Maybe I should read the books.
In 2012, Amazon announced that total sales of The Hunger Games Trilogy had surpassed total sales of the Harry Potter series. It is a ‘record’ fraught with asterisks but it certainly proves the three novels in Suzanne Collins’ post-apocalyptic adventure series; The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay, have been read by a lot of people.
Seeing the films is a different experience when one does not know the story. Certainly the films should stand on their own as entertainment. But I have gotten used to having expectations based on having read the books. I’d read the three Dragon Tattoo novels before I saw the movies so I knew when to expect an ending. I confess I never got all the way through the Lord of The Rings books but I knew enough of the storyline to know what to expect. Certainly I’d read all the Harry Potter books before seeing the films. I am working a little blind with The Hunger Games.
The story is compelling enough. To be sure, the plot is a little like 1984 meets Rollerball with a little Soylent Green added for spice. That said, there is still entertainment value in watching beautiful young people struggle through their love triangle in a post-apocalyptic future while demonstrating the triumph of the human spirit over mans’ inhumanity to man.
The new movie picks the story up several months after the first one ended. It’s difficult to describe the plot without spoilers other than to say the fiercely capable Katniss Everdeen is still torn by her feelings for Peeta and Gale, the two men who love her, while defying the urban ‘haves’ in her struggle to get justice for the rural ‘have nots’.
I am slightly embarrassed to say I liked the first HG movie more than the newly released, Catching Fire. The first movie was more violent but it was also more self-contained. There was enough exposition of the back story to explain the social context of the Games. The Game itself was engaging. There was enough ‘Ten Little Indians’ suspense to keep me interested as the tributes were eliminated, one by one, toward the surprising but inevitable finale. There were victors and vanquished.
The new movie bypasses all the exposition assuming, probably correctly, that everyone who buys a ticket probably already knows why these district people have to go to the Games and what the rules are once they get there. There are some new twists in the game itself but, overall, it is at a more superficial level. We don’t see as much conflict between the competitors and there is less of the behind-the-scenes workings of the Game. Most of the people who die, do so off camera. That’s OK since we never really met many of them anyway aside from a brief bio as their photo’s are shown.
We see more of Katniss’s existential angst and a lot more tension and anxiety about her beautiful brooding beaux. The ending comes without resolution and the audience, at least those of us who have not read the books, realize we’ve spent 146 minutes watching the set-up for the next film.
There are things to recommend this movie. It looks great. Our heroes, Katniss and her suitors are stunningly beautiful. Woody Harrelson continues to be effective in his counterpoint role as the anti-beauty hero. The movie carries the story forward and introduces a couple of characters we’ll see again in the final installment. What I found disappointing was that the film does not stand well on its own. The Star Wars films told a continuing story but each of the films had a beginning, a middle, and an end of its own. I am not sure I would have understood The Hunger Games: Catching Fire had I not seen The Hunger Games. And the only purpose of the plot seems to be to bridge the gap between the end of Film 1 and the beginning of Film III.