Though we took the littler Stancil cousins to see Frozen, see below, I also accompanied five sixth-graders to see Hunger Games: Catching Fire over the holiday week. After it was over, the other mom looked at me and said, "Did you know it would be that tense?" Unfortunately, yes. There is a whole internet out there with commentary over whether the middle school set should see these movies or read these books. Go over there and discuss. We've already read the books and now 2 movies down. But, your mileage may vary.
If you aren't on pins and needles worrying about other people's children hiding their faces next to you (like I was), then it's a really enjoyable movie. I don't know what holds the line violence-wise between PG-13 and R, but the violence has to be pretty close to that line. And even though it's not particularly bloody like a war movie or a horror movie, it is very tense. You get the feeling that a lot of violence is happening right outside the camera or right after the camera cuts away. And there's not a lot of guns in this dystopian future, mostly just painful instruments of death.
But enough about that. Does it hew closely to the book? I think so, though I read it two years ago. And, at 2.5 hours, if things are cut out, then there's no way they could be left in. I'm not sure if the final scenes in the arena are exactly the same, but they are very compelling. If the screenplay doesn't match the book, then the screenplay is probably better. The relationship between Katniss and Peeta may be what, if anything, is truncated. I seem to remember in the book that they slowly warmed back to one another and became each other's soulmates during their victors' tour. That gradual dissolve happens fairly quickly. But, most of the sixth grade boys there came to see the Games, not the love story.
If you've not read the books, or read them a few moons ago, know that Katniss and Peeta are the Victors in the previous annual "Hunger Games," a sort of bloody take on Shirley Jackson's The Lottery. Two teenagers from each of 12 Districts of PanEm (a sort of future U.S. post revolutionary attempt) go into the arena and only one comes out alive. The central point of the first book/movie is that Katniss tricks the Games Master into letting her and Peeta both live by staging a Romeo and Juliet-like suicide pact on live TV. The Games Master is now dead, and Katniss has a sword dangling over her head by President Snow. He knows it was an act, but she (who is in love with Gale) and Peeta (who is in love with her) will have to pretend to be madly in love for the rest of their lives. However, Katniss' obvious disdain for the Games has inspired some of the Districts to protest and fight back against the totalitarian Capitol, making Katniss' death more appealing to Snow. So, he announces that the next Hunger Games will feature 24 previous Victors, making Katniss' death very likely. As you might imagine, the Victors, who have been able to live in relative comfort (though with severe PTSD) are not happy about this.
This middle book/movie is the Empire Strikes Back of the trilogy -- there is a lot of action that needs to be squeezed into here, so it is the most fun and most gripping. Much has been written on the web about Katniss' and Peeta's relationship, including this piece that describes Katniss as the usual emotionally unavailable superhero (like Tony Stark/Ironman) and Peeta as the long-suffering girlfriend (like Pepper Potts). That's awesome, but what I thought was interesting is that Katniss' first sacrifice (volunteering to die in place of her sister at the Reaping) is seen as less of a sacrifice as her second one (having to marry her best friend instead of her childhood sweetheart to save her family and Peeta's family). Death is preferable to life without romantic love is a fairly modern, Western ideal I would think. But that tension is only the major one for a brief moment, because it is eclipsed by the new Games, which promises to kill either Peeta or Katniss or both. And, to her credit, Katniss vows to ensure that Peeta survives at all costs.
As others have pointed out, though this series features a strong female character, Katniss, the overarching question is "Who will be my boyfriend?" Katniss is definitely a step up from Twilight's Bella, who was so passive and pasty on the sidelines while her two loves battled each other and then bad vampires. But though Katniss is battling for her life and maybe the future of the citizens Panem, her old beau Gale is making her feel bad for kissing Peeta to survive? (And not for killing human beings to survive?) I guess this is Young Adult fiction, but maybe it could strive to be a little more.
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