Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Based on The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is the follow-up to the 2012 film where Katinss Everdeen becomes a political target as a rebellion is emerging where she and Peeta Mellark are forced to play the next Hunger Games against previous winners. Directed by Francis Lawrence and screenplay by Michael Arndt and Simon Beaufoy, the film is an exploration of a young woman trying to comprehend her feelings while dealing with a target in her back as Jennifer Lawrence returns as Katniss with Josh Hutcherson as Peeta. Also starring Donald Sutherland, Liam Hemsworth, Stanley Tucci, Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson, Lenny Kravitz, Jeffrey Wright, Amanda Plummer, Jena Malone, Sam Claflin, Toby Jones, and Philip Seymour Hoffman. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a rapturous yet chilling film from Francis Lawrence.

In the second part of the trilogy where Katniss Everdeen becomes this unlikely beacon of hope for a futuristic, dystopian America. The second part is about Katniss becoming a political target against leader President Snow (Donald Sutherland) who tries to get Katniss to be in his side in order to quiet down this emerging rebellion. Instead, Katniss and Peeta’s plans to pretend to be this couple as a distraction doesn’t work until the new game maker Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) makes a plan to get all surviving victors of previous Hunger Games to take part in the 75th game where the rules are much more different as is the competition. With Peeta volunteering in place of his mentor Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), the two agree to protect each other during the game with the help of a few allies. It’s a film that plays into a world where things become more chaotic as this young woman is becoming a symbol of hope but she is overwhelmed by memories of the past games as well as her feelings for Peeta and her longtime beau Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth).

The screenplay by Michael Arndt and Simon Beaufoy definitely has a much broader structure where the first act is about Katniss and Peeta going on a tour on several districts in order to quiet down this rebellion and pretend to be a couple for the cameras. Yet, it becomes far more troubling when the rebellion starts to grow forcing President Snow and Heavensbee to make plans about how to quiet things down. The second act is about the planning of the 75th Hunger Games as tributes from previous game have to play and kill each other bringing more trouble for Katniss and her family. The third act is the game itself where Katniss and Peeta have to find allies in order to survive as there’s something far more that is happening. Even as Katniss is unsure of who to trust with the exception of Peeta as it gets more complicated.

Katniss is much more troubled in this film than in the first one as nightmares, confused feelings for both Gale and Peeta, and the need to protect her family has overwhelmed her. Even as the game itself becomes far more brutal not just physically but mentally as well where Peeta has to ground her as he also wants to protect her though he is also falling for Katniss. It’s not just Katniss and Peeta that are given more to do as their team that includes Haymitch and their publicist Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) are more fleshed out as the latter starts to show more emotion as it becomes clear on how much she cares for both Katniss and Peeta. Then there’s some of the other tributes the two have to face as it ranges from all sorts of individuals where many of them are very strange that includes the very smart and eccentric duo Beetee (Jeffrey Wright) and Wiress (Amanda Plummer), the very charming and powerful Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin), and the very unpredictable yet vicious Johanna Mason (Jena Malone). Yet, they know what this game is about Katniss and Peeta are reluctant to team with them since they all agree that the real enemy is President Snow.

The direction of Francis Lawrence is really spectacular in not just the world that he creates but also in fleshing out the story. Especially as he maintains some simple and some stylistic compositions for the scenes at the Victors village where Peeta and Katniss live with Katniss’ family but also the other districts that is seeped in this dystopia where a rebellion is emerging. The use of wide shots and medium shots for the locations set in parts of the American South including Atlanta plays into a world that is quite troubling and chaotic. Even in contrast to the world where President Snow and the rich live where it’s extravagant and quite artificial. The scenes where the pre-show games showcase a sense of disconnect between the rich and the tributes that are to play the game as Lawrence maintains something that is simple and to the point.

For the film’s third act in the games, Lawrence definitely goes for something that is far more sprawling in the way the games are. Especially as he aims for something that is more controlled as opposed to the shaky-cam approach of the first film. While there are some intense moments of danger, it is presented with some crane and steadicam shots in order to get an idea of what is out there where the camera work is much tighter. Even as there is an air of unpredictability about what is happening where the film ends on a somewhat abrupt note. Yet, it plays to what is to come for Katniss who is a key part of a growing rebellion that is emerging. Overall, Lawrence creates very sensational and engaging film about a young woman dealing with her role as a beacon of hope.

Cinematographer Jo Willems does fantastic work with the film‘s photography from some of the naturalistic look of some of the exterior scenes in the forests and at the dome of the game but also some stylish lights for the interior scenes including the parties and games presentation. Editor Alan Edward Bell does excellent work with the editing by maintaining a steady yet stylistic approach to the cutting with some rhythmic cuts for the film‘s action while slowing things down in its dramatic moments. Production designer Philip Messina, with set decorator Larry Dias and supervising art director John Collins, does amazing work with the set pieces from the look of the Victors‘ village as well as the game dome where everyone else has to kill each other.

Costume designer Trish Sommerville does brilliant work with the costumes from the lavish costumes the tributes have to wear in the pre-game shows as well as the suits they have to wear during the game. Visual effects supervisors Janek Sirrs and Mark Varisco do terrific work with some of the visual effects such as the creatures the characters have to deal with in the game as well as some of the exteriors of the Capital. Sound designer Jeremy Peirson does superb work with the sound from the way gunfire is heard to some of the moments that occur in the games with its mixture of intimate forest scenes and sounds of cannons. The film’s music by James Newton Howard is incredible for its sense of orchestral bombast that plays out in much of the film as well as some serene moments for some of the dramatic moments in the film.

The casting by Debra Zane is just outstanding for the ensemble that is created for the film as it includes some small but notable appearances from recurring characters such as Toby Jones as the Hunger Games reporter, Paula Malcolmson as Katniss’ mom, Willow Shields as Katniss’ sister Prim, Stanley Tucci as the Hunger Games broadcaster Caesar Flickerman, and Lenny Kravitz as Katniss’ dress designer Cinna. Other notable small roles as previous winners include Meta Golding as the teeth-baring Enobaria, Bruno Gunn as the massive Brutus, Alan Ritchson and Stephanie Leigh Schlund as the skillful siblings Gloss and Cashmere, Stef Dawson as Finnick’s wife Annie who was supposed to compete but only to be spared by Mags and Lynn Cohen as the aging yet silent winner Mags whom Finnick cares as she was his mentor and friend. Amanda Plummer is terrific as the very eccentric but smart Wiress while Jeffrey Wright is superb as the brainy Beetee who tries to find a way to beat the game.

Woody Harrelson is amazing as Katniss and Peeta’s mentor Haymitch Abernathy as he tries to get them ready for the games while Elizabeth Banks is delightful as Effie Trinket as their publicist who becomes aware of the reality that is occurring as she grows more fonder of Katniss and Peeta. Philip Seymour Hoffman is excellent as the game maker Plutarch Heavensbee as a man who is eager to ensure that the games will go smoothly as planned as he concocted the idea of doing something radical for the games. Donald Sutherland is brilliant as President Snow as this slimy individual who wants to suppress this rebellion while trying to force Katniss into doing things so that he wouldn’t kill her and her family. Sam Claflin is fantastic as the very charming and skillful Finnick Odair who raises suspicions from Katniss yet proves to be a formidable ally who is aware that something bigger is happening.

Jena Malone is just astounding as Johanna Mason as this very sarcastic and vicious loner who is very unpredictable and cunning yet becomes this unlikely wildcard ally that Katniss needs as Malone just steals the film from everyone. Liam Hemsworth is pretty good as Gale Hawthorne as Katniss’ beau who tries to deal with Katniss’ relationship with Peeta while dealing with the chaos that is happening where he gets beaten by authorities only to be saved by Katniss, Haymitch, and Peeta. Josh Hutcherson is excellent as Peeta who decides to participate in the games for Haymitch despite his chances as he also tries to ensure that Katniss stays alive while deal with his feelings for her. Finally, there’s Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen where Lawrence is just phenomenal in displaying Katniss’ internal conflicts and her confusion for both Peeta and Gale as she also deals with nightmares as well as the fact that she is this symbol of hope against President Snow where Lawrence just adds that weight to make Katniss one of the great characters in film.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a marvelous film from Francis Lawrence that features a truly exquisite leading performance from Jennifer Lawrence. Along with some notable supporting performances from Josh Hutcherson, Jena Malone, Woody Harrelson, Sam Claflin, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Elizabeth Banks, and Donald Sutherland. The film is definitely something much more than just the typical young-adults blockbuster as it takes time to explore rebellion and a young woman dealing with the role that she has to take. In the end, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is an extraordinary film from Francis Lawrence.

The Hunger Games Films: The Hunger Games - (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Pt. 1) - (The Hunger Games Mockingjay Pt. 2)

Francis Lawrence Films: (Constantine) - (I Am Legend) - (Water for Elephants)

© thevoid99 2013


ruth said...

Oh man!! You made me even more eager to see this but I'm gonna wait until my hubby's back from his trip. I'd feel bad if I saw this before him, but it sounds even better than the first!! I like the idea that Katniss has become a political target by Snow, it really made the stake that much higher and the story much more interesting. Great review Steven!

Mette said...

I really liked Catching Fire. It had a very sad and depressing tone to it, which works really well and Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson are great, as well as all supporting characters. You kind of repeated yourself a bit in the review but I think that's understandable since you were just repeated how much you liked the film.

thevoid99 said...

@ruth-It is a better film than the first where they tightened things up a bit. Plus, it's far more entertaining.

@Mette-Yeah, this film won me over as I did like the previous though it was quite flawed. I hope the next one will be really good.