Monday, November 25, 2013

Cinematic Book Clone: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

I have read all three books in The Hunger Games series, and I enjoyed them, although Collins could have easily combined all three books into a fast-paced one-off novel that would have been a much more satisfying reading experience. But, as money-making strategies would have it, trilogies – even stories that don’t warrant a trilogy – are the thing these days in the struggling publishing industry. Unfortunately, the book-movie trilogy, with the final book divided, oh horrors, into two movies is also a thing in the movie industry. Profits and the fans demand the cinematic clones the books they love with a passion, in this case, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Indeed, those fans are passionate, flocking to opening night and chuntering over any omissions from the story. Consequently, what you get is a bland, visually uninteresting, crippled story, performed by stilted or unrestrained performers, that plays like a TV episode.

There is nothing touching, compelling, gripping, or remarkable about Catching Fire. In every scene, Jennifer Lawrence as the girl-empowering character Katniss Everdene looks as puffy, uncomfortable, and gaudily costumed as Elizabeth Taylor in the epic bomb Cleopatra. Josh Hutcherson as Peeta, the baker boy who really has no talent when it comes to gladiatorial combat, looks like he belongs in a surfer movie or a movie about a preppie college grad trying to make it on Wall Street. In supporting roles, Stanley Tucci as the game show host overacts so much he has trouble keeping his feet, and Philip Seymour Hoffman as the game-master, looking like he's not even wearing a costume, delivering his lines tonelessly, is nearly invisible. The bland sets look hastily fabricated. One shot of chariots parading around a vast CGI race track, reminiscent of Ben-Hur, is briefly thrilling. The final gladiatorial combat is brief, gimmicky, and unexciting. In a lapse of sanity, the writers include the gimmick of the arena sections rotating like a clock, but then they do nothing dramatic with the infernal gimmick.

Whose fault is cloning books as movies? Was it Peter Jackson who kowtowed to Tolkien fans to make three endlessly faithful installments out of Lord of the Rings? Was it that Twilight thing? Or can we blame it all on Harry Potter? Why do we need movies that are essentially clones of the book? I don't understand. Perhaps books like Twilight and The Hunger Games are not substantial enough to be lastingly satisfying in themselves. Reading a book like that, you get the feeling of wanting more because there just isn’t enough there. Not getting enough in the book, fans yearn for more in the book-movie clone, one of the many genre mutations, along with sequels, TV show adaptations, and superhero episodes that seem to make up the majority of movies released during the year.

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