Reel Matt

This blog started as my movie marathon — watching a movie a day for a whole year — and has continued as a place for me to write reviews about movies, TV, and various other items.

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The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1

Film #492

THE PLOT

When Katniss destroys the games, she goes to District 13 after District 12 is destroyed. She meets President Coin who convinces her to be the symbol of rebellion, while trying to save Peeta from the Capitol.

Year 3, Film #42

THE GOOD: Coming out of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1, my resounding thought was, “This feels very similar to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1”, and now as I’m writing this a few days later, that thought remains. This is a very quiet and soft film where not much really happens; it’s a lot of build-up to what’s sure to be an action-packed Part 2. That isn’t to say nothing happens in Part 1, but it is clearly the calm before the storm. Much like the seventh Harry Potter though, I don’t think this is a bad thing at all. In fact, there’s a lot to like and it brings yet a whole new side to the world of Panem. 

When I saw The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, I remarked about how that film did a great job at giving more of the background and a richer context at how life went on over the 75 years the Hunger Games had been running. At that time I still hadn’t read any of the books (I’ve since read all three — enjoyable reads by the way). Mockingjay — Part 1 continues this trend and gives us a look at an even different part/aspect of Panem. 

It’s not different in the sense that a lot has changed since where we last left our heroes, it’s different in the sense that things are taken to a heightened extreme. In the first movie, the dystopia and dictatorial control of the Capitol was pretty much just an allusion; we got hints, but a lot wasn’t clearly laid out for us. In Catching Fire, we get more of that as Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) travel to all the Districts as a revolution is brewing. With Mockingjay — Part 1 the revolution is the main focus. 

But instead of the action you might associate with rebels and uprisings, you get the politics and propaganda-making that happens behind the scenes to try and unite the Districts against the Capitol. When you read that sentence you might start thinking it will be just as boring as the trade negotiations were in Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace. However, the result is anything but. Most of the “boring” parts — for example, trying to get Katniss to say her lines with more conviction in front of the cameras — actually give the film some drama. Before, The Hunger Games franchise was mostly just another big, but highly entertaining and well-done, blockbuster. With Mockingjay — Part 1, the scope and appeal of the film is broadened to an audience looking for more substance while still staying true to what made the previous films so great. 

THE BAD: Parts of the film did feel like filler though, parts that could have been done without and were only included (most likely) so they could split the film in two. I’m an avid supporter of adding extra source material into films and viewing extended cuts because, while not necessarily a good film adaptation, it is a more complete adaptation.

My negative reaction to Mockingjay — Part 1 in particular may be because I’ve actually read the books now and know the source material. However, I don’t believe that’s the case. One example in particular that stuck out to me, and highlights why the execution is problematic, is when Katniss and Gale (Liam Hemsworth) are allowed to venture to the surface of District 13 to go hunting. In the book, this is well explained and there’s context given. It’s one of the things Katniss negotiates for when agreeing to be the “Mockingjay” and she is closely monitored by the District 13 security force. 

In the film, this comes out of nowhere. One scene ends and we cut, quite abruptly, to Katniss laying in her bed and Gale enters saying they’re permitted to hunt now. They then proceed to hunt for a short amount of time and when they finish, this is not mentioned again. We do get to see some of the trauma Katniss has to deal with when faced with shooting an animal, but other than that, this scene could have been cut completely with no effect on the film.  

It’s one thing to include additional/extra scenes that pander to book audiences if they’re done well and actually mean something. With the Lord of the Rings films, and why I’m such a big fan of those extended editions, those small and seemingly unimportant moments still mean something. You get the context and how they fit into the larger picture. They give you a broader idea of the world these characters inhabit. With Mockingjay — Part 1 they add nothing. They’re completely throwaways that only serve to slow the film down and distract you from everything else that’s going on. To put this in other words, if you’re going to include moments from the books for sake of completeness, make sure you go all the way. Let someone who’s never read the books understand what’s going on; you shouldn’t have to have prior knowledge to justify and make sense of what’s happening. 

THE TAKEAWAY: Some might find Mockingjay — Part 1 to be filler; the movie you have to go see before Part 2 comes out with all the big action sequences and conflict resolutions. While this is clearly leading into something much bigger, and presumably better, Mockingjay — Part 1 does stand by itself as a great entry into the franchise. You get to see even more of Panem and its inhabitants than you’ve ever seen before. This films adds some substance and meaning that broadens The Hunger Game franchise past the mere realm of blockbuster and and into the realm of drama, all while maintaining what made it so great in he first place. 

THE RATING: 4 out of 5