Monday, December 9, 2013

Yep, It Caught Fire

The hubs and I went to see Catching Fire on Friday night and all I can say is, "wow."

For those not following along with fantasy/sci-fi times, Catching Fire is the second movie of the Hunger Games trilogy, based on the highly-successful books by Suzanne Collins. The Hunger Games is a young-adult dystopian thriller set in a post-apocalyptic world where twelve impoverished districts are ruled by an autocratic elite. Written in first-person, it follows the character Katniss Everdeen as she is chosen to be the female 'tribute' for her district in the yearly Hunger Games: a war game where children from each district fight for survival, aiming to kill off all their rivals and be the last one standing.

The first movie tracked the progress of Katniss and Peeta, the tributes for District 12, as they fought in the 74th annual Hunger Games. It was very well done: I enjoyed it and felt my sympathies were played on delightfully. The characters were earthy and the actors did a superb job. The development of the characters and plot were fairly linear, but the uncertainty and suspense were drawn out well and the story had a good pace. The director used a lot of 'shaky cam' techniques that made it hard to watch at times, unfortunately, and the fight scenes had an unrealistic quality. All in all, put it in the 'good' category but not the 'amazing' level.

But Catching was the best movie I've seen all year. That's including Thor (II), Ender's Game, and The Wolverine. (But not including The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug since, of course, that has not released yet. Honestly though, had I known how good Catching Fire would be, my anticipation of it would have been almost equal to my anticipation of The Hobbit. And if you knew what a dedicated Tolkien fan I am--nĂ¡, istan Sindarin niben--you should realize what high praise that is.)

They attained a new level of mastery with this movie. The pace was perfect. Everything was well-timed to lengthen suspense to the last minute but not leave the plot dangling. Though the start of the movie had some filling-in-the-time-since-the-last-movie to do, they did not make the mistake of Thor: The Dark World and try to do everything at once and then slow down once it hit 'the good stuff.' They moved smoothly through a series of scenes that depicted enough of the characters for you to piece together the past without feeling rushed, but nevertheless left ample time to follow the main plotline.

What I love best about Catching Fire is the character development. In the first movie you watched how the characters handled being chosen as tributes, their motives, where they broke the rules and why. Catching Fire showed us the psychological repercussions for children who have had to kill other children. Like the end of the Return of the King book (not movie), where we watched Frodo and Sam discover that they did not fit into their old life as they had before, we watch as Katniss struggles with her desire for the simple life she used to have, the peaceful existence she expected, and the changes within herself that keep her from both.

Out of that struggle comes a handful of tense and changing relationships, and this was what I truly enjoyed. For character development is one thing, but these were characters who were also changing in relationship to one another. I loved watching Katniss' internal struggle over what she wants and what she needs--and what other people want and need. She tries to balance an impossible tangle of people without dropping a single one. It's an excellent balance of the predictable and the unpredictable. And for anyone into romantic entanglement, the Peeta-Katniss-Gale triangle is a more than satisfying drama.

The plot of the movie was also unpredictable. Not having read the books, I didn't know what to expect: Katniss is a tribute she rides around among the Districts being put on stage as a political puppet of some sort? That was all I knew. But the truth was even better.

The central problem that arises for the characters, which I won't spoil for you, caused the same reaction in me as it did in them. The political realities had me reeling the way Katniss did. Wow. My heartstrings were played upon by a master. A story that can make me that sympathetic is a story well-told.

Last of all, I loved the continuing themes. Oppression and totalitarianism, sure, but it's deeper than that: Katniss is the broken, unwilling heroine. She's a mascot for freedom because of actions that were only aimed at ending the horrible things in her own life. Suddenly she has become a symbol, and there is increasing tension between what the people need from her and what she wants to be.

If you're worried about the concept of children killing children, I would personally advise withholding judgment until you have seen the first movie. As a dystopia, the point is that it is evil and imperfect, but Suzanne Collins has handled it in a way that increases your sense of life's dignity and reflects on the toll it takes to kill. The movies don't depict blood and gore and are in that sense much less violent than, say, your typical Marvel movie.

I am going to go see it again in theatres; that's how much I enjoyed it. I better see you there too!

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