The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a terrific film, a significant part of one of the great young adult series to emerge since the Harry Potter phenomenon.
Potter’s 10-year, eight-movie franchise made it cool, and incredibly lucrative, to mine the depths of dystopian literature for the youth market. Catching Fire generated $864 million in worldwide box office in 2013, $171 million more than The Hunger Games did launching the series in 2012.
Overall, The Hunger Games is arguably the best of the young adult bunch so far. That includes Divergent, the first instalment in yet another series. Divergent opened this weekend with great expectations but lesser critical favour and box office prospects than the two Hunger Games movies so far.
Coincidentally, Catching Fire is now a terrific home entertainment treasure. Especially in the newly released two-disc combo pack that combines DVD, Blu-ray and digital copy. The exceptionally rich menu of extras encompasses a filmmakers’ feature length commentary and a major making-of documentary that runs two hours and 25 minutes. A trailer for Divergent is included.
But there is now a dark cloud hanging over Catching Fire, the second of four films being adapted from novelist Suzanne Collins’ trilogy. Philip Seymour Hoffman, who plays head games-keeper Plutarch Heavensbee in Catching Fire and is supposed to be featured in both Mockingjay instalments, died Feb. 2 of “an acute mixed drug intoxication,” with heroin among the abuses.
Hoffman had already completed filming his segments for Mockingjay — Part I, which is due in theatres Nov. 21. But he still had seven days on the schedule for Part II, which is set for release Nov. 20, 2015.
There are reports that the producers will have Hoffman digitally re-created for his final scenes. That is creepy enough. But the new documentary on the Catching Fire Blu-ray adds another layer of discomfort. All the interviews for the extras were concluded long before Hoffman’s tragedy. So there is no obvious recognition of his passing.
As a result, a bubbling Jennifer Lawrence is left singing his praises as “one of the greatest actors of our time,” while a haggard-looking Hoffman is onscreen returning the favour. “Working with Jennifer,” says Hoffman, “is kind of an all-day-long good time. She is a ball of energy.” No one is at fault. It is a matter of timing and production deadlines. But it does give Catching Fire a strange twist.
Beyond this, however, the Blu-ray for Catching Fire is everything that sophisticated fans of The Hunger Games series would want. The cast and crew — including Austrian-born director Francis Lawrence and actors Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Josh Hutcherson, Willow Shields, Elizabeth Banks and the marvellous 78-year-old veteran Donald Sutherland — are seen at work and play on set in Georgia and Hawaii.
“Gosh,” Sutherland says about reprising his role as the autocratic President Snow, “I was thrilled to see Jennifer. I can’t tell you how much I admire that child! She was fully grown as a performer, I think, the day after she was born. That is how it is. She is who she is. What I have seen is that skill, that beauty, has not been sullied in any way by the extraordinary success that she has and merits.”
Perhaps to underscore the legendary Canadian’s views, we repeatedly see Lawrence at work on the Catching Fire set. Between bouts of laughter with her co-stars — “We’re a very wild bunch!” says Hutcherson — she is in training, often with her bow and quiver of arrows. Even with “the big circus” of a film production for a hit series, the now 23-year-old actress is obviously focused ... and unsullied.