The day after Thanksgiving, we went to the movies. There were eight of us: uncles, aunts , nephews, nieces and one friend. For my wife and me, going to the movies is a rare event , something that happens only two or three times a year. And just like this time, it usually happens after a family get together when we all go to the theater together. Normally , we don’t think of going to the movies. There is no particular impetus to do so. We don’t have to see the latest movie immediately it comes out; we’re retired now and there will be no more discussions around the water cooler. We have a large screen HD TV and, sooner or later, everything will wind up on the small screen. We have subscriptions to both Netflix and Hulu and we can always pay for a movie and watch it at home. No, there is no need to bestir ourselves and go out to the theater, especially when it is as cold outside as it is now. Still, I will admit there is a special pleasure in watching a movie with family and friends , just as there is a special pleasure in dining together. I enjoy the popcorn and the Diet Coke, sitting in the darkened cave of the theater, hearing the murmurs of the others in the audience, watching the seemingly interminable previews of coming attractions until , finally, the main feature begins.Each time we do something like this , we tell ourselves we must do it more often.
We had seen the first Hunger Games movie at home, on TV. Our daughter , who was visiting, insisted that we do so and she sat down and watched it with us. Initially , I had been resistant because I thought the premise of the movie was too grim, that I would not enjoy it. I was wrong. It was good and , as usual, the special effects were amazing. This time , when the idea of watching the sequel was floated, I didn’t object.
The Hunger Games, for those few who have never heard of the books , is based on the best selling trilogy by Suzanne Collins. The Games are set in a post apocalyptic world where 12 districts are being forced to pay for rebelling against the central government of Panem. Each year they have to send a tribute of two youngsters , one male and one female between the ages of 12 and 18, to the Hunger Games where they are forced to fight to the death against representatives from the other districts. In the first movie, Katniss Everdean ( Jennifer Lawrence) prevailed and was honored as a Victor along with her male counterpart Peeta( Josh Hutcherson). However, her charisma and popularity set her on a collision course with President Snow ( Donald Sutherland) who correctly foresees that she could be the catalyst for a rebellion against his inhumane, oppressive government. In Catching Fire, the sequel to the first movie, Katniss and Peeta are once again forced to fight for their lives in the Quaternary Quell , a version of the Hunger Games that pits past Victors against each other. How they do that unfolds in the second part of Catching Fire and it IS gripping; the first part showing the machinations of President Snow and the counter moves by Katniss and Peeta does drag a little. Once the Games start , it is a non-stop rollercoaster ride as Katniss and Peeta struggle against a variety of dangers thought up by the new GamesMaster( Philip Seymour Hoffman).
Usually , the first question that is asked about a sequel is ” How does it compare with the original?” In my opinion, Catching Fire is better than its predecessor. The computer generated special effects are as good as ever, but the character development is superior. In the first movie,Jennifer Lawrence was okay in the role of Katniss but this time around she is simply excellent. It must be difficult to act in movie like this. Not only do actors have to guard against being overwhelmed by the special effects , they also have to play off them. In Catching Fire, Jennifer Lawrence is completely in the role and the movie’s success is entirely due to her tour-de-force as Katniss. She fully deserves her $ 10 million for this movie( she got only $ 500,000 for the first one).The other characters all play second fiddle to Katniss. Stanley Tucci as the campy TV host Ceasar Flickerman and Donald Sutherland as the villainous President Snow reprise their roles from the first movie and Woody Harrelson ( Haymitch Abernethy) and Elizabeth Banks ( Effie Trinket) are given more to do this time around.
Essentially, this entire movie is a buildup for the events of the third book which will be the subject of not one but two more movies on the Hunger Games saga. I have not read the Suzanne Collins books but I think I may do so now. Some parts in the movies were not clear to me and , besides, I don’t want to wait two years to find out what happens. I’ve been told the third book is darker than the first two and reading it will prepare me to see it on screen.
I was surprised to hear that the movie ( and presumably the books) touch upon themes of social inequality and the domination of the poorer sections of humanity by the elite. This also happened with Avatar which I enjoyed very much and not because it allegedly had political messages about colonialism, despoilation of the environment etc. When I see such movies, I’m only looking at them for their entertainment value and I thought Catching Fire was great. In Hunger Games, I did see the parallels with the Cretan myth of the Minotaur and with the gladiatorial contests of ancient Rome where slaves and conquered peoples were forced to fight to the death for the entertainment of the citizens but that is all.
One thing of interest is the character of Katniss Everdean and the radical departure from female roles in the past. At one time , the heroine was a helpless thing who was forced to rely on the hero to rescue her from a perilous situation. I think we all took it for granted that that was the natural order of things. As women have edged closer to true equality with men, this portrait is changing. The first radical departure was the character of Lisbeth Salander in Steig Larsson’s Swedish trilogy ( The Girl Who Played With Fire etc). Lisbeth fought back physically against her oppressors and exacted her revenge convincingly. Katniss takes this trend to the next level as she saves not only herself but all the others. In a sense, she is the hero and the heroine . You go , girl !