Sunday, 23 November 2014

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 (Review)


Now it's no shock to anyone who knows me that I'm a massive, ginormous, ridiculous fan of The Hunger Games books, and that the film adaptations so far have really impressed me. They are everything book-to-screen transformations should be and the writers really respect the source text, which these days is a rare thing indeed. I have all too often seen books I love bastardised on the big screen, and it doesn't feel good.

Perhaps my favourite thing about the third instalment is that we are taken out of the Games format and into the wider world of a real-life war zone. The main focus of both the first half of the novel and the first live action instalment of Mockingjay is Katniss's experience with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and director Francis Lawrence devotes pretty much his entire film to this. Many would present it superficially or glaze right over it, but this hits hard. Jennifer Lawrence does an amazing job portraying this and it wasn't long into the film before I had a sizeable lump in my throat. She has that effect on me as it is but hearing her sing the haunting Hanging Tree song from the novels just about did me in.

The cast was, as usual, a tad hit and miss, but some new faces helped refresh things. I wasn't sure about the introduction of Natalie Dormer as Capitol camerawoman Cressida, but she really impressed me in the end and ended up a more three-dimensional character than she is in the novel.

Julianne Moore seemed at first an odd choice for the part of President Coin - I had pictured her stockier, more steadfast - however her rousing delivery of many a speech to the people of District Thirteen and her attention to detail in the performance meant I warmed to her eventually. The late Seymour Phillip Hoffman also shone in his own understated way. He could say more with the raise of an eyebrow than many could in an entire scene.

Nods should also be given to the film's cinematography and musical score. Scenes are at once both horrifying and beautiful, with the characteristic use of claustrophobic shots and awe-inspiring landscapes neatly linking visual style to both The Hunger Games and Catching Fire respectively. As usual the soundtrack was beautiful, and I would also highly recommend checking out the songs Lorde put together to accompany this. The whole CD gives me chills.

Where this film fell down for me slightly was the sheer amount of added material. It felt like the writers were so set on the exact moment they wanted to split the Mockingjay narrative that they were left with a lot of time to fill. The extras they added and the stories they expanded on were, luckily, very well thought out and as I'm led to believe also involved author Suzanne Collins to ensure their authenticity and faithfulness to her universe. 

Parts of the story that we don't see through Katniss's eyes in the novel, such as the rescue of Peeta, Joanna and Annie from the Capitol, are played out well and conveyed that terrifying sense of suspense and anticipation we know all too well from the first two films. Scenes from President Snow's office and across the other rebelling districts are also added but are so carefully considered that I was less offended by their presence and more grateful. They brought a lot more depth to the story and took us away from Katniss's insular point of view to present the bigger picture.

My only real gripe with this instalment is something that I could also apply to the other two - if you haven't read the books you might have a couple of questions at the end. District Thirteen is brought onto the scene with very little explanation and I feel more time could have been given to explaining this as it's fairly important to the narrative. Some of the novels' terminology is also thrown in with little elaboration leaving some bewildered. This is the price paid for condensing hundreds and hundreds of pages into a film.

All in all the Hunger Games films continue to impress and while it was difficult to ignore that the added footage and 123 minute run time have turned the franchise into a bit of a cash cow, I can't bring myself not to love it.

***

Image credit: Lionsgate Films



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