‘Catching Fire’ goes above and beyond expectations


Murray Close

Photo from “Catching Fire” official website, used with permission under fair use.

“Catching Fire” blew me away, and I’m not sure I want to come back down. This movie absolutely nailed it, almost as though director Francis Lawrence (no connection to Jennifer Lawrence) found a way to convert the book from page to screen. It took me a while to think of any flaws, and the things I came up with were minor inconsistencies with the book. Nothing major, and absolutely nothing that detracted from “Fire” at all. Not only is the movie easy to follow along, especially if you’ve seen “The Hunger Games,” but it’s a thoroughly enjoyable movie, even if you haven’t had the chance to read the books. (Watch the “Catching Fire” trailer here.)

I often enjoy books more than I enjoy their movie counterparts. I can’t say I’ve ever seen a movie that was actually better than its book. If it were a popularity contest, most of the time, the book wins. With “Catching Fire,” though, I’m not quite sure. The movie is absolutely astounding. Waiting in line among hundreds of other fans, counting down the days to release day (609 days, from “The Hunger Games,” to be exact), I hoped “Catching Fire” would do the book justice.

“Catching Fire” begins a few months after the events in “The Hunger Games” took place. We’re thrust into Katniss Everdeen’s (Jennifer Lawrence) fast-paced world. In “The Hunger Games,” we saw Katniss and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) win the games, despite the rule that there could only be one victor. Something has changed since then. Katniss is slowly learning to accept the fact that she’s not only a role model to the people in the districts, but she’s become something much more —  something much more dangerous. She’s a beacon of hope for an oppressed people. The Capitol, Panem’s government, views her as a threat and wants to put out her spark. We find out she must go back into the arena for a special “quell” version of the Hunger Games, marking their 75th anniversary. The contestants, or “tributes” are reaped from the existing pool of victors.

Lawrence gave heart and soul to Katniss in a way that was delightfully shocking. She’s the perfect embodiment of Katniss—she’s quirky, she’s witty, she’s gorgeous, and most of all, maybe most importantly, she’s convincing. She’s a great actress, but to see how dedicated she was in this role, how she took on all the little mannerisms of Katniss, made the movie burn that much brighter. She’s the sort of actress who isn’t a one-hit wonder. She’s here, and she’s here to stay.

“Catching Fire” is heartbreaking. It’s heartwarming. It’s tragic, it’s funny, it’s sad, it’s everything and more you could possibly want from a movie. Love triangles can be cliche and expected, but “Fire” manages to incorporate a love triangle between Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth), Peeta, and Katniss, without being too over-the-top. How director Francis Lawrence depicts Katniss’ internal struggles between having to keep up appearances for the cameras with Peeta and wanting to keep her already strained friendship with Gale is gold. The audience sees her with both of them, and realize as she does that in order to maintain the peace and keep those she loves safe, she must play a game she doesn’t want to play. (We’ll be able to reunite with Katniss and her crazy world when the next film in the series, “Mockingjay: Part 1” hits theaters on Nov. 21, 2014.)

Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) is Katniss’ escort, and being from the Capitol, everything she wears is eye-catching and very overdone. She’s like the most ridiculous Paris fashion show, all on one person. It’s a stark contrast to see Katniss and Effie standing side by side, someone who’s not enjoying the “Victory Tour” at all, and someone who has a different hair color every night and is taking full advantage of everything the Capitol has to offer.

The transformation of Katniss’ wedding dress going up in flames to reveal her standing fierce as the mockingjay was absolutely breathtaking. Seeing that important part from the book unfold was beautiful, and was pulled off unbelievably well by the filmmakers.

The sequel to the hugely popular “The Hunger Games” had some pretty high expectations to fill. Not only did it have to be a good movie, it had to be directed well, acted well, and edited well. It had to please the fans, it had to convince the fans. What’s a movie without people to watch it?

Thanks to such brilliant acting, directing, and producing, “Catching Fire” is sweeping the nation off its’ feet. (Think back to 2009 with Twilight mania. Now times that by a thousand.)

The few things I was a little disappointed by (keyword: little) were small details from the book that would have enhanced the movie, but nothing that detracted from it.

The two hours and 26 minutes went by in the blink of an eye. There were no dull moments, and with witty banter between Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) and Effie, some of the heavier moments of the film could be alleviated, even if only for a moment. Sam Claflin (Finnick Odair) charmed his way into “Fire” with his constant smirk and piercing eyes.

Director Francis Lawrence took a different, less shaky approach to filming “Catching Fire” than “The Hunger Games” director Gary Ross did. And it worked. The Capitol’s outrageous fashions and the dull blacks and blues of District 12 all came together as though the book itself came to life.

A movie that makes me cry, laugh, smile, grimace and hold my breath in anticipation is the sort of movie that’s worth seeing.

With its PG-13 rating, this isn’t the sort of film to bring a young child to. If you have to think about whether or not to take your kid sister, you probably shouldn’t. There’s mild language, and there is a scene where the audience sees someone get killed.

You don’t have to read the books to understand and appreciate this film. Just brush up on your memory of “The Hunger Games” from last year, and you should be good to go.

If you can only see one movie this month, see “Catching Fire.” And if you can see two, see it twice. (And while you buy your tickets online, you might want to buy the books as well.)