Welcome back to our blog series “Have You Watched a Good Book Lately?” The series’ intention is to track a number of books’ progression from the printed page to the silver screen and assess how well or how badly the filmmakers accomplished each of the adaptations.

Today we’re going to be discussing “Catching Fire,” the second installment of Suzanne Collins’ blockbuster YA “Hunger Games” trilogy. The book was initially published in 2009 and adapted in 2013 for film by screenwriters Simon Beaufoy and Michael Arndt (credited as Michael deBruyn) and director Francis Lawrence (“Constantine,” “I am Legend,” “Red Sparrow”). For those of you unfamiliar with the basic premise, here is a brief synopsis adapted from the book cover:

“Against all odds, Katniss has won the Hunger Games. She and fellow District 12 tribute Peeta Mellark are miraculously still alive. Yet nothing is the way Katniss wishes it to be. Her longtime friend, Gale, holds her at an icy distance. Peeta has turned his back on her completely. And there are whispers of a rebellion against the Capitol – a rebellion that Katniss and Peeta may have helped to create. But before she can think about rebellion, both she and Peeta must visit each of the districts on the Capitol’s cruel Victory Tour and contend with the announcement of the Quarter Quell, the 75th annual Hunger Games, which comes with a horrific surprise.”

From the Source’s Mouth

Let’s start our discussion with one of the main concerns of any story adaptation – how true is the film to the source material? I’ve read the entire Hunger Games series twice, and I saw the film version of “Catching Fire” when it originally came out. I remember thinking that it was a much truer film than the original – that it gave me a greater sense of connection to the characters, as well as handling all the important plot points. Watching it again now, I find I still have most of the same impressions, although the book added rich detail to certain events, and it included some material that never made it to the film. I understand there is only so much room in a 2 ½-hour movie to fit things in, but there were a couple of what I deemed critical points that were omitted for the sake of more spectacular-looking action and visuals of the arena.

The book is divided into three sections: “The Spark,” “The Quell,” and “The Arena;” the film most definitely blurs the lines between them, and that is totally appropriate for keeping the momentum going in a fast-paced, visually oriented medium. Katniss and Peeta return to District 12 as the reigning Victors of the 74th annual Hunger Games, the first time in Panem’s history that two people were crowned in the same Games. Nothing is as they left it, though. They both have new houses in the Victors Village and more money than they could ever spend. Their faces are known in every district, their actions viewed by every person. But the Games have changed them, the way they perceive things, and the way they’re perceived. Katniss goes back to hunting with Gale, but there’s an undercurrent of resentment about the relationship she and Peeta developed in the Games. Katniss and Peeta resort to frigid exchanges, unsure how they should act around each other after their crazy-in-love suicide pact nearly brought down the Capitol. And Katniss is plagued every night by horrific nightmares resulting from the Games’ brutality, the lives she couldn’t save, and the lives she took. To make matters worse, President Snow himself shows up at her house, threatening her and her family for her behavior in the arena. He believes her actions may have been viewed not as an act of love by people in the other districts but as one of defiance, and that could lead to uprisings and even all-out rebellion against the Capitol, something he will do everything in his power to prevent, including killing her.

Now, though, it’s time for the Victory Tour, strategically placed midway between the Games. The victors make a brief stop at each of the districts to remind the people – yet again – that the Games are ongoing, that their children will always serve as tributes, and that none of them will ever be truly free from the Capitol’s vindictive grasp. But Katniss and Peeta find anything but the subdued acceptance of the people when they arrive. In District 11, as Katniss speaks about the death of Rue – a fellow tribute and her friend – the people respond with the three-fingered salute of defiance and a whistling of Rue and Katniss’ mockingjay call. It leads to the brutal executions of the individuals who started it, and Katniss feels responsible for their deaths. The gatherings in the other districts, too, feel like mobs ready to fight. Only in the Capitol are the victors fussed and fawned over as if everything were, indeed, just a game.

However, Katniss learns, Snow’s fears may be well founded, as she briefly sees a broadcast from District 8 talking about the fighting and the casualties. And suddenly the Peacekeeper force in District 12 is intensified; the electric fence, which hasn’t seen a current in decades, is fully charged around the clock; curfews are enacted; and public punishments become routine, not the least of which is the flogging of Gale in the public square for illegal hunting. Katniss throws herself over Gale to protect him, but she, too, feels the sting of the lash before Haymitch can talk the Peacekeeper out of mutilating “the darling of the Capitol.”

And before anyone in the districts can sort things out comes the announcement of the 75th annual Hunger Games, also known as the Quarter Quell. The Quells, held once every 25 years, are always more dramatic than the other Games, and this one is no exception. Snow announces, “On the seventy-fifth anniversary, as a reminder to the rebels that even the strongest among them cannot overcome the power of the Capitol, the male and female tributes will be reaped from the existing pool of victors.” There are only three victors in District 12, and only one of them is female. Katniss’ panic mounts as she knows she will once again become a tribute. Many of the other victor tributes are riled up by the announcement too, though. They have always been told that once they fought in the Games, they would never have to fight again; even some in the Capitol, who have grown fond of their victors, feel uneasy about the Quell, but it cannot be undone.

The remainder of the story primarily deals with the lead-up to the Games (i.e. the training, the alliances between this close-knit pool of victors, and Katniss’ plea to Haymitch that, whatever happens, he will make sure Peeta comes out alive); and then the Games themselves, different only in the nature of the arena, not in the bloodbath that inevitably ensues.

Though the film version of “Catching Fire” sported a new director in Francis Lawrence, the sequel felt like a continuation of the story rather than a deviation from the first film. Katniss Everdeen is once again every bit as strong, capable, and deeply flawed in the film as she is in the book, but now, as she faces the arena in the Quarter Quell, she becomes elevated to the face of the budding resistance, joining with the other victor-tributes to fight the real enemy – the Capitol itself.

Of course, no film is going to be an exact copy of the book – if it were, what would be the point of the exercise? However there were some omissions and outright changes in the film version of “Catching Fire” that ranged from petty to downright incomprehensible. Most of these occurred before Katniss and Peeta re-enter the arena, and some are variations of the same problems we saw in the first film adaptation.

The bridal shoot is one such example. To protect their families, both Katniss and Peeta know they have to take their “love story” to the next level; during the Victory Tour, Peeta proposes to Katniss on camera for all to see. Before the Quarter Quell is announced, Katniss has an extended photo shoot of potential wedding gowns, and the Capitol gets to vote on its favorite. The prevailing opinion in the book, therefore, is that she is safe from harm, since why would the Capitol go to such a great expense if it planned on killing her?

In the film, though, such a detailed section would interfere with the flow of action from the 74th Games to the Quarter Quell and was omitted. It was, however, referenced. Snow wants Katniss out of the picture, afraid of the “Mockingjay” symbol she’s becoming. Plutarch Havensbee, the Head Gamemaker, suggests they can use her to their advantage. If they show her trying on wedding dresses then cut to a public flogging, choosing a wedding cake then cut to an execution, fussing over wedding details then cut to destruction in the districts, it will convince the public that she is really on the Capitol’s side, and they will lose hope. It’s a beautifully written scene; however, as the action moves toward the arena, we never do get to see the districts’ response, and so the scene’s effect is ultimately lost.

Non-Standard Deviations

There were some additional changes from the original story. Two small offences are 1) the origin of Katniss’ mockingjay pin, and 2) the origin of the morphling (a powerful painkiller) that Katniss’ mother uses to treat Gale after the whipping. In the book, Madge, the daughter of District 12’s mayor, gives the pin to Katniss before she leaves for the original Games; in the film, it’s Katniss’ sister Prim who gives it to her. Madge is also the one who supplies the morphling. The first point is important because the mockingjay becomes a powerful symbol of the impending revolution against the Capitol, and it is Katniss herself who is the face of the mockingjay. While it’s nice that Prim would have given Katniss the pin, having Madge do it demonstrates greater support for that revolution among District 12’s residents. The second point is important because President Snow, angered at Katniss’ defiance of the Capitol in the Games, has essentially put the district under siege. There is no food. There are no supplies. The mines are shut down, so there is no work. And the Peacekeepers won’t let anyone buy from or trade with any of Katniss’ family or friends. It is only through her friendship with the mayor’s daughter that she can provide Gale with the medicine he needs. This is much-needed background information.

As with the first film, “Catching Fire” also omitted any reference to District 13. In the book, the complete obliteration of District 13 in the original war was the leverage the Capitol held over the other 12 – a “we will do the same to you if you defy us,” and, for the most part, the districts submitted to the Capitol’s rule. A key scene in the book is Katniss’ encounter with Bonnie and Twill, two escapees from District 8 who are on their way to find the missing District 13, which they’re sure has survived, perhaps going underground. They come through District 12 with a token of their dedication to the rebellion, a cracker imprinted with the image of the mockingjay. Katniss is, of course, unconvinced of 13’s existence, but Twill tells her something she’s noticed – the Capitol keeps showing the same film loop of District 13 behind every report from that supposed location. That means there must be something there now the Capitol does not want the people in the districts to see. Though initially unconvinced, Katniss changes her mind as she watches the footage more carefully and sees the same telltale sign they did in District 8. None of this is included in the film, and as District 13 plays a major role in the third book, it a curious omission.

Perhaps the most important missing element of this film, as with the first, is the pervasiveness of the Capitol’s television presence. Not only are Tributes sent from each district to the Games, but every person in each district is required to watch the interviews, the festivities, and the entire gory drama in the arena unfold on the ever-present screens, either in their homes or on the sets erected in the main square. Viewers of the film could easily come away thinking that most people never know what really occurs in the Games, while the important point of the story is that this forced viewing is another yet another controlled power play by the Capitol to keep the districts in line.

The Final Cut

So, how did “Catching Fire” as a movie fare as a book adaptation overall? While there were certainly some puzzling changes and omissions in the movie, the filmmakers did a pretty good job bringing words from a page to visuals on a larger-than-life screen. The movie was certainly watchable, and, as with the first film, there was enough thematic content to spark intense discussion long after the lights came up. I’d give it a solid B+.

What do you think? Do you agree? Disagree? Please add your comments in the section below.

– Miriam Ruff, Content Creator, PoetsIN

DISCLAIMER: The opinions discussed in this blog post are solely those of the blogger and do not necessarily represent any thoughts, values, or opinions of PoetsIN and any of its affiliate groups.

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