At the tail end of 2013, Iron Man 3 received one of the biggest bitch-slaps of the year, courtesy of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. The teen novel adaptation swooped in and eclipsed the Marvel superhero’s spot as the highest grossing movie of the year, at least in terms of domestic box office. While The Hunger Games: Catching Fire didn’t overcome the worldwide box office of Iron Man 3, it had its own victory by besting the first installment by more than $200m worldwide.
As the movie-going audience prepares for the first of two final sequels releasing later this year, they can stave off their hunger by checking out The Hunger Games: Catching Fire on DVD and Blu-ray. Included on the discs is a commentary with director Francis Lawrence and producer Nina Jacobson.
Lawrence had already been working on the final two films at the time of recording, so his insight goes beyond the production of this film and extends into the grand finale. Even if you’re not a huge fan of these films, you can take solace in the fact that the filmmakers behind them are striving for something better and deeper than the previous box office champs in terms of young adult fiction. (Yes, I’m talking about the thank-god-it’s-over Twilight films.)
Now, with that dig against Stephenie Meyer and all things sparkly out of the way, on to the commentary.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)
Commentators: Francis Lawrence (director) and Nina Jacobson (producer)
1. The opening scene was shot in New Jersey at the end of the production. The temperature was in the single digits, and both Francis Lawrence and Jennifer Lawrence were getting over the flu at the time.
2. Multiple scenes faced sound challenges due to location. The opening sequence had noise from the ice breaking up in the river, the scenes in District 11 were shot near train tracks in Atlanta, and the Tribute training sequences were shot in parking garages with bad sound. This resulted in a lot of ADR work and clever sound editing.
3. The most noticeable recasting in the film was that of Buttercup, the Everdeens’ cat. Fans were outraged by the cat in the first film because it did not look anything like the way the cat was described in the book.
4. The Peacekeeper soldiers in this film are more militarized, wearing bigger helmets and more armor, meant to show the build-up of rebellion in the Districts.
5. When the protestor is shot in District 11, in order to appease the MPAA and secure a PG-13 rating, the filmmakers had to digitally close the doors a bit quicker so as to not show the direct violence and blood.
6. Because the books are told from Katniss’ (Jennifer Lawrence) point of view, many of the scenes with President Snow (Donald Sutherland) were created for the movie. One significant addition to the movie was Snow’s granddaughter, who idolizes Katniss to the point of wearing her hair the same way.
7. When Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) gets down on one knee to propose to Katniss, Hutcherson’s pants ripped, causing a huge laugh on set. (That part was left out of the final cut.)
8. In the book, Plutarch (Philip Seymour Hoffman) flashes a pocket watch with a mockingjay on it at Katniss, and she spends time questioning his reasons, but when they shot the scene and edited into the movie, it came across as spoiling the surprise at the end without the internal monologue of Katniss to distract viewers.
9. Most of the scenes in District 12 were shot in Atlanta in the late summer. In order to play the setting as winter, fake snow was sprayed around, backgrounds were digitally altered, and leaves were pulled from nearby trees.
10. The whip prop used on Gale (Liam Hemsworth) in the square was made of felt so it would not hurt him. However, after multiple days of being whipped, Hemsworth started to get welts on his back anyway.
11. During the shooting of the scene in which Johanna (Jena Malone) strips in the elevator, a production assistant pressed the wrong floor button. The elevator stopped on the wrong floor and opened to a random guy from the hotel, who got a nice eyeful of topless Malone.
12. The image of Prim painted on the floor of the Tribute training center is the background screen on Nina Jacobson’s computer.
13. Woody Harrelson did a spit-take as a joke when Peeta claims Katniss is pregnant. It was sadly not included in the final cut.
14. The shot of the Tributes running from the cornucopia and into the jungle at the start of the Hunger Games was the first true IMAX scene in the film. Even though the opening scene was presented in large format with the IMAX aspect ratio, it was only shot in 35mm.
15. The production team tested the water temperature around the cornucopia and found it to be only about 40 degrees. Originally, they wanted Mags (Lynn Cohen) to swim in it, but the doctors on set said it would be too cold for her, and her blood pressure would likely skyrocket. They chose not to make her swim, but during an early take of her being carried by Finnick (Sam Claflin), she fell off his back and into the water anyway.
16. The baboons that attack the Tributes in the jungle are all identical, rather than having subtle differences that would occur in the wild. This plays into the fact that they were created specifically for the game.
17. When the Tributes are eating fish on the beach, they’re eating real raw fish. A sushi chef was brought onto set and prepared sushi-grade snapper. Even though she put soy sauce on hers, Jennifer Lawrence hated it.
18. When Plutarch leaves the monitor room in his last scene with President Snow, take note of the fact that he does not return downstairs to the control room. Instead, he walks out the door, presumably to meet up with Haymitch and find Katniss.
19. After Johanna knocks down Katniss and removes her tracker, Finnick runs by yelling, “Johanna?” When the scene was shot, he yelled, “Katniss?” This was changed in the final cut of the film in order to make his motivations more confusing.
Best in Commentary
- Lawrence: “Part of the fun for me doing this film was getting to expand the world and getting to see more of the world of Panem.”
- Lawrence: “Philip Seymour Hoffman just did an amazing job in this movie. We were so lucky to have him.”
- Jacobson: “It’s hard to take a guy seriously who’s running around acting like a monkey.”
On the whole, this was a decent commentary, but not a great one. It’s not recorded for the benefit of cinephiles who want deeper insights into the film. Instead, it’s a more mainstream commentary that features a lot of stories about what the actors were doing on the set and who succumbed to what ailment during production.
The commentators also spend a considerable amount of time explaining the movie, which is a trap that I’ve seen many people fall into. Rather than giving insight into the production, the settings, and other aspects of filming, the temptation is to describe the motivation of the actors to deliver a final product. The problem with this, in a general sense, is that unless you are an incredibly distant movie watcher, these explanations are already self-evident.
Still, there’s enough insight into the film to make it interesting. Also, on a positive note, Lawrence and Jacobson make a point to try to avoid spoilers for the next films, which is important for those who have not read the book (which, by the numbers, is a considerable size of the audience). While they manage to steer clear of big spoilers, they do dance very close to some. Still, they don’t give anything too important away that you can’t already figure out for yourself.
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