Friday, November 22, 2013

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire [2013]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-III) ChicagoTribune (3 Stars) (3 Stars)  AVClub (B)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review (S. Wloszczyna) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire [2013] (directed by Francis Lawrence, screenplay Simon Beaufoy and Michael drBruyn based on the novel by Suzanne Collins [IMDb]) is the second cinematic installment of Collins' Hunger Games [Amazon] trilogy.  The installment The Hunger Games [2012] was released (and reviewed here) last year.

The Hunger Games [Amazon] trilogy depicts a totalitarian North America of some 100 years in the future, divided into 12 or 13 districts all seething with resentment after a failed revolt 75-years before against a utopian but decadent/distant "Capital" and all united under a nation state called PanAm.

Part of the strategy of "keeping the peace," the Capital organizes an annual "reality show from Hell" called "The Hunger Games" in which two young "tributes," one male, one female, would be selected from each of the Districts to then compete (fight to the death) on an elaborate Survivor-like set (Survivor [IMDb] meets William Golding's Lord of the Flies [Amazon] [IMDb]) for the amusement of the residents of the Capital and the horror of the residents of PanAm's outlying Districts.  It seen as an annual exhibition of Power, reminding the residents of the Districts that the Capital can truly do whatever it wants with them -- including having them kill each other in elaborate scenarios for the Capital's amusement. 

In the first installment, the series' heroine Katniss Everdeen (played in the series by Jennifer Lawrence) who's good with her hunter's bow, chooses to volunteer to serve as tribute from her home Appalachia-looking District #12 in place of her much younger sister (selected by lot) who would have certainly died in the Games.  That in itself came to be seen throughout PanAm as an "unusual act" (of sacrifice, love, ... defiance?).

Then, since the Hunger Games were conceived as being an "interactive exercise" where the well-fed, richer (otherwise bored ...) folks in the Capital were encouraged to "take sides" and "help" their favorites "get an edge" in the Games through the purchase for them of some "odd gifts" (presumably on some "online registry," like some special arrows (especially if they find that their "favorite" is running out of them), perhaps some medicine if their favorite found him/herself wounded, or perhaps some special _poison_ to tip those arrows with ...), the Games' organizers found themselves with something of a problem as these particular Games were coming to an end:

TO EVERYONE'S SURPRISE, Katniss cut such a sympathetic figure to the viewers in the Capital that near the end of the Games when only two constants were left -- her and the other District 12 tribute Peeta (played by Josh Hutchenson) -- the viewers couldn't bear to watch either her being killed of her having to kill Peeta.  What to do?  Well the organizers of the Games -- with consultation and the permission of PanAm's "president" (probably for life... that's how these things usually go...) Snow (played by Donald Sutherland) -- DECIDED TO LET BOTH OF "THE LOVE BIRDS" LIVE.

That made for "good TV" and "Games' show host" Ceasar Flickerman (played by Stanley Tucci) was certainly pleased with this "memorable outcome," as was Katniss' and Peeta's hard-drinking "coach" Haymitch Abernathy (played by Woody Harrelson) the only other "winner" (survivor) from District 12 in the history of the Games and one who had been convinced that, as in every year past, the only thing that he could possibly hope for was that _one_ of the two contestants he was required to "coach" was going to make it out alive ... and usually BOTH were killed (Wouldn't you drink too if that was the kind of job that you were assigned, year in and year out and there was nothing you could do about it...).

Anyway, both "coach" and "Games MC" were happy but President Snow started to get worried ... After all, part of the purpose of the Hunger Games was to support a sense of hopelessness among the residents of the Districts -- that there was almost no hope of survival, and even if one did "survive" the games (after killing a lot of others), all that happened that like Haymitch Abernathy, one was then tasked for the rest of one's life to "train" others facing a similarly hopeless fate.  Yet here, Katniss, despite facing her own certain death, had saved at least two other people -- her younger sister and Peeta -- and EVEN IN THE CAPITAL the viewers found her actions so admirable/sympathetic that they didn't want her to die either.  And that was in the Capital ... how were her actions being perceived in the outlying Districts?

So this is where the second installment, Catching Fire [2012] in this series begins.  During the course of their "victory tour" (during which Peeta and Katniss are asked to sheepishly pay some homage to the fallen tributes of from the other districts that they would be visiting) EVERYBODY finds that the residents of the other Districts were becoming "more defiant."  Mind you, defiance often meant death ... but whether in the African American heavy "Old South" District 11 or heavily forested Pacific Northwest like District 7, as well as elsewhere ... there appeared people willing to die now rather than simply submit to the whims of The Capital.  Even Katniss' little sister (played by Willow Shields) tells her that both ma' and her support her and would be willing to die in support of the new Hope that Katniss has seemed to inspire across the land.

What to do?  Well, a new character enters the mix, "the Game Designer" Plutarch Heavensbee (played by Phillip Seymor Hoffman),  He convinces the President to take advantage of the 75th Anniversary of the Hunger Games to proclaim a "Special Hunger Games" that year that would involve a reunion of all the living winner/survivors of the previous 25 years of the Hunger Games.  This would ensure that only one of the "winners" of those previous Hunger Games would survive this new "all star" round ... and thus _reinstate_ the sense of Hopelessness that the Hunger Games were supposed to inspire in the Districts.  The President _likes_ the idea.

But it proves a little more "complicated" than that.  In the ramp-up to the Games, where the contestants are trotted out in front of the cameras "to create an emotional bond" with the Capital's viewers (who would then "help" them in various ways during the course of the Games) ... the past winners themselves are more defiant and certainly more emotionally manipulative than when they had entered their previous Games as "amateurs" or "rookies."  So will even the Capital's people be able to bear watching bloodfest involving more than a few people that they've come to like?   And what of the more defiant contestants?  How can one force them to continue to "play the game" when they've _all_ already "been there" when it ends, and may not want to "be there" again (on top of a pile of corpses).

So then the rest of the movie follows ... ;-)

Regarding the story telling of the rest of the film ... The film does has a sense of being a "transitional" part of the story.  While the first film could stand on its own, this film could not.  It depends on what happened in the previous film and on what presumably will happen afterwards.  Still, the acting was quite good and, in my opinion, more believable than in the first part.  (I had trouble believing the premise of the first part of the film ... Due to this country's religious/historical heritage I found it hard to believe that the residents of the United States would EVER accept the kind of tottalitarian hopelessness portrayed at the beginning of the first film.  That's why the second film was far more believable to me ... there was defianc which I'd naturally expect in this country born of both democratic and yes Christian tradition).

Anyway, it all makes for a good story and look forward to Part III (or Part IIIa) nest year ;-)

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