Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

I like “The Hunger Games”. I’m not a rabid fan or anything, but I like it. I saw the first movie when it came out in theaters, and now I’ve just watched the second movie and enjoyed it very much. So, I will share a few thoughts, hopefully without incurring the wrath of anyone who’s read all the books.

I will begin by saying: I have not read Catching Fire! 

I don’t know what the filmmakers kept from the original text, changed or threw out. But as I see as an entertaining film with a premise that keeps my mind whirring long after I’ve left the theater. 

Dystopian societies fascinate me these days, so the world building of the “Hunger Games” can send me into a geeky frenzy. 

I should point out now, that I don’t like this movie for the usual reasons. I don’t particularly find any of the main characters very compelling. Nor do I think the story arch is especially interesting or unique. What draws me to this franchise is... the idea of a world in which society pivots around a gigantic televised gladiator game. Teens aged twelve to eighteen are sent to an isolated arena and set loose. Last one alive wins.

It’s almost like ancient Rome, but on tv... and hey, isn’t that kind of like a super dark version of “Survivor”?

As a young adult, I’m becoming more aware of my society which can also be a rude awakening to some of the nastier sides of life.

When I was a kid -being a major history buff- I would read books about ancient Rome. While it’s exciting to read about the gladiators, I am very glad I do not live during those times.

That was before I was introduced to reality television....

As far as I know, it is still illegal to have reality show combatants actually murder each other. However, it is perfectly acceptable to show them yell, curse, and sarcastically beat each other down with words.

I once read a book called “Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth about Guilty Pleasure TV” by Jennifer L. Pozner. If you’re curious about the abundance of reality shows and why they seem to be so popular, you should check it out.

After reading this book, I began to think about what happens offscreen versus onscreen in reality shows. 

The fact is, there is very little “reality” in reality TV. These shows have scripts. Participants aren’t picked at random, but are chosen based on their ability to create drama onscreen -which indicates some may have some severe personality disorders. Before the show airs, everything is carefully edited to create a story arch for each episode. It blurs the line between what is real and what isn’t.

So with that in mind, “Hunger Games” can be seen as a commentary on our own weird pitfalls within society and media. 

The first movie introduced us to dual Hunger Game winners, Katniss and Peeta. In the second, we see how their fame plays out. They continue to dominate the spotlight, as rich victors and sweethearts.

Behind the camera it’s quite a different story. They’re both suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, and Katniss doesn’t care for Peeta romantically. She only pretended to in order to gain popularity with the public- which also gave her and Peeta extra equipment- necessary to their survival during the first games.

Now they’re trapped in a lie, and it’s wearing thin.

There’s not a lot of screen time devoted to the inner workings of this particular society, but from what I can gather, the whole thing is set up around the “Hunger Games”. The Capitol governs over several “Districts” which are only distinguished by numbers. Apparently as the numbers get bigger, the living situations get poorer. Katniss comes from the last one, District 12.

To keep the others in line, Capitol City demands contestants each year for the brutal Hunger Games. Each district has to give up two children, and the poorer the district- the less likely they’ll ever see those kids again.

In the previous film, resourceful Katniss defied the rules and forced the Capitol’s hand to allow two Hunger Game contestants to win instead of one.

So in “Catching Fire”, Katniss seems to be a threat to Capitol City’s top dog status.

Which... seems like a weak plot thread- at least in my opinion. However, that doesn’t ruin the story for me.

There is a lot going on in the Hunger Games, and it would be difficult for me to touch on each subject. 

The relationship between Katniss and Peeta seems to be one of the more popular themes. You’re never quite sure exactly how they feel about each other, because what they do and say in public differs greatly from what is said in private.

However, I wish that the “maybe, maybe not” romance could take a back seat to the politics and culture of Panem.  For this review, I looked up stuff online about the Hunger Games and found a slew of interesting information that doesn’t really come out in the movies.

For instance, I found a map of Panem, which is blocked out in a suspiciously North American shape.

So... that means that The Huger Games is speculative fiction. It takes place in our world, and a possible future America!

This concept intrigues me. Apparently, The Capitol is placed in the general vicinity of my home state, Colorado, while Katniss’s District 12 seems to be located on the east coast in the Appalachian mountains.

I want to know more about this Panem place. What are the other districts like? How did everything end up like this? We mostly view the Hunger Games from the viewpoint of the combatants, but I wish we could also see what’s going on outside the arena.

The Capitol is presented as a sort of “Evil Empire” - except instead of white clad stormtroopers- the evil lawmakers sally forth in metallic, garish clothes and lots of eyeliner. 

Maybe I just watch too many historical dramas, but I’d like to spend more time among these foppish politicians.

What do the Capitol elite think of the barbaric practice that is The Hunger Games? Are there any anti-Games activists among the rich and bizarrely dressed?

Also, the only Hunger Game contestants we really get to know are Katniss and Peeta. What about the others? In “Catching Fire”, all the Game players are former winners, and we barely get to know any of them! The audience knows that most of them have to die, but still, I felt slightly jipped.

I find  “The Hunger Games” a fascinating conundrum. To me it is trying to be two things at once, and usually that would annoy me. However, in this case it just... fascinates me.

On one hand, this story seems to speak out as a warning against the dangers  of a society structured on violence and impartial media. However, the filmmakers are filling theater seats by promising an exciting amount of action and gore. This is a film that graphically shows children slaughtering each other.

One wonders if “The Hunger Games” is just perpetuating the dangerous trends it is attempting to condemn.

Here is another interesting thought:
In the “Hunger Games” movies, the elite Capitol residents (aka: the people who instituted the annual child slaughter fest) are shown to have outlandish fashion taste. They wear ridiculous amounts of make-up and unnaturally colored wigs. This is in stark contrast to the poor of District 12 who are clothed in plain work-worn attire. Basically you get the idea that the people in the Capitol are dripping in wealth and squander it on silly trends. 

Recently I have seen a lot of banners and online spots that advertise a new line of make-up from CoverGirl featuring looks from The Hunger Games. The first sign I saw, stated: “Find your Capitol Style”.

Now, I’m not going to condemn them for selling merchandise based off the “bad guys”. If I were going to do that, I would have to return my double-bladed Darth Maul lightsaber. Still... it’s odd to me that the film itself seems to look down on opulent consumerism, yet it’s marketing is supporting our real life cosmetic market. 

To conclude.... I can’t rightly conclude anything. “The Hunger Games”, as an idea, and as a film have given me a lot of different thought threads to explore.

I am a huge critic of reality TV, and “The Hunger Games” could be seen as a dark warning of what those shows could become. I appreciate and applaud that. 

However, this movie shows kids hacking each other to pieces, and gets a PG-13 rating, where I think R may have been more appropriate. 

But who can I judge? While I criticize the violence, I myself still go to see a large number of violent films- including the “Hunger Games”. Am I helping perpetuate the violence?

It’s something I need to think about.

Even so, I’m curious to see what the next film will bring, and in the meantime, I hope to read the books. 


  1. Thank you for the review - looking forward to reading more! I especially appreciated your point of view, as one who saw the movies before reading the books (you totally should read them however-they do provide more backstory!). I do agree that more of the politics, and system behind the Capitol would be intriguing to learn about - more of that does occur in the 3rd book, and since that is being split into 2 movies, perhaps more will be shown. Since the books, and subsequently, the movie, are from Katniss' perspective, I think that's why it's a little lighter on all the background. She's not really concerned with, or had the opportunity to really study, the Capitol, or the politics, her entire worldview is focused on one thing: survival. First in the District, later in the Games, and finally in the aftermath. It is interesting to see how her awareness is broadened throughout, to not solely be focused on her family, her District, but the entire system.
    The violence, as always, is a huge topic for discussion - critque on our obession with it, show too much, show too little, etc. I think it'd be interesting to hear your thoughts on it after reading the books descriptions, and comparing with the direction the movies went. I thought they actually showed a lot of restraint with the movies. Just to throw out there, when I left the theater from Catching Fire, I actually had a different thought that kept running through my head. The idea of how much are we really willing to sacrifice for others, for what we believe is right? I know that doesn't seem like the central premise of the Hunger Games trilogy, but what I witnessed/took away from this latest movie, was characters caring for each other, willing to risk their own well being for each other, and for "right", standing up to the "evil powers". Its easy to talk from our cushy homes about taking a stand for what's right, but how far are we really prepared to go? Would I have dashed out to stop an unfair punishment? Or designed a "revolutionary" fashion piece, knowing it could cost me everything later? Sorry, didn't mean to take up your entire comment section here , so I'll stop. For now. =)

    1. Your questions about "how much are we willing to sacrifice for what we believe is right" are very intriguing! I didn't touch on it in my review, but I found Cinna's fashion contribution to the rebellion particularly touching. He knew what would happen because of his actions, and he did it anyway. That takes guts!

      Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts!

      I look forward to reading the books!