The Hunger Games: Catching Fire: Word is Catching Fire, which finds journeyman Francis Lawrence subbing in for franchise originator Gary Ross behind the camera for a second round of The Hunger Games, improves on the solid, unspectacular original. It doesn’t sound quite like Hunger Games got Azkaban‘d, but Lawrence does have decent effects-movie chops (he made I Am Legend and Constantine), and can probably concentrate on adding style and tension to the proceedings as others have worked out the screenplay. Those others include English bloke Simon Beaufoy and “Michael deBruyn,” which I just learned is a pseudonym Michael Arndt uses when he takes rewriting assignments (deBruyn’s other credit is Oblivion). I had no idea this was allowed. It seems like a handy system for sussing out when a screenwriter works as a hired gun, but also of little interest to anyone beyond hardcore Michael Arndt fans who don’t want the purity of Little Miss Sunshine corrupted by kids killin’ kids.
But seriously, Catching Fire will almost certainly be a better movie than Little Miss Sunshine, because no matter how much Katniss and Peeta have to work it for the Capitol fashion show, they won’t solve all of their problems with a big family dance-off. Thinking it over, Catching Fire is probably the weakest of the three books; most fans would probably go with Mockingjay but I admire the way that one represents a serious departure from the first two, while Fire is an odd mix of progression and regression—at least on the page. But on screen, there’s an expectation that these sci-fi/fantasy sagas will follow the Empire Strikes Back/Dark Knight route of the second one being bigger, darker, and richer. Plus, the movie of Mockingjay will be stupidly crippled by the now-required cleaving of the final book into two movies (even though the book, in this case, is not particularly lengthy or more action-packed than its predecessors. Why not just make a movie out of every chapter, while we’re making bad adaptation decisions in the name of fan service?). I don’t want to sound pessimistic, but it’s very likely Catching Fire will be as good as this series gets.
Catching Fire also has scenes shot with actual IMAX cameras, which I’d think would be a bigger deal than it has been. If you see it at the 68th Street IMAX in Manhattan—the only true IMAX screen in the city that shows fiction films—it will likely be the last great presentation on that screen until Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar comes out in a year. The 68th Street, being an original IMAX screen and not a digital imitator, has the dimension and equipment to show movies shot with IMAX cameras: recall the stunning IMAX work in movies like The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises, Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol, and Star Trek Into Darkness. But the theater recently added digital-IMAX equipment to show a greater variety of movies, as few large-format features are provided on quasi-70mm film prints anymore. 68th Street has shown plenty of movies not shot with IMAX cameras in the past, often to great effect: some movies, like Skyfall and Prometheus, opened up their mattes to take up a generous portion of the screen at this fantastic theater. Others, like Pacific Rim, Dark Shadows and Contagion, had a square enough aspect ratio to fill a large chunk of the screen; and even movies shot in 2.35 have looked terrific. You’d think digital IMAX equipment would mean more of those movies filling in the gaps between the occasional partially-IMAX-shot feature. But there’s a terrible catch: digital IMAX isn’t actually detailed enough to be blown up to the full width of this screen. So while the full height is usually out of the question anyway, digital IMAX movies shown at the 68th Street auditorium, which is to say most movies shown there from now on, will actually be windowboxed: cropped on all four sides, taking up maybe half of the full screen. This is how I saw Gravity there last month, and while it looked great, it also wasn’t anywhere near the size or immersive scope of past IMAX presentations. The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug is reportedly going to offer film prints, so it may not be windowboxed at 68th Street, though I wonder if Warner Brothers (in the past, a great champion of the format; to reiterate, they released a Steven Soderbergh movie in IMAX!) will deem the production of these prints worthwhile. Digital IMAX technology should catch up with the ability to fill the full width of their biggest screens in a year and change, but it’s still a bummer that using new, exciting technology actually means, as it sometimes does, waiting for new, exciting technology to actually work as well as what it’s replacing.