I was a firm believer that the book is always better than the film. Books allow you to get inside characters’ heads, and aren’t limited by budget or technology. Imagination is unlimited and books let that run free. However, after re-reading The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and seeing the film, I may need to reconsider my position. The movie not only streamlines the major themes and plot points into a quickly paced, engaging film that flies by but it also adds in a few layers that weren’t in the book which was limited to Katniss’ point of view.
Warning – major spoilers for the book and film The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.
You have been warned. Please don’t leave angry comments about anything being spoiled for you, there’s plenty of warning and advance notice to stop reading right now. For non-spoilery thoughts on Catching Fire, check out Mel’s review here.
Played by the always fantastic Philip Seymour Hoffman, Plutarch Heavensbee is far more complex and involved in the film. The book hints at his involvement in the uprising early on, with a throwaway mention of the iconic mockingjay symbol embedded within his pocket watch, which he flashes at Katniss at the Victory Tour party in the Capitol. With one simple gesture, he gave her a major clue to the arena for the next Hunger Games and showed that while he may be a capital citizen, he has more in common with her than she might think. This little nod is completely omitted from the party as well as many of the hints that he’s not just like Seneca Crane or President Snow.
In fact, because we’re not limited to just Katniss’ thoughts and POV, we’re treated to scenes of President Snow and Heavensbee planning the Quarter Quell and working together to manipulate the media and Katniss. We see that it’s actually Heavensbee’s manipulations that bring about the reaping of past victors. He’s the one who suggests focusing on Katniss and Peeta’s wedding to make the citizens happy and distracted. His involvement in the evil machinations of the Capital was so strong that I briefly considered if the film was just going to change his character entirely. Such is the strength of Hoffman’s performance and the choices made in the film.
The legend of District 13 is barely touched upon in the film. For those who haven’t read the book, the backstory is that originally there were 13 districts in Panem. The 13th district was in charge of providing nuclear power to the nation until one day they revolted. The capitol bombed them and because of the nuclear plants it laid waste to everyone and every thing. As part of the media’s regular fear-mongering, they would show footage of the ruins of District 13 with the obvious implication being that if any of the other districts tried it that would be their fate too.
In the book, before the Hunger Games, Katniss hops over the fence and instead of hunting goes to visit a lake and old shack that her father used to take her to as a child. This is where she learned to swim, bonded with her father, and learned about the forest years ago. It’s been years since her last visit, but this time the shack is not empty – a couple women who escaped from District 3 during an uprising where the factory exploded and everyone was assumed dead. Wearing stolen peacekeeper outfits, they’ve made it this far and are trying to get to the supposedly long-abandoned District 13. The footage that has been shown every year is always the same old ruins, with a distinct mockingjay in the corner of the screen to prove that it’s not really live, despite the news saying it is. The theory is that people are still living there, free from the capital, and organizing a true revolution from there. While we never find out if they make it, the end of the film and book confirm that it exists. Katniss and the remaining survivors from District 12 and the Quarter Quell are headed there at the end of the book, though it’s not explained if people have been there this whole time or if that’s just an escape post for these new fugitives.
Catching Fire suffers in much the same way many middle films do. While the first film has the task of worldbuilding and character set up, and the last film has resolution and climactic battles, the middle film is a bridge between the two. That’s not to say that the film doesn’t accomplish anything or move the story forward, it does that in spades, but the ending and arc of the film doesn’t really stand on its own. With Mockingjay getting two movies, I wasn’t sure where the film would decide to end. Would it bring in elements from the 3rd book, much like the first film did by showing District 11 breaking out in riots after Rue’s death? Would it leave some of the storyline from the book to be covered in the final two movies?
Well, it turns out they were very faithful to the book and ended it exactly the same way. Just before the credits roll, the bomb drops on us and Katniss – District 12 doesn’t exist anymore. Thankfully, her family and Gale get out safely, but everyone and everything else that Katniss knew before the Hunger Games is now a pile of ash. We close in on Katniss’ face as she processes the news, and it’s a testament to Jennifer Lawrence’s skills as an actress that she’s able to convey just with her eyes, her facial expression, the multitude of thoughts that takes Suzanne Collins pages and pages to get across in the novel.