As the Joker said to Batman near the end of The Dark Knight “And here we…go.”
This weekend brings us what is arguably the biggest gun of the Holiday movie season, the second chapter of the epic Hunger Games saga, Catching Fire.
Back in the summer of 2011, those of us here in Charlotte were mostly aware of the Hunger Games because the first film was shot entirely on location here in the Queen City and the surrounding areas. Working in the theater business, I started feeling the rumble of what was to come in early 2012 when the phones started ringing daily with teenage girls and their moms asking about advanced tickets and when they were going on sale. We were selling a lot of advanced tickets and at first we thought maybe it was just because the film was made locally and sometimes people like to see what they saw pieces of being made all cut together on the big screen.
That lasted for a few days and then we realized something was going on. It wasn’t just us, the advanced ticket sales for the film on Fandango were the highest they had ever had for any film. Ever.
When the film opened, our lobby was packed from the time we opened the door till we closed the doors at night. We had lines starting up to two-hours before a given showtime and we had to have line control to keep everyone in their proper line. The mayhem for The Hunger Games release and opening weekend were second only to The Avenger’s in my time at the theater. The most exciting part about the whole thing for me was the fact that the film was really good. Like, really good.
It was exciting to see the young girls who came out to see the film actually have a great role model on-screen after watching them get so excited about Bella Swan and the most difficult life and death choice she had to make be which boring guy to let complete her life, Edward (who was over a 1oo years old…creepy) or rage monster, Jacob, in the worst quasi-vampire films to ever try to use the term Saga, Twilight.
Here was Katniss Everdeen (an admittedly goofy name) who was strong, ethical and most of all, self-reliant. She was too busy trying to feed and protect her family to worry about which boy to hook up with and she was not defined by who she was in a relationship with. She was a worthy role model and someone girls could look up to and try to emulate that parents wouldn’t shudder at the mere thought of.
Now, after a year and a half of waiting, we finally arrive at:
Picking up moments after the ending of the first film, we find Katniss and Peeta (again with the goofy names) being forced to continue their fake (for her) love story as they embark on the ghoulish Victory Tour across the 12 districts. President Snow, played again by the always amazing Donald Sutherland, isn’t at all happy that Katniss survived the games and is convinced that her very existence is a slap in the face and a challenge to the unquestioned authority of the Capital.
It is this certainty of her need to die that leads him to make the 75th annual Hunger Games an event to remember for all the districts. He decides to mark the Quarter Quell Games by making all the surviving victors of previous games compete again. He is certain that there is no way Katniss can survive another game, certainly not against the hardened victors who have already survived their own games.
This is our starting point for Catching Fire and if that sounds a little…adult and sophisticated for something that most people think of as a young adult series, then you are finally getting why this story has been such an across the board phenomenon.
Instead of dumbing it down for the kids, the novels by Suzanne Collins, treated her readers with enough respect to assume they could keep up with the themes and undercurrents of the story.
Based on early reviews of the film, screenwriters Michael Arndt and Simon Beaufoy have stayed true to those themes and undercurrents as well. They have written a sharp and intelligent script that keeps the action moving at a brisk pace while still keeping the twists, turns and shocking surprises that kept readers (including this one) turning the pages well into the night, not being able to stand not knowing what happened next.
Director Francis Lawrence, taking over for Gary Ross who didn’t feel he had enough time to prep the film, maintains the look and feel of the world that Ross created for the screen while adding his own touches to the second chapter of the story. The single biggest complaint about the first film was the shaky camera that seemed to keep us from seeing exactly what was happening during the action scenes. That shaky cam is gone and Lawrence has a more sure and steady hand during the arena scenes that dominate the films second hour.
The filmmakers shot the arena scenes using IMAX cameras and they have put the large format to good use. The first section of the film is shot in 2:35:1 scope and as Katniss is lifted up into the arena, the film opens up into the large Imax format, giving the arena scenes a larger than life feel that echos how the tributes must be feeling.
Along side Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutchinson, there are several new faces among the tributes, most notably Sam Claflin as Finnick O’Dair and Jenna Malone as Johanna Mason.
Joining Donald Sutherland as President Snow is Phillip Seymour Hoffman as new gamesmaker Plutarch Heavensbee (this is getting ridiculous) as well as the returning Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks as….you know who they are, I’m not typing those names.
The film looks stunning and advanced word is, it delivers on the promise of the first film in every way. The next few days are going to be crazy at the theater as you can imagine, but I do hope to have a full review up sometime early next week.
The one additional thing we can all be thankful for is that this film is NOT in 3D.
SPECIAL SHOWING BEGIN TONIGHT AT 7PM AND THERE IS A DOUBLE FEATURE OF THE FIRST FILM AND CATCHING FIRE AVAILABLE AT SOME LOCATIONS, INCLUDING IMAX.
OPENS EVERYWHERE ON FRIDAY.
Well that just about does it for this week, but next week we will be filled with mirth and turkey as we ponder the merits of snowmen and moose on ice.
Until next time, Keep the Projector Threaded.