Adaptations are now the norm of major Hollywood production. Very few truly original films are released to the public and that is true of this year. From Iron Man 3 to 12 Years a Slave to (of course) the Hobbit: the Desolation of Smaug: adaptations dominate the box office. Many of them, including the three I just mentioned, were positively received and earned Academy recognition for their efforts. Yet there is one missing from the list that many, including myself, feel has been overlooked. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire took in major dollars this year and earned its share of nominations, yet received no Oscar notice.
At first glance this appears improbable. One needs look no further than the casting to find an area worthy of Academy recognition. Jennifer Lawrence has already won an Oscar and received a nomination, this year, for her work in American Hustle. Granted, her performance in that movie is powerful, but in Catching Fire she is the soul of the movie. Suzanne Collins wrote her Hunger Games trilogy from the perspective of Katniss Everdeen. In the book, the reader was treated to a multitude of nuances and perceptions from Everdeen’s thoughts: everyone knew what she was thinking. Lawrence didn’t have that in the film. She made up for it in raw acting talent. The audience is able to feel all of Katniss’ emotional (as well as physical) struggles, thanks to the talents of Jennifer Lawrence.
Her work isn’t the only in the film to stand out. Unlike its predecessor, The Hunger Games, Catching Fire makes excellent use of its supporting cast. Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Stanley Tucci and Philip Seymour Hoffman all shine in their respective parts and easily could have merited Academy consideration. Best Supporting Actor is a tough category this year, filled with many (including Michael Fassbender and Bradley Cooper) strong performances competing. Catching Fire‘s omission from this category is understandable but still regrettable.
The real snub is the script. Audiences have already seen what a mediocre treatment of Collins’ writing looks like. They were treated to it in 2012 with the release of the Hunger Games. The result was a semi-entertaining film (thanks only to Jennifer Lawrence) that failed to deliver on any of the emotions or characters from the book. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is flawless by contrast. As someone who read the book, there was little I noticed that was missing from the adaptation. Whenever a book is adapted into the movie, scenes must be smartly written to avoid losing their substance and Catching Fire is a prime example of adaptation done right. There is no wasted scene in the movie: there isn’t time for one. The film’s only weakness, its cliffhanger ending, is still reflective of its source material.
A last category to look at for nomination would have been the visual department, specifically “Costume Design” and “Makeup and Hairstyling”. Catching Fire does not have any enormous computer-generated creations to gawk at yet the movie still delivers many images that are visually striking. Again, it is startling because the audience has seen it done wrong in the previous film. Katniss Everdeen really does look like the “girl on fire” this time around and all the districts are given more personality through their wardrobe choice. With some suspect films taking nominations in these categories this year, it is sad to see Catching Fire left out in the cold.
At the end of the day, the Academy Awards are just that: awards. They are only more glorified by the amount of press coverage they receive. In the past, the Academy has omitted many great films from its “prestigious” recognition, including recent works like Wall-E and the Dark Knight. Films do not need Oscar wins to be memorable and there is little doubt that Catching Fire will be remembered as anything less than what it is: a fantastic adaptation of a thrilling novel. It is just a shame that the film Academy forget to notice it.
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