Books on Film: Catching Fire

Catching Fire (Photo: Lionsgate Films)I went to see the second instalment of The Hunger Games series this weekend in IMAX with my dad. First reaction? YES YES YES!

I’m a big Hunger Games fan. They’re the first books I ever bought on my Kindle without any kind of recommendation from a friend or reading a review in the newspaper. Amazon included The Hunger Games in a list of recommended titles for me on my Kindle based on my previous purchases. I was in an airport flying back to Sydney from the Sunshine Coast in July 2011 and thought why not? It was under $10 and looked pretty interesting.

By the time the flight touched down in Sydney an hour later, I was hooked. I was more than hooked. I immediately downloaded Catching Fire and Mockingjay and devoured them on the ferry on my commute to work over the next week. Katniss is one of the best things to happen to girls in teen fiction in a long, long time. She’s smart and sassy and badass. She is sort of like the hunter-gatherer dystopian Veronica Mars without the mystery-solving (no? Is that just me?). I think I might dress up like Katniss for Halloween next year.

I saw the first Hunger Games movie on opening night. As a standalone film, I loved it. I loved Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss. Actually, the casting is pretty perfect across the board, especially Stanley Tucci, Lenny Kravitz and Donald Sutherland (did you know that I am pretty sure I saw Donald Sutherland at the Cannes Film Festival in 2010? It was either him or just a nice older French man). I loved seeing the Capitol and the arena brought to life. But there were some really important scenes that they either downplayed or that weren’t as important in the movie as in the book. The Katniss/Rue dynamic, for example, was much more moving in the book, and there wasn’t much in the way of backstory in terms of the Everdeen family, etc. There were times where I felt like the movie sacrificed heart and emotion for action. I know I’m not alone in this critique, and so I hoped that for Catching Fire, they were able to find a way to make a movie that was more faithful to the spirit of the book, as well as the events of the book.

As it turned out, I needn’t have worried. Catching Fire is great. Like, really great. There are a few things that go unexplained or are downplayed – the impact of Peeta painting a detailed picture of Rue on the floor during his skills demonstration, for example, never really gets a lot of explanation – but for the most part, it’s very faithful to the book. Sam Claflin as Finnick Odair is pretty much perfect, and Philip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch Heavensbee was a really excellent surprise. Elizabeth Banks does a nice job of bringing some sympathetic humanity to Effie Trinket and Woody Harrelson as Haymitch is even better than he was the first time around.

Catching Fire is one of those infuriating middle child books like Insurgent and the Girl Who Played With Fire, where the story ends on a cliffhanger.  The movie ends with just enough closure that I’ll be able to sleep at night until Mockingjay: Part 1 next November, but only just. If you haven’t seen it, go. Go now.

(Also, make sure you’re there early enough for the previews, because March 2014 is the new Divergent movie and this was my first look at what it’s going to be like. The trailer looks pretty spectacular. Kate Winslet as Jeanine Matthews? Yes please! But is it just me or does Four look a little older than he was in my mind? At any rate, this might be an outing for my book club in a few months. Divergent was the first book we read together last spring!)

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