Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Catching Fire

Illustration by Glee-Chan

I haven't seen either of the "Hunger Games" movies, but Stephen W. Browne has.  This is his review of the second one from HIS BLOG.
“Auferre, trucidare, rapere, falsis nominibus imperium; atque, ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant.” (“They plunder, they slaughter, and they steal: this they falsely name Empire, and where they make a desert, they call it peace.”)
- Gaius Cornelius Tacitus; 56 – 117 A.D.
“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” is the second film based on Suzanne Collins’ “Hunger Games” trilogy, set in the dystopian future state of Panem.
“Catching Fire” was preceded by “The Hunger Games,” (2012) to be concluded with “Mockingjay” next year.
“The Hunger Games” was pretty good. “Catching Fire” is better.
The Hunger Games are a high-tech gladiatorial spectacle held yearly by the despotic state of Panem. Each year 24 tributes, one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 drafted from each of the 12 districts are made to hunt each other until only one is left. The Games were founded after a rebellion of the grindingly poor districts against the rich and decadent Capitol, which resulted in the destruction of District 13.
Collins has citied inspiration from the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur, the tale of the tribute of seven youths and seven maidens Athens was obliged to send to King Minos’ labyrinth in Crete. Reviewers also note Richard Connell’s short story “The Most Dangerous Game” (1924), and the film “Gladiator” (2000).
Older science fiction fans might notice elements of Mack Reynolds now-obscure novel, “Sweet Dreams, Sweet Princes” (1964).
Panem is New Rome, the latest incarnation of the first western world-state whose rise, decadence, and fall still fascinates us 1,600 years after the sack of the Rome by Alaric the Goth, 560 years after the capture of Constantinople by Sultan Mehmed II. The name Panem is an allusion to the Latin “panem et circensis,” the “bread and circuses” with which the Roman Empire kept the masses pacified.
Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) survived the 74th annual Hunger Games. With help from Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), District 12’s only surviving tribute, and fashion designer Cinna (Lennie Kravitz), they skillfully manipulated the audience with a phony star-crossed lovers story, forcing the masters of the games to allow both of them to live.
There’s a problem. For Peeta, it’s not phony. He’s in love with Katniss, who respects him but she’s kind of attached to Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) a boy back home.
There’s an even bigger problem. President Coriolanus Snow (Donald Sutherland) is seriously teed-off at their defiance. Snow tells Katniss she and Peeta had better toe the party line on their victory tour of the districts or her family…
Haymish tells her the same. Their act is now a permanent fixture of their lives. But he notes there could be worse things.
“If you live to be a hundred you’ll never deserve that boy,” he says.
But Katniss and Peeta are caught up in a rising spirit of rebellion in the districts, at first reluctantly. Snow decides they must be eliminated, in a way that destroys their image as heroes.
Urged by the enigmatic new master of the games Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman), Snow declares a Quarter Quell where the tributes will be chosen from a pool of all surviving winners.
District 9’s only surviving female winner is Katniss. The only males are Peeta and Haymich.
They must make alliances with other tributes, but who can they trust when all of them know that in the end there can be only one?
Katniss and Peeta must again win the favor of the mob with the help of Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) and Cinna, but this is a two-edged sword. They need the mob on their side, but the favor of the mob means the enmity of Snow.
All of this makes for a great story with dramatic tension to spare and great special effects that nonetheless don’t substitute for good plotting.
But there’s something that’s really starting to get to me about this story, and incidentally creating my own personal dramatic tension about whether I want to read the books now or wait till I’ve seen the final installment.
I know from experience that school children in this country know almost nothing about the appalling history of tyranny in the previous century.
They might know a man named Hitler killed a lot of people in their grandparents’ time. Seldom that Stalin killed murdered at least ten times as many, or Mao even more. Che Guevarra is just a face on a T-shirt to them.
They know nothing about the brutal technology of tyranny, how people are kept poor, fearful, without hope.
“The Hunger Games” trilogy is in fact a pretty good description of tyranny, though set in the future. It’s strange that young people should learn this from young adult fiction, but we may hope this will motivate them to learn some history.
Note: This appeared in the print-only TV Guide of the Marshall Independent.
Blogger's note — Swami Rabbitima reminds us that the movie franchise has interesting similarities with Battle Royale.


  1. "Coriolanus Snow"
    Even a bastard may rise high in Panem.

  2. The reviewer forgot to mention the Japanese movie Battle Royale as a possible influence. You can watch it (for now) on YouTube.

  3. Good point! I updated the post.