It Starts at Midnight (or, you know, 9:00)

Warning: Spoilers ahead. Do not read if you have not a) read The Hunger Games books and/or b) seen the Catching Fire movie.

As far as Twilight (no shame) and The Hunger Games are concerned (and soon Divergent, as well), I am the screenwriter’s worst enemy. I’m the huge fangirl that rereads the book a couple weeks before the movie, eagerly awaiting its premiere at midnight (side note: midnight premieres are not really a thing anymore. There were 10:00, 9:00, and even 8:00 showings, all packed). While this is usually just to refresh my memory and get myself even more excited, I end up putting my foot in my mouth as I then notice every single omission, combination, and addition the movie makes that differs from its paperback counterpart. This is a lovely perception to have when the movie does things right (and yes, I realize cuts and changes must be made otherwise there’d be six hour movies…not that I’d necessarily mind that), but when something I am arbitrarily attached to gets cut or brushed over, I obviously have every right to be personally offended, yes? And so begins the epic, exhausting, amazing adventure that was Catching Fire.

What I have been most excited for since before the first movie was the on-screen appearance of Finnick Odair. I realize there is only Team Peeta and Team Gale (not that there’s competition…Team Peeta), but secretly I’m on Team Finnick. Remember that really obnoxious squeal girls would make in movie theaters when Edward or Jacob appeared onscreen? Yeah, that was me when Finnick Odair appeared for the first time, and Sam Claflin was perfect. His boyish charm and sarcastic wit thankfully savored the victor I know and love from the pages onto the screen, fortunately and unfortunately making movie #3 (and #4) equally exciting and devastating to watch. In the meantime, I have absolutely no problem seeing Catching Fire again, 60% for him.

As excited as I was for Finnick Odair, nothing could have prepared me for the awe that was Jena Malone. Yes, I was eager to see Johanna Mason in the flesh, but I didn’t expect to see exactly Johanna Mason in the flesh. Never have I seen a movie where a character from the book is completely, from head to toe, every tidbit of his or her personality, entirely the same as I imagined whilst reading. Are there Oscars for Best Adaption of a Character from Page to Screen? Because Jena Malone deserves like ten of those. Seriously, I cannot express just how perfect she was. Overall the two very important newcomers did anything but disappoint…but of course I can’t forget about our favorite (well, my favorite…and yes I stole that from a line in the movie) victors.

Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson were once again fabulous. Jennifer was her extremely talented little self, while Josh made me fall even more in love with Peeta (and, well, Josh) than I already was. Seriously, looking at those two, how anybody can be Team Gale is beyond me. Though I’m no fan of Gale, it was nice to see more of his character in this film (not to mention see him deliver the infamous closing lines of the movie/book), and I’ll never complain about staring at Liam Hemsworth.

The inevitable changes were, thankfully, kept to a minimum, and yes, the things I did notice are probably very nit-picky, but as a diehard and not at all embarrassing fan, I feel the need to ask the important questions. For example, where were the rolls? In the book, Finnick, Johanna, Katniss and Peets (and their allies) receive gifts of twenty-four rolls three time in the arena, which is later explained as a sort of signal from the outside as to when the break-in would occur. Is it essential to the plot? No. Did I notice they weren’t there and think they would be a cool addition? Yes. Secondly (and most importantly), in the beginning of the movie, why on earth is Katniss just making out with Gale every chance she gets? In the books, they kiss twice. Once he kisses her, and later, when he is on the table recovering from the whipping. She kisses him. Twice. They kisses like four times in this movie, one closely resembling a makeout which I can assure you never appeared in the books. Do I sound biased enough yet? Unfortunately I can see the reason behind doing this. I’m sure the very smart creators want to at least pretend to depict some sort of love triangle that is hinted at in the books but never fully established. I wonder why they would want this, seeing as how Twilight was a huge box office failure and all…

Plutarch Heavensbee, I think, was portrayed slightly wrong. I mean, this man turns out to be one of the leaders of the rebellion, working undercover as Head Gamemaker in the Capitol to gain access to tools and information and who knows what else in order to strike against them. And at this point in the series (I’m talking page 1 of Catching Fire, Katniss is already the mockingjay. The districts have already started revolting, and she is their heroine (whether or not she knows this or not, Plutarch does). The scene during the victory tour in which he attempts to give her clues about the arena with his watch that projects a mockingjay needed to be there, if only to slightly foreshadow his role later on. His infamous phrase “it starts at midnight,” was missing from this scene, as well. In the book, Heavensbee later tells Katniss he was trying to tip her off as a mentor, never imagining at that time she would be inside as a tribute. The idea that putting her back in the arena is his idea was ridiculous. He leads the plan to get her out of the arena, knowing her influence on the districts and putting her survival at the top of his list. Why on earth would he suggest she be put back into the arena, where her death was imminent? Yes, there was an arrangement with other tributes to keep her alive, but this wasn’t guaranteed. His character needed to stick to the pages of the book, as I was not a fan of the character change and do not think it helped the plot, especially for people who never read the books.

Finally, the appearance of the two hitchhikers on their way to an alleged District 13 was a scene I think as wrongfully taken out. The scene is very important in that it hints at a possible rebellion and shows Katniss that her mockingjay has become a national symbol, giving the later scene of her in her transformative wedding dress bigger meaning for non book readers and for Katniss herself. This scene is also important in that it first hints that District 13 may still exist, something we don’t hear a word about until the last 3 minutes of the film.

Of course the good in this film outweighs my disappointment. The arena could not have been more perfect, and every terror found in each piece of the clock was more realistic, terrifying, and cringe-worthy than the books ever made them seem. And obviously tears flowed continuously (which is funny considering that before the movie I promised my friend I wouldn’t cry, claiming “nothing is sad about Catching Fire…rookie mistake). When Katniss talked about Rue, I cried. When Effie said goodbye to Katniss and Peeta for presumably the last time, I cried. When Cinna was killed (though I knew this was coming), I cried. When Finnick heard Annie’s voice in the jabberjay portion of the clock, I cried. When Katniss and Peeta were separated and you hear the unkept promise of “I’ll see you at midnight”, I cried. Honestly, you can’t take me anywhere.

I won’t lie, The Hunger Games movie was closer to the book than Catching Fire was. Did I love the sequel any less? No way. Seeing a book you love come to life on screen is one of the most interesting things (except The Hostthat movie clearly failed). Meeting characters onscreen you only read about before, seeing things like the intricate arenas come to life, hearing dialogue you only imagined previously, and watching a story you know and love right in front of you, combined with the adrenaline of a midnight premiere and the inevitable shrieking of the fangirls (or you know, me), makes those experiences incredible. Having a truly magical, true (for the most part) to the book, special effects ridden, talent-overflowed film is just the cherry on top of the cake. And I’m not lying when I say the experience is more than half of it, I had major midnight premiere fangirl goggles with the first Twilight. I can say, however, that Catching Fire was everything (cliché alert) I hoped it would be and so much more, and although Mockingjay is my least favorite of the trilogy, I don’t think I have it in me to wait another year or more. But in the meantime, at least I have Divergent.

-Wendi

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About Wendi

Welcome to my little, personalized, and (mostly) fun corner of the internet. Whether you're here to read about Broadway, entertainment, or the laughable struggles of a recent college graduate making it out in corporate America, you've come to the right place. I graduated from the University of Texas at Austin (hook 'em!) with dual degrees in broadcast journalism and theatre, and currently work full time as Director of Regional Marketing for Broadway Across America. My weaknesses are chips and queso, Dance Moms, romantic comedies, photo booths, and show tunes. Resume, writing samples (more serious ones...), and my life story can be found at https://www.linkedin.com/in/wendireichstein/.
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One Response to It Starts at Midnight (or, you know, 9:00)

  1. Pingback: That Time Neil Patrick Harris High-Fived Me | You Know When It's Reel

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