REVIEW: Mockingjay – Part 1
Lionsgate had an opportunity to take advantage of the crass commercial stunt of splitting Mockingjay into two films and enrich the world and characters. Somehow, though, they squandered the opportunity and turned out a leaden adventure that did little more than spin its wheels as we are forced to wait for the final chapter. Given the content of Suzanne Collins’ final installment in her Hunger Games trilogy, this could have been a done-in-one, albeit lengthy, final film. However, it was decided to split it into two and here, we should have gotten to know everyone a little better.
After being available for online viewing, Mockingjay – Part 1 arrives on disc Tuesday in the standard combo pack, giving you Blu-ray, DVD, and a digital copy.
Katniss Everdeen’s journey from Tribute to Icon showed us a petulant, reluctant hero in the making and with Jennifer Lawrence wonderfully assaying the part, her growth should have been stronger on screen then the print version. She remains resistant and reluctant, finally willing to trade being used as a stalking horse in exchange for help freeing Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson and the other Tributes held by the Capitol. She clearly sucks at being anything than what she is as seen in the amusing public service ad filming scene but finally reveals her inner fire when District 8 is bombed.
The game being played against President Snow (Donald Sutherland, the second best bit of casting in the series) is a tricky one, especially considering his decades of advantage. His moves are cold and calculating, yet his clearly is over-confident and misfires when he bans the Mockingjay symbol from being displayed. As he tightens his grip on the districts, more and more rebellion is sparked. That he and Katniss exchange moves for as long as they have shows he has underestimated her. But not before outfoxing her on more than one occasion, including the brainwashing of Peeta, surreptitiously releasing him so he would become his secret weapon, which is more or less where this half ends.
The first set of missed opportunities are close to home. Mom and Prim have survived the devastation of District 12 and they are seen here and there and yet neither one is given much to say or do and their relationship with Katniss is at arm’s length, which goes against everything established in the first book. Then we have the introduction of President Coin (Julianne Moore). In the BTS material, she is said to have had a strong take on the character but it doesn’t come through on screen. Her growing relationship with Katniss would have been nice to see much as more could have been done with Plutarch (the dearly missed Philip Seymour Hoffman) and even Hamish (Woody Harrelson).
Instead, we go from District 13 to visit District 12, rescue a cat; visit District 8 and narrowly avoid being blown up, and back to District 13 as others try to free the Tributes. Katniss broods a lot and seems so obsessed with Peeta’s freedom she barely has time for Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth), whose love for her has forged him into a hero, not that you can really tell given how little he’s given to do.
The movie is incredibly faithful to the book but screenwriters Peter Craig and Danny Strong made one significant change: Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) has survived and has been brought to District 13 where she bonds with Katniss in a nice way. Given their skills, it’s sad that this was a brief highlight and so much of the film is a series of action set pieces and missed opportunities. Director Francis Lawrence did a far stronger job with Catching Fire and while he handles the scope and action nicely, the human touches feel thin. One hopes the final act redeems all concerned and ends the series on a high note.
The film’s transfer to High Definition is splendid with sharp colors and little lost to the shadows. The audio is just fine, too.
The Blu-ray comes with an assortment of special features built around the eight-part, two and a quarter hour “The Mockingjay Lives: The Making of Mockingjay – Part 1“: 8-part feature-length documentary which covers everything from the story to the special effects, costuming, and casting. The BTS footage demonstrates just how much fun they had shooting the film, which is good considering how dour the story is. What’s frustrating is that the director, producers, and cast all have strong ideas about the characters and story but so little of it made it on screen. There is also a commentary from Lawrence and Producer Nina Jacobson. “Straight From the Heart: A Tribute to Philip Seymour Hoffman” is a nice ten minute tribute specific to his involvement in the last three films in the set. Songs of Rebellion: Lorde on Curating the Soundtrack” features Lorde detailing all the choices she made in assembling the soundtrack album and we have her “Yellow Flicker Beat” music video. There are also a handful of deleted scenes, only one of which I think should have been restored to the film.
Overall, it was entertaining but disappointing but I will be there for the finale to see if they can trump the great wreck of a second half the novel itself was.