Hunger Games sequel, Catching Fire, enhances the story’s flimsy political conflict

Originally Posted in The Quad.

By Rachel Small

After over a year and a half wait, the new movie in The Hunger Games franchise, Catching Fire, was released nationwide Thursday, November 21, 2013.

The Hunger Games series is about a post-apocalyptic, dystopian future society called Panem that holds a nationwide, mandatory competition every year where they pit district – region – teens against each other to fight to the death. The film stars Academy Award-winning actress Jennifer Lawrence in her most famous role, protagonist and Hunger Games tribute – participant – Katniss Everdeen. The film also stars Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mellark, Katniss’ secret admirer turned fellow tribute; Woody Harrelson as Haymitch Abernathy, a former winner of the Hunger Games competition who serves at a mentor to the tributes; Liam Hemsworth as Gail Hawthorne, Katniss’ best friend from home who is also her love interest; Donald Sutherland as President Snow, the antagonistic leader of Panem; and new to the series is Academy Award winner Philip Seymour Hoffman who plays Plutarch Heavensbee, the veteran Game Maker of the Hunger Games.

The film also stars Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mellark, Katniss’ secret admirer turned fellow tribute; Woody Harrelson as Haymitch Abernathy, a former winner of the Hunger Games competition who serves at a mentor to the tributes; Liam Hemsworth as Gail Hawthorne, Katniss’ best friend from home who is also her love interest; Donald Sutherland as President Snow, the antagonistic leader of Panem; and new to the series is Academy Award winner Philip Seymour Hoffman who plays Plutarch Heavensbee, the veteran Game Maker of the Hunger Games.

For its late night Thursday openings, the film grossed approximately $25.2 million, making it the seventh-biggest first-night grosser ever, the top spot dominated by Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. The first movie was released in March 2012 with an opening grossing $19.7 million and was met with critical and commercial success.

The movies are based off the novels of the same name by Suzanne Collins – also known for her work in television writing and her first YA (Young Adult) fantasy book series, The Underland Chronicles). Collins’ Hunger Games series has been met with critical acclaim. However, some reviewers criticized Collins for her weak allegorical critique of a dystopian realm. Dystopian novels are not just an element found in the newly popular YA genre but have some pretty iconic
predecessors like the satirical 1984 by British political commentator George Orwell. Orwell’s work served as a social warning for future government takeovers. Orwell notably and convincingly spread awareness about social injustices, opposition to totalitarianism, and commitment to social democratic socialism.

The Hunger Games uses a dystopian society and an oppressive government as a supplemental theme to the novel, sometimes serving as simply a backdrop to the main plot, characters, and action scenes. This works within the YA genre because a lot of young readers are able to overlook the superficial, “lazily” developed, and ultimately solutionless political commentary of the novel in favor of YA genre elements like love triangles. The movie, however, has been praised for delving deeper into the political conflict within Panem. Much of Collin’s prose is devoted to describing action and Katniss’ thoughts. When translated into film, visual aids assist in eliminating a lot of the dense, action-packed prose, which frees up more exploration of political unrest. Scenes not depicted in the novel arise on screen, many including President Snow (Sutherland) and his motivation for his antagonistic actions. This serves to not only depict what happens behind the scenes in a dictatorship scenario, but it also shows Snow as not only an evil
villain but a human being as well. The scenes with his granddaughter especially showcase the tyrant’s soft side.

The other element that is further fleshed out is the reluctance of heroine, Katniss, to become the face of a resistance she didn’t mean to start. We see more of her posttraumatic stress and her fear – whereas, in the book, she comes off as a stubborn and selfish teenager who can sometimes be hard to sympathize with. This is helped by the likability of the actress who plays Katniss, Lawrence, who is widely adored by audience members. What also helps is the flashbacks seen on screen that affect Katniss’ ability to live a normal life post-games. Overall, these additions make the film a more polished adaptation of Collins’ story.

The next installment of The Hunger Games franchise, Mockingjay Part 1, is poised to be released next year, on November 21, 2014. The final film, Mockingjay Part 2, will be released a year after that, on November 20, 2015.

Catching Fire is currently in all theaters, nationwide.

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