Although it was a massive box office success, grossing almost $700 million at the worldwide box office, the first Hunger Games was nevertheless a gamble on the part of Lionsgate, who only budgeted the movie at under $80 million as opposed to something more extravagant. While the finished product had some merit, the money and resources were clearly inadequate to fully realise the project. Add to this the horrible, nauseating cinematography and the mediocre scripting, and The Hunger Games is strictly average.
Which is why it’s exciting to report that its sequel, Catching Fire, is a tremendous improvement over the original movie. Here are a few reasons why it’s better, and why you should spend your money on it, no matter what you thought of the original movie.
Catching Fire was produced for almost double its predecessor’s budget, leading to an increase in special effects spending and more refined production values all-round. The CGI in the movie is truly impressive, far more convincing than the underwhelming digital effects in the original movie. More than that, the scope has increased, leading to a more lavish look. The added money really shows on-screen, and it’s terrific to see a more polished follow-up.
Without getting into a big debate here, the first Hunger Games was just Battle Royale. Although there was build-up to the games, the actual competition was the prime focus of the narrative.
But Catching Fire is about more than just the games. It’s about the repercussion of Katniss’ dual win with Peeta, leading to rumblings of a rebellion uprising against the draconian government. There’s a whole lot at stake and a lot happening, rather than the boring love triangle bullshit of the first movie.
Better Creative Team
Catching Fire was made by a different creative team to the original movie, with Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend) taking the directorial seat, and Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine, Toy Story 3) and Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours) handling the adapted screenplay. It’s a better pedigree, and they are better suited for the material. Lawrence gets rid of the shaky-cam, making for a much smoother experience, while the screenplay adds more details that the first movie left out.
I know I just mentioned this, but it bears repeating. The cinematography of the first movie was awful beyond all comprehension. It was unnecessarily shaky, and there were constant violations of the 180 degree rule. You couldn’t tell who was fighting who, who was winning, or even what sex the combatants were. The excuse we got was “We’re seeing the chaos as if we were really there!”, but that’s bullshit. Our eyes have in-built stabilisers; we do not see the world like this frenetic camerawork. The shaky-cam was meant to disguise the violence to retain the all-important PG-13 rating, but its shakiness will make you more queasy than any amount of violence ever could. And the fact that Francis Lawrence makes Catching Fire violent and gritty without shaky-cam proves that Ross really fucked up with the first movie.
The Supporting Cast
Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth are okay, but the latter pair in particular are just pure blank slates. And the colourful supporting players make them look positively boring.
Jena Malone is the most notable as the borderline psychotic Johanna. She takes her clothes off in her very first scene, and proceeds to steal the show with a scenery-chewing performance. There’s also Philip Seymour Hoffman, Donald Sutherland, Jeffrey Wright, Lenny Kravitz, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, and many more, not to mention the enjoyably flamboyant Stanley Tucci and Toby Jones.
The ending of Catching Fire actually reminded me of The Empire Strikes Back. Without spoiling too much, it closes on a cliffhanger, and now I’m really looking forward to the next one.
It’s for Non-Fans as much as Fans
I’m not a fan of this series, but Catching Fire is a more friendly experience for the non-fans, because it’s simply a great story that’s told and performed well. I hadn’t seen the first movie since the cinema, but I had no problem following the narrative of Catching Fire.
Trust me, this movie is worth your money.