“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1” Movie Review – Now on DVD and Blu-ray

“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1”

Here it is: the beginning of the end. The first part of the final installment to the “Hunger Games” series has arrived and, of course, people are lining up to see it. As you most likely already know, “Mockingjay” is the third entry in the book series, but is now being divided into two entries for the film adaptations and, from what I’ve heard, most people are just wondering why. After seeing “Mockingjay Part 1”, I realized that nothing much happens in this sequel. There is little action, little thrills, but a ton of exposition. I guess the studios got to make their money somehow, right?

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One of the things that I found so appealing about the last film of the series, “Catching Fire”, was its intense depiction and realization of the source material’s dark, complex themes. The first “Hunger Games” was more of a fan service or a film that aggressively attempted to keep it safe and appeal to the audience it was intended for; “Catching Fire” was a film that didn’t attempt to appeal to a certain audience, but one that attempted to be a compelling film and one that accurately assessed a situation that is, to say the least, quite disturbing. If you ask me, it was the change in directors. Director Francis Lawrence returns from raising this series out of conformity and does much of the same magic that he showed last year with “Catching Fire”. “Mockingjay” is an expertly directed piece, pieced together by a truly creative and well-rounded filmmaker. I don’t think I can quite call him an auteur just yet, but he has the capabilities of gaining that title.

Francis Lawrence (I will be using his full name throughout so not to confuse him with star Jennifer Lawrence) knows how to use subtlety to his advantage, which is something a lot of filmmakers, especially when it comes to blockbusters, can’t quite master. Take the final shot of “Catching Fire” for instance: (Warning: Spoiler Alert for “Catching Fire”) the end of the film shows Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) after she has been rescued by the resistance from the currently crumbling arena where she, just a few days prior, destroyed with an electrified arrow. She awakes and is told that District 12, her home where all her family and friends live, has been completely destroyed by the Capital while she was unconscious. The final shots of the film don’t have her hysterically yelling out her feelings to the audience, which it easily could have, but, instead, a moment of quiet clarity. There is a close up of Katniss’ face as her expression goes from devastation, to understanding, to a look of vengeful calmness. No words are needed; we understand how she feels just by the look on her face. Francis Lawrence understands that it’s the quiet moments that leave the biggest impact.

There are several instances within “Mockingjay” that also possess this characteristic, such as the very beginning of the film where Katniss is found frantically whispering her identity to herself after being awoken in the night by a nightmare, which we later find out is something she is tormented by on a nightly basis. The other outstanding use of this technique was, once again, the final shot, which I will not describe so not to spoil anything. What I will say is that it’s complex in its emotion and quite unnerving as well. It also initiates a pretty effective cliffhanger as well.

Far too often, these days, do blockbusters try and dumb themselves down. By doing this, they believe that they are appealing to a younger audience, but all they’re really doing is alienating themselves even further. What I’ve noticed from the Hunger Games films, excluding the first one which is, sadly, a direct example of this, is that it doesn’t dumb itself down because the screenwriters and director know that they don’t need to. I don’t know where some filmmakers ever got the idea that the younger half of the audience is incapable of understanding complex thought. It’s not true.

“Interstellar”, which came out just a few weeks ago, is another example of a film that never attempts to become softened by the need to explain what the actors are feeling or describe exactly what’s going on through unneeded and unnatural dialogue. Even within a film like that, which contains an infinite amount of complex dialogue and scientific banter, if you have a talented cast and a capable storyteller, there’s no need for any hand holding. “Mockingjay” was like “Interstellar”, but instead with its political themes. I was actually surprised by how politically astute and intelligent “Mockingjay” was, given that “Catching Fire” only scraped the surface of those ideas. The scenes of attempted propaganda were especially well thought out, with a deep description of the current sense of desperation and not without a bit of humor to go along with it. It develops a sense of intrigue that lasts all the way until the end credits; so I’m hoping it will be evident within the next, and final, film of the series.

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While “Mockingjay” does have its fair share of positive characteristics, it can’t help but feel like the prelude that it is. I have read a fair amount of reviews before writing this and have noticed that many people have stated this movie to be “unnecessary” or even “dull”. While I disagree that it’s dull, I too can’t help but believe that this film is a tad bit unnecessary and, in my opinion, unwanted. I would have much preferred to have one, stand alone “Mockingjay” film; it would have felt much more balanced. There really is no middle or end to “Mockingjay Part 1”; it’s all just beginning, but a compelling beginning nonetheless.

3 out of 5