Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay -Part 1

*** out of ****

After the sabotage of the 75th Annual Hunger Games, our heroine, Ms. Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) has been taken in by the rebels of District 13. Katniss’ legacy of defiance has inspired revolt in the oppressed districts and the rebels know that her very involvement with their cause will be a symbol of strength, which will further their goal to overthrow the Capitol and its maniacal leader, President Snow (Donald Sutherland).

While a sophisticated, well-armed movement, ready to serve Katniss - for the first time in her tortured life - may sound like great news, there is a tragic downside to everything. Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), Katniss’ true love, has been taken by the Capitol, and forced into speaking in propaganda against the rebels. While the members of 13 regard him as a turncoat, Katniss knows that he’s doing this to stay alive and informs 13’s leader, President Coin (Julianne Moore) that she will not support their fight unless she agrees to rescue Peeta along with other captives from the games. As planning for this mission begins, Katniss realizes she is in a new kind of game: War.

To make a technical observation, it’s interesting that each part in this series has been shot differently, creating a different tone for each movie. The first two were shot on film, with the first one Super 35 and the second one; a combination of 35mm anamorphic and 70mm IMAX. This is the first entry to be shot digitally, which serves its bleak and dim atmosphere of underground bunkers and the ruins of war.

Like Catching Fire, there is a lot of meta-humor serving as an allegory for Lawrence’s celebrity. There is a remarkable scene in which Plutarch (the late Philip Seymour Hoffman) is directing a war propaganda video and Katniss turns out to be a terrible actress. We’re watching an Oscar-winning actress playing a character who can’t act. It’s pretty funny. When the propaganda videos are completed, they are remarkably similar to trailers for this franchise. That’s funny too.

Director Francis Lawrence, has the sensibilities of a good showman in his style and never strays from the emotional vulnerability of his characters. I still think that Gary Ross, the director of the first film, managed to convey more emotion in the storytelling –and did so at a swifter pace.

In between Catching Fire and this Mockingjay -Part 1, I think that there was a missed opportunity to emphasize the drama of a major story-point: The awe-inspiring revelation that the struggling masses have a powerful militarized ally in District 13, which was thought to be wiped from the earth decades ago. Their very existence is a very big deal in this series and I am surprised at how casually they’ve been introduced.

In spite of the stretched-out form the third entry has taken, there’s a lot of parts where I suspect that the screenwriters chose to skip over some essential exposition, knowing that a good chunk of people have read the books anyway. I’m pretty sure that in all the films, there hasn’t been one scene that explains the history of the Mockingjay bird and why it is so significant to Katniss and the rebels. Next movie?

Anyway, as the story moves along, Katniss goes on a couple campaign missions with a camera crew documenting her saintly efforts to help the survivors of rebellious districts bombed and left for dead by garrisons of the Capitol. The footage they gather inspires more uprisings and President Coin is ready to make a big move. Some very dramatic things happen, including a really cool rescue mission (that reminded me of the beginning of Escape From New York) followed by a disturbing twist and then… it ends.

I feel used, and I’m sure that a lot of Hunger Games fans feel the same way. We’re becoming familiar with the business trend of prolonging the experience in the sealing of a franchise. Oftentimes, there’s some excuse. In the Harry Potter series, the fans were treated to more of the gigantic book making it to the big screen when the last in that series was split in two. In the case of The Hunger Games Trilogy, the tactics are transparent. The third book is no thicker than the other two. I might even say that this entry should have been easier to condense into one film, than the first two.

Mockingjay is also the only entry in the trilogy that doesn’t involve the arena or the games. It’s called The Hunger Games Trilogy and now there will be just as many movies about a futuristic revolutionary war as there are about the Games. Did I enjoy this movie? Sure! It doesn’t mean that I admire the obvious greed inherent in the style of its release. As a casual fan, I feel like I deserved Part III in one movie. Instead, I've been treated like an addict, which dampens my enthusiasm.

I have to wait a year for closure in a movie series about sinister death games in the part of the story that doesn’t have any? %*@# you Lionsgate! And $%#* you keyboard! I’m trying to type here and you keep %^&ing up! Some day the fans of these moneymakers are going to stand up against this nonsense. We need a Mockingjay. I’d do it, but I suck at archery.

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