Warning: Filled with spoilers for the whole of Catching Fire.
When watching the film adaptation of a book you love, you’re filled with a certain amount of trepidation. Will they do the book justice? Are your favourite characters and moments going to be included or will they be cut, or worst of all, changed? Did they get the casting right? Are you about to see the story you fell in love with come alive in front of you, or is it about to be butchered beyond belief? I’ve been through plenty of movie experiences where I’ve moaned ‘HOW could they do that? It was nothing like the book!!’ (An experience I dealt with during most of the Harry Potter films) but as I left the cinema after watching Catching Fire, I thought to myself ‘THAT is how you adapt a book into a movie.’
The most satisfying part of the movie for a book reader is simple: it’s true to the book. And by that, I don’t mean that there aren’t alterations. Sure, they’ve changed a few things here and there, omitted a few minor characters and moments, but Catching Fire is one of the closest book to film transitions I have ever seen. And it’s not just that the movie has managed to include all the major moments, characters, and even lines – it’s that the film actually captures the heart and soul of the book. This is a story of revolution, of a country daring to end their hunger for justice, and all the moments from the book that give you chills are fully realised in the movie. The old man from District 11 being shot in the head coupled with Katniss’s desperate screams is heart stopping. Johanna Masons’s viscous ‘Make them pay’ to Katniss, followed by the Victors joining hands at the end of the interview will make you tear up.
Even with a lot of plot to pack in, the movie still manages to take the time to fully develop the secondary characters. This isn’t Harry Potter where their storylines get swept to the side (Remus and Tonks, for example.) Effie’s burgeoning humanity is given plenty of attention, from her tearful reaping, to presenting Haymitch and Peeta with a gold band and locket that match her hair and Katniss’s pin so they can ‘really look like a team.’ The moment in which Haymitch reaches out and touches her arm as Effie attempts to deal with having to say goodbye on the train is a particular highlight. Although Haymitch’s games get cut (something I was sad about, but considering the movies long running time it makes sense that not everything will fit in) his deepening affection for Katniss and Peeta is evident, and his violent reaction to the Quarter Quell announcement, along with his comments on the other victors – some of who are his friends – help to show the root of who Haymitch is.
Fan favourites Johanna Mason and Finnick Odair have been cast to perfection. Jena Malone captures Johanna’s bold personality, and her famous elevator stripping is one of the funnier moments of the movies – made even better by the decision to put Haymitch in the scene. Sam Claflin is explosive as Finnick, from his cocky attitude toward Katniss at the victors parade, to the anguish when he hears Annie’s voice in the arena. His look into the camera as he addresses his capitol ‘lover’ (aka Annie Cresta) at the interviews will break your heart. Donald Sutherland continues to be the perfect choice as the evil President Snow, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman is a great addition as Plutarch Heavensbee.
The movie moves at a swift pace, meaning that although it is lengthy, you definitely don’t feel bored. Director Francis Lawrence brings the world of Panem to life from the lavish parties in the Capitol, to the harsh realities of life in 12 as new Head Peacekeeper Thread arrives. The costumes are on another level too: Effie’s butterfly reaping outfit and Katniss’s wedding dress/mockingjay costume are to die for. The changes that are made truly benefit the movie. The exclusion of Madge, Bonnie, Twill and Dairus, although sad, helps to keep the pace of the movie moving along steadily. The addition of Snow’s granddaughter is also an interesting one: never seen in the books, she is mentioned at the end of Mockingjay. Having seen her on screen, it will give an added depth to the conversation that takes place involving her in the final instalments. One benefit of a movie version of a book told from a first person point of view is that you are able to finally get a glimpse at things outside of the character’s head – things that were only discussed or heard about in the book. Being able to watch Plutarch and Snow discuss Katniss and Plutarch control the games is a great addition.
Jennifer Lawrence is phenomenal as Katniss Everdeen. She truly delves inside the character, and even without an internal monologue you are able to see her thoughts playing out across her face. As Cinna is beaten and dragged from the launch room, Katniss is sent upwards into the arena. Her expression of anguish and helpless terror turns to one of determination as she stares at the bow and arrows at the cornucopia, and you need nothing to tell you that she is refusing let Snow’s latest attempt to unhinge her deter her from her mission to keep Peeta alive. The Peeta/Katniss and Katniss/Gale romance is handled nicely, and Jennifer Lawrence is utterly convincing as her feelings for Peeta begin to grow into something real, evident in Katniss’s reaction to Peeta’s near-death experience in the jungle especially. Even though the media did try to push the TEAM GALE OR TEAM PEETA? angle for a while, the movie doesn’t give into this and avoids giving the romance too much precedence: while it is important to the story, it is not the central theme. The final scene, a shot of Katniss’s face as she takes in the news that District 12 is no more, reminds us why Jennifer Lawrence is one of the best actresses currently in the business.
Even for a non-book reader, the movie would be considered brilliant, but for those of us that first fell in love with the story of The Hunger Games trilogy via the novels, it’s outstanding.