Sunday, November 24, 2013

May the Odds . . .

The second installment of The Hunger Games franchise has been released and yes, it's worth a look.  I wrote about the first one back here and many of my concerns have been addressed.  It's been a while since I read the books - part of my job involves teaching teenagers, so I try to maintain a passing familiarity with the books that are the rage and Hunger Games fit that bill a few years back.  Suzanne Collins has been accused of ripping off Koushun Takami's Battle Royale, but I don't really see that.  Yes, there are thematic similarities - Takami's book (which is quite, quite good) does concern a fight to the death waged by unwilling teens raised in a totalitarian state - but Collins' trilogy takes the battle beyond the arena into the political sphere.

Catching Fire begins with Katniss back in District 12 and finding that her life has been changed, but not necessarily for the better. Remember that the purpose of the Games is to remind the districts of the consequences of rebellion and, to that end, the people are kept on the brink of starvation and despair.  How else could you convince kids to put in their names for the dreadful Reaping more than once?  (Each time you add your name, your family gets extra food rations - a choice that isn't really a choice.)  Catching Fire has a lot to say about the life of a celebrity.  Katniss and Peeta are supposed to be mouthpieces for the regime as they tour the districts to advertise the benevolence of the bloated, corrupt Capitol, but the cracks are beginning to show and Katniss just can't manage to smile and preen and stay on-script.  (By the way, there is really something deeply disturbing about the beauty product tie-ins for this movie - by buying these products, you're aligning yourself with the decadent layabouts of the Capitol whose all-important social life is dictated by how slavishly they follow the trends.  Keep people busy and distracted so they don't notice the real problems.  Much like French court life, I suppose.)

While I would have preferred more time on the arena scenes (which feel a bit rushed to me), at least they got rid of the shaky-cam which I found to be a cheap trick in the first film, as it let you think you were seeing more than you actually did.  If you're going to make a film about kids turning into vicious killers in order to survive another night, it's a tawdry gimmick to then blink away from showing it.  Katniss is soul-scarred from her time in the arena (and she wasn't all that warm and glowy to start with), and it was a coward's trick to not show that for what it was.

Costuming is gorgeous in Catching Fire - extravagantly eye-catching and the "smokey eye" is taken to bizarre extremes. Casting is strong and the characters are developed from the first movie.  (And yes, I'll unashamedly admit to being a Jennifer Lawrence fan.) Further, the underlying messages - that revolution can begin with  the slightest of sparks and the undeniable power of symbols - is one that is not bad to repeat.

For a little fun, click here to discover your Hunger Games name!

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