Warning: This review contains spoilers for the book series and the movie series The Hunger Games.
I just saw The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and I can’t stop thinking about it. While it got better reviews and had a much larger production value than the first film, it didn’t get me quite as excited as the first movie did, and here’s why. First of all, it is the 2nd book/movie in a trilogy, meaning it is a stepping stone from beginning to end, made up primarily of exposition. (Don’t get me started on the fact that their splitting the last book into two films–ASFDGHJKL;WPOJN!!!) I think my biggest problem, however, is that the book is told from the first person point of view, while the movies are told from the third person point of view, switching between limited and omniscient perspectives.
In the films, we usually see things from Katniss’ POV, but sometimes we see President Snow, a rebelling district, or the gamemakers when there is no way Katniss is seeing them (i.e. when she is in Victor’s Village, in the arena, etc.). This difference in perspective doesn’t have to be a bad thing. After all, it’s really hard to do a big blockbuster film from first person, and if your script and actors can’t convey the subtleties of someone’s inner thoughts, you end up having cheesy voice overs like in Twilight. Unfortunately, I think the change in Catching Fire ends up sucking much of the nuance out of the story.
The use of the fictional pregnancy as a ploy is totally brushed over in the movie, while in the second book it is a big reason that Katniss and Peeta both survive. The love triangle is also seriously exaggerated; Katniss doesn’t know how she feels about Peeta or Gale in the books and, while her uncertainty and lack of awareness was sometimes frustrating for me, it made sense considering she was in constant danger of dying/being asked to kill her peers. If I was trying to save my ass from getting stabbed 24/7, I wouldn’t spend much time thinking about cuties either. In the movies, however, we lose some of that depth, especially in the relationship between Peeta and Katniss.
My other big problem was that the switch to the third person perspective meant the action and political and cultural satire became heavy-handed. Instead of slowly revealing the reasoning behind President Snow’s actions, we saw really straightforward and almost unbelievable conversations between Snow and Plutarch that basically spelled everything out. I wanted the movie to trust the viewers more, especially when using amazingly subtle actors like Philip Seymour Hoffman. Just because the audience is mostly teenagers doesn’t mean they aren’t able to use deductive reasoning.
Of course, there were things I really liked about the movie. I thought Jennifer Lawrence gave an excellent performance and I loved the casting and writing for Joanna and Finnick. I think their characters were more interesting and more sympathetic in the movie than the book; both actors did a great job. I thought the pacing was good too, and considering there was a lot of back story missing from the film, it was surprisingly coherent as a whole. I also am totally in love with the off-screen friendship between Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson. Adorable!
As I mentioned before, both the book and the film Catching Fire are middle installations and thus, mainly serve as bridges from The Hunger Games to Mockingjay. We get a lot of plot, and the story is basically a reimagining of the first book/movie. This inevitably makes it the least compelling of the trilogy, but I think the book still offers more than the film adaptation. Good YA fiction gives credit to its readers, treats them like adults, and challenges them creatively and intellectually. That’s what made me fall in love with The Hunger Games even though I was no longer a teenager when I read them. Sadly, Hollywood doesn’t challenge or trust anyone, especially the target audience for this series: young women.
I really love film and have seen a few really great film adaptations of literature (Brokeback Mountain, anyone?), which is part of why I was disappointed by this movie. I was really pleased with the first Hunger Games film as an adaptation of the book and a standalone product, but the second one was just too Hollywood for me: too little substance and too much gloss. Either way, we can look forward to two more movie installments of The Hunger Games in the near future, so keep your bows and arrows at the ready.