Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Man on Film: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

There is no denying that the second installment in The Hunger Games series looks better than its predecessor; the fact that second film's budget was nearly twice that of the first is apparent from Catching Fire's onset. When you add the change in directors from Gary Ross (Pleasantville, Seabiscuit) to someone with a résumé that would at least suggest more comfortability in the genre, Francis Lawrence (Constantine--which, for all its flaws, looked good--and I Am Legend), the fact that the film looked better should come as little surprise to anyone. When grouped with the facts that Josh Hutcherson steps up his game (his performance in the first installment was more than a little lacking) and Wes Bentley is traded out for Philip Seymour Hoffman, and that Jennifer Lawrence, Donald Sutherland, Woody Harrelson, and Elizabeth Banks are as good as they were in The Hunger Games, it is not difficult to see how the product on the screen is going to be better than the one trotted out a year ago.

Unfortunately for the film Catching Fire, the source material is lacking in that it is basically just a bridge to the revolution. While one could certainly attempt to draw comparisons between The Empire Strikes Back and Catching Fire, the real reason that Empire was the best of the original Star Wars trilogy was that George Lucas's involvement was more limited than in the other two films. Where Catching Fire was darker (similarly) than the first film, the limitations of the original story hurt the film as a moviegoing experience. The primary shortcoming of Catching Fire is that with a few exceptions the viewer is taken along on Katniss's journey. This obviously makes sense for the most part. Unfortunately, nearly all of the action takes place outside of Katniss's purview, meaning nearly all of the deaths, large- and small-scale, happen off-screen. In other words because of the nature of the narrative, the bulk of the action happens out of frame. This. Is. A. Major. Problem.

When you combine that with a major anticlimax, you've got a film that just doesn't quite work. As a chapter in a longer series, perhaps one can move past the shortcomings inherent in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire; but when isolating the film on its own merits, it falls significantly short of where it could have gone.

4 comments:

Mark LaFlamme said...

I haven't seen the film yet, but it's one of very few I will see this year because A. I loved the books and B. Jennifer Lawrence. I tend to trust your assessments, though, and I'm intrigued by this line: "but when isolating the film on its own merits, it falls significantly short of where it could have gone."
When I look forward to a movie and then find myself disappointed, it's almost always for this reason. The most obvious example, for me, regards a book rather than a movie – Stephen King's fictional account of the JFK assassination. To me, that was a book that could have been amazing, but wasn't. Same concept.
Still. Jennifer Lawrence.

Josh Duggan said...

Yeah, Jennifer Lawrence is everything you want her to be here. Unfortunately, we're talking about a 2+ hour anticlimax.

Nic said...

Glad to have found your blog, OMD.

Spot on with the assessment of the source material as a bridge to revolution. I haven't read the books, but this movie felt both too complete and incomplete at the same time. As it stands, it was pretty much two movies, because the movement from the tour of the districts to the games was awkward and bumpy. The tour portion was compelling to me - I enjoyed the politics and the Cornelian dilemma placed upon Peeta and Katniss - but as soon as the Reaping arrived, the rest of the movie was just a redo of the first, ending with, like you said, a frustrating anticlimax.

Josh Duggan said...

Nic,

Guessing you're a RRer. Glad you found it. The tour portion was relatively engaging, though I'd almost entirely forgot that it had even happened until you brought it up.

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