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Posted at 9:00 am,
November 12, 2013

'Catching Fire': A leaner, meaner Games

Much is riding on The Hunger Games: Catching Fire when it hits theaters on November 22. All signs are pointing towards a sure-fire hit. Estimates project a weekend box office of $175 million domestically. But is incoming director Francis Lawrence able to please fans and a wider audience after Gary Ross’ excellent Hunger Games?

The answer, in short, is yes. The story follows Katniss as she embarks on the Victory Tour where she notices signs of a rebellion slowing taking shape. After President Show requests she help calm the Districts down, our hero learns that she and Peeta will be heading back into the Games for the Quarter Quell where they’ll face off against other “all-experienced killers.”

If you ask readers how they would rank The Hunger Games book trilogy, the vast majority who we talk to say the first was best, the second was second best, and third was the worst. That must be a daunting fact for producer Nina Jacobsen and Francis Lawrence who will be carrying the four-part film series to the end. They’ll have to keep the story interesting and clean up mistakes that Collins made in her books. Namely, the pacing of the story and the messiness of Mockingjay’s final battle.

Fans and the producers can rest easy until next year, at least. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a leaner, meaner version of its source material.


Leaner: Numerous chapters in the book are not in the movie. Like in The Hunger Games, Madge is completely absent from Catching Fire. Darius, Maysilee, Bonnie, and Twill are gone too. It’s only at the very end that Katniss learns of District 13′s existence. Specifically, chapters 9, 10, and 11 of the book are completely removed. Most of chapter 12 is out except for the very end where we see the Quarter Quell announcement.

Instead of this (arguably) slow area of the book, we jump straight from Gale’s whipping to his recovery and then the Quarter Quell announcement. Another example of a cut: There’s no scene where Katniss and Peeta watch Haymitch’s Games.

Meaner: In some areas, the film’s story is more gruesome than what you see in the book. A pre-Games scene depicts Peacekeepers entering District 12 and causing havoc for no apparent reason. This leads Gale to attack one of the Peacekeepers which is why he gets whipped (in the book, he gets whippings for poaching). In addition, Katniss’ goodbye to District 12 is very dramatic in the film whereas in the book she departs without making any commotion. Scenes like these emphasize the danger of the Capitol. During the presentation to the Gamemakers, Katniss actually sees Peeta’s painting of Rue (in the book she does not), which appears to set her off and inspire the hanging of Seneca Crane.

By making the story leaner and meaner, the story becomes a Hollywood epic. Clocking in at 2 hours and 26 minutes, we were actually surprised by how fast the story moves when you consider that it’s one of the longest movies you’ll see this year.

Acting with the heat turned up

Havensbee and Haymitch in 'Catching Fire' Catching Fire’s quick pace can be credited to the aforementioned plot cuts as well as stellar acting from a wide variety of cast members. The two standout roles in this film are from returning stars: Stanley Tucci who plays Caesar Flickerman and Woody Harrelson who plays Haymitch Abernathy. The two bring unique performances that make you think about how lucky producers were to snag both of these stars in the first place. Tucci in particular seems to have brought his portrayal of the tribute interviewer to a new level. His timing, dialogue, passion, and body language deliver some of the most pleasing acting you’ll see in the entire film. Meanwhile, Harrelson uses Haymitch’s drunkenness to bring comic relief into moments where you may least expect it even though his reason for drinking is quite depressing.

All around, the cast is stellar. Donald Sutherland’s President Snow has a cool temper as he winds down the Districts and gets into Katniss’ head. New roles have equally excellent actors. Sam Claflin’s Finnick surprised us with his charm and smooth attitude. Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s Plutarch Heavensbee matches the stern and professional atmosphere Snow brings. Jena Malone’s Johanna Mason is exactly as she reads in the books.

The roles of Katniss, Peeta, and Gale have been brought to a new level thanks to the darker story and a second opportunity for stars Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, and Liam Hemsworth to portray their characters. Lawrence in particular has become completely engulfed in Katniss and belts out raw emotion during several scenes like the attack by the peacekeepers on Cinna.

Line-by-line, a loyal transformation

Several lines that you hear in the movie are word-for-word what you’ll find in the book if you go back and compare like we did after watching.

Cinna in 'Catching Fire'Examples of Collins’ words being brought to the screenplay:
- Gale after kissing Katniss: “I had to do that. At least once.”
- Haymitch to Katniss about Peeta: “You can live a hundred lifetimes and not deserve him, you know.”
- Katniss to Finnick: “I don’t like jewels and I have more money than I need,” and Finnick’s “I haven’t dealt in anything as common as money for years.”
- Cinna: “I just want you to look straight ahead, as if the entire audience is beneath your notice,” and Katniss’ “Finally something I’ll be good at.”
- Johanna: “Make him pay for it” to Katniss in regards to making her wear the wedding dress.
- Cinna to Katniss: “Remember Girl on Fire, I’m still betting on you.”

If things weren’t word for word, the transfer of scenes from book to screen worked in most cases. For example, Effie drives hard the “team” theme between her, Katniss, Peeta, and Haymitch as seen in the books and you can’t help but feel like you’re a part of their group. Another example: Plutarch and Katniss have a talk at the Capitol party, but the Gamemakers’ watch with the mockingjay is not seen. Instead, he drops a verbal hint to Katniss about where his loyalties lie. For a wider audience it may be a better hint and less confusing than a glimpse at his watch.

Additions to the film further enhance Catching Fire in unexpected ways. Effie makes a reference to mahogany which isn’t found in the book but will please fans who loved the line in the first book and movie. President Snow’s granddaughter is introduced and she takes a liking to Katniss which naturally must enrage the Capitol leader. And in one of the funniest moments in the movie, Haymitch is present while Johanna strips in front of Katniss and Peeta in the elevator (in the book, the mentor is not there). While the boys ogle at what’s happening right before them, Jennifer Lawrence offers perhaps one of her most JLaw-esque reaction faces that you’ve come to love her for on red carpets.

A whole new world thanks to IMAX

Our Catching Fire screening took place in an IMAX theater. The Games were shot using IMAX cameras, and as soon as the tournament starts, the screen in your IMAX theater will open to reveal a taller picture. This unique feature lends itself to the scope of the jungle and the gorgeous beach (Hawaii). You really feel like you’ve entered the jungle with Katniss and company. When the Games end, the screen shrinks back down to “normal” size and it’s almost jarring after getting accustomed to the larger view.

A sense of ‘Mockingjay, Part 0′

The final shot in 'Catching Fire'We think there’s an issue with how this film plays into the four-part series on a whole. The climax arrives at the same time as it does in the book when Katniss shoots the arrow at the forcefield and breaks down the system (By the way, Finnick feeds her the “Remember who the enemy is” line. She hears it earlier from Haymitch, but she needs a reminder from someone else.).

The end of the story moves at a pace that is quicker than what you’ll find in the book, and it’s because of this faster rate of motion that we were left feeling like Catching Fire is one big introduction to Mockingjay.

Why is this a problem? Mockingjay is being split into two movies, and by the end of this series we’re going to have essentially two prequels to the grand Mockingjay, Part 2 finale. To us, it felt like the story needed a bigger climax and some resolution so that we’re not left hanging for two movies in a row.

We are not letting this affect our overall impression of the film because it’s loyal to the original story. Put simply: The sudden ending of the Games and then the cut to black a few minutes later – coupled with how quick this film moves – made us crave more.


It’s not easy for a film franchise to keep the momentum going from one film to the next. We can say with confidence that Francis Lawrence has pulled off an amazingly worthy follow-up to The Hunger Games. The 20-month wait between the two films is made worth it thanks to the speed, action, dialogue, and acting you’ll encounter while diving deeper into a rebellion with Katniss. All we can do now is be happy that we only have a 12-month wait between the remaining two films.

Grade: A-

The good: Fast-paced storytelling, dialogue fans will eat up, and beautiful visuals thanks to better special effects when compared to The Hunger Games.

The bad: Little sense of resolution, some romantic moments that only YA-lit lovers will appreciate.

Rated: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, some frightening images, thematic elements, a suggestive situation and language)

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire opens in theaters on November 22, 2013. Purchase your tickets now!

Look forward to our exclusive interview with Jeffrey Wright (Beetee) next week.

View the latest articles from: Movie Reviews
  • Anthony

    Very excited for this!

  • luuiii

    I seriously can not wait to sit in the theater and watch Catching Fire. 20th November, where are you?

    • Amir

      I thought it was 22nd

      • luuiii

        It certainly is in America but in Germany it’s going to be released on the 21st and we have advanced screenings on the 20th :)

        • Amir


      • HSmalls

        There are advanced screenings on the 21st in the States. We bought our tickets the day the went on sale in October. We are seeing it on the 21st!! Can’t wait!

        • Amir

          I know but It’ll be crowded!!

  • Connor

    Still looks like a rehash of the first film, just with different characters. IMO

    • andrew14

      You know nothing! Catching Fire is absolute 100x better and different from the first book and gonna hopefully be better then the movie!!!

      • Connor

        I know nothing? Wow, thanks kid. I was being kind with my comment. Saying i know nothing is rude on your part.

        • Lucki

          I’m not sure if you were being kind…more passive aggressive really. You made a one line sweeping statement about a two and a half hour film without having seen it. You can see how that might aggravate fans of the series who have been waiting to watch it. You do know nothing or at least very little about what the film is like and if you haven’t read the books you know even less. If you don’t want people being ‘rude’ to you then you shouldn’t make uninformed comments.

        • Jack Bauer

          In all honesty you stated an opinion that people who read the books would know is factually wrong. It is nothing like the first one at all. A completely different story with highly interesting new characters. Comic book movies are rehashes of their predecessors with different villains being the only difference.

    • CliveRogan

      Looks like, but isn’t in any way and that’s what’s so good about the story.

  • Gary65

    Ofc I would be abroad for this and have to wait a whole extra week to see it :( Hate you all. I am so excited, I can barely move for shaking. At least the soundtrack comes out on the same date :)

  • http://ravenclaw1991.tumblr.com/ ravenclaw1991

    Can’t wait to see it! I didn’t get a chance to see The Hunger Games in the cinema but I’m definitely going to see this no matter what.

    • Cguy

      That means you’re not a true fan! :p

      • Polemic

        And a raging homosexual

        • Cguy

          Yeah, I don’t know what you’re talking about.

    • Gretchen

      I hope you’ve read the books, otherwise you’ll be hopelessly lost

    • Mandie Lenar

      Maybe he was really busy and is super bummed he didn’t get to see it. Don’t hate.

  • Lucki

    I’m so desperate to see this that I caved and read a load of spoilers about what is and isn’t in the film. I just needed a little reassurance on some things =)

  • blujai

    Great review! Now I’m even more excited to see Catching Fire!

  • Sarah

    Looks AMAZING!!!! Can’t wait!!!!

  • Kris D

    this is a great review and i am so pumped to watch it next thursday. i am glad that they worked cinna’s quote into the movie b/c thats one of my favorite lines in the book. i know that i will prob be upset about some of the things that they cut out in the ‘slower chapters’ (ie chapters 9-12) but i always expect everythign to be put in. probably after the 2nd time i watch it i will be more accepting of it like because it’s about the flow of the movie, not bring every single piece from the book to the big screen. I can’t wait!

  • A.P.W.B.Dumbledore

    Must be a good movie if Andrew gave it an A-. I rarely see him give above a B lol. Awesome review Andrew!

  • Sofia Malik

    I probably won’t be able to see the movie until at least a week after it’s released but I’m still super excited

  • Sarah

    Andrew Sims, are you doing podcasts about The Hunger Games? If not, please do! And put some Divergent in there too. :)

    • Cguy

      He actually quit ‘Hunger Games Chat’ a few months ago. Sorry.

  • Jem

    so there no peeta and katniss romance cause they really screwed that up in the first making it seem all one sided and not that she was confused and fighting having feeling for him and the guilt for gale.the better have the beach kiss! thats where she really wakes up to peeta or the roof scene.

  • Tessa

    Great review Andrew. Cannot wait for this movie to come out I just wish I could see it in IMAX. I have to travel like three hours to get to an IMAX theatre, the joy of living in rural Ireland.

    • Gary65

      ……………There’s an IMAX Theatre in Ireland? WHERE????

      • Amir

        Look it up on fandango or the IMAX website

        • Gary65

          ……………..IMAX has a website? WHERE????

          • Amir

            Ok Google IMAX and one of the links will say official website and all

          • Gary65
          • Amir

            You have the worst scence of humor… acting like an unknowlagable idiot isn’t funny.

          • Gary65

            -_- That wasn’t the joke. Never mind.

          • Jennifer

            No, your joke was just bad Gary. One bane of hypable’s comments.

          • Gary65

            I never claimed to be a comedian. And if I wanted a connoisseur of comedy, I’d ask for one. You also seem to have a very loose definition of the word “bane”. If you’re this easiy irritated, you need to get a tighter grip on your horses. IDK how you’d survive Youtube if I can annoy you without even trying.

          • Jj

            You think far too much of yourself, Gary. It’s a good thing that you don’t consider yourself a comedian. I doubt you’d recognize a connoisseur of comedy if he or she smacked you in the face. FYI, the word is ‘easily’. The fact that you mentioned Youtube is just proof that the concept of comedy is clearly foreign to you, Do yourself a favor, and don’t quit your day job.

          • Gary65

            Wow. Grammar correction. You really showed me. Any idiot should realize that I know how to spell the word. I just mistyped it.

  • Cassie Drake

    Part of me is really sad that they cut out Haymitch’s games, but after seeing MainstayPro’s version on YouTube a MILLION TIMES, I had a feeling that oddly enough, nothing Hollywood could do would ever live up to it, so I’m kinda glad it’s been cut.

  • Cassie Drake

    Oh! Also: all I want to know is, did they keep in the part about implying that Snow prostitutes out desirable Victors to Capitol members?? That part blew my mind when I read the book, and the line is so subtle that kids who have no idea what’s going on will miss it, making it safe for PG-13

    • Amir

      I forgot about that part…

    • Jack Bauer

      Finnick is in it so im sure it will be mentioned.

    • Sheechiibii

      That wasn’t revealed until Mockingjay.

  • http://www.hypable.com/author/clayton10ify/ Clayton

    I’m glad that the elevator scene is in and that they added elements to the plot like Snow’s granddaughter.

  • Kathryn

    I’m so excited!! I hope Peeta is a fuller character in this one. I felt The Hunger Games film portrayed him as too weak and helpless, which is far from how i felt about him in the book.

    Sad to see they cut out watching Haymitch’s Games. That was one of my favorite moments because it was great to get some backstory.

    • Hagrid’s Coat

      These are the two main reactions I had after seeing the movie! Part of me is hoping they’ll somehow be able to watch his games in Mockingjay, even though it wouldn’t make any sense plot-wise.

    • Patricious

      I’d love it if they filmed that scene as a DVD extra, wouldn’t you?!

  • Cguy

    They cut out Madge but introduced Snow’s granddaughter? And the ending is even more rushed than it is in the book?! Meh, whatever lol.

  • Liderc

    Can’t wait for this actually. Didn’t like the first one at all, the shaky cam drove me nuts, had my girlfriend getting dizzy and just felt like wooden acting (no pun intended for Peeta). I think this one has a better chance with a new director.

  • Jake

    Those changes make sense, and that’s all I’m asking for. SO EXCITED FOR NEXT THURSDAY.

  • Chelsea

    But… but “always” :(

  • Shelly Steinmetz


  • Kevin Ryan

    If it’s good enough for Andrew, it’s good enough for me.

  • Kevin Ryan

    I’m disappointed to learn that Katniss & Petta watching Haymitch’s Games, isn’t in there… That was one of my favorite parts of the book.


    yes, its sad that they cut haymitch’s games, but- there are two parts of mockingjay. they will probably fit in some back story in for him!
    I am SO excited for this movie. Me and my mother are watching it back to back in IMAX. (The hunger games AND catching fire)

    • Sheechiibii

      As someone else mentioned though, how will Katniss know to shoot the barrier if she hasn’t seen Haymitch’s game?

      • Jessica

        I assume they’ll work that in with Beetee and Wiress, maybe talking about the “chink in the armor”?

  • Kadma Sixx

    The last days feel like months. This is a great review! Now I’m more excited about watching this and Mockingjay next year. Unfortunately the midnight showing is not IMAX, but that only means I’ll watch it again… and again and again.

    It also saddens me that they removed Haymitch’s games, but if it was worth it, I can deal with it. I like it when they do line-by-line, it makes it so much better. I CAN’T WAIT!

  • 7Starrchasers

    Watching it in IMAX NEXT WEDNESDAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Victoria

    i just disagree with the order they put the books in, i feel like catching fire was definitely the best one but oh boyyyy i can’t wait for this movie

  • Francesca

    I wonder how Katniss knows to shoot the sky since they don’t watch Haymitch’s Games…

    • Sheechiibii

      That is a very good point

      • Jack Bauer

        Ya it depends, they released one scene where Beetee tells katniss how to detect a forcefield so im sure that plays into it somehow hopefully that part doesn’t come off as lame. The ending to the games has the potential to be an all time great scene in terms of an action movie. I never turned pages so fast in my life.

    • HollyS

      If you remember in the book, Katniss finds Beetee injured and unresponsive holding a knife wrapped in the wire only a few paces from the force field. She looks up and sees the “chink” in the force field and puts it all together realizing that Beetee was attempting to throw his knife through the chink before the lightening hits the tree. She assumes this was his plan so attaches wire to an arrow and shoots the arrow through the chink just before the lightening hits the tree.

  • kreidy

    I got to see the movie at one of the premieres last night, and I thought it was wonderful. I agree with the review in that the ending is a bit abrupt, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. You’re definitely left wanting more.
    I loved how it stayed so true to the book, and Jennifer Lawrence’s portrayal of Katniss is just brilliant. I was also relieved to see that they gave Josh more to do, and that both Finnick and Johanna were perfectly cast. Can’t wait to see it again.

  • Sheechiibii

    The thing about how it ends and how it’s not really concluded/leads on to Mockingjay. That’s probably true but…how else could they do it without changing it from the book? The book ends on a cliff hanger as well with her waking up and being told about District 13. If they’d changed it they would have been criticized for not sticking to the book so they couldn’t really win.

    • Jack Bauer

      Agree completely but I hope its not an abrupt cut to black. Maybe they didn’t build the set for district 13 but if they did I would like to see Katniss actually walk into it for a few minutes and see the rebels but who really cares the book was awesome and the movie will be too. Plus only a year wait for the next one so that makes it ok for an abrupt end I guess.

  • rachelgurl19

    I agree there is a lot more then romance to the hunger games but I still like to see it since its present in the books not much but still

  • Parent

    Can someone who has seen the movie please tell me if the f-word is said?

    • http://throughhazeleyes.tumblr.com/ Danielle Zimmerman

      Johanna technically screams it during the interviews with Caesar, but that part of the scene is structured in a way that looks like you’re watching it on TV, so it gets bleeped out.

  • luuiii

    So I saw it last night and it was truly amazing! In enjoyed every second of it and 146 minutes seemed like 60 minutes to be honest. I can’t wait to see it again <3 Beyond my expectations.

  • Sheechiibii

    I went to the premier last night, saw the Hunger Games showing before it as well and I think they’ve done an excellent job with this movie. I do think it’s better than the first. It’s very true to the books, and while there are slight changes here and there a few things missed out you hardly notice because they got it so close. Jena does a really great job as Johanna, she really is perfect. It was very intense and I actually spilled a few tears numerous times. Very, very good and I can’t wait to go and see it again!

  • grapes9h5

    Having seen it (though not having read the books), i totally do still abide by this review and summation. Im very curious about this split adaptation of the final book, the one no one likes, including my trustworthy reader sister.

    • Sheechiibii

      I wouldn’t say that nobody likes the last book. I loved it, it wasn’t my favourite in the series but I still thought it was good.

  • maryam

    I just saw it tonight and it was sooo good! when it comes to book to movie adaptations it was definitely one of my absolute favourites! kudos to you francis lawrence

  • Patricious

    There was a sufficient amount on District 13: when they silently passed it in the train as a ghost town, and when Pres Snow mentioned it to Katniss.

    A look at the watch would have been cool in light of the arena (it could’ve been good transition shot later between his watch and the arena).

    The only disappointing shot for me was when Pres Snow shook his head at Katniss: the exposure on him and the distance didn’t make it as effective for me.

    • Patricious

      Oh man! I loved it though! Loved seeing it on IMAX!