I don’t care who you are, if you’re unaware of Suzanne Collins’ young adult series, The Hunger Games, and its impact on popular culture, you might want to move out of that one-room shack in the woods. Even my 75 year-old father has read (and enjoyed) the series. I’m a huge fan myself and even go so far as to wear a mockingjay pin on my coat. Which is why, this weekend, I couldn’t wait to go see the third installment of the movie series: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part I.
Mockingjay, Part I has a lot going for it. The biggest of which is its star, Jennifer Lawrence. J-Law is always a pleasure to watch, and the growth of Katniss Everdeen as played by her is part of the reason this movie franchise has been so massively successful, when other YA fiction-based movies have fizzled. But while the performances in Mockingjay, Part I are strong, I couldn’t help but come away from my viewing experience slightly disappointed. And this was actually what I was afraid would happen.
It’s the problem you run into when translating a novel onto the screen. A book is a contained story with an arc. Imagine, if when reading the book, Mockingjay, you stopped reading it in the middle and put it down for an entire year. If you’re a reader, that would be excruciating. You would never do something like that. So why do we stand for it at the cinema? Well, because we don’t have a choice. And the movie studios know that. And let’s face it, their primary reason for doing so is to squeeze as much money out of us as they can. But I’m not here to rail against that. In fact, I don’t even mind it so much. But what I do mind is … well, let me get back to that.
Some might say that certain stories lend themselves well to division (I tepidly disagree), and it might seem at first that Mockingjay would be one of those stories because there are two very definite parts to the story. The first half takes place primarily in District 13, while the second half mostly takes place in The Capitol. The problem from a movie standpoint, in my opinion, is that not that much actually happens in the first half. It mostly consists of story development, i.e. the transformation of Katniss into The Mockingjay, the symbol around which Panem will unite against the tyranny of
Emperor Palpatine President Snow. Is this compelling to watch? Yes, it is. Very much so. Is it important to the film? I think it is. So what’s the problem?
The problem is it’s incomplete. We are left at the end of Mockingjay, Part I with a huge cliffhanger. There is no resolution on any front (well, that’s not entirely true). I was forced to leave the theater with this aching void in my soul, worrying about Katniss, about Peeta (even though I know what ultimately will happen). The bigger problem is that I have to wait an entire year for the conclusion. I would have been much more okay with waiting if Part II had been slated for the Summer instead of next holiday season. Six months isn’t so long to wait. Back in the late 80s, Universal did this with Back to the Future, Parts II and III. And it worked very well. I wish they would have done that with this franchise. I wouldn’t have been stuck with this annoying sense of longing, mixed with disappointment.
A couple of thoughts about the inclusion of Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) as a member of District 13. I understand why they did this. It’s because they made Effie a much more important character (sort of) in the movies than she is in the books. In the books, Effie isn’t very likable. No one really cares that much for (or is meant to) when we learn of her fate in the book. But Banks, in the previous two films, played Effie in such a charming way, the Mockingjay book version of her wouldn’t be acceptable to fans of the movies. That’s my theory, anyway. The problem is it’s not very realistic, I don’t think. Effie loved her life in The Capitol (and that is still reflected in film). Why did she go with them to District 13? Was she “rescued” by Plutarch and the others? And if so, why? Why waste time on Effie and not Peeta or Joanna? Just a thought. (Actually, now that I think about it, the reason for Effie’s extraction from The Capitol is kind of inferred in the movie, and it does make kind of sense, but still …)
Oh, and if you were wondering if Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s untimely death affected the movie, it didn’t seem to. He’s still in quite a bit of it. I’m not aware of how many scenes were left unfinished and it may be more noticeable in the second part, but for this installment at least, it didn’t appear to be an issue. Also, the addition of Natalie Dormer to the cast was something I was really looking forward to. I will watch her in anything. ANYTHING! She’s always good, and I have to say that I really was interested in the whole mechanism of the production of propaganda in this movie. It’s one of the most subtly important aspects of the entire story, in my opinion, and it kind of relates to the The Hunger Game’s subtext of the ills of a consumerist culture
All in all, Mockingjay, Part I is enjoyable and well made. There was this one more little niggling detail that bothered me involving a group of saboteurs and a dam, but it boils down to one of those things that you just have to ignore (even though they chose to go for emotional impact rather than something that makes sense–i.e. poor planning). But I have confidence that the two movies together, Parts I & II, will make a pretty darn good movie. If I’d had enough self-control, I would have rather waited until next November and watched them back to back. But my own impatience is kind of a curse in that way.
One last thing I want to add. At the end of each credit sequence, there are these really neat graphical punctuation marks that symbolize Katniss’s transformation. At the end of The Hunger Games, the mockingjay symbol metamorphoses into the fiery “girl on fire” symbol. At the end of Catching Fire, it goes from the mockingjay to the girl on fire to the final mockingjay with wings spread wide (but still on fire). At the end of Mockingjay, Part I it changes from … well, you’ll just have to see it for yourself. I’m almost looking forward to seeing what they do at the end of Part II as much as the movie itself.