ever saw it on a regular movie screen, so even though I've watched it MANY times since it came out, it was still a treat seeing it on the ginormous screen. Here's the blog post I wrote about it when I first saw it. I still love this movie. I liked it when I first saw it, and I still like it now.

So, Catching Fire...

- If I had to choose one word to describe it, I would have to say "visceral." The entire experience of seeing this movie hit me squarely in the gut, from the terror to the tragedy to the romantic feelings. For the first time ever, I think I might have actually liked the movie better than I liked the book - and I didn't hate the book or anything; I just have a tendency to skip through certain parts when I reread (mostly the beginning parts). I thought the writers did an amazing job of keeping the important stuff, trimming down the "fat," and making changes that didn't take away from the story (and in fact, actually helped the story). For example, I liked that Gale gets busted by Romulus Thread for trying to protect someone in the Hob rather than getting caught with an illegal turkey.

- The scene at district 11 was so much more terrifying and intense. The dystopian genre has been around a long time, but it's gotten so popular recently with the YA crowd that it's easy to forget that dystopian stories should actually be kind of horrifying and should scare you into taking a good, hard look at the world around you. The speeches delivered to Rue and Thresh's families were touching and sad, with lingering shots of Rue's face on a huge screen and the crying faces of her mother and sisters. And just when you start to think that you can't take anymore, the riot happens, and watching it happening ourselves, as well as watching Katniss take in what's happening to the old man, was absolutely gut-wrenching.

- The characterization of Plutarch Heavensbee was very interesting. Since the book is narrated by Katniss, you only see Plutarch twice - once at the party, where he shows Katniss his mockingjay watch (which foretells the arena), and then at the end when they pick her up. Generally he comes across as a little froofy and naive (I believe we see more of him in Mockingjay?), but the way he's written here is much darker, much more calculating, which I think is a perfect showcase for Philip Seymour Hoffman. Remember in the book, Katniss recognizes Plutarch as the guy who fell in the punch bowl when she shot the arrow through the apple in the pig's mouth in the first HG book? (They didn't show the punch bowl guy in the first movie.) Well, the Plutarch in this movie is definitely NOT that sort of guy - he is not someone who would be so startled by something that he would fall in the punch bowl. Also, Plutarch in the movie is the least Capitol-looking person from the Capitol that I've ever seen, and obviously that was intentional. Even President Snow himself, who is not outrageous or ridiculous-looking in the movies (in the books, he's had lots of plastic surgery and it shows), is always in fancy garb. You would not have thought Plutarch lived/worked in the Capitol just by looking at him, and I think that was the point. And PSH plays him perfectly - the scenes where Plutarch is scheming with Snow are just the right amount of uncomfortable.

- Speaking of the scheming... my one teeny, tiny gripe (not really a gripe, since it didn't ruin anything, really) was that they made it seem like the decision to reap from the pool of victors was instigated by the events following the previous HG. I liked how it was ambiguous in the book - Snow had a box of sealed envelopes dictating the terms of the Quarter Quells for centuries to come. It was definitely suggested in the book that he possibly bent the rules or found a way to sneak in his own envelope, but it was ambiguous, and I really liked that about the book. However, this didn't ruin it for me or anything. - Also, President Snow sipping champagne, and blood flowing out of his mouth into the glass. I was wondering how/if they were going to include the whole "his breath smells like blood" thing, because that's Katniss' internal observation and not something she says aloud. It was a short, quick moment in the movie, but (I thought) so effective at demonstrating that there is something seriously wrong with that guy, even if you don't know what.

 - The maturation of Prim was very effectively shown in a very short scene (the one where she helps their mom take care of Gale).

 - They cut out all of the "Peeta goes hardcore personal trainer on Katniss and Haymitch" stuff, and I think that was for the best. (That was another part I pretty much skip/skim when I reread.) However, they cut out the parts where Peeta and Katniss watch footage of the other victors - I would've really liked to see the sequence of young Haymitch winning the games, but I guess that is better left to the imagination. (Or to this brilliant production.)

- The other tributes were wonderful. I've never been a huge Jena Malone fan, but I thought she nailed it as Johanna Mason, and as little time as she had on-screen, I loved Amanda Plummer as Wiress. Jeffrey Wright as BeeTee was awesome, of course. The career pack was beautiful and brilliant and super intimidating, and Enobaria's teeth were SO COOL.

- Finnick! Oh, Finnick, possibly my favorite character in the series. I like the way Sam Claflin looks, but of course, I was interested in seeing him act. The sugarcube scene is one of my favorites, and though he played it differently from how I read it, I thought it worked. I think Finnick got better and better as the movie went on. Not that Sam Claflin isn't pretty, but I enjoyed his performance more when he was doing something more than just looking pretty. He looks downright heroic wielding that trident, and for the first time since ever, I got the sense that Finnick is a really wonderful foil to Katniss. Peeta is the one who balances her out (and of course, that's why eventually-eventually they get together), but in this part of the story, in this Games, Finnick is the one who can give Katniss a run for her money, being equally as deadly and also having a heart of gold.

- Did anyone notice the freaky headgear that the Capitol servant (why can't I remember their names?) was wearing in the background of one of the scenes?

- Katniss’s dresses were gorgeous - I saw a lot of knitwear on the Victory Tour that I would love to reverse-engineer. And the mockingjay dress did not disappoint. I always had a hard time picturing in my head (because in my head, it always just ended up looking cheesy - this is why I am not an artist/designer), but it ended up being striking and beautiful.

- Just wanted to say - dude, they both look totally sexy here. (I was going to say "hot," but that would've been quite the "DUH" moment, considering they are both literally on fire.) I mean, seriously. Both of you two, your faces need to stop. (Also, when did Josh Hutcherson get SO FINE? I thought he was cute in the first movie, but DUDE, homeboy really stepped up his game. Or, um, maybe he just got older, and that's what I'm noticing. Either way, I totally swooned more than should be allowed for someone my age.)


- I did not expect Peeta’s painting of Rue to be so hard-hitting. (Actually, Katniss never sees it in the book.)They didn’t talk much about their “careers,” which was fine, but in the book Peeta takes up painting to deal with his PTSD. There was a perfect, subtle moment in this part of the movie where Katniss walks into the room for her final training, and Peeta gives her a look that lasts just a wee bit too long to be comfortable - like, you KNOW something happened, but since they didn't mention Peeta being a painter, you might not have known what to expect if you hadn't read the book. I'm glad we actually got to see the painting, and the implication that Katniss did what she did afterwards (hang Seneca Crane in dummy form) was out of rage rather than out of a desire to take the heat off Peeta was a change I was okay with.

- I noticed they didn't go through the scores for the tributes. It's just as well - it wasn't really that important.

- Effie Trinket was amazing as always, in her outrageous dresses and making her adorably funny schmoozy comments, but there were two really wonderful non-comedic moments involving her, and I think Elizabeth Banks did an amazing job. The first moment was the one they show briefly in the trailer: at the reaping, she calls Katniss' name, and for a second, her composure slips and she looks like she might start crying, but she kind of magnificently pulls herself together because it's her job. And the other is the moment when she gives Peeta and Haymitch their tokens, and she's like, "We're a team, right?" and she's saying her goodbyes. I think she tearfully says something like, "You two just deserved so much better," and it was such a touching moment that I almost started bawling. (Yeah, there were lots of tears shed during this movie.)

- The entire sequence of Katniss going into the tube, watching Cinna get beat up by the Peacekeepers, and then getting transported up to the arena was gut-wrenching. The camera stays close to her face as she's going up in the tube, and you can see her gasping and trying to regain control as she knows that the Games are about to start (you only see the end of this moment in the trailer), and it was pretty fantastic and well-done. As I said earlier, visceral.

- I’m actually kinda glad they never bothered with her “bad ear” thing. The effects of the force field were beautiful and awesome. I liked the hexagons that appeared. It could've looked really weird and cheesy, but I thought it was well-done.

- Mags’ death scene - more hard-hitting than it was in the book, and maybe it's because we get to see it as a third-person party rather than through Katniss' eyes. They didn't have Mags say anything, ever; she had no dialogue. But the relationship between her and Finnick was definitely there and well-acted, and when she ran into the fog, it was completely harrowing.

- Speaking of the fog and being "harrowing," all of the threats seemed extra terrifying. They were freaky to read about, and seeing (and hearing) the billowing fog, the huge, scary monkeys, and even the jabberjays really drove it home. That is a TERRIFYING place to be. I was amazed at how all of this was so faithfully brought to life and MADE SCARIER. I never cared much for monkeys, birds, and tidal waves before, and I definitely don't like them now.

- The chemistry between Katniss and Peeta felt much more believable this time around. I don't know if it was intentional or not (probably was), but in the first movie, their "love" scenes together felt kind of stilted, whereas in the book, there was some measure of believability about their interest in each other. In the book, there were moments when Katniss herself wasn't really sure if her feelings were real or not, or if Peeta's feelings were real or not, but in the first movie it wasn't so ambiguous - it came across as forced, and it fit with the narrative. I thought JL and JH did a good job at portraying the subtle (or not so subtle?) changes to their relationship this time around - since now Katniss and Peeta are definitely in cahoots this time (rather than Katniss questioning Peeta's intentions), it makes sense. *Edited to add* I just realized they left out the scene where Katniss and Peeta hang out the entire day before they go back into the games. I understand why they did, but I think it would've gone a long way towards establishing their relationship better.

- The sets were well done. I liked the arena, I liked Caesar Flickerman’s new stage where all the tributes stood. Also, did his teeth get whiter? Is that possible?

- Speaking of Caesar, AND Claudius, there was a lot less of them in this movie. I can't recall that there were any scenes of them narrating/explaining stuff to the audience members watching at home once all the interviews and stuff were done, so we were not constantly being reminded that everyone was on a tv show.

- The sequence at the end of Katniss lying there as the arena crumbled and getting lifted up to the sky was AMAZING. It was really... quite poetic. - Her face. At the end. YES. I couldn't help but recall the ending shot of Breaking Dawn Pt. 1, where it also zooms in on Bella's face, but obviously they are two different characters from two different stories. Still, I think a whole separate blog post/essay could be written comparing the two shots and discussing how emblematic they are: Bella, serenely morphing into her beautiful, perfect vampire self and eventually living happily ever after, and Katniss, the expression on her face changing from grief to rage as she prepares for the eventual war. Yeah. That's an analysis I'd love to write sometime.

Dear readers, this was everything I could've asked for in a book adaptation. I can't say it enough - it was perfectly done. It included almost everything I liked, and no moments felt wasted, and in the end, I definitely felt like there was a tremendous amount of care that went into this movie, from all angles. Like I said earlier, I think I might actually have liked the movie better than the book, and that doesn't usually happen.

I will definitely be seeing this again. And buying the dvd. And fangirling all the way.