The following contains spoilers for The Hunger Games: Mockinjay – Part 1. You have been warned.
Well, we had a week off, but now we’re back with tons of energy and ready to talk about one of the year’s biggest releases in Mockingjay – Part 1. Erik, James and I took some time to talk about the structure of the series, where it’s going from here, the development of Katniss as a character, and more.
Tim: So the reaction so far to The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, the Third Movie (After the First Two) With One to Go seems to be very divided. Which was probably expected. But it’s where the divide and much of the conversation has fallen that’s been surprising to me. I praised this movie because I thought, for once, the half-book adaptation didn’t just feel like a placeholder for the real movie in Part 2. I thought it was a very fitting second act to the series. And that seems to be an incredibly minority opinion so far.
Erik: I didn’t think it was a placeholder. Then again, I’ve actually read the book, and knowing the film would be divided into two parts, it pretty much ended where I predicted it would. So, I was just happy I guessed correctly. It did also feel like a natural way to end the film. It resolved the main problem – getting Peeta and the others back – while setting up some new ones – Peeta being nuts, and Coin looking like she’s becoming YA Fidel Castro. It reminded me a bit of The Empire Strikes Back, in how that film ended on a cliffhanger but still felt satisfying.
James: I’m a bit conflicted here. I found myself restless throughout long stretches of the movie, kind of waiting for it to really begin, which by design it can’t really. On one regard, I understand the placeholder criticisms and somewhat agree, but I also admired some of the smaller details here that felt like they explored a bit of emotional reality to the situation. I admired that the film seemed to calm down and be in a more reflective mode. If anything, it was the reminders of “Part 2 is on the way” that distracted me. I was genuinely interested in Katniss actually having a moment to think about all of what has just happened.
Tim: I by no means thought this movie was perfect. I think it did a lot of things very well, but I’m curious what in particular you found distracting?
James: It may be more of a feeling than actual plot threads. Obviously, a war is on the way and everybody seemed aware of it, yet Part 1 can only showcase sparks. I was more into the character study here than anything else.
Tim: I think the character elements of this movie are why it works at all, but I think the sparks really came in Catching Fire. This seems like we’re actually into the war itself, which is part of why I thought the action did a lot to supplement the character development. Although I’ll readily concede it could have been done better in some spots. One such example is the firebombed road in District 12, the one with all the skeletons. Fine for Katniss to go there, but then they go back to a nearly identical shot with Gale and the camera crew later. Seems like that could have been refined. It’s been too long since I’ve read the book, but even if that’s in there, it seems like a spot where a break from fidelity would have been in order.
Erik: Ha, sparks, Fire. But seriously, the stuff with District 12 and Gale played out pretty much how it did in the book (I read it fairly recently). And I agree they could have changed things – like maybe leaving visiting the District for later. It’s one of the problems I sometimes have with adaptations: subservience to the source material. A failure to recognize something in the book as a problem and fixing it. At least they did leave out the page of Katniss explaining the significance of the “Hanging Tree” song. So credit where credit is due.
Tim: Did that “Hanging Tree” song trigger a direct flashback to Pippin in Return of the King for either of you? Sure did for me.
Erik: I didn’t think of that. But I liked the use of the song here a bit more. At least it seemed to serve a purpose – the rebels took it up as their war song – and wasn’t just scenes of a battle with someone’s singing over it. Speaking of the rebels, and fixing things from the source material, I was glad that we got to see some of the fighting in the film, whereas the book was (and the two prior books were) told completely from Katniss’s point of view – one of the book series’ biggest weaknesses.
James: It’s been a while since I’ve read the series, but I remember a fair amount of filler in them as well (especially in the final one), so the filmmakers probably did about as good of a job they could adapting, considering if a major thread had been omitted, they would’ve had to deal with the ire of their massive fan base. On that regard, Part 1 is probably as good as it could have been.
Tim: Yeah, angry fans are not to be trifled with (although it seems Lionsgate is still suffering a tad for splitting the book, at least in the early returns). Still, that circles back around to the structure of the series, which is one of the most interesting things for me. The first Hunger Games is almost a throwaway. There’s very little of lasting significance that happens that couldn’t have been covered pretty easily in Catching Fire. It’s an odd thing, because it makes Mockingjay need to cover so much ground in the plot arc for the series. And as you already mentioned, what I remember from the third book was that it was probably the weakest, with the most filler. So it’s so weird that the transition to a new medium flips that around to where Mockingjay contains more that’s essential to the series.
Erik: One of the most, let’s say, intriguing aspects of the series (books and films) is how it switches genres. Starting as a pure dystopian story, then transitioning into a war story by the end. The fact that the Hunger Games themselves barely come up in the last book – and when they do it feels obligatory – makes me wonder if the author lost interest in the premise as she was writing.
James: …or if she felt pressured to keep writing the series. It’s a little jarring that Mockingjay essentially re-starts the story. As of fan of the first two films (even though my memory is sketchy on both) and a somewhat fan of the third book, I found myself more and more interested in Katniss and her reflection– the best thing about Part 1, I think, is that it kind of dealt with her PTSD a little bit.
Tim: Here’s the paradox I found myself confronting: I loved the way Katniss’s predicament was handled – her PTSD, her desire to be left alone and safe instead of taking up the cause of District 13, the way her psychological terrors had active parallels – but I also think Jennifer Lawrence is actually one of the weaker part of this movie. I mean, she’s a good enough actress that she gets through it all without any major hiccups and is at times convincing, but she also seems to be acting when Katniss is supposed to be at her most raw and unassured.
James: I’m going to have to disagree with you there. Lawrence holds this film together, particularly in its wobblier moments, with a sense of grace under pressure that at times elevates the material well above where it has any right to be. I feel she’s done that incredibly well with the series as a whole so far and does again here. However, the strength of her performance limits the emotional and visceral impact of Gale and Peeta, mainly because Liam Hemsworth and Josh Hutcherson are so incredibly limp in comparison.
Erik: My two cents: I think Lawrence gave an incredibly average performance in all three films. But that’s because Katniss Everdeen is an incredibly average character. Don’t get me wrong, she’s much stronger and more human than another female protagonist in another popular young adult series that was adapted to film. (You know what I’m talking about.) And I’m glad that she’s the new female role model for young female readers. But nothing she, the character or the actress, ever did stayed with me – I had trouble even remembering what she looked like after I saw the first film. Again, don’t get me wrong, I think Jennifer Lawrence is a fantastic actress, but I didn’t realize that until I saw movies like Winter’s Bone and American Hustle. Frankly, I was shocked by the amount of praise and popularity she attained after the first movie.
Tim: Well, I think that’s mostly due to the popularity of the books. I think also some of what we might be reacting to is that the scenes where Katniss is leveraged most in this movie are also some of the weaker overall. For example, I believed her when she looked so overwhelmed in the hospital in District 8, with everyone suddenly looking to her for inspiration, but soon after comes that speech she gives after shooting down the plane, and I found that a little bit corny. Well intentioned, but corny. I think it’s telling that Katniss is largely an observer during the climax of the movie. Although again, I’m going to seesaw a little, because it’s in her character to try to take a back seat.
James: Katniss really has to be the observer (or the audience surrogate) here, just because another world is being introduced with an entirely different set of rules. That’s something else that’s different this go around – she’s not as in charge of the events as before. I liked the hospital sequence up until a point, but that speech (and its cornball factor) seem more a strike against the writing than anything else.
Erik: In a way, it’s appropriate that she’s so passive in the final movies/book, because that feeds into her being a pawn for the Capitol and District 13. It’s unfortunate that in order achieve such passivity her character development is, for the most part, halted after the second book/movie. As we’re going to see in the second movie (assuming they stick to the book – which they will lest angry fans burn Lionsgate to the ground) she never really takes on the Mockingjay role, or even adapts parts of the persona into her own. She’s the same Katniss at the beginning of the film for the rest of the story.
Tim: Ooh, I’m going to have to disagree with that for a couple reasons. First, I don’t think she stagnates here. Yes, she’s less directly active, but that’s because there are so many other powerful actors who step on the stage, people whom Katniss must interact with as opposed to merely being thrown into the arena with a bunch of tributes, where she must rely only on herself and her direct actions. The struggle for Katniss is to find a way to be left alone, which runs tangential to the government building goals of Alma Coin and others. So dealing with her psychological issues and finding a way to interact with Coin to achieve her personal goals is definitely character development, but in the context of a larger conflict. If she stops there in Part 2, then she stagnates, but I can’t imagine she won’t again become a more active player as she tries to overcome Peeta’s infirmity and seeks revenge against President Snow.
James: Yeah, I feel there’s quite a bit of character growth here. Those were the parts of Part 1 that were the strongest in my estimation.
Tim: And for the first time in the series, I’m looking forward to the next installment.