Fire is catching, and if we burn, you burn with us.
I’m going to start off by saying that the films ‘The Hunger Games’ and ‘Catching Fire’ were two of my favourite book-to-film adaptations of all time, and I would even go as far as committing a bookish sin, and openly admitting that I prefer the ‘Hunger Games’ movies to the book series (I will be writing a comparison post to air my reasons as to why). Now that I’ve got that bombshell out of the way, we can turn our attentions to ‘Mockingjay Part 1’, the third instalment in the franchise, and the first of two adaptations making up the trilogy’s final book. I have made no secret of the fact that I think that ‘Mockingjay’ is an incredibly weak and disappointing book, and I am not a fan of the plot. I am not going to reference the book much in this particular post – that is for my comparison – but I want to make sure that you are aware of this fact when I am reviewing the film, as this is part of the reason I have the opinions that I do for ‘Mockingjay Part 1’. A point that should be acknowledged is the fact that I have now seen this film twice in cinemas. This never happens. In fact, I think I would be right in saying that ‘Mockingjay Part 1’ is the first film I have ever seen in cinemas twice. This is the major indicator that I adored the movie.
This film picks up close to where ‘Catching Fire’ left off; Katniss is now in District 13, and is not convinced about playing the role of the ‘Mockingjay’, a symbol of hope for the rebelling Districts. The tone gets a lot darker as Panem is faced with the start of a brutal conflict, where no-one, Capitol or Districts, is safe anymore, least of all Katniss. Separated from Peeta, she is thrown into action in an attempt to convince the reluctant Districts to join the uprising and turn on President Snow. In my opinion, less happens in this film than the first two, despite the fact that we get a lot of intense action scenes and explosions. A lot of the elements of the plot are consistent throughout – for example the travelling to districts, with Katniss or in split scenes, to see the impacts of the war across Panem – making what is actually fewer varying events than the previous films stretch out to just as long. I liked this, as it felt like something was always going on, but it was easy to follow events. If there were too many different plot points mixed up with the action, then I feel like I would’ve gotten lost, but the story is concise to the stage that everyone can understand it, whether they have read the book or not.
With the quality of the action scenes, it becomes very evident that the special effects budget has increased spectacularly since the relatively low-key first film. The scenes in District 8 and the dam especially contain a vast amount of CGI. In this instance, the CGI is very well-done. It blends in seamlessly with scenes in a way that even the incredibly unrealistic appears real (I suppose that what with the advancements in modern film, we have come to take decent CGI for granted, but I feel that it is still a key element worth applause). The sets also reflect well under the increased budget. Sometimes in movies with a lot of effort and money put into CGI, the actual sets suffer and begin to pale in comparison, but in the case of ‘Mockingjay Part 1’, there are some jaw-dropping sets that clearly fared just as well from an injection of cash as the effects did.
My favourite scene contained a decent amount of CGI, but also contained some fantastic direction, acting and music. It is a scene which contains elements which I do not care for in the book, but which the movie turns into a snippet of cinematic genius. This scene begins with Katniss singing the Hanging Tree song to the film crew, then merging into propo footage being shown in District 13, before finally seeing the people of District 5 destroying the hydroelectric dam to put out the power across Panem. I hated the concept of Hanging Tree song in the book, as I personally did not feel that it related particularly well to the scene in which it appears; it just feels like a way to get Katniss to reminisce about her father, rather than that moment being a time to draw a message from the lyrics. Merging Katniss singing the song with the rebels breaking the dam gave the song a message to me; it used a possible interpretation of the song – to follow people through death in order to end suffering – and applied it to a situation where I feel that it is relevant: the sacrifice of those forcing the bombs across the bridge in order to rebel for a more peaceful future. As a massive film music fan, I feel that now would be a good time to applaud James Newton Howard. I think that he has done a fantastic job for the scores of all three ‘Hunger Games’ movies, but the music for the Hanging Tree was superb; the slow build-up of the instrumental worked perfectly with the scene’s progression, and the actual melody is not too far from how I pictured the tune to go when I first read the song. I will definitely be looking for the score in either digital or CD form (although not the soundtrack – I think that Lorde was a terrible choice for the closing song, especially when compared to Arcade Fire and Coldplay for films one and two respectively).
Having just praised James Newton Howard for the score, now would be the perfect time to mention other aspects of the crew. Francis Lawrence’s direction is fantastic, as it was on ‘Catching Fire’, The design of the sets and costumes were similar to how I had envisioned everything and the script was perfect, containing many fan-favourite quotes whilst managing to spice up a slightly lacklustre book. The editing has improved tenfold since film one, and while there were a few awkward cutting errors in the first film, and the very occasional bad cut in the second, I couldn’t fault it this time around. Of course, the cast are just as worthy of merit as the crew. Jennifer Lawrence once again delivers a stellar performance, reminding us of why she is the biggest young actress to grace our screens in recent years. Josh Hutcherson’s scenes are powerful and emotive, and the supporting actors such as Philip Seymour Hoffman, Woody Harrelson, Jeffrey Wright and Elizabeth Banks all put in fantastic performances. Both my dad and myself did agree however that Liam Hemsworth was rather wooden at times, but overall it was a good effort. The casting of Julianne Moore as Coin and Natalie Dormer as Cressida proved to be fantastic, with both women fitting their roles down to a tee. Each and every actor made their character their own, and I could see all of the characters as actual people, with reasoning, motivation and development, things which I feel Suzanne Collins did very badly in the books. Also, the new characters such as Castor, Pollux and Boggs all developed identifiable personalities in the films, which I always thought was an issue in the books. For the first time, I can finally identify the roles of each of the many new characters introduced in ‘Mockingjay’; before the movie, they were a blur of irrelevant people who I never really remembered or cared about, but now I actually like the characters.
The film did make some changes from the book, which I welcomed. It made my day when I first discovered that Effie Trinket was to replace the role Fulvia took in the book, and would be in the film when she otherwise would not have been. As a believer that Fulvia was a complete waste of space, and that Effie should’ve taken a similar role in the first place, I felt that this change was only natural. Elizabeth Banks is a strong actress who knows her character well, and Effie is a character who has undergone so much more development in the films than she ever did in the books, so I welcomed seeing her struggle to adapt to the life of District 13 and accept the faults of the Capitol, something which I felt had so much more potential in the books than it ever fulfilled.
The film contained quite a few comic moments to lighten the darker mood. Effie’s judgement of Coin and comments about jumpsuits, Beetee’s quirks and Haymitch in the meeting scene stand out as moments that made me laugh out loud, while Jennifer Lawrence showed Katniss’s awkward side to perfection. I felt that this film needed more comedic elements than its predecessors, otherwise it would’ve been too heavy on the war and other less pleasant factors, and ultimately it delivered the right amount to keep the tone light yet not detract from the message.
I think that the film cut at the right point. If it had cut a couple of scenes earlier where most people believed that it would, I think that I would have felt like it had been done for the sole purpose of creating a cliffhanger, rather than letting the film reach its natural end. By extending it and having the final shot of Katniss watching Peeta struggle, I feel that we are left wanting more, as it is still a slight cliffhanger, but we also get a poignant end scene where the story reaches a natural pause.
So overall, I think that ‘Mockingjay Part 1’ makes the best of a rather poor book, and somehow manages to produce an excellent film with the perfect mix of action, character, humour and drama, making someone who despises the ‘Mockingjay’ book fall in love with the story that I originally hated, and also leaving me so excited for part 2 that I do not think that I can stand waiting another year. High praise all around.
Final note: Rest in Peace Philip Seymour Hoffman, a fantastic actor who left us too soon.