Why make one movie when you can whack a book in half, and make two?
“Twilight” and “Harry Potter” whacked their last books into two movies, and “The Hobbit” got whacked three times. More money! There’s nothing wrong with it, really—you can pack in more detail. Good storytelling is good storytelling.
“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1” is the first movie of the last book of the hugely popular Suzanne Collins’ trilogy. Problem is, “Part 1” is not particularly good storytelling.
Here’s the main thing: there’s no more actual Hunger Games. The games are gone. No more outdoors-y, stalking through booby-trapped woods, computerized-weather, and “Tracker Jacker” fun stuff.
This is a dark, somewhat claustrophobic, indoors grimy-bunker, and bombed-rubble flick. So the title will be misleading for the non-aware, non-Games fan.
It’s now a revolution movie. It’s about the 99-percenters out in the Districts, in revolt, trying to take down the Capitol and that dastardly snake, President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Which is not a bad objective. His arch manner and arched eyebrows are so annoying. He’s got to go.
So the whole movie is about trying to make Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) into the face of the rebellion, using much “Wag the Dog” type propaganda via hair, make-up, and costumes, compliments of the cartoonish, effete Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), and propaganda films, via former Capitol game-maker Plutarch (the late Philip Seymour Hoffman), who’s now defected. The revolution is spearheaded by grey-haired president Alma Coin (Julianne Moore).
This whole new state of affairs is initially baffling to the recently concussed Katniss, who wakes up out of the last movie’s situation, where she’d destroyed the “Quarter Quell” games. She wants to know what the heck is going on.
Well, for one, her heartthrob and fellow Games-survivor Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) looks to have been nabbed by the Capitol and brainwashed, and is giving interviews to that other snake, the blue-streak talking, purple-haired former Games-host Caesar (Stanley Tucci). Peeta’s broadcasts have him snivelling about avoiding civil war and championing ceasefires.
Katniss smells a rat, so they take to her “hometown” of District 12 for a look-see. It’s like Pompeii; much dust, skulls, and ribcages. Only her little sister’s orange cat is still skulking about.
Propaganda Stage Props
The hair, make-up, hot costume, along with yellow-tipped incendiary and red-tipped explosive arrows go a long way towards creating a powerful visual heroine for the masses; problem is, Plutarch’s propaganda film-lets require acting, and Katniss can’t. Oscar-winner actress Jennifer Lawrence however, does a good job acting a non-actress trying to act.
So we get a lot of this—Katniss being the symbolic, heroic “Mockingjay,” and filming propaganda videos. But clearly the actual rebellion isn’t going to happen until “Mockingjay Part 2.”
So that’s a little bit boring. Film sets are inherently boring places: “Quiet on set… cameras…background action… and… action!” Three-minute scene. “Cut!” Four-hour lighting change. Not that you see all that. But you get the same sense of ennui watching the film as watching a film being filmed.
The action bits (mostly having to do with those massive heli-gunships they also use in “Terminator” and “Avatar”) do offer a tiny break from the strategy meetings, political rallies, and techno-talk.
The last 10 minutes, borrowing heavily from “Fatal Attraction” and jumping slightly into horror-film mode, make you wish they’d achieved that level of focus and riveting storytelling from the beginning. They need to start at, and maintain that level in “Part 2.”
All in all, the tone is somewhat sad and downcast for a rebellion movie. Considering the Hunger Games’ largely teen demographic, a somber political drama would seem guaranteed to adversely affect the holy Hollywood bottom line.
The Hunger Games’s best thing was the games. The smart bottom line move would be having “Part 2” bring teens back the Hunger Games they’ll be hungering for.
Sure, that’s all about teenagers trying to kill each other for the entertainment of oligarchs. And the entertainment of us, the audience. Which is a scary subject matter for a different, social commentary piece. But the games are no longer in the book. Too bad this whole Mockingjay business is by the book. Well… more like half the book.
‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1’
Director: Francis Lawrence
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland
Running time: 2 hour, 3 minutes
Release date: Nov. 21
3 stars out of 5