Wednesday, August 19, 2015

2: The Hunger Games/Catching Fire

A very recent addition to the top 40.

Recent additions to any 'all time' list are never usually good - if you ever ask "what are the best songs of all time" and have people vote, you'll frequently find songs from that year will be far nearer the top than they should be. Ask the same question ten years later and they'll have gone away.
However, the fact is I'm only going to be forty once and so this is my only chance to rank The Hunger Games and Catching Fire in the list. I think in ten years they will still be in the list, and very probably still in the top ten, although I can see the eternal positivity of Airplane and the eternal negativity of Apocalypse Now possibly surpassing it. But right here, right now, these two films - taken together as one unit, for reasons I will describe in a moment - sit above them, proudly in second place on the list.

I paid little attention to the first film when it came out. I vaguely knew about it because people on the radio talked about it (notably Messrs Kermode and Mayo), mainly in the light of "what big movie franchise is going to follow on from the success of the 'Harry Potter' and 'Twilight' series of films?". But I didn't read the books (which I understood where aimed at a teenager audience, which I'm increasingly finding I'm not), and I didn't pay any attention to the success of it, and when the second film came out I paid no attention to that one either.

Except then came Netflix. They held the rights to the first movie and kept it up on their home page, so whenever you went to see something else there it was, staring you in the face saying "big Hollywood movie you haven't seen yet". And since the little I knew about it was 'dystopian sci-fi' rather than 'supernatural/dark' I thought ok, I'll watch it. And then I found the next movie - Catching Fire - was not yet on Netflix but WAS at the local RedBox DVD rental kiosk, off I went to said rental kiosk that very same day to get the second one, the first having been so good. Then I insisted Gloria watch them both also, so I got to see them again. Then the third movie was about to come out, so had to watch the first two again also before heading to the cinema to see the third on the day it was released.

And when you tie in the original novels themselves, the websites, wikis, discussions and of course the Mark Kermode reviews, which are all very positive, you realise that Suzanne Collins created a story, a world, a future, a set of characters... an entire THING with tremendous originality and strength. And the people who made the books into films managed to do so without breaking it too much, which is always something of an achievement - but now can you imagine Caesar Flickerman being played by anyone other than Stanley Tucci? Or President Snow being anything other than just like Donald Sutherland's portrayal? Jennifer Lawrence herself is, of course, wonderfully intense as Katniss, basically spending three films (so far) telling her potential suitors 'stop bothering me with romance questions, I haven't got time for such things right now' while the world seems to coalesce around her, gravitationally bound to her Mockingjay persona.

Add to that the climax of 'Catching Fire' - the arrow in the sky, breaking the dome and the arena, the world literally and metaphorically crashing down as the rebellion is suddenly revealed... those are the moments a writer can put in a book and can fail in conversion to the screen. Here they got everything - the tension, the timing, the effects, the walk into the unknown - everything correct. And as the sky shatters and the dome comes crashing down, you really do have no clue what's going to happen next. And to get to that state at the end of a second film in a sequence is very impressive indeed.

The third one doesn't make the inclusion because I've only seen it once and it seemed to be a holding pattern to some extent - not sure of the value (other than financial, which is the main one I suppose) or having the third film. I fully expect the fourth and final one to be right up there when it comes out in November, however, and I'll be sure to use its release as an excuse to watch the first three again.

I really do love it. But there's one that still stands above it.

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