Adaptations of books are often difficult to pull off, but 2012’s The Hunger Games (my review), based on Susanne Collins’ 2008 book of the same name, managed to be both a decent adaptation of the source material and a pretty good film, though it was certainly not without its shortcomings. When director Gary Ross was replaced by Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend), the question arose: will this new director be able to improve on Ross’ film, or will he make the same mistakes? I can happily answer that The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is an improvement over the original film in every possible way.
The events in this film pick up shortly after where we left off at the end of its predecessor. Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) have returned to District 12 as the victors of the 74th Hunger Games. Since the Games, Peeta has learned that Katniss’ apparent feelings for him were merely an act in order to survive, and, as a result, interactions between the pair have grown cold. However, in a surprise visit from President Snow (Donald Sutherland) before the two leave on a tour of the districts, Katniss is told that her actions have incited rebellion in the other districts. She must convince everyone that her actions were of love for Peeta, not defiance against the Capitol, or the lives of her family, Peeta’s family, and her best friend/real love interest, Gale (Liam Hemsworth), will be at stake. When she fails to pacify the districts, Snow and the new Head Gamemaker, Plutarch Heavensbee (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), come up with a plan to not only get rid of Katniss, but to get rid of all of the other victors as well.
Perhaps this film’s greatest strength is in its character development. Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson as Katniss and Peeta, respectively, bring out the conflict of their characters’ relationship so well that it is sometimes even difficult for the audience to tell whether Katniss’ apparent affection for Peeta is genuine or merely an act. Katniss’ reactions to her sort of post-traumatic stress, to learning that she would be competing in the Hunger Games once again, and to Peeta’s near-death experience are all heartbreaking and incredibly intimate; it’s a true testament to Lawrence’s abilities as an actress. Her feelings for Gale seem more believable in this film because more time is spent displaying them. Liam Hemsworth does a fine job of displaying the hurt his character feels for having been betrayed by the girl he loves, and his defiance to leave and determination to fight the Peacekeepers to protect his district make the character more likable and make the question of “Peeta or Gale?” much more of a difficult question for both the audience and Katniss to answer.
All of the familiar faces are also excellent, with my favorite performances coming from Woody Harrelson as Haymitch, Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket, and Donald Sutherland as President Snow. Haymitch has a great duality as both occasional antagonist and father figure to Katniss, and Effie is elevated above her role as comedic relief in the first film to a mother-like figure; when she bursts into tears to tell Katniss and Peeta how sorry she is that this is happening to them again, you just might shed a tear or two yourself. President Snow is, perhaps even more intimidating this time around as he threatens Katniss and the people she loves, or plots with Plutarch to kill Katniss in a new twisted iteration of the Hunger Games. Speaking of Plutarch, Phillip Seymour Hoffman plays him perfectly; his dry voice and cruel plans set the character up for a solid twist…one that I won’t reveal here. And, of course, all of the new faces are perfect fits for their roles. Sam Claflin as Finnick Odair, Jena Malone as Johanna Mason, Jeffrey Wright as Beetee, Amanda Plummer as Wiress, and Lynn Cohen as Mags all have their moments to shine and are all likable in their own ways. There are no weak performances in this film, which not every film can boast.
The higher stakes of this film are introduced and dealt with extremely well. The themes of government control, independence vs. teamwork, and excess vs. deprivation are all explored and dealt with in their own ways. Katniss struggles with her desire to be independent, when in reality she needs to be interdependent on others – Peeta, Haymitch, Finnick, Joanna, Beetee – in order to survive. What we see in the Capitol versus what we see in the districts provide the contrast for excess vs. deprivation – colorful vs. colorless, joy vs. depression, stuffed vs. starved. It’s a powerful juxtaposition that really shows the extent of what President Snow and the Capitol will do to stay in control. The filmmakers don’t shy away from these deep themes, and they also don’t shy away from the same cliffhanger ending that the book leaves us with.
There is much more to talk about here, but all would involve spoilers, so I’ll refrain for now. The point of the matter is that The Hunger Games: Catching Fire manages to take what was already a great film and improve on it to make a truly excellent film. In fact, I might even say that this is one of the only instances of me enjoying a film adaptation over its source material; while the book is great in its own respect, parts of it, like the excessively long beginning, worked better for me on the big screen. What Francis Lawrence has done here is, for lack of a better word, awesome, and it has me even more excited for the two-part adaptation of the third book in Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy, Mockingjay.
Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)
MPAA: PG-13 – for intense sequences of violence and action, some frightening images, thematic elements, a suggestive situation and language
1 Comment | tags: amanda plummer, beetee, catching fire, district12, donald sutherland, effie trinket, elizabeth banks, finnick odair, francis lawrence, gale, gary ross, haymitch abernathy, i am legend, jeffrey wright, jena malone, jennifer lawrence, johanna mason, josh hutcherson, katniss everdeen, liam hemsworth, lynn cohen, mags, mockingjay, Panem, peeta mellark, phillip seymour hoffman, plutarch heavensbee, president snow, quarter quell, sam claflin, susanne collins, symbol, The Hunger Games, the hunger games: catching fire, themes, trilogy, twist, wiress, woody harrelson | posted in 4.5, Books, Entertainment, Film, Film Reviews, Movies
2012 was a good year for movies. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to see everything – films like Moonrise Kingdom, The Master, Argo, Les Misérables, Django Unchained, etc. are all films released in 2012 that I haven’t seen yet – but I DID manage to see quite a few. Here is my personal list of the best films of 2012 (click on the titles to view my full review):
10. Wreck-It Ralph
This was another film that I had been looking forward to for months on end. I’m not as into video games as some other people, but watching this film was still like revisiting my childhood. The heart of this movie is in the right place, with the main message being “accept who you are because you’re a wonderful person just as you are.” A talented voice cast, a sweet story, candy puns out the wazoo, and a fun score by Henry Jackman make this film everything I wanted it to be…and the animated short shown before the film, Paperman, was just as fantastic.
9. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
I was late to the whole “Lord of the Rings/J. R. R. Tolkien” party, having only seen Peter Jackson’s film trilogy in the past two years, but I was keen to read The Hobbit and see the movie as soon as I possibly could. While I was disappointed on my first viewing, mainly due to the cartoony special effects that resulted from the higher frame rate (48fps HFR), this film was a faithful adaptation to Tolkien’s original novel, and the return of familiar faces such as Ian McKellen as Gandalf and Andy Serkis as Gollum is refreshing. The real highlight of the film, though, aside from Howard Shore’s beautiful score, is Martin Freeman, who plays the perfect Bilbo Baggins. While some may find the run time to feel a little stretched, I found it to be justified by the attention to detail to the original novel.
8. The Hunger Games
I read Suzanne Collins’ acclaimed Hunger Games trilogy just a few weeks before I saw the film, and I was hooked from the get-go. The film did a wonderful job of adapting the novel, perfectly capturing the dystopian society introduced in Collins’ literary world. Jennifer Lawrence did a particularly outstanding job as Katniss, and the scenes added by the filmmakers to show the control that the Capitol has over the people of Panem and over the Hunger Games do nothing but add to the story in a great way.
Robert Zemeckis, director of Back to the Future and Who Framed Roger Rabbit, released his first live action film in more than a decade this year. Flight was something I had anticipated for months, and it quite lived up to what I had in mind for it. Denzel Washington gives a powerful performance as a pilot struggling with drug and alcohol addictions, and the film explores topics such as love, recovery, lies, and responsibility. Zemeckis proves that he still has what it takes to direct a top-notch film that focuses on character and story just as much as it does on visual effects.
6. Life of Pi
This is a film that I sort of went to see just on a whim, and I’m glad I did. With gorgeous visuals that looked fantastic in 3D (something I don’t say often), Life of Pi excels the most in its storytelling. While the ambiguity of the ending may not appeal to some people, I found the film to be a thoughtful exploration of faith and of religion in general, leading me to look at my own relationship with God. It sort of melds the biblical Book of Job with Robert Zemeckis’ 2000 film Cast Away, and it definitely sparked my interest in reading the book it was based on.
In anticipation of this film, I first watched Daniel Craig’s Casino Royale, which was entertaining in its more muted kind of way, and Quantum of Solace, which was pretty disappointing. I still had high hopes for Skyfall, though, and it exceeded every expectation I had set for it. The action was fun, Javier Bardem as the villain sent chills up my spine (and also brought a couple of laughs), and Daniel Craig and Judi Dench both gave outstanding performances in their respective roles. The length wasn’t an issue to me because I was too caught up in the entertainment of the film to care.
Does Spielberg make bad films? I’d answer that with a “no” (I have an argument in favor of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull). With 2011’s War Horse and his newest film, Lincoln, he has taken a step back from the typical sci-fi/action/fantasy films he is known for and has focused more on period dramas – both of which were fantastic. If Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln doesn’t win the Academy Award for Best Actor, I won’t know what to think. Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones also deliver standout performances in a film that is just as engrossing and fascinating in its exploration of politics as a good action film is in its exploration of shooting and blowing things up. Spielberg is a true master.
3. The Dark Knight Rises
Christopher Nolan set the bar high with 2008’s The Dark Knight, and this conclusion to the acclaimed trilogy did not disappoint. Tom Hardy as Bane was sinister and terrifying, Anne Hathaway and Joseph Gordon-Levitt were both welcome new presences, and the return of the familiar faces – i.e. Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and Gary Oldman – was satisfying and well-done. The Dark Knight Rises perfectly concluded Nolan’s trilogy.
2. The Avengers
There are so many ways that this film could have gone wrong. I mean, think about it – they took four characters from four separate films and brought them together into one super-film. In the hands of a less-capable director, it could have easily been one of the worst movies of the year, but with Joss Whedon at the helm, it ended up being one of the best. Smart dialogue with exciting action and a great story, The Avengers proved that an ensemble cast like this could work just as well in a film as it does on television.
Well-choreographed action sequences meet a smart script in this film starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis. As a time travel movie, it explores the consequences of our actions and the true cause of evil, and it spends just as much time in contemplation as it does making you sit on the edge of your seat.
Well, there you have it. My top ten films of 2012. What were your favorites of 2012?
7 Comments | tags: 3D, 48fps, Academy Awards, andy serkis, anne hathaway, Back to the Future, bane, bilbo, bilbo baggins, book of job, bruce willis, BTTF, casino royale, cast away, christian bale, Christopher Nolan, daniel craig, daniel day-lewis, denzel washington, flight, gandalf, gandalf the grey, gary oldman, gollum, henry jackman, hfr, Howard Shore, Hunger Games, ian mckellen, Indiana Jones, indiana jones and the kingdom of the crystal skull, j. r. r. tolkien, javier bardem, jennifer lawrence, job, joseph gordon-levitt, joss whedon, jrr tolkien, judi dench, katniss, katniss everdeen, life of pi, Lincoln, looper, Lord of the Rings, lotr, martin freeman, michael caine, morgan freeman, oscar, Panem, paperman, peter jackson, quantum of solace, Robert Zemeckis, Sally Field, skyfall, Suzanne Collins, The Avengers, the dark knight rises, the hobbit, the hobbit: an unexpected journey, The Hunger Games, time travel, Tolkien, tom hardy, tommy lee jones, top 10, top ten, top ten films, War Horse, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, wreck it ralph | posted in Entertainment, Film, Film Reviews, Movies
When I first read the Hunger Games books by Suzanne Collins, I was thinking to myself the whole time, “man, these books were written to be made into movies!” With that mindset, I was imagining a film score for the book while I was reading, and, though I’m not a composer, I was pretty satisfied with how it sounded in my head.
I haven’t listened to many film scores by James Newton Howard, but I was familiar enough with his work to be excited when he was announced as composer for The Hunger Games. I counted down the days until the score was released and bought it as soon as it was posted on iTunes. For the most part, I was pretty satisfied.
My favorite part about this score is how minimal it is most of the time. Panem is a post-apocalyptic country some time in the future, so why would you have a big, fully-stocked orchestra recording music for it? You wouldn’t, and Newton Howard does that perfectly. The main motif for District 12, as heard in the opening track, “The Hunger Games”, is uniquely soloistic and simple, making it profound when it is placed later in the score during the actual Hunger Games themselves in the track “We Could Go Home”.
However, there are a few moments when the full orchestra is appropriate, and Newton Howard scores these equally as beautifully, as heard in “Horn of Plenty” (the Panem national anthem, composed by the band Arcade Fire and orchestrated by Newton Howard) and “Searching for Peeta”, as well as in another track or two. Generally, the Capital is given these larger orchestrations, representing the prosperity found in the city. The contrast between the minimal themes for District 12 and the big moments for the Capital is striking, sort of embodying the class/quality of life shift between the two areas.
As much as I enjoy the majority of the score, I have one HUGE complaint: “Rue’s Farewell”. Is it pretty? Yeah, sure. Is it all that it could have been? NO! Where’s the five-note whistle that we heard in every single TV spot for the film? I had hoped that this track would be a memorial to the character based around that motif, but we don’t get that. Why, Newton Howard? WHY?!
Aside from that, and the fact that it’s WAY too short, James Newton Howard’s score for The Hunger Games is a score that works on multiple levels, despite the criticism I’ve heard from others who didn’t care for it. Give it a shot! It’s a great score for a great film.
Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)
1. “The Hunger Games” 1:10
2. “Katniss Afoot” 1:49
3. “Reaping Day” 1:35
4. “The Train” 1:27
5. “Entering the Capitol” 1:28
6. “Preparing the Chariots” 1:05
7. “Horn of Plenty” 1:59
8. “Penthouse/Training” 3:36
9. “Learning the Skills” 1:41
10. “The Countdown” 1:58
11. “Booby Trap” 2:37
12. “Healing Katniss” 3:04
13. “Rue’s Farewell” 5:00
14. “We Could Go Home” 1:15
15. “Searching for Peeta” 1:27
16. “The Cave” 3:13
17. “Muttations” 4:45
18. “Tenuous Winners/Returning Home” 3:25
Total Length: app. 44 min.
iTunes Album Link
P.S. – Read my review of this film here!
1 Comment | tags: Arcade Fire, chad hopkins, chadadada, chadlikesmovies, composer, District 12, Horn of Plenty, Hunger Games, iTunes, James Newton Howard, katniss everdeen, Newton Howard, orchestra, Panem, peeta, soundtrack, Soundtrack of the Day, soundtrackoftheday, Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games, trilogy | posted in 4.5, Books, Entertainment, Film, Movies, Music, Scores, Soundtrack Reviews