Catching Fire stays true to the word

Hey Hollywood, this is how you adapt a novel for film.


For some reason, the movie industry has a hard time translating sci-fi/supernatural/speculative stories from the page to the screen. Exhibit A: Anne Rice‘s Interview With the Vampire and Queen of the Damned. Exhibit B: Anything by Stephen King (except maybe for Carrie).

They got it right with Catching Fire, the second novel in Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games series. (The official movie title is The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Too long.)

The books aren’t perfect, but they’re great. And the movie effectively conveys all that happens in the book at a quick pace.

First, a primer: The Hunger Games series is about 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen in a futuristic dystopic North America who is selected to compete in the annual Hunger Games, which pits 24 teens in a fight to the death (see the Japanese film Battle Royale). The 3 novels follow her battles against the oppressive government.

Katniss is my favorite type of hero: an every man/woman who is thrust into danger and is forced to rise to the occasion. She remains reluctant throughout the series, a central fact that Jennifer Lawrence has captured. In the books, Katniss develops PTSD (Collins stated in interviews that she wanted to write about the traumatic effects of war on children), and luckily the movie did not shy away from this topic.

As with the novel, the movie picks up right where the first novel/movie left off, and it churns through with a cliffhanger. Catching Fire has been compared to The Empire Strikes Back, and with good reason: it’s tough and sharp and has a tight narrative core. And it is often a downer.

But it works. It is a solid addition to the speculative film canon. The third book will be broken into two movies, which is good because there’s a whole lot of story to tell.

How much you want to bet we’ll be seeing spin-offs for years to come? After all, there have been 75 Hunger Games, and we’ve only seen two.

Doctor Who: clip turns canon on its head?

A new webisode promoting the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary special teases an altered take on the Doctor.

Doctor Who, the classic BBC TV show about a time traveling alien with the power to regenerate, is set to air its 50th anniversary special, The Day of the Doctor, Saturday, November 23. Now, a newly leaked webisode sheds light onto a darker side of an iconic sci-fi hero.

Paul McGann played the eighth doctor in a 1996 TV movie. The hope was it would launch a re-boot of the TV series. It didn’t, and the re-boot occurred nearly a decade later, with Christopher Eccleston taking over as the ninth Doctor. We never saw the transition between the doctors. We never saw McGann again. Until now.

Paul McGann – the Eighth Doctor


In the new webisode titled The Night of the Doctor, McGann makes a surprising return. In the space of 6:49 minutes, we get a burst of action, the Doctor’s wry take on eternal life (he calls it utter boredom), the hint that the Doctor could regenerate as a woman, and a huge clue that quite a lot happened between McGann’s Doctor and Eccleston’s.

Watch the clip here:

The clip packs a lot of plot in its short time frame, and it’s accessible for those who don’t know much about Doctor Who. Credit the writer, Steven Moffat for this feat.

As The Day of the Doctor approaches, we’re getting more info about the event. Click here to see stills from the show, including John Hurt as a mysterious incarnation of the Doctor, the return of Billie Piper as Rose Tyler, and the tenth and eleventh doctors, David Tennant and Matt Smith, side by side.

And click here for some cryptic words by Steven Moffat on how John Hurt’s character will–or won’t–fit in to canon.

I can’t wait.

Music and mood: Lorde cover conquers Catching Fire

Music, writing, movies/TV can have a synergistic effect, and when it works, it’s powerful stuff.

A couple of years ago, a friend recommended I read The Hunger Games. I resisted — after all, how would a YA novel about a 16-year-old girl hold my interest. I relented, and I’m glad I did, because the author, Suzanne Collins, crafted a character and story that transcended age, gender, and genre. I went on to read the other two books in the trilogy, Catching Fire and Mockingjay, both excellent, though not perfect.

The Hunger Games translated well to the big screen, and Jennifer Lawrence on the screen was everything that Katniss Everdeen was in the book. Catching Fire is getting positive early reviews, and I was looking forward to seeing it.

Then I heard a song from the Catching Fire soundtrack. It’s by Lorde, a cover of a Tears for Fears song from the 1980s called Everybody Wants to Rule the World (click to hear the original).

The lyrics, written over 20 years ago, could have been penned for the movie. Lorde’s voice is creepy and compelling. Just listening to the 2.31 minute song brought the story to life for me. Now I cannot wait to see the movie. Listen below:

I’ve written before about how music has influenced my writing of The Last Conquistador — how unexpected lyrics or melodies left a haunting impression that I wove into the story. The version of this song by Lorde does something similar, even if it wasn’t written for Catching Fire. It captures the desperation of Katniss Everdeen and the whole of Panem society.

Music, images, and words, when woven together, can be a potent combination.



Will Star Wars be Lost?

JJ Abrams promises a grittier, more mysterious take on Star Wars. He’s got the tools – can he utilize all of them?

So JJ Abrams, of Lost and Star Trek fame, is taking over the next set of Star Wars movies. What will that mean for the franchise?


Hey JJ…less of this


…and more of this


At the very least, it can’t get worse (right?). The first 3 films, episodes 4-6, were iconic (aside from the Ewoks). Episodes 1-3 (the second set), were forgettable. You had the annoying Jar Jar Binks, the ham-handed explanation of the Force (midi-chlorian – a word invented by George Lucas to totally f-up the mysticism surrounding the Force, as per Urban Dictionary), and the eternally mopey and never likable Anakin (AKA baby Darth Vader). George Lucas, it seemed, was trying to murder his franchise.

But nothing is truly dead if there’s money to be made.

Along comes JJ. He dazzled and frustrated us with six seasons of Lost, winner of several Emmys and endless Internet diatribes. He rejiggered Star Trek with a clever reboot. And his plans for Star Wars?

To quote from this report at The Verge, Abrams “says that he is set on returning the sense of mystery that so pervaded the original trilogy…. To pull that off, audiences can expect to see a dirtier aesthetic more akin to the frontiers of the Old West than the gleaming futurescapes of the prequels.”

Sounds like he’s on the right track.

In Lost, he gave us strong, complicated characters with rich stories. He also led us into plot labyrinths with no logical way out (time travel to the 1970s and an atom bomb that does–or does not–detonate??).

In Star Trek, he gave us stupendous effects and clever plotting, but his characterizations were flat. Captain Kirk, I’m looking at you. Then again, how could Chris Pine–or anyone–hope to fill William Shatner’s uniform? Only an actor like Shatner could pull off Captain Kirk’s cockiness without turning him into a supreme ass.

If he marries Lost‘s characterizations with Star Trek‘s crisp storytelling, then he might have a formula for success. He can do it. Will the studio allow him?

We’ll find out in 2015.

DON’T read this book: Under the Dome

The ending is throw-the-book-across-the-room horrible, and it’s why I won’t waste my time on the TV show.

There’s nothing worse in the world of fandom when one of your favorites screws up epically (see Star Wars: Jar Jar Binks). I’ve been a fan of Stephen King since I was 15, and his Dark Tower series, aside from when he stuck himself in the books as a character, remains one of my favorite series of books (I’ll write a more comprehensive blog post on the Dark Tower books – the good, the bad and the weird – later).

Now I realize that sci-fi/horror/speculative fiction is a landmine for plot missteps. You begin with a fantastical premise and must go from there. It’s easy to paint yourself into a corner plot-wise, and there are plenty of well-known controversial creative choices (see the final seasons of Lost and Battlestar Galactica for two).

But none are as horrendous or unforgivable as Stephen King’s ending to Under the Dome.

The plot: a dome suddenly covers a small Maine (duh – it’s King) town. Nothing can get in or out. Lord of the Flies style chaos ensues.

The ending reads like a rejected Twilight Zone script. Maybe I’d be more generous if there was a single likable character. It’s bad enough that the villains were mustache-twirling caricatures; the heroes were either cardboard or they were jerks. The TV show Lost had some plot convolutions that required hefty suspensions of logic, but at least the writers had you invested in the characters – even the villains were multifaceted. By the end of Under the Dome I would have voted to keep them all trapped and smothered.

So how exactly did it end? You really want to know? Okay.




It turns out the dome was set in place by a child alien on another planet. He was playing with the town as a human child would use a magnifying glass to torture ants. The alien parent calls, and the alien child lifts the dome. The End.

Eleven hundred words for that. Ugh.

King needed a good editor. He needed someone to say HELL NO, try again. All writers need at least one pair of non-starstruck eyes.

I’ve read that the TV show will deviate from the book. I’m not wasting my time.