Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Odds are in Favor of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (4 out of 5 Stars)
Directed by: Francis Lawrence (I am Legend, Water for Elephants)
Written by: Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire), Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine)
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Woody Harrelson

There are only two recent series of young adult books, which are loved by both audiences, and critics, and they are the Harry Potter series, and this one.  The first in this series was decent, Academy Award nominated writer Gary Ross, directed and wrote the first film.  Ross directed and wrote Seabiscuit, Big, and Dave.  Ross and his shaky camera had about half the budget of Catching Fire, and created a solid start to this series.  With double the budget and the charisma of Jennifer Lawrence there is a reason this film franchise works for everyone.

 Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Hutcherson) won the 74th Hunger Games, an unprecedented task.  As the two make their victory lap they realize their rebellious win has started an uprising in many of the districts causing people to stand up to President Snow played with maliciousness by Donald Southerland.  As President Snow notices this rebellion begin he enlists his new games master Plutarch Heavensbee (Hoffman) to put the girl on fire in her place.  A year after the 74th games happen it announced that during the 75th year, or the Quarter Quell, contestants for this Game will be picked from past winners, and Peeta and Katniss end up in the arena again.

What makes the sequel better?  The direction, and style of film making has improved.  The first film was criticized for its use of shaky camera style to give the Games that realistic feeling, it only made people nauseous.   This time director Francis Lawrence who will return for the next two films (the third book is being broken down into two films) maintains some of the guerrilla style directing with close ups, but loses the off putting camera work of the first.  I think Lawrence's extreme close-ups on the emotion of the characters is a bit forced at times, let the action and emotion of the characters speak for themselves.

The second film also sharper more emotionally impactful writing.  Take away one Oscar nominated screenwriter (Ross) and add two winners Simon Beaufoy, and Michael Arndt, and you get a deeper connection with every character.  This film is better at connecting you to everyone rather than a surface-level connections to the tributes, and supporting characters in the first film.  At the moment my only complaint with the script is the explanation of the lore of District 13, the land demolished by the Capitol, the book explains this well, and builds up the lore while the film misses the mark on the set-up.  Arndt and Beaufoy still improve upon the nature of the first script.

While there are still minor hiccups with the directing, and writing, the film is massively emotional, and entertaining.  Most of that entertainment comes from the films star Jennifer Lawrence, who is a beacon for younger actresses working today.  Lawrence is a natural; she fits so well within the role of Katniss, and it is nice to see a different type of women represented on film.  Lawrence has a magnetism in this role, and is the glue to the success of this franchise.

Catching Fire is a great sequel, the script advances the character development, the increased budget has allowed for better visual effects, the new writers and directors have patched up the flaws of the first, but at the center is an interesting character, who is both strong and vulnerable.  Katniss/Lawrence is a force, and I wish all audiences a "Happy Hunger Games."


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