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About this blog: I grew up in Palo Alto and now live in Mountain View with my husband, daughter and two corgis. After about a decade grappling with the law, first as a law student at UC Berkeley and then as a litigator around the Bay Area, I left ...  (More)

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Why Catching Fire is So Much Better Than the First Hunger Games Movie

Uploaded: Nov 22, 2013
As most people know, Catching Fire is the second installment of The Hunger Games trilogy, but while the second novel sometimes feels phoned-in compared to the first book, the second movie far surpasses the quality of the first movie. Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) have won the games and returned home to District 12, but are forced to pretend to be a couple in love. Katniss is torn between Peeta and her childhood friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth) when President Snow (Donald Sutherland) shows up and tells her he's on to her deception. He tells her to "convince him" that she really is in love with Peeta.

When she and Peeta go to District 11, Katniss gives a heartfelt speech about Rue, her friend that died in the games of the first movie. An elderly man gives her a Mockingjay signal — three fingers and a call. He gets shot. The meat of the story lies rebellion: in how Kat and the mockingjay pin she wears sow hope in the districts, hope that the totalitarian regime of Panem fights to destroy.

I went to Catching Fire with low expectations. One of my primary complaints about the first movie was that it failed to capture Katniss's interiority, which was a huge strength of the first book. Somehow, perhaps because of the lack of interiority, the first movie was performative: it seemed to be operating in real-life society the same way the Hunger Games did within their fictional universe, but without the book's searing critique.

Even though I enjoyed the books, I was worried about a run time of 146 minutes for a second novel. Catching Fire is arguably the weakest of the trilogy because it includes the Quarter Quell — a version of the Hunger Games played every 25 years. The games that are so riveting in the first installment are a bit repetitive the second time around. However, the writers and director Francis Lawrence managed to stage something fairly stunning from Collins's prose — a jungle full of terrors. The games are a bit lengthy in the novel, but are pared down to essentials in the movie.

To my surprise and pleasure, Catching Fire was very good. There are so many middle installments of trilogies that feel like filler or otherwise take a nosedive. For me that includes The Two Towers, Karate Kid II, Back to the Future II, The Matrix Reloaded, Halloween II, and Scream 2. Catching Fire doesn't follow these models. It's better than the first. It brings to the fore how a reluctant heroine starts to change how she sees herself and the choices she makes.

Recently, the Twitterverse got up in arms about writer Laura C. Mallonee's essay in The Millions. Although it has a provocative title, the essay is a thoughtful comparative analysis of popular YA heroines from earlier times (such as the ones in Little Women and Girl of the Limberlost), focusing on how they differ from YA heroines from today. Among other things, it questions why stories involving resilient girls don't attain blockbuster YA status today.

While I didn't agree with every point in Mallonee's essay, the response was a prime example of an audience that has developed such a strong infatuation with Katniss that it takes any criticism of The Hunger Games as misogyny or lack of familiarity with YA. I bring up the essay because it mentions Katniss's ambivalence with her role as a hero or celebrity, an ambivalence that many fans don't seem to believe exists. Kat doesn't think through her decision to take her sister's place in the first games (making it less a heroic decision and more a gut reaction) and she doesn't want to be a hero.

What the second movie articulates very well is the ambivalence that is glossed over by some readers. Katniss transforms from a girl who acts on impulse to save her sister and learns how to survive to a true heroine: someone who acts out of bravery in spite of the fear, rather than reacts purely out of impulse. The impulsiveness is still there, but it has more thought, more understanding behind it. I think in some ways, the movie spells out this transformation much more clearly than the book does.

President Snow comments at one point that the people of Panem who idolize Katniss don't realize she's just out for her own survival and he hopes to make them see that. I don't think it's a spoiler to say that Katniss foils his plan partly because she changes through the course of the movie - unlike the first movie, her growth as a character, rather than just the action of the games, propels the plot.

Even people who don't like the books will probably enjoy Jennifer Lawrence's performance as Katniss. She perfectly conveys Katniss's ambivalence. Lawrence was good in the first movie, but the dialogue was less sharp and one of the strengths of the books (her interior thought process) didn't come through in her acting. The writing has sharpened up with Catching Fire and Lawrence has truly blossomed as an actress. Her facial expressions and delivery evoke Katniss's internal struggles even when Katniss's prickly personality prevents her from stating what she's thinking. I can't wait for the third movie.

Have you seen or are you planning to see Catching Fire? Let me know what you think in the comments.

Comments

Posted by me, a resident of Walter Hays School,
on Nov 22, 2013 at 8:25 pm

Yes, I completely agree.. I went to see Catching Fire yesterdayIn the first movie, Katniss wasn't really Katnissy. I think that Catching Fire is much funnier, too. I thought it would be repeatative to the first, but it wasn't at all. I would suggest this movie to anyone.


Posted by Anita Felicelli, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Nov 23, 2013 at 7:10 am

Anita Felicelli is a registered user.

@me, I thought there were some great funny moments, especially between Katniss and Peeta. Also thought Stanley Tucci's performance provided an excellent satire of celebrity culture. Thanks for reading and commenting.


Posted by Unoriginal copy, a resident of Midtown,
on Nov 23, 2013 at 6:09 pm

You now that Hunger Games is a rip off of kinji fukasaku\'s Battle Royale movie


Posted by Anita Felicelli, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Nov 23, 2013 at 10:09 pm

Anita Felicelli is a registered user.

@Unoriginal copy - most commercial books and movies are retellings and recombinations of other stories - dating further back in literary history than Shakespeare's 'ripoffs' of Christopher Marlowe's plays. In this case, I don't think it's farfetched to think that two authors in two different countries happened to write about kids killing kids - you can find certain fairytales in multiple cultures without a clear path of travel between the cultures. In our postmodern age, what's original in any book or movie is how it's told, not the story itself.


Posted by Unoriginal copy, a resident of Midtown,
on Nov 24, 2013 at 3:33 pm

Anita-- sounds like you are saying that people cannot come up with original ideas, so they rip off other authors, as the author of the hunger games has done. And no, telling a story in an " original" manner is not an excuse for plagiarism.


Posted by Anita Felicelli, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Nov 24, 2013 at 3:43 pm

Anita Felicelli is a registered user.

@Unoriginal Copy - No, I am not saying that. Anybody who has read a substantial number of books or seen a number of movies recognizes that similarities in stories and concepts are inevitable. We are human: we all experience love, loss, grief etc. We imagine ways in which to inflict cruelty. We try to control our lives and sometimes that need for control leads to power conflicts. Similarity in stories, even substantial similarity, is simply not "plagiarism." In fact, recognition of this fact exists in our law. It's why copyright law protects not ideas (nor stories) but the expression of them - how they are told. I do not think The Hunger Games is particularly original - nothing in my post suggests I think that — but nor do I think the author "ripped off" anybody. What is interesting about Collins' work is her exploration of Katniss's psychology in the face of a painful circumstance, not the idea of kids being required by a totalitarian regime to kill each other (what Battle Royale is about). I am not sure why you are using this forum to have an unrelated argument, but I will not continue to engage in a debate with you on this point.


Posted by Unoriginal copy, a resident of Midtown,
on Nov 24, 2013 at 4:03 pm

Getting back to the original issue, catching fire is the weakest of the trilogy because it is the middle film. The film does not really end, it just stops. Think Star Wars trilogy for another example of this problem


Posted by Bill G. , a resident of Rex Manor,
on Nov 24, 2013 at 4:25 pm

dear Unoriginal copy:

re: the originality of your quibble - google 'literature of exhaustion' or 'death of the author' or various other postmodern critics on the impossibility of originality and educate yourself on what you're trying to argue

and then read some Roman history, Abassid history, et al - then, if you're not too fatigued, read the seven thousand or so other books that trot out a similar, if not the selfsame garbage plot that both the pieces of 'Art' in question deploy

it's akin to complaining that Lassie is a rip off of See Spot Run


Posted by U original copy, a resident of Midtown,
on Nov 24, 2013 at 4:37 pm

Thanks, bill g. An d are you familiar with what is called an " opinion"?


Posted by Anita Felicelli, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Nov 24, 2013 at 5:00 pm

Anita Felicelli is a registered user.

@ Bill G - agreed - except I'm fond of plots, regardless of whether they are garbage plots or not.


Posted by Unoriginal copy, a resident of Midtown,
on Nov 24, 2013 at 5:06 pm

One persons garbage is another persons masterpiece


Posted by Ted Syrett, a resident of Menlo Park,
on Nov 25, 2013 at 12:03 pm

You say "[Jennifer] Lawrence has truly blossomed as an actress." Well, the only film of hers I've seen was "Winter's Bone", and in that she was phenomenal; her character was in almost every scene, and totally convincing. You mean she's gotten BETTER!? Wow...


Posted by Anita Felicelli, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Nov 25, 2013 at 12:06 pm

Anita Felicelli is a registered user.

@Ted Syrett - I thought she was convincing in Winter's Bone, too. Still, I think she's gotten even better - she manages to convey more complex stuff in this movie using just facial expressions or line delivery, which to me is a sign of maturing as an actress.


Posted by CBD, a resident of Stanford,
on Nov 25, 2013 at 12:49 pm

Seems that Ms lawrence is quite the mature actress. She was brilliant in Winters Bone and won the Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook. The roles she has taken in The Hunger Games and X-Men is just for the paycheck. There is nothing special about her performance in these action films and her worth as an actress will be based on the serious films she has been brilliant in and not the fanboy fluff she makes some money on.


Posted by Anita Felicelli, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Nov 25, 2013 at 1:00 pm

Anita Felicelli is a registered user.

@CBD - I find it cynical to speculate on what any actress's motivation is for taking on particular films, but I've seen all these movies and her performance in The Hunger Games, irrespective of the genre of the movie, in my opinion surpasses her performance in Winter's Bone. I thought she was equally good in Silver Linings Playbook, but that movie certainly wasn't any more serious of a vehicle than The Hunger Games.


Posted by CBD, a resident of Stanford,
on Nov 25, 2013 at 1:12 pm

Well first of all, my comments about her choices in films is an opinion, pure and simple. Your feelings about her performance in Hunger Games is your opinion and that is fine. Silver Linings Playbook was a much more serious film than Hunger Games-- it was about real people and real issue, but that is my opinion.
You do not actually need to respond to every posting and if you do you do not need to get so defensive about people's opinions differing from yours and/or disagreeing with you. but that is just my opinion


Posted by Anita Felicelli, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Nov 25, 2013 at 1:18 pm

Anita Felicelli is a registered user.

@CBD - Actually, bloggers *are* required to respond to every comment, which is why I do. Not all bloggers follow the guidelines. Nobody is questioning your right to your opinion, but there is no need for you to go on the attack or make personal comments about "fanboys" because I voice an opinion different from yours. Bipolar disorder is a serious, real-world issue - but in my opinion Silver Linings Playbook is not a realistic portrayal of that disorder. Also fyi - if you are uncomfortable with someone commenting back, please don't comment on my blog.


Posted by CBD, a resident of Stanford,
on Nov 25, 2013 at 1:34 pm

Anita-- well, seems that you are questioning my right to opinion-- you are calling my opinions " attacks" and claiming that calling a film " fanboy fluff" is a personal attack.!!! Will not get into a discussion with you regarding the reality of Silver Linings Playbook .you seem to be the one uncomfortable with people responding to your comments. You seem to be very insecure in your opinions, hence the need to respond in your own " sweet" manner to those that disagree with you. But do not worry, I will no longer waste my time on your blog.


Posted by Anita Felicelli, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Nov 25, 2013 at 1:39 pm

Anita Felicelli is a registered user.

@CBD - Since I am required to respond to comments, I want my blog to be a place of serious and informed discussion, not unproductive, off-topic vitriol. Incidentally, I am responding this way because I think you are the same user as "Unoriginal Copy" who made several comments yesterday that I removed because they were clearly personal comments. I have removed your latest personal comment below and I suggest if you have any further issue with me you write a letter directly to the editors, rather than post here. Thanks.


Posted by CBD, a resident of Stanford,
on Nov 25, 2013 at 1:47 pm

Weekly editors-- not sure if you are looking at thE postings on this blog and the responses by the blogger. I feel that her comments go beyond the normal, called for response by a blogger. I feel that her comments/responses to my postings are uncalled for and show a distinct lack of respect for my opinion- labelling civil responses as attacks and vitriol is a bit much. Perhaps if the blogger is looking for complete and total agreement with postings and is not open to opinions different from her own, perhaps she is not really the kind of person you want running ablog on your website. Again, just my opinion.


Posted by PersonA, a resident of Midtown,
on Nov 25, 2013 at 2:49 pm

I loved Catching Fire. I read the book before I saw the movie, and thought it was really faithful. I also felt they better captured the brutality of the games in the 2nd movie.

I'm going to have to disagree with you about Karate Kid II. Karate Kid I obviously was one of the best movies ever, so it would be hard to measure up. Karate Kid III was just awful. It made no sense. Karate Kid II however is a pretty solid movie, its better in every single way that Karate Kid III. It has a nice succinct plot - Daniel travels to Okinawa, meets a new villain, and must gain a much deeper understanding of his Karate to defeat Chosen. I really like the "B" story of Miyagi reconciling with Sato, and of course the love story between Daniel and the lovely girl he meets in Okinawa. Have you ever looked at one of those little drum toys the same way after seeing that movie? I know I haven't. So, I wouldn't describe KK2 as a nosedive - it was more of a slight decline, but KK3 was definitely a nosedive. The Karate Kid 2 nintendo game was actually pretty good.

How about Back to the Future? I think most people don't like 2 - its very dark, and the plot is confusing, where as 3 is more of a traditional movie.

Worst #2 of all time: Major League 2. Just awful.

Anyway, I enjoyed your post, and I hope you do more movie reviews in the future.


Posted by Anita Felicelli, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Nov 25, 2013 at 4:28 pm

Anita Felicelli is a registered user.

@PersonA - Great to meet a fellow cinephile. Hmmm… I have to be honest, I haven't seen Karate Kid II since the '80s! Before I wrote the post, my husband and I were talking about sequels that we weren't as enthusiastic about and he said Karate Kid II. I couldn't remember liking it enough to view a second time, as I had with Karate Kid, so I noted it. But now that you've described why I should like it, maybe I'll re-watch with your comment in mind.

As for Back to the Future 2, I actually enjoyed the idea of Marty and Jennifer going forward in time to meet their kids, but something about the way it was executed felt off. You know how when the music comes on for the first Back to the Future, it gives you a really fun feeling like you're coming back to a friend? I didn't feel that fun energy in the second movie - maybe it was too over-the-top to have Michael J. Fox play his own daughter. I think my favorite sequel might be Godfather Part II. Thanks for reading and commenting.


Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Nov 25, 2013 at 9:50 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

Anita,

I do not think you are required or even asked to respond to every comment.

My understanding is that as bloggers we are asked to engage with posters but that does not mean every time.

Steve


Posted by Bill G. , a resident of Rex Manor,
on Nov 25, 2013 at 9:51 pm

CBD,

thank you in advance for not wasting any more time on this blog - hopefully this will give you more quality time with 'serious' films like 'Silver Linings Playbook' & 'Battle Royale'




Posted by Anita Felicelli, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Nov 25, 2013 at 10:17 pm

Anita Felicelli is a registered user.

Hi Stephen - I'm not sure if you are asking me something, since you probably already have your hard copy of the guidelines specifying that bloggers should respond "within hours to comments." I may be reading that too much like a lawyer, but if responding to comments were not a general requirement, there would be no notation as to time and there also would be no use of the word "should."

However, as you can see from the above thread, I don't take this absolutely literally as I chose not to respond to "Unoriginal Copy" aka "CBD" after a series of offensive comments yesterday and now that I have realized he is signing on under a different user name to comment, I once again I will choose not respond to those specific comments - other people can of course feel free to respond to him/her. However, choosing to deviate under that specific circumstance doesn't negate that I am supposed to respond to users who present themselves as new users, as CBD initially did today.


Posted by Movie Fan, a resident of Mountain View,
on Nov 26, 2013 at 6:00 am

Is it true that the third book of The Hunger Games will be split into two movies?

Regarding the various discussions raised in this thread. I think one thing that Lawrence needs to be wary of is being typecast in a certain role. Probably will not happen with her. Probably happened to Mark Hamill due to Star Wars, but Harrison Ford escaped that problem. And look at Daniel Radcliffe, trying to shed himself of the Harry Potter mantra--doing Equus on stage and Kill Your Darlings--both with nude scenes!! I think That Alec Guiness hated the success and fame he got from Star Wars—I think he considered himself a serious actor, but did not view Star Wars as a "serious" project. But, I think that Hollywood makes more money from "non-serious" films than "serious" ones and the bottom line for Hollywood is cash

As for actors making movies for the cash—I think Laurence Olivier, late in his career, was churning out movies just for the paycheck. I know some people accuse Robert deNiro of that also nowadays. However, tough for us to know what an actor sees in a script—i.e. potential great movie or paycheck.

As for fanboys—they are held in high regard by Hollywood these days—look at how Hollywood flocks to Comic-Con. They are not always right, but they are a vocal lot and there are many movies made for their audiences.

Sorry, the long and disjointed posting.


Posted by Anita Felicelli, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Nov 26, 2013 at 6:17 am

Anita Felicelli is a registered user.

Hi @Movie Fan. Yes, the third book is supposed to be split into two movies - I'm not thrilled about that. Do you mean that you think Lawrence needs to be worried about playing a character like Katniss again? I think her character in Winter's Bone was somewhat similar, but her character in Silver Linings and in upcoming movies like American Hustle and East of Eden seem to be totally different. Good point re: Lawrence Olivier. I think part of the difficulty for us in speculating about actors' motivations when they see a script is that, as a blueprint, a script is so different than the heavily-packaged and marketed movie we get as audience members. Thanks for touching on so many great points in your comment.


Posted by Connie, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Nov 26, 2013 at 4:10 pm

I agree the second movie was better than the first. Costumes, cinematography, editing, etc... all got upgraded. But I think the biggest difference is that we get a very ambitious message from Suzanne Collins about our broken American political system. She asks the audience to consider, "Who is the real enemy?" in the movie, and also in real life. We waste so much time fighting each other on social issues in modern politics that we create no room for addressing issues that concern 99% of the population such as jobs, education, living wages. If these books and movies help the younger generation see past the Republican vs. Democrat distractions for what they are, we can eventually fix our political mess by focusing on jobs, education, and living wages.


Posted by Anita Felicelli, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Nov 26, 2013 at 6:13 pm

Anita Felicelli is a registered user.

Hi Connie - thank you. I totally agree - her message often gets glossed over in the midst of marketing/genre coverage. It would be great if the entertainment value of the books and movies gave younger generations an opportunity to think in a safe way about some of the changes that need to occur for us to achieve a better world and what the consequences could be for failing to try and make those changes.


Posted by Army Vet, a resident of Rengstorff Park,
on Nov 27, 2013 at 7:20 am

It's about violence and killing dressed as entertainment. There's nothing more to say. Go to Iraq or Afghanistan. You'll find plenty of it there.


Posted by Rachael, a resident of Charleston Gardens,
on Nov 27, 2013 at 7:25 pm

Such an awesome movie! FYI, I was able to watch the Hunger Games Catching Fire for free at moviesatyou.com.


Posted by Connie, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Dec 2, 2013 at 3:14 pm


I disagree, Army Vet. If you read all 3 books, her political messages are very clear. In every book, the main character has to figure out what is really going on. Even people she trusts lie to her (for good and questionable reasons). And then finally in the third book, the main character does something somewhat confusing at the end and you as the reader have to figure out what happened and why. The writer challenges the reader to think critically and see past the distractions to understand what's really happening, just as the main character did for all 3 books. I'm amazed that the movies are trying to impart the same ambitious message of thinking critically. If these books and movies make more people question why we send our poor and young kids to fight in the Middle East for us, that's a huge step forward.


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