The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1

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The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1

Overview

Directed By
Official Synopsis
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.
Release Date
11/21/14
MPAA Rating
PG-13

The first part of the Hunger Games finale is here, and even though it isn’t as successful as the first two films in the franchise, it wets our appetite for the conclusion.

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The biggest by-product resulting from the decision to turn a novel into two films instead of one is that the audience won’t be getting any closure after viewing the first film. A “cliffhanger” ending is, ultimately, a frustrating ending once an audience gets caught up in the story and the characters. Mockingjay - Part 1, therefore has this stigma working against it right off the bat. Much like in the Harry Potter and Twilight franchises, or even the first two installments of the Hobbit trilogy, audiences stepping into theaters have to expect that there will be a let down at the end. This is a unique challenge to overcome for the film makers. They need to prove to audiences that it is worth their time and money to watch the film leading up to the finale, even if they’ll have to wait another year to find out what ultimately happens. While Mockingjay - Part 1 does its darndest to keep both fans who have and have not read the book happy, it can’t avoid being somewhat of a let down.

Part of the problem with the strategy to break up the final book into two films is that the previous films were each based on one novel. That means that those films had to streamline the storyline for the big screen. With two films over which to tell a story, the pace and urgency of the story notably slows down. The Harry Potter franchise handled this well due to the way it was able to convincingly portray the breakdown in relationships between the three main characters as a result of the pressures they were under. In The Hunger Games franchise, there is also one of these stereotypical love triangles, but unlike in Harry Potter, Mockingjay - Part 1 only had two previous films to build up those character relationships. As a result, when Mockingjay - Part 1 tries to build up tension towards the finale by playing off the relationships between these three main characters, it is not as effective. The audience is glad to cheer on Katniss when she is fighting for her life or rebelling against authority, but when she’s hiding out in an underground bunker only concerned about Peeta, her true love, the one sightedness of the YA-novel based sub-genre rears its ugly head.

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Entertainment Factor: The first two Hunger Games films had plenty of Battle Royale type action and suspense to keep us on the edge of our seats and ultimately brush aside the fact that we were watching an adaptation of a YA novel. Because Mockingjay - Part 1 can be more inclusive of what it decides to put in the film from the book, we get more YA love triangle and less edge of your seat action. As such, casual fans may become bored while the devoted fans of the book might be more appreciative. It’s always entertaining watching Jennifer Lawrence do her thing, but without the desperation that comes from fighting for her life, she is not as effective. Those moments where she becomes the Mockingjay, the martyr, the film has a voice and a clear direction. When she is figuring things out between those moments, watching the film becomes a waiting game. Okay (3.0/5)

Story: Unlike the previous two films which had a pretty clear direction that they were heading towards, Mockingjay - Part 1 is not as focused. Instead of leading up to an action-filled tense finale, this movie is more of a back-and-forth thriller. The story revolves around the use of propaganda to direct a war effort, which turns out to be interesting but not very entertaining.Without a lot of action to back it up it feels like it drags. Because the film can include more of the book, there are scenes that seem less important than others. As such, although the plot is pretty straightforward, the story snakes around aimlessly before finally getting somewhere interesting at the end. Okay (3.0/5)

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Acting: Jennifer Lawrence returns as Katniss, and although she is the same person, the fact that the film relies on the actions of other people besides her means that there is more time to explore the emotional state of the character. In those sequences, Lawrence is surprisingly less effective than we would expect. Liam Hemsworth is simply a monotonous presence more than a convincing foil to Katniss’ love of Peeta. Actors that played the characters that livened up the previous films are relegated to one or two important scenes, but Elizabeth Banks, Jeffrey Wright, Woody Harrelson, and Sam Claflin are good in those moments. Josh Hutcherson is mostly only seen in a few videos, and he does a good job with those. Julianne Moore is introduced as a new character, who is strong in her portrayal of leadership. The standout however, is Philip Seymour Hoffman. The film is dedicated to the late great actor, and although it’s not going to be a performance that defined his career, it’s a pretty damn good one. The subtleties in his performance give a depth to the character, and make us what to listen to what he has to say. Donald Sutherland is also good as the dastardly President Snow. Good (4.0/5)

Direction: Francis Lawrence, who directed Catching Fire, is back. He is successful in creating interesting environments for his characters to inhabit. Amidst the chaos of battle and destruction there is a focus among the mountains of concrete and rubble. The audience’s attention is never lost among the chaos. When the film moves underground, it never becomes stifling or static. Lawrence finds interesting places to put his camera, and provide new perspectives in an otherwise drab environment. He uses sweeping tracking shots of groups of security guards marching in unison and grouping people together to show the stifling control of the capital, and then contrasts this with quick close and distant shots of people running once all hell breaks loose to illustrate the rebellion. Overall, Lawrence’s direction is slick and technically proficient. Good (4.0/5)

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Production: While there are less action sequences in this film, it still feels like it is full of special effects. Some sequences are more realistic than others, but overall the special effects are successful at pushing the audience to the edge of their seats. To go along with Lawrence’s direction, the special effects are used to create somber, beautiful landscapes among the destruction, especially at night. The cinematography keeps the picture clean, but because of the majority of the picture taking place indoors, it isn’t as impactful as it was in the previous two films. Overall, Mockingjay - Part 1 feels every bit the big-budget film it is. While it is not quite able to overcome the problems associated with being an adaptation of half of a book, the quality of the production and the performances of the actors are enough to make it worth a watch, as long as you don’t mind waiting a year for the conclusion. Good (3.5/5)