Liz Tells Frank Why “Catching Fire” Was Better Than “The Hunger Games”

Dear Frank,

jennifer-lawrence-catching-fire-poster-610x903Are you sitting down? You’re not walking anywhere, right, setting yourself up for some amazing pratfall once I conclude this vaguely cliche beginning and tell you something utterly ridiculous? Maybe take a seat, relax, though not too much. BE ON YOUR GUARD, Frank, because I have SHOCKING NEWS…

…We now live in a world where the man who directed Constantine made a better Hunger Games movie than the man who directed Pleasantville. Yes, I’m saying that the man who thought Shia LaBeouf would be a believable street tough has out-performed the man who gave us one of the more unappreciated and beautiful films of the 1990s.

(I mean, sure, Gary Ross’s use of the word “colored” ends up being pretty heavy-handed, but I adore the scene where Reese Witherspoon learns to love books, so shut up, Pleasantville haters.)

(And yes, also, sure, Francis Lawrence did make one of the best casting moves ever by signing up Tilda Swinton as the angel Gabriel but WHATEVER.)

Anyways, Frank, the point is that Catching Fire? It is really good! It is, in fact, arguably better than the film which came before it! I was told this in advance, but was very doubtful (see above). And yet, totally true.

The reasons for why, though, are pretty simple…

1) It gets to build on what came before.

Let’s be fair to Gary Ross, after all, who was handed this franchise and managed to make a really solid adaptation of the first book. He does some decent world-building! He manages to make the child murder both horrifying and PG-13! Things I thought were unfilmable were totally filmed! Elizabeth Banks wears amazing outfits!

They admittedly get EVEN BETTER in "Catching Fire," though.

They admittedly get EVEN BETTER in “Catching Fire,” though.

Hunger Games, as you might remember, is the simplest of the books: Dystopian society has Roman/Battle Royale-esque child murder contest, young woman has to survive. The following two books in the series — that’s where things get cray-cray.

There are touches of the deeper politics to come, but Hunger Games is by-and-large dystopian-society-and-child murder-focused, and Gary establishes all of that well, allowing Francis to get right to all the fun growing-revolution-against-an-oppressive-regime stuff in Catching Fire. So Gary totes deserves some credit for that.

Another advantage that Francis had that Gary didn’t…

2) It turns out that seasoned, brilliant character actors are more compelling to watch on screen than a bunch of kids.

So the big twist in Catching Fire, Frank, is that a year later the Hunger Games are happening again, but because it’s the 75th anniversary of the rebellion the mean, mean President Snow uses that as an excuse to pick this year’s lucky contestants from previous Hunger Games winners.

(It’s like how Doctor Who brought David Tennant back for the 50th Anniversary episode, except David Tennant and Matt Smith didn’t have to fight to the death while Billie Piper watched. Though — tiny spoiler for “The Day of the Doctor” — maybe in that scenario Billie Piper would actually have had a scene with David Tennant NOT THAT I’M BITTER ABOUT THAT OR ANYTHING.)

This twist sucks for Katniss, her co-victor/love triange participant Peeta and their mentor Haymich, because they’re the only three prior winners from their district and so that means two of them are going back in (and one of them will definitely be Katniss, because nothing good happens to her except for the fabulous dresses Cinna makes, and BOY that also doesn’t work out too good in this one).

This twist does NOT suck for the viewing audience, because this means that instead of being a bunch of children, the contestants are at least all old enough to buy a pack of cigarettes, and several key roles are filled by actors who we already knew were brilliant (Jeffrey Wright, Amanda Plummer, Lynn Cohen) or maybe weren’t super-sure about but ended up being perfectly cast (Jena Malone, Sam Claflin). Frank, the cast is FANTASTIC. Even the kid who plays Katniss’s little sister has grown up into a pretty strong actress, and that’s never something to bet on!

A note, by the way: I can’t help but imagine Jeffrey Wright (a fine-looking man, but perhaps not beefcake) accepting the role of Beetee, then sitting down and reading the script. “I wear WHAT for half the movie?” he shouts. “A fucking SKINTIGHT WETSUIT?!?” All while Philip Seymore Hoffman giggles and helps himself to another cookie.

Sorry, guys.

Way to work that photoshop, guys.

Poor, poor Jeffrey Wright. And every other actor who had to be on screen next to…

3) Jennifer Motherfucking Lawrence.

So it’s hardly news that our girl J-Law is the best, Frank, but the girl has ever so infinitesimaly grown up a bit since Hunger Games and the result? SHE WILL TEAR YOU UP.

I mean, she’s confident enough in the first film, but in Catching Fire she’s not just a movie star; she’s a fucking action hero (complete with the supportive girlfriend). And PRAISE HUGH JACKMAN for that, because Angelina Jolie seems to have given up the Mr. and Mrs. Smith phase of her career, and we’re going to need another strong female actor to take up the mantle of so bad-ass that you can rewrite a Tom Cruise spy thriller for her with minimal effort.

Presuming, of course, she does anything after Hunger Games besides David O. Russell movies. (Oh, how I hope she does other things. I have officially decided that I don’t like David O. Russell movies, Frank. We’ll talk about it later.)

Anyways, for a girl whose first big acting role was playing the daughter on the TBS sitcom The Bill Engvall Show (IMDB never forgets, Jenny), our gal has come a long, long way.

I don’t know if this counts as a spoiler, but the last shot of the movie is just a close-up on her face, Frank. And it is ACTION-PACKED. That’s not sarcasm.

She also had this going for her…

4) It was written by some smart motherfuckers.

How do I know they’re smart? Well, for one thing, they made like a hundred pages of Katniss and Peeta and Haymich bickering at each other on tour about who’s allowed to know what into maybe two scenes. AND they cleaned up a lot of the other talky-talk. I like this book, Frank, but MAN there’s a lot of talky-talk.

Whenever you know a book well, watching its adaptation often becomes a guessing game of “so, are they gonna keep THAT scene?” There were a couple of things I was a bit disappointed to see go, but nothing huge, and the stuff they added worked pretty damn well.

5) Effie cries.

And damn, it’s heartbreaking. A lot of the stuff I remember from this book as being pretty sad was just heartbreaking on camera. (Oh, Lenny Kravitz. Poor, poor Lenny Kravitz.)

6) The Stanley Tucci Makes Your Movie Better Theorem

Frank, I shall conclude with this: Using math and science (skills at which I am a bit rusty), I will now seek to officially define the Stanley Tucci Makes Your Movie Better Theorem, one of those mystical equations that holds the entire (Hollywood) universe together.

It’s been a long time since my Calculus AP exam, but I’m fairly confident the STT, at its most simple, is:

SCIENCE!

SCIENCE!

Stanley Tucci is playing the same role he played in the first film — the Ryan Seacrest-esque host of the Hunger Games, right down to the same ridiculous hairstyles — but he’s just a little more silly, a little more chilling, and a little more on screen before. And as the STT proves, a little goes a long way.

So yeah, Frank, Catching Fire is definitely a superior film to The Hunger Games. It’s tight and exciting and Jena Malone has way too much fun with her axe. I highly recommend it!

However, you should probably see The Hunger Games first.

Love,
Liz

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About Liz Shannon Miller

Liz Shannon Miller, based in Los Angeles, is a writer for the screen and the web, her work including G4's Attack of the Show and the tech blog GigaOM. She also co-hosts the podcast Timey Wimey TV, contributes to the video curation site Here's Some Awesome, and tells her friend Frank about stuff at Liz Tells Frank.

Posted on November 26, 2013, in Books, Movies, Some Spoilers and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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