The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1
Directed by Francis Lawrence
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Jeffrey Wright, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Julianne Moore
by Michael Clawson of Terminal Volume
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1 is a movie-length webisode. An extended scene hidden on a secret DVD menu. A flatlining b-side. It shouldn’t exist unless otherwise attached to the real movie, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2, which doesn’t come out until this time next year, unless that’s carved up into smaller pieces.
Listen, there are clever ways to slice a pizza, but taking a single piece and cutting it in half does not mean you get two full slices. It means you have two halves, something any pizza-loving 10-year-old could yell at you about until you started to doubt your very existence. Given the chance, Hollywood studios would sell only slivers of movies, as long as fans keep coming back to gobble up each new piece. And with Mockingjay — Part 1, what they’re offering is a morsel of an appetizer, a warm-up to the main event, a pre-game special.
Not that what happens in this latest installment of the Hunger Games isn’t important — it is — it’s just, did we need two hours of it? Certainly 80 minutes of this movie could have been boiled down into a 5-minute music montage. Consider Rocky IV, a bad movie, but never a wasteful movie. It was about a boxer preparing for a fight and then actually in the ring for the fight. The famous musical montage, with Rocky juggling boulders, was not its own separate movie, because that’s preposterous. It was condensed and dovetailed into the middle of Rocky IV. It wasn’t Rocky IV — Part 1, or Rocky IVa or Rocky: Boulder Juggler. So yeah, I have a problem with this film even existing in this format. I enjoyed the first Hunger Games, and its much-improved sequel, and I have no reason to think that a combined third movie would be anything less than wonderful — assuming, of course, the third movie doesn’t follow the atrociousness of Suzanne Collin’s awful third book, a book that didn’t need to be broken up into two movies. Part 1 begins where Catching Fire ended: during a fight to the death in a dystopian terrordome, Katniss Everdeen is rescued by a rebel force bent on bringing down the fascist power that rules the lands. Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and several other loyal fighters are whisked away to District 13, a wasteland wiped off the map during a previous rebellion. Absent from the group is her trusty sidekick Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), who was captured by the lecherous forces of President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Once safe and sound in 13, Katniss is recruited to be the face of the rebellion as she stars in recruiting and propaganda videos meant to encourage an uprising. You can see what’s coming within the first notes of the film: an all-out rebellion. Spoiler alert, that doesn’t happen here, but stay tuned next year for the exciting conclusion! As momentum builds to that endgame, what transpires in Mockingjay — Part 1 is essentially a marketing and branding seminar. Rebels film Katniss in a studio, but it all looks too fake and rehearsed. “Film her fighting,” poor Philip Seymour Hoffman says as the wise diplomat. They film her at rebel hospital, shooting arrows at strafing gunships, and reacting to piles of charred corpses in her hometown of District 12. Every now and again she’s interrupted by President Snow, who taunts her with his cruelty and interviews with Peeta. We do meet a number of interesting new characters including a rebel leader President Coin (Julianne Moore) and an edgy propaganda director (Natalie Dormer). They all guide Katniss forward as she rallies the troops to their doom as they fight back against Snow’s forces. Say what you will about second and third Matrix movies, or the second and third Pirates of the Caribbean movies, or any of the three Hobbit movies, but those segmented films were never boring. Some of them annoyed me to no end, but they always held my attention, so even if they were blatant cash grabs they at least had things to look at and appreciate. I can’t say the same here as Mockingjay — Part 1 wanders through the wasteland. Here’s a rundown of scenes: Katniss has bad dream, Katniss goes to rebellion meeting, Katniss hunts outdoors, Katniss walks through District 12 (twice), Katniss watches Peeta video (three times) … this goes on and on. Some of these scenes are vital to Katniss’ emotional state — she clearly has PTSD and survivor’s guilt — but they could have easily been placed into the beginning of a three-hour trilogy-capping final movie. How and why the films were separated out will likely remain a mystery, although the poet, philosopher and Asian studies professor Method Man has some wisdom: “Cash rules everything around me.”
I will say this, Lawrence is the core of this series. She’s just so convincing, both as a frail victim of Snow’s malevolence and as the powerful victor of the Games’ violence. Without her the Hunger Games would be “that one young adult book after Twilight and before Maze Runner and Divergent.”
Was I overly harsh on The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1? Perhaps, but I’ll decide that for sure in November 2015, when the movie that opens this week finally ends.