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November 21, 2013

Hunger Games Crash Course: Catching Up for Catching Fire


That’s right, fellow tributes, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire hits theaters this weekend. The first film was released in March 2012, and if you’re like me and haven’t re-read the series since then, you probably need a refresher. No shame, even Jennifer Lawrence, in the midst of all her interview quirkiness, has been fuzzy on what’s in which movie and where we are now. To prep for the release, we’re reviewing what you need to know before you see it. Consider it part of your training. Don’t know what I mean? Then you definitely need to read.

In the ruins of what was once North America, a country named Panem exists. Following years of “war, terrible war,” Panem’s government was established and crushed any rebellion, establishing order at the cost of freedom. When the book begins, Panem is divided into 12 districts, each of which specializes in a certain area of production in support of The Capitol, the nation’s wealthy political center. (The Capitol is positioned near the Rocky Mountains, though they aren’t called that anymore.) The districts with the lowest numbers are the wealthiest, because they produce things like luxury goods and electronics. The higher numbers are farther away and poorer, with District 12, the home of our protagonist Katniss, being the poorest. District 12 deals with mining.

In order to remind the districts about the dangers of rebellion, Panem’s scary government holds an annual competition called The Hunger Games. In a yearly “Reaping,” two teenagers (one boy and one girl) are selected via raffle to compete. They are taken to the Capitol where they are paraded around and interviewed for the entertainment of its citizens. Then, the tributes enter training and are taken into a controlled arena where they battle in a televised fight to the death until one victor remains. Killing two birds with one stone, Panem keeps its Capitol citizens under control with mindless entertainment and the outlying districts living in fear.

In THE HUNGER GAMES, Katniss’s little sister Prim is drawn at the Reaping and Katniss volunteers to take her place, leaving behind her family and Gale, a boy with whom she’s been best friends all her life. The young man that goes with her is Peeta. Katniss earns the nickname “Girl on Fire” because of a beautiful, flaming dress designed for her by Cinna, the designer in her entourage. Despite her memorable getups, Katniss lacks Peeta’s charm and ability to win over viewers (crucial to survival because they can donate supplies to you while you’re in the arena), but Peeta makes her desirable by confessing his love for her in a pre-Games interview. Their mentor, a former District 12 victor of the Games named Haymitch, markets them as star crossed lovers to win audience support, much to Katniss’s dismay.

As the Games progress, however, Peetaand Katniss grow closer. Wanting to up the drama, the Game Makers change the rules and say that if the last two tributes remaining are from the same district, they can both be the victor. This happens, obviously, and Peeta and Katniss are left standing. Abruptly, the Game Makers revert to the original policy of one victor. Peeta and Katniss decide to commit suicide rather than bend to the Capitol’s will and try to kill each other. At the last moment, rather than allow this act of rebellion to occur, the Game Makers declare them both victors and pull them out of the arena. The film ends on the note that the President of Panem, President Snow, is deeply angered by Katniss’s defiance, and plans to destroy any thoughts of rebellion she may have sparked with her performance.

CATCHING FIRE picks up after THE HUNGER GAMES, when Katniss and Peeta are sent around to each district on a traditional victory tour. After, they return to District 12, and are eligible to live in the District’s Victor Village, which is empty except for Haymitch because tributes from poorer Districts hardly ever win. Scarred by their experiences in the Games, Katniss and Peeta find returning to normalcy difficult, and as a result grow closer. At the same time, being home also puts Gale back in Katniss’s mind. In the second book, he develops into a romantic interest, which is bad because the world needs to believe that she and Peeta are soulmates.

In the meantime, there have been whispers of rebellion in Panem ever since the last Hunger Games. Most of the districts are poor and growing restless as the Capitol reasserts its control. They’re also probably pretty tired of sending their kids off to slaughter every year. President Snow blames this nascent uprising on Katniss, who along with Peeta, made herself a sympathetic figure and encouraged distrust of the Capitol with her attitude. To keep things under control, Snow has sent “Peacekeepers” to prowl the streets of every district --- especially 12. Tensions are high. In a scene that drags Gale into the whole conflict, he tangles with a Peacekeeper and winds up whipped in the town square.

President Snow has a solution to all of this. This year’s Hunger Games are the 75th, meaning that they are a Quarter Quell, special versions of the Games held every 25 years. Quarter Quells always have a distinct rule that makes them more exciting; for example, one in the past had double the number of tributes. This one’s twist is just dandy for our heroes: Every tribute will be a previous victor. How fun! And with that, Katniss and Peeta are off to the Captiol again, and you’re ready to see what happens. Enjoy, and may the odds be ever in your favor.