I prefer the movie to the book.
There, I said it.
I could retract it after re-reading the series over Christmas to see if I change my mind, but I said it.
Francis Lawrence does something similar to what Kenneth Branagh did in his production of Hamlet. He makes additions to the film in the spirit of the text, without violating the letter of it. Lawrence, (no relation to the film’s star Jennifer Lawrence) develops the movie’s sub-plot simultaneously with the movie’s main plot. Without getting into spoilers, the sub-plot in the book, because it was underdeveloped, feels unreal, very deus ex machina. In a story that is more realistic fiction than science fiction, it’s important that the ending be believable. The difference between film and book may be akin to a game of chess. Does it end with the winner stumbling into a brilliant move or using a carefully plotted one that has been building throughout the endgame?
I am sold, stuck, sucked into this crazy non-existent world of Panem, in which districts must provide two of their children, one girl and one boy, every year to fight to the death against other children in the annual spectacle known as “The Hunger Games.” The movie did everything right—and avoided a number of places it very easily could have gone wrong. To start with, for those, like me, who read the books before seeing the movies, let me allay your fears: the screen-writers didn’t take unprecedented liberties with the text in their creation of the film. There are no alternative endings or things like that, just some tweaks.
The addition of a granddaughter for President Snow (Donald Sutherland) is a great example of Lawrence’s augmenting the text without violating it. While this character doesn’t exist in the book, she serves as a great visual aid for the audience—a symbol of the ensuing celebrity of Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) after she won the last iteration of the Hunger Games.
The movie is set in a futuristic-post-apocalyptic society (but THANK YOU SWEET BABY JESUS not in 3D), yet it manages also to evoke qualities of the 1940s World-War II, post-economic depression era. The movie opens with Katniss in the woods, shooting game animals for her family when Gale (Liam Hemsworth) love interest #1, shows up. The pair then return to Katniss’ home and find people from the Capital, complete with President Snow, in their living room. Snow tells Katniss that her antics in the last Hunger Games were not to his liking (nor to his advantage) and that her actions have created a “stir” in the districts. He threatens that if she does not renounce her deeds and restore order, there will be consequences. Not even ten minutes into the movie, and lives are already being threatened. Once the plot kicks into motion, the film never stops.
The film has a Survivor meets Survivorman meets–just for all you adults in the audience–The Running Man feel to it. Stranded in the woods, with only the strengths and skills for you possess, starving for survival.
The cast is equally brilliant—I’ve loved David Sutherland since I first saw him in Without Limits as Bill Bowerman. Jennifer Lawrence, too, is in her element, a contemporary Pocahontas, whose goal it is to save herself and her village. Is she a tragic hero? Have we created a new category for the tragic hero? A female whose hubris stems from her love for others? I didn’t even realize until the previews that Katniss’ Tour Coordinator, Effie Trinket, is played by Elizabeth Banks. Her costuming and make-up is so expertly done that she is unrecognizable, though her character is much more likable in the second film. Even Haymitch’s character (Woody Harrelson), which I wasn’t quite satisfied with in the last film, seems to grow on you this time around. And the characters whose names you don’t know… well I’m sure you will now—as the Hunger Game series will probably be opening credits for their careers. Casting is another area in which Lawrence could have gone wrong, but didn’t. Oftentimes when there are director switches from one movie to its sequel, directors will make the mistake of replacing characters, which takes away from the film as fans have a hard time adjusting to the new actors. Lawrence though made no such mistake.
It was just a really good movie, not necessarily for any artistic value, but for sheer entertainment. It was fast, quick-moving, the cinematography was excellent, as were the special effects. The costuming—gah you could talk about the costuming for days—and I don’t just mean the gorgeous gowns Katniss wears in her interviews—but the costume design for the Capitol parties are also fascinating—bizarre crosses between an Oompa Loompa and Cindy Loo Hoo meets Parisian runway with a little Great Gatsby party thrown in.
There are so many ways it could have gone wrong, but in each instance the movie, like Katniss beats the odds and goes the right way.
My only complaint? Catching Fire gives you just enough to make you want more. Be advised though, that if patience isn’t your strong suit, the cliff-hanger at the end is going to drive you either crazy or to the nearest book-store. It has been a long year since the first Hunger Games movie was released, and the wait for the third movie, which will only be the first half of Mockingjay, will now seem even longer.
Claudia Mundy is a senior English major at Campbell University. She is a writer, a reader, and a runner. You can follow her on Twitter at @ClaudiaMundy