That term first came to my mind when, as a child, I’d try to say “stream of consciousness” and end up with “brainflow.” It seems to fit here.

Welcome to the ramblings of my mind. (For now, these ones revolve mostly around films.)

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (feat. Isaac and Jonathan Walberg)

Sunday, November 24th, 2013 2:18 pm—Film

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (USA 2013, Action/Adventure/Sci-Fi), Writers: Simon Beaufoy, Michael Arndt; Director: Francis Lawrence

It’s been nearly two years since my then-nine-year-old nephew Jon pointed me toward Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games series. His excitement over the books prompted me to read all three and invite him to write a joint review of the trilogy’s first movie adaptation (see The Hunger Games).

Now, with the second film installment, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, the stakes are higher and the play is that much more intense, so I brought in extra reinforcement: Jon, now 11, plus his younger brother Isaac, 10, who has also read the books.

The trilogy is about a dystopian future in which the people of Panem (a fallen North America) are relegated to one of 12 districts, and all live in varying degrees of poverty. The districts are controlled by the wealthy Capitol, which hosts the Hunger Games as an annual reminder of their power and unrelenting rule. As per the Capitol’s decree, each district must offer up two young tributes per year to participate in a televised fight to the death.

The first book (and movie), The Hunger Games, sees Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and her fellow District 12 tribute, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), win the 74th edition of the competition. Catching Fire picks up with the two on a celebratory Victory Tour to the other districts, but soon takes a darker turn when Katniss, a threat to the Capitol and a symbol for the rebellion, learns that she and Peeta must return to the arena for the 75th round of the Hunger Games.

My nephews and I live in different provinces, so we saw the movie separately. While I watched it, I wondered whether some of the dark, disturbing images would be upsetting to Jon and Isaac.

Turns out, they weren’t too bothered by it. When we did our postmortem over the phone the next day, the boys agreed that the movie was sad, with Isaac calling out the Victory Tour as being particularly harsh (he’s right; Katniss and Peeta see innocent people killed ruthlessly by “Peacekeepers” simply because they stood up for their fallen compatriots). But overall, my nephews seemed inured to the roughness and fundamentally horrifying subject matter.

I can’t say the same. I was frequently holding back tears throughout Catching Fire, thanks to the closer look it takes at life in the districts and the aftermath of the Hunger Games; the devastating performances (lead by the amazing Lawrence); and the keen and powerful direction. This film is grittier and edgier than the first, showing a necessary roughness that makes it a more apt adaptation for the trilogy. And although it doesn’t stand entirely on its own (Isaac didn’t like how abruptly it ended, saying it “just stopped”—though that is true to the book’s ending), as the mid-section of a trilogy, that’s totally justified.

Loyal readers will notice a lot of missing, or altered, details, but I was impressed by how tightly the filmmakers cut out extraneous bits from the novel—those that are wonderful in a book but become plodding and redundant within the tighter timeframe of a movie—without losing anything essential.

Jon was more meticulous in comparing the film to the book: “I found that some of the ‘wow’ moments took longer in the book; they were better described.” He mentions a moment in the arena when Katniss is gifted a spile to draw water from the trees. “In the book, she wonders, ‘What can this be?’ before figuring it out. In the movie, she just says, ‘Oh, it’s a spile.’ If I hadn’t read the book, I would have thought that it was good the way they did that, but I noticed those kinds of things just because I was so focused on how the movie compared to the book.”

Jon and I also talked about how Catching Fire, like the first movie, shows less allegiance to Katniss’ perspective than the books do, taking time away from her point of view to peek behind the scenes of the Hunger Games. As Jon says: “In the book, they can take a lot longer to make us see how Katniss thinks. In the movie, it was pretty good but they could have done it better. They could have shown more of her emotions or her reactions to what people are saying.”

In that regard, I think Catching Fire got a lot nearer to the mark than the first film did, bringing us closer (often literally, with tight shots on Lawrence) to Katniss’ inner life. And although Catching Fire still offers an insider’s view of the Hunger Games’ mechanics, the filmmakers wisely keep the audience, along with Katniss, in the dark as to what the revolutionaries are planning.

Catching Fire also does a great job of drawing on the power of the image, sometimes replacing dialogue with a visual (there’s a particularly effective moment at the end of Katniss’ first meeting with the Capitol’s President Snow, played by Donald Sutherland), other times simply bringing home the adage that “a picture is worth a thousand words” (audience members gasped when Katniss hanged the dummy of former Head Gamemaker Seneca Crane). In Isaac’s words: “The movie is more exciting than the book because (in the movie) you actually get to see it.”

Catching Fire is an excellent contribution to The Hunger Games franchise, which is an interesting and important reflection of the times. As Jon says: “Right now, there’s a bunch of dystopian books and (Catching Fire) is one of those dystopian movies.” He’s right; these days, there are countless TV shows, books and films that explore dystopian futures, like next year’s Divergent and this year’s Elysium, all reflecting elements of a dysfunctional present.

The Hunger Games series draws frightening parallels to current events, ranging from oppressive regimes, to the discrepancy between rich and poor, to the obsession with appearance, and shows us the drastic, violent acts resulting from each. Whether inflicted by President Snow’s Peacekeepers, by desperate tributes in the Hunger Games arena, or as a result of the grotesque plastic surgery that’s all the rage in the Capitol, the damage is done.

And, because the franchise is presented in a way that’s high quality while also being palatable to younger audiences, like my little nephews, it spreads its message very effectively across a wide range of ages. Regardless of the level it seeps in at, consciously or subconsciously, people are taking it in.

Final verdict: Jon and Isaac really liked Catching Fire, I loved it, and we’re all looking forward to the two-part finale, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay. Bring on the next joint review!

*            *            *

Thank you to my wonderful nephews for making everything more worthwhile.

And Happy Birthday to my wonderful friend CR, who totally gets the awesomeness of kids’ perspectives… and, of course, of Emoji.

4 Responses

  1. Catherine Jensen

    Thank you once again Amanda for sharing your thoughts so sensitively, this time as well for the multi-generational take on the film, reminding us how many different perspectives are brought to bear in experiencing and appreciating art and the world. It is wonderful that you not only wrote a special book for each of your nephews, but also involve them in writing and analysis and give them a forum for expression.

  2. amanda

    Thank you, Catherine! I love involving the boys in whatever projects they want to get in on – they’re wonderful people. Hopefully I’ll get David in on a review before too long…

  3. jonathan

    cool good job

  4. amanda

    Thanks, Jon – same to you!

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