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I started writing down notes on this film, but would probably have dropped it, not considering it worth mentioning really, one of those run-of-the-mill adventure things. Today I feel compelled, however, to post this, as it is another example of P.S. Hoffman shining brightly.

“Hunger Games – Catching Fire” continues where the first part ended: with hopes of being shown a dystopian adventure quickly shattered (the hopes. The world too, a bit at least.). I am not sure what kind of approach to the film version of these stories I would have really liked, maybe the low-tech approach of the Japanese mother ship was just right to illustrate the lack of hope, the lack of perspective and the fake illusion of splendour. I am not even saying that the books would provide that, I suppose they don’t in their rather straightforward story-telling way. But they provide a guideline for building a movie world on them, and the world I would have liked to see is rather the world of “The Road” than the one of “Fifth Element”. Slick… I think that is the thing that I dislike about these films, they are too slick, too perfectly designed, with a lot of the possible edge polished off.

Illustrative of this is the way that in both films the director appears to lose interest in his work as soon as the actual Games get started. The utter inhumanity and brutality of the concept of such games is mentioned before they get underway, but never materialise once the show starts. I had to think of Oliver Stone’s illustration of what it means to be in the middle of madness in “Platoon” – how can the characters be so violently ripped out of their comfort zones in one case, while they seem to settle in quite comfortably and quickly here, even though in The Hunger Games, death is even more of a certainty than it was in the Vietnamese jungle?

So we follow the expected developments of new costumes for tv presentations, teenager talk about love and friendship, and an oddly relaxed general attitude about the whole thing. Once the Games get started, most participants behave like contestants in Takeshi’s Castle, some do not appear at all and consequently do not behave at all, and some sit around waiting for the finale to give them some dramatic resolution. This is all the more of a shame as this is the last moment the books provide where the exceptional duress of being thrown into such a gladiator game arena is possible. The rest of the story withers away in a not very thick and not very interesting third book. I expect it to be a little like the ill-conceived sequels to Starship Troopers, with pretty young people doing very grown-up stuff in battle, as if they never understood the satire of their own conception.

What will bring me back to the next two films is the cast: There is always a certain pleasure in seeing Jennifer Lawrence earn a lot of money with little effort, she is a pleasant screen presence. Donald Pleasance does his Donald Pleasance thing, and even though there is not so much to do for Woody Harrelson, he provides a necessary element of anarchy to this tidied-up world. Interesting the scene when Philip Seymour Hoffman enters the scene: Immediately he is the centre of gravity, he is physical and casual – he owns the film right away. I was thinking how humbling it must be for most of these other guys in the same room to stand and see how natural a dominance he can develop even with such a small role, and without the over-acting that would have been possible had actors of similar stature but less skill been cast for this (I was honestly checking against possible casting alternatives, and when I reached Pacino, I had to laugh out loud…).

So, fine, let’s see how they bring this to an end, I do not expect much, but under the best of circumstances, I will get to see some more isolated interesting acting, and certainly some teenager shying away from dramatic kisses. Maybe I am not the target group, after all…

One Comment

  1. Good review Thomas. The first one still felt a bit better in my eyes, however, I appreciate this one for at least going out there and trying to tackle a larger story than I could have ever expected.

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