Today’s Chit Chat is a conversation between Caroline and Gabby. We had it over email, but you can imagine us sitting down with a nice cup of coffee. Or fresh, fresh tree water, straight from the spile. (How does tree water even work? Tell us in the comments!)
The following contains spoilers for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Also, this might be a good time to say, we never claimed to be a family website.
For starters, I guess we should talk about our background with the series. I read all three Hunger Games novels fairly close together, about three years ago. I would say I appreciated their existence and popularity more than I loved them, and I’ll also admit that I haven’t reread them. So by the time I went in to see Catching Fire on Friday, I only had a vague memory of the character arcs and plot.
I was eager to see this movie, then, less because I loved the book than because I loved the first movie so much. I was blown away by how great the main cast was, and I thought the story was really well-executed. I’ve also grown to love and appreciate the passionate reaction that a lot of fans have to this series, and particularly to Katniss and Jennifer Lawrence.
What about you? How would you describe your experience of Hunger Games fandom, and your expectations prior to seeing the new movie?
I see our Hunger Games origins stories are a bit different! I also read the books about three years ago, almost in one sitting. Ever since, I’ve been involved in different fandom activities. I was really excited when Panem October, an alternate-reality game, was announced, and created a character immediately. I met many fellow District 9 citizens, and we created rich and detailed roleplaying blogs on tumblr. We were crushed when the initiative was shut down a few weeks after its launch. I continued roleplaying and writing fanfiction on different platforms, since Panem was such a great environment to explore and inhabit. My boyfriend and I read the books together during that time, marking my second read-through.
As for the movies, I was highly anticipating the first one, and left pleased and excited about how it turned out. I had a few qualms with it, but they were mostly details, and overall I felt it was true to the spirit of the book. After it premiered, though, my involvement in the fandom tapered off; I stopped reading fan news blogs or hunting down interviews on YouTube. I just let time run its course, so I’d say I was excited and happy to see Catching Fire, but I had no real expectations, especially since Francis Lawrence replaced Gary Ross as director.
Oh, yeah, that’s good to know up front — my experience is much more that of the casual fan. I didn’t even know who the director was, much less that there was a new one (and now I don’t have to look it up. Thanks!)
So just out of the gate — what did you think of Catching Fire? Did you like it?
I’m not sure it quite lived up to the first movie for me — though I’m still mulling it over, I might change my mind. That said, I thought it was quite good. The visual representation of the districts at the beginning, versus the opulent Capital, pulled me in right away. There’s just something about those trains that I love — trains are so good for dramatic scenes, you know, and we don’t give movies enough excuses to happen on them anymore.
But mostly I was just so happy to visit these characters again. Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson played the uncomfortable aloofness between Katniss and Peeta so well, and then there’s the scene on the train when he confronts the problem and talks about how they’re going to go forward. There’s that wonderful moment of relief where they’re able to slip back into what their relationship was — even if that in itself is hard to define. I know you’ve said you could talk about Peeta forever, and I feel the same way. I don’t know if Josh Hutcherson is an acting genius, or if it’s just the power of what he says in the script, but I’d forgotten how impressed I am with his character until that moment.
So glad you brought up Peeta and what he brought to the movie. I’m in complete agreement with you there!
I loved the film, absolutely. I usually judge the amount of love I have for a show, book or movie by how much they made me feel, or pulled me in. In this, Catching Fire did not disappoint. I cannot count the moments where my eyes welled up because they are too frequent. Everything felt raw, and real, and the uprising of the districts was always my favorite part of the trilogy, so I definitely enjoyed that it was the thread holding the movie together.
I mentioned in last week’s Q&A that Rue is one of my favorite characters, for everything she symbolizes. Consequently, I think it really hit me that this movie was going to be different when the Victory Tour starts out in District 11. Peeta’s authenticity to the citizens, Katniss’s speech to Rue’s family and the subsequent stoic salute followed by Rue’s whistle from a well-worn, tired but definitely incensed citizen… Well, it was a perfect sequence of events. I was bawling by the time the rest of the district offered up their own salutes, and Jennifer Lawrence sold the horror and powerlessness Katniss felt at her inability to stop the Peacekeepers from harming the brave old man.
I say different because, as President Snow said to Katniss, The Hunger Games were just that: games. The stakes are higher in this installment, because we go beyond the flashiness and horror of kids killing kids. It’s the moment where the powerless characters that we love can do one of two things: continue playing the game, or start the war. With the introduction of the victors from years past when Katniss and Peeta arrive at the Capitol, and their obvious disgust at having to take part in another grotesque spectacle, the scales are tipping in favor of the latter.
How did you enjoy these new characters? Do you feel like they brought something good, or bad, to the universe the first movie built?
The idea of bringing the past victors in as opponents in Katniss’s second games was a stroke of genius — by Suzanne Collins when she wrote Catching Fire, and also within the story by. . .well, that gets complicated. We can save that for later.
Introducing ‘new’ characters who have a history with the games — and with each other — adds dimensions to the story. Johanna and Finnick are definitely the characters who make the strongest impression, and I found them both interesting in the movie. Jena Malone is so spot-on as Johanna. She’s angry and she’s not afraid to say why. She’s probably a little unbalanced, too, and the way she and Katniss play off each other is fascinating. It’s easy to imagine Johanna as the person Katniss could grow up to be, if her games had gone a little differently, if she didn’t have Peeta. There are good things and bad things about growing up to be Johanna — she’s angry but she’s honest (I’m impressed they got her ‘fuck you!’ in there in a teen movie). On the other hand, maybe Johanna sees some of what she could have been in Katniss.
Finnick was. . .Finnick was. . .
I’m sorry, I’m trying to think about Finnick and something’s distracting me. . .
Yeah, that’s ANOTHER thing that happened in a PG-13 movie for teenagers!
Anyway, I’m not sure how to evaluate Sam Claflin’s performance as Finnick. I enjoyed his incarnation of the character a lot, but he doesn’t quite match up what I was expecting from the book. Here he’s sort of a wide-eyed woobie who’s nice to old ladies from the start. I remember the character in the novel having more edge and ambiguity when we first meet him, but it’s been a while and I’m not sure my memories are reliable.
What were your impressions of the other victors?
Edge and ambiguity: you are so right to point these two traits out, as I hadn’t been able to put my finger on what Finnick seemed to lack.
Let’s talk a bit about Katniss’ picks for allies (which exasperated Haymitch and made me laugh a lot).
Maybe I was reading it wrong, but I thought Katniss’s choices even exasperated Peeta a bit. It’s easy to forget, but Peeta’s a more practical player than Katniss in a lot of ways. He’s got great political instincts — which is a weird thing to associate with a character who seems so fundamentally good; fictional characters who are good at manipulating and influencing public opinion are more likely to be players like Finnick than idealists like Peeta. (I think Peeta might be Steve Rogers in another life). But on Katniss’s end, going with unlikely allies is what worked for her the first time. And, let’s not forget, that includes Peeta, who everybody assumed was toast out of the gate. Peeta ends up both complying with Katniss’s wishes and completely ignoring them, but we’ll get to that.
But sorry, you were talking about Katniss and Peeta’s ragtag team…
Mags was exactly as I needed her to be: subdued, but caring, open and honest. When she opens up her arms and falls back into the fog, I had a weird flash: that scene was exactly how I had pictured it while reading the book. It’s pretty impressive when a director accomplishes that feat! Beetee was somehow colder than I remember him being in the books, nevertheless Jeffrey Wright’s performance was spot on. He showed complicity with Wiress and untouchable intelligence. Speaking of Wiress, I loved that even with such a small part, Amanda Plummer still made an impression with her “Tick Tock” being a very important plot development.
And that opens up the way to talk about Plutarch Heavensbee, because, as Head Gamemaker, he devised the clock-like structure of the arena. Philip Seymour Hoffman. What more can I say? If there was anyone that could go head to head with Donald Sutherland’s President Snow, it’s him. Physically, Plutarch was the exact opposite of the usual colorful, over-the-top Capitol citizens, so it’s easy to dismiss him out of hand. But really, he’s plotting. As Head Gamemaker, he knows what works, and he set up all the chess pieces necessary to veritably put the revolution in motion. Overall, this character really worked for me, but for a movie that payed special attention to details, I was surprised that Plutarch’s pocket watch didn’t make an appearance during his dance with Katniss. It’s not a huge deal, but I felt like it was a defining moment for his character in the books.
Before we move on to the Quarter Quell itself, I’d just like to expand a bit on the role fashion played in this movie. Cinna was given center stage in Catching Fire, for what was quite literally his swan song performance. What did you think of the costumes, and could you ever think something that seems at first so trivial could spark a revolution?
I think there are numerous things going on here. First of all, it’s just a very visual way to translate the books onto screen. I’m sure every fan went into the movie wondering first and foremost
whether Finnick would fellate a tree . . .
Sorry, I mean, how Cinna’s Mockingjay dress would look on screen.
On a deeper level, though, sure, I think symbolism can be very important in a revolution. And beyond that, I think Cinna’s role as a designer stands in for the role of the artist in a repressive society. We don’t know much, if anything, about Panem’s music or literature or even popular entertainment (besides the games), but the designers’ work is something that reaches an enormous audience. Cinna seems like the ultimate insider, having been preparing people to die in the games for years, but this also means he’s seen the Capital’s injustice close at hand. Meeting Katniss certainly inspires him, but she (and the revolution) also gives him a role to play where he can make his voice heard. In that sense, I think a lot of the characters, from the other victors to Plutarch himself, are in the same boat.
Speaking of insiders (and fashion victims), what did you think of Effie’s role in this film? I thought Elizabeth Banks did an incredible job of conveying the way Effie’s facade was cracking.
We should probably talk about Gale at some point, too. Gale — still exists?
Gale who? haha. I read this from a Catching Fire review, and I think it sums up the whole situation pretty well:
Only Katniss’ romantic confusion remains unconvincing, and that’s largely owing to the lack of screen time for Gale (Liam Hemsworth), the hunky object of her affections back home. Establishing why she shares such a connection with Gale — as opposed to with Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), who won the games with her last time — is difficult when they’re not together much. Plus, Hemsworth’s stoic swagger and square-jawed good looks make pulling for him feel a little like rooting for the personality-deficient quarterback to get the girl.
We can’t be in Katniss’ head like we are in the books, so that makes Gale’s role problematic. Though one of my favorite parts of the movie was the aftermath of his whipping; I love seeing the inner-workings of the district, and really enjoyed the dynamic this crisis brought to Katniss’ family. She noticed that Prim isn’t a little girl anymore, and even her mom was acting on instinct.
I would say it’s incredibly *cough cough* generous to blame Gale’s boringness on lack of screentime. (That said, I’d love to hear from some Gale fans in the comments. I know there were people who liked him in the books; he must have some movie defenders as well.) I didn’t have any problem believing that Katniss was into both of them at various times — whereas in the books I mostly questioned whether she was into either of them and wondered why so much of the book was devoted to a love triangle the narrator clearly wasn’t that invested in. I personally think we’re better off without Katniss’s inner monologue, and I like seeing a movie that’s willing to suggest its heroine may feel like kissing different people in different circumstances and that this isn’t a slight on her character.
I happened on this interesting essay that suggests one of the reasons Gale is less interesting to me. He’s the only major character whose actions consistently seem to line up with the expectations for his gender. Would I be more interested in Gale if he were Katniss’s female BFF (potential love interest or not?) Well, probably. I don’t know that this is really a comment on the film, or on Hemsworth’s performance, so much as on what the audience wants out of the movie. But I did find it intriguing.
You’re right, that is so interesting!
And Effie. Ohh, Effie. I knew her performance would be solid gold (no pun intended) from the moment we saw her face in the first trailer:
Her facade definitely cracked, and her character is pivotal for two reasons. First, it shows us up close and personal that even a die-hard Capitol citizen can have a change of heart when it comes to blindly following orders. Second, she’s the only one that verbalizes that she, Haymitch, Katniss, Peeta and their designers are a team. That’s important, because it gives ambiguity to the Capitol; to Katniss, it’s not just a faceless organization that hurts the people that she loves anymore. She now knows some of these people, and they’re good people. It makes “knowing who the real enemy is” harder, but cleaner, when she realizes it’s Snow that’s the real problem.
Poor Snow. He wanted to crush Katniss ASAP, but it turns out that sending her into a death trap with P.O.d victors on Heavensbee’s orders wasn’t the way to do it. I was really looking forward to witnessing the look of the arena; it’s my favorite setting from any of the books, and I think the movie did a great job capturing the claustrophobia and insane-ness of it all. That jabberjays scene was utterly terrifying, and Jennifer Lawrence’s acting when she thought Peeta was dead, well… pretty sure I heard audible gasps around me at that point. Even the things we didn’t get to see, like the blood rain, were so well alluded to that we didn’t need to see it to believe how horrific it was. It’s like the people behind the film knew the little moments that captured our attention during our read-through of the book, and they made sure to stick them all in there. For some reason I vividly remember Katniss burning chestnuts on the forcefield while walking around the “clock”, and that was featured in the movie. There were so many others. Among them, the pearl, and the locket followed by the “I need you” speech, were spot on.
What were your impressions of the arena? And did you understand that whole coil/lightning tree thing? Because I sure didn’t (full disclosure: I don’t think I ever understood it, even if I read the book twice).
I definitely liked the look of the arena, and to be honest I didn’t remember any of the plot once the games started. I knew Peeta and Finnick and Johanna were all around for the next book but had no idea what would happen to anyone else. (I was definitely relieved Beetie got out of there. And no, I didn’t understand his plan, but he seemed to know what he was talking about, which is all I really demand out of exposition scenes.)
Cutting back and forth to Snow and Heavensbee’s reactions was pretty effective, I thought. It did a good job of laying out the stakes. In my interpretation, Heavensbee was playing Snow from the start. He knew that filling the arena with victors, who the citizenry had gotten to know and learned to sympathize with over the years, was going to make the people less comfortable with what was going on. When Katniss faces off against Finnick, Snow thinks that seeing her kill a popular victor will make people hate her (which was kind of weak, I think? There’s no evidence within the film of any of the victors being more popular than Katniss, plus the audience is presumably seeing everything that is going on and would also think that Finnick betrayed her). But the setup still gave power to that moment, and I have a well known narrative kink for characters I like pointing weapons at each other. It’s not surprising the Katniss does the right thing, but I still found it very satisfying.
So that takes us to the end of the games. I heard a lot of people in the theater around me swearing at where the cliffhanger left off and saying, “Dammit, I guess I have to go read the next book!” I, having read Mockingjay, left thinking, “Maybe I can just quit here and forget the rest of it ever happened?!”
Without spoiling Mockingjay for our readers who might not know it, where did this film leave you as far as expectations for the sequel? (Sequels? Are they really doing two of these?)
Yes indeed, two movies it is!
Let’s talk about the end of Catching Fire, though. I want to focus a bit on the range of emotions Jennifer Lawrence goes through in that last frame. Katniss lays on the table as her face passes through a full range of emotions after Gale tells her that “there is no District 12″: confusion, sadness, panic, hurt, anger, and resolve. What a way to end a movie. While it was happening, I wasn’t sure if I liked it, but seeing that changing expression in her eyes at the end of the sequence, followed by the mockingjay seal going through its different stages, I couldn’t help but feel hope and elation rise in my chest. For someone who’s read the books, there was a lot of foreshadowing in that scene for Mockingjay: Gale being the one to break the news about District 12 foreshadows his heavy presence in the third installment, the closed off room, the antiseptic environment, Katniss’ confused look at the beginning… Mockingjay is my least favorite book of the trilogy, but I’m still hopeful that the movies will make it work thanks to the amazing chemistry between the actors and the successful world-building up to this point.
Any last words?
Oh, right. Last words. I’d say we’ve more than covered it! But I’m sure our readership will have things to say as well.