“Remember who the real enemy is.”
SPOILER ALERT! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS.
So…I wasn’t, originally, going to see the film of Catching Fire. Because I loved the book so very much, and because the trailer annoyed me. But then I got curious. And the University Gang was going anyway. And I didn’t have any work to do. All of which, it turns out, are extremely persuasive reasons for going to the cinema.
A Brief Synopsis, before the main review: Katniss and Peeta have survived one Hunger Games, but the dastardly President Snow has something else up his sleeve to quell the rising tide of discontent sparked by their apparent defiance of the Capitol with the berry trick…yes, it’s ANOTHER HUNGER GAMES! Because an oppressive regime that has been in place for 75 years has no other way of killing inconvenient people!
I’ve always thought that you know you’ve got a good film adaptation when you feel the same walking out of the cinema as you did when you close the book. And, on that metric, Catching Fire was certainly a success. All the bits that were so awesome in the book were equally awesome in the film: the mockingjay dress, the hand-holding victors (seriously, that was the best thing in the WHOLE FILM), the whistling (such a haunting tune), the oppression. In fact, the first half of the film was characterised by my brain shouting expletives at the Capitol (not aloud, obviously) because they were so utterly AWFUL and MEAN and other epithets less polite. The scriptwriters even found a place for my favourite line:
It must be a fragile system, if a handful of berries can bring it down.
The parts which I actively disliked, on the other hand, were the ones I was expecting not to like, the parts which deviated from the book. You see, the writers apparently saw fit to include many info-dumpy scenes in which President Snow and Plutarch Heavensbee, Gamemaker, discuss their evil machinations. There were several reasons I disliked this. Firstly, it doesn’t particularly fit well with Plutarch’s actual role as Good Guy (or at least Rebel Guy) later on in the story – how do we reconcile his advice to Snow to take over District 12 with his concern for Katniss’ safety? Second, it’s nowhere near as effective to hear Snow’s motivations from his own mouth; much more sinister, isn’t it, to have the silent, evil, powerful guy directing the show from the darkness, behind closed doors, without conveniently revealing every micro-point of his plan to the waiting audience? This way, he just looks like a really paranoid ruler on a power trip rather than the highly skilled politician we know he must be.
And, while we’re on the subject of President Snow, the film also made me realise just how unlikely it is that actual President Snow would visit Katniss’ actual house in actual District 12. Think about it. That’s a loss of power right there. If you’re a dictator, surely the whole point is to have people come to you rather than you go to them? It would have been better for his political image – even if Katniss was the only one seeing it – had he sent a deputy, a menacing man in black, etc., to threaten her family…surely? Again, Snow looks like a paranoid and ultimately powerless guy clutching at straws to make sure his house of cards doesn’t all fall down.
Of course, that isn’t the film’s fault, in this case, because President Snow visits District 12 in the book, too. On the whole, the film is obviously doing its best to be remarkably faithful to the book, and, mostly, it succeeds, although that faithfulness occasionally leads to non sequiturs and dropped threads that seem undeveloped. But I can say that Catching Fire is a good film. Nearly as good as the book. Take note, Peter Jackson: this is how to adapt a YA novel well.