Lions Gate via Everett Collection
When we last left our heroes, they had conquered all opponents in the 74th Annual Hunger Games, returned home to their newly refurbished living quarters in District 12, and fallen haplessly to the cannibalism of PTSD. And now we're back! Hitching our wagons once again to laconic Katniss Everdeen and her sweet-natured, just-for-the-camera boyfriend Peeta Mellark as they gear up for a second go at the Capitol's killing fields.
But hold your horses — there's a good hour and a half before we step back into the arena. However, the time spent with Katniss and Peeta before the announcement that they'll be competing again for the ceremonial Quarter Quell does not drag. In fact, it's got some of the film franchise's most interesting commentary about celebrity, reality television, and the media so far, well outweighing the merit of The Hunger Games' satire on the subject matter by having Katniss struggle with her responsibilities as Panem's idol. Does she abide by the command of status quo, delighting in the public's applause for her and keeping them complacently saturated with her smiles and curtsies? Or does Katniss hold three fingers high in opposition to the machine into which she has been thrown? It's a quarrel that the real Jennifer Lawrence would handle with a castigation of the media and a joke about sandwiches, or something... but her stakes are, admittedly, much lower. Harvey Weinstein isn't threatening to kill her secret boyfriend.
Through this chapter, Katniss also grapples with a more personal warfare: her devotion to Gale (despite her inability to commit to the idea of love) and her family, her complicated, moralistic affection for Peeta, her remorse over losing Rue, and her agonizing desire to flee the eye of the public and the Capitol. Oftentimes, Katniss' depression and guilty conscience transcends the bounds of sappy. Her soap opera scenes with a soot-covered Gale really push the limits, saved if only by the undeniable grace and charisma of star Lawrence at every step along the way of this film. So it's sappy, but never too sappy.
In fact, Catching Fire is a masterpiece of pushing limits as far as they'll extend before the point of diminishing returns. Director Francis Lawrence maintains an ambiance that lends to emotional investment but never imposes too much realism as to drip into territories of grit. All of Catching Fire lives in a dreamlike state, a stark contrast to Hunger Games' guttural, grimacing quality that robbed it of the life force Suzanne Collins pumped into her first novel.
Once we get to the thunderdome, our engines are effectively revved for the "fun part." Katniss, Peeta, and their array of allies and enemies traverse a nightmare course that seems perfectly suited for a videogame spin-off. At this point, we've spent just enough time with the secondary characters to grow a bit fond of them — deliberately obnoxious Finnick, jarringly provocative Johanna, offbeat geeks Beedee and Wiress — but not quite enough to dissolve the mystery surrounding any of them or their true intentions (which become more and more enigmatic as the film progresses). We only need adhere to Katniss and Peeta once tossed in the pit of doom that is the 75th Hunger Games arena, but finding real characters in the other tributes makes for a far more fun round of extreme manhunt.
But Catching Fire doesn't vie for anything particularly grand. It entertains and engages, having fun with and anchoring weight to its characters and circumstances, but stays within the expected confines of what a Hunger Games movie can be. It's a good one, but without shooting for succinctly interesting or surprising work with Katniss and her relationships or taking a stab at anything but the obvious in terms of sending up the militant tyrannical autocracy, it never even closes in on the possibility of being a great one.
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We know, we know. All the details of Lucasfilm’s sale to Disney, and the resulting news that new Star Wars movies will be produced, have been scrutinized with the fine tooth comb of Rebel Alliance battle strategists poring over Death Star schematics. What new intel could there possibly be to learn?
Well, an in-depth new feature in Bloomberg’s BusinessWeek magazine shows that, actually, there is still quite a lot to be gleaned about the mega-merger, what prompted George Lucas to hand over the reins to his multi-billion dollar company, and how exactly J.J. Abrams was convinced to make the jump to lightspeed. Here are seven things we learned from reporter Devin Leonard’s fascinating piece:
1. George Lucas May Really Be a Jedi MasterAt the May 2011 opening of the Star Wars: The Adventure Continues attraction at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Florida, Disney CEO Bob Iger and former Lucasfilm chairman Lucas engaged in a duel with plastic lightsabers. Iger quickly found himself outmatched. “[George] just has this way of carrying that light saber,” Iger recalls. “He was more adept at using it than me.”
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2. Lucasfilm’s Official Database of Star Wars Lore Is Called the "Holocron"Now diehard fans of the saga already know about the Holocron, a database named after a crystalline Jedi/Sith data storage device that keeps track of over 17,000 Star Wars character, over 2,000 planets, and some 30,000+ years of Galaxy Far, Far Away History. What they might not know, given the ubiquity in Star Wars fandom of Wookieepedia, is just how extensive Lucasfilm’s official Holocron is. Need to know exactly with whom Yoda visited during his 22 years of exile on Dagobah? The Holocron (curated by the affable Leland Chee, whose official title is “Keeper of the Holocron.”) can tell you!
RELATED: ‘Star Wars’ Authors Share How to Make the Best ‘Episode VII’
3. George Lucas says that Lucasfilm had been deep in talks with Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford, even well before the Disney deal was finalized“We had already signed Mark and Carrie and Harrison — or we were pretty much in final stages of negotiation,” Lucas said. “So I called them to say, ‘Look, this is what’s going on.’ Maybe I’m not supposed to say that. I think they want to announce that with some big whoop-de-do, but we were negotiating with them…I won’t say whether the negotiations were successful or not.” For a major casting announcement like that, Lucasfilm’s history is never to let any one media outlet announce it for them. They would insist upon announcing news that major directly through StarWars.com.
4. J.J. Abrams Did Not Lie When He Said in November 2012 He Wasn’t Involved With Episode VIIFans were happy when he officially signed on to the project in January, but there definitely was a little bit of bickering about why exactly he was so adamant just two months before that he would not be involved. Well, he wasn’t lying to us, if that makes you feel any better. Abrams did not want to helm Episode VII as he thought it would be too similar to his work on the Star Trek franchise. But Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy stopped by Bad Robot’s Santa Monica production headquarters for a two-hour meeting in late December, and that two-hour meeting caused him to change his mind.
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5. Disney’s Purchase of Lucasfilm was First Discussed at a Disney Theme ParkSpecifically, the Brown Derby restaurant at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in May 2011, when Lucas was on-hand to open Star Tours: The Adventures Continue. Disneyphiles can tell you that the Brown Derby is a faithful recreation of the original Hollywood landmark (immortalized in a classic I Love Lucy episode in which Lucy Ricardo stalks William Holden), the kind of place where lots of wheeling and dealing would happen. What better venue for an entertainment merger as significant as the Disney-Lucasfilm deal to take place than at its facsimile?
6. Steve Jobs Let Disney CEO Bob Iger Know How He Really Felt About Some of the Studios’ MoviesThe Apple co-founder was the largest shareholder on the Disney board of directors. Maybe that’s why he felt he could call Iger to say, “Hey, Bob, I saw the movie you just released last night, and it sucked.” (No specific titles were mentioned in the article, but we choose to believe he was referring to The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.) Despite that criticism, Iger says that his relationship with Jobs was “additive rather than the other way around.”
7. That Star Wars Live Action Series Could Still HappenThough he’s not quoted directly in the BusinessWeek article about this, Iger has apparently confirmed that discussions about the long-rumored live-action Star Wars TV series, tentatively titled Star Wars: Underworld, are still taking place.
You see, Padawan readers, much to learn there still is.
Follow Christian Blauvelt on Twitter @Ctblauvelt
[Photo Credit: Todd Anderson/AP Photo/Disney]
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