The Hunger Games: Catching Fire [2015 rerelease]

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Written by Simon Beaufoy and Michael deBruyn

The “finale” of the The Hunger Games trilogy-in-four-parts is coming-up soon, and my local cinema screened a marathon of them all. So I figured that as enough justification for reviewing them. The sequel instalment is The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, based on Suzanne Collins’ novel Catching Fire. And this has perhaps the most interesting romance since Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet.

In a world in-which Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson are themselves the subject of celebrity culture, their every move reported in tabloids and relationship rumours needlessly and pointlessly making headlines, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a commentary on that. And it’s so meta that one can’t help but consider it a political statement. The Hunger Games series is itself a political commentary on society being obsessed with watching falsely-idolised “celebrities” humiliating themselves on un-”reality” television while there are more important issues in the world being undermined with the existence of television culture. Collins combined those things to make this statement in The Hunger Games, but – and I can only speak for its film adaptation – it lacked any of the intended commentary that I can only assume made the novel so popular.

But here, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire seems to be compensating for this by being a film about the way the media is also not just a distraction from the world’s important problems, but also a manipulation of the way they’re perceived. Panem is nation in-which victory speeches are scripted, and cultural symbols are designed by the government rather than being genuine revolutions of the people. For some reason, I’m reminded of Sebastian Coe’s Olympics opening ceremony speech that told us to be “dazzled” in the least dazzling way. The centre of this concept is the late Philip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch Heavensbee.

He is the Head Gamemaker that designs for Coriolanus Snow the Capitol’s propaganda that will manipulate the general public’s perception of Mockingjay Katniss Everdeen, the Girl on Fire. And the final twist, in-which Heavensbee is revealed to be a double agent working for the Second Rebellion was what tied all the themes together. “You were our plan from the very beginning”, says Heavensbee of Everdeen. “This is our revolution. And you are the Mockingjay”.

The Mockingjay’s significance as a symbol is explained in The Hunger Games, but the way it becomes used as an image of multi-District empowerment worked well. But then everything about this worked well that was important. Everdeen and Peeta Mellark actually feel as if the relationship we’re told they have is genuine, and not forced. Plus, the way it’s faked for the cameras to distract from important issues, while not necessarily being real, but also showing signs of becoming real as a result, ala Much ado About Nothing, worked more than it could’ve done because of Jennifer Lawrence.

Lionsgate saw something in her when casting the screen’s Everdeen, and their own prophecy became true. Lawrence is this world’s Everdeen. Few other actors could have defined the important elements of the character like Lawrence has. But then, there’s also that nagging sensation of Lawrence having betrayed the point of Everdeen’s character in basically becoming Everdeen.

There’s a reason Donald Sutherland compared her to Laurence Olivier. And that’s coming from the actor that appreciates The Hunger Games series for being intelligent political commentary for young adults. The Hunger Games defined something as being wrong with society, and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is explaining what it is: being slaves to celebrity culture and ignoring terrible events in the world due to them being presented through the same medium that presents fiction and non-existent worlds like Panem – itself named after the latin phrase “panem et circenses”, meaning “bread and circuses”, a political strategy that distracts the public using glorified entertainment on the basis of survival being provided. The Hunger Games as a tradition was designed as a harsh warning of the past – “this is what happens if you disobey”. There must have been a Great Hunger before the founding of Panem.

Perhaps the world ran out of food, leading to defined territories as no longer mattering. It makes me wonder what will happen in future instalments. Will The Hunger Games become a reality for Panem? Either way, this complex balance of morality is what makes this world finally feel real, in a way that didn’t during The Hunger Games.

Yes, the Capitol has ensured survival for Panem, and its harsh practice is a harsh one, but is also necessary to maintain order. At the same time, is it too far? One imagines Snow as being a patriot, who loves Panem too much to sacrifice it, and who’ll consolidate his power to ensure the survival of his people – being cruel to be kind, so to speak. Honestly, I just don’t know.

But Sutherland brings a complexity to that role that makes it work, and makes you believe he does this from love and genuine interest. And that’s what makes The Hunger Games: Catching Fire a great example of science-fiction allegory. It has a depth to it that makes you question it. Unlike pre-sequel The Hunger Games, which had not only nothing beneath its surface, but also barely a surface at all, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is more like the true beginning after a prologue that doesn’t really contribute anything.

This is where that world becomes interesting, and I actually want to watch the next one now.


Other reviews

BBC features – Friday 2nd to Sunday 4th January 2015

Friday 2nd January 2015

20:00 StreetDance 2 (Jane English)

Drama sequel. A streetdancer travels the world to assemble a crew of the world’s best dancers following a humiliating defeat, hoping to win at a competition in Paris.


00:05 Rope (Arthur Laurents)

Two young men kill a weak school friend merely for the intellectual thrill of it and then invite the dead boy’s father and fiancee for a party in the room where the corpse is hidden. Based on the true story of the Leopold-Loeb murder case, the film is famous for the fact that it appears as one continuous shot of 80 minutes.


01:20 Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (Simon Beaufoy)

When Dr Alfred Jones, an advisor at the Department of Fisheries, receives an unsolicited e-mail from Harriet Chetwode-Talbot regarding the aspirations of her very wealthy Yemeni client to create a salmon fishing paradise in his home country, he replies immediately, pointing out the obvious improbability of success. However, when the unlikely project is given the green light from Government, the pair have to find a way of making the impossible possible.


Saturday 3rd January 2015

06:30 Hue and Cry (TEB Clarke)

His imagination fired by adventure stories, young Joe believes he has stumbled on a criminal conspiracy in post-war London – but the police will not listen, and even his gang of friends wonder whether to take him seriously. Classic Ealing comedy.


07:50 The Titfield Thunderbolt (TEB Clarke)

Ealing comedy about a group of villagers and their battle to preserve the local railway line by running it themselves, an enterprise that goes well until they are sabotaged in a midnight raid by the rival bus company. Undaunted, they wheel out the Thunderbolt, an ancient exhibit in the village museum. Now all that remains is to put on a satisfactory run for the stickler of a government inspector.


13:35 Viva Las Vegas (Sally Benson)

Hip-swivelling high-speed fun as Elvis rolls into Las Vegas looking to compete in the Grand Prix. Racing driver Lucky Jackson needs a new engine in his car before he can challenge his arch-rival at the track in the West Coast gaming paradise. So he takes a job as a waiter at a casino to fuel his race fund and spends his spare time trying to win the heart of swimming instructor Rusty.


21:00 Albert Nobbs (John Banville/Glenn Close/Gabriella Pekop)

To be able to lead an independent and free life, industrious but introverted Albert hides a secret from the world, especially his fellow staff at a Dublin hotel.


21:00 Puss in Boots (Tom Wheeler/Will Davies/Brian Lynch)

Puss in Boots gets his own animated adventure film in this Shrek spin-off. Puss teams up with a fellow thieving feline and his old friend Humpty Dumpty to embark on an exciting quest. The trio plan to find magic beans in order to steal the goose that lays the golden eggs, but all does not go according to plan. Featuring the voices of Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek and Zach Galifianakis.


Sunday 4th January 2015

00:00 Lesbian Vampire Killers (Stewart Williams/Paul Hupfield)

Gory Hammer Horror spoof. No-hopers Fletch and Jimmy stumble across a village while out hiking in the English countryside. What they don’t find out until too late is that all the women in the village turn into lesbian vampires on their 18th birthday. Lured to an old cottage by the villagers, they have to become ‘lesbian vampire killers’ if they are to survive the night.


22:00 A Royal Affair (Bodil Steensen-Leth/Rasmus Heisterberg)

At the tender age of 15, Caroline Matilda, the youngest sister of George III, is betrothed to her cousin Christian VII, King of Denmark. Almost immediately aware of her young husband’s mental illness, she falls under the charismatic spell of Christian’s new doctor, Johann Struensee, a German with dangerously liberal views which soon make him enemies at a court unused to having its authority challenged. In Danish with English subtitles.