Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland
Director: Francis Lawrence
Rating: Four stars
Frankly, it’s irresistible. Whether you love or loathe Hollywood’s downpour of science fiction extravaganzas, this take on the shape of things to come possesses that George Orwellian kind of undertow. Caution: It could happen to you.
In fact, the second edition of a proposed four-part franchise adapted from the novels of Suzanne Collins, leaves you thirsting for more. From its very first frame, 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire' sustains your curiosity in its ensemble of potential revolutionaries against a dictatorship. The insurgents will overcome, perhaps. Perhaps not. And so kickstarts another game of survival - not only of the fittest but of the most altruistic. The self-absorbed Rambos and Lara Crofts have no place here. Every contestant is aware that he or she is fighting a losing battle, unless there’s solidarity.
Clearly, here’s a parable which may be set in the future, but harks back to the savagery of the World War II holocaust and to present-day genocides. Astutely then, the backdrop isn’t restricted to any specific time span or zone. You can see hyper-fantasised trains and Daliesque clock-shaped lakes to filthy markets and row houses straight out of the Middle Ages, topped by a blingy studio set used for TV reality shows nowadays.
Apart from digital surveillance images – projected in thin air – the location could be anywhere, any time, as if a contemporary relevance was being emphasised. The pitch is every breath you take is being in consonance with the paranoia – justified to quite an extent - that no one’s safe today from fascist intervention.
How or why the megalomaniac President Snow (Donald Sutherland) came to subjugate his subjects, and why the oppressed have assented to play his absurd game, aren’t explicated. That’s left to your imagination. All you learn is that the Prez has his court of near-robotic admirers and a master strategist (Philip Seymour Hoffman), threatened by a mounting count of dissenters.
Next: the announcement of the 75th round of the death game in which only one contestant can triumph. But hang on, it’s with a difference. Bugged with the independent spirit of the last game’s winners Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), the Prez forces them back into the arena to combat former victors. Smart? Not quite. Because, the accent has shifted from a fight-to-the-finish to banding together as allies. Unity matters.
Divided into two distinct sections, initially the screenplay focuses on the build-up, emphasising the utter vulnerability of Katniss, determined but prepared to be exterminated. The latter-half tracks her and her allies doggedly, monitoring their intuitions and will power as much as their physical agility. Underlined with suspense, and nail chewing tension throughout, the film’s special effects – like the spectacle of a poisonous fog - are mercifully secondary to the emotional bond which develops between the stealthful Katniss allies.
The scenes between Katniss and her strong-willed sister, as well as a doomed love story with a childhood friend, are interwoven seamlessly. As much as the fluent screenplay, the production design rocks big-time -- the set décor is often minimalistic countered by flashes of razzmatazz costumes, like a wedding dress with chameleon properties. The sound mix, too, is one of the best heard this year -- in second place to the lost-in-space masterwork 'Gravity'.
About the only quarrel you can pick with 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire' is its stressful length of 146 minutes, and whoa a strange striptease by a cougar contestant in an elevator. Say cheesy.
Ably supported by the supporting players, particularly Woody Harrelson as a boozed-out coach, Jennifer Lawrence plays her part from within, keeping the externals to a bare miniumum. Quite clearly, the picture belongs to her and to director Francis Lawrence who creates a world she so magnificently fills. A must-experience....