The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 had a lot of potential especially comig after the well received, and all around well made, Catching Fire. What we got instead is what felt like the middle installment of a trilogy that had a thin story and characters who really didn’t develop that much (though at least Lawrence’s Katniss does make a bit of progress) and is merely there to bridge one movie to another. This is a case where splitting two movies was a mistake and I think it would’ve made for a solid final entry.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1
Genre(s): Science Fiction, Drama, Action
Lionsgate | PG13 – 122 min. – $39.99 | March 6, 2015
THE MOVIE – 2.5/5
After The Hunger Games: Catching Fire earned so much good will for being such a good, well paced action-adventure, its follow-up, Mockingjay – Part 1 nearly throws it out for the sake of the all holy dollar, splitting up a story that needn’t be split up. What we get in this first part is a plot that really feels more like filler and no movement in terms of characters at least until the end and the quasi-cliffhanger ending.
Our story opens not too long after Catching Fire. Katniss Everdeen (JENNIFER LAWRENCE) is more or less settled in District 13, a more organized version of Zion from The Matrix Reloaded/Revolutions if you will, where rebel fighters are gathered to form a resistance against the tyrannical Coriolanus Snow (DONALD SUTHERLAND), President of Panem and its 12 districts. The rebellion force are gaining power as resistance is taking hold in many of the districts and leader of District 13, Alma Coin (JULIANNE MOORE), with the help of former Head Gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee (PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN), employ Katniss as their face of the resistance and the symbol of the Mockingjay.
Katniss though is hesitant to take the responsibility especially with Peeta Mellark (JOSH HUTCHERSON) in the hands of Snow at the Capitol more than likely enduring all sorts of torture. But helping to keep her sanity, Katniss is joined at District 13 by her sister (WILLOW SHIELDS), mother, mentor Haymitch Abernathy (WOODY HARRELSON) and her once true love Gale Hawthorne (LIAM HEMSWORTH) which has gone cold with her feelings toward Peeta, especially with his captivity, has grown.
The war between the revolutionaries and the Capitol is getting fierce each side producing their own propaganda, with the rebels trying to give rise to others to join their cause while Snow and his minions, akin to Nazis, attempt to suppress any thoughts of rebellion with fear visa vi violence and outright murder toward anyone who shows allegiance to the rebels, down to the Mockingjay call.
It’s not only a physical warfare waging between the revolutionaries and Capitol but a psychological one as well with Katniss taking the brunt of the abuse as she must witness Peeta being used as the Capitol’s own propaganda tool in the hopes of squashing the uprisings sprung throughout the various districts, much to the displeasure of those within District 13 believing him to be a traitor, though Katniss uses her new-founded strength to have President Coin grant him, and the other Tributes in custody of Capitol forces, full immunity upon their rescue.
Let me say, and this unusual, but in spite of my very average score, I actually didn’t hate Mockingjay Part 1 and found a few things, on a technical front, to admire. The visual effects aren’t bad and the production design, as limited and kind of clichéd as it might’ve been, showed some good set design work.
The acting also isn’t half-bad with Jennifer Lawrence leading the charge while the others are adequate, including Philip Seymour Hoffman, though he has a couple good moments such as when he’s directing Katniss for the rebels’ propaganda video; Woody Harrelson, as limited as he’s used (coming in maybe halfway through I’d guess) shares a couple scenes with Lawrence as his character tries to calm Katniss down. Liam Hemsworth is, well yet again, the lesser Hemsworth showing he has the classic Hollywood look but doesn’t get a chance to do much except look like a forlorn puppy.
Returning from the highly acclaimed, from audiences and critics both, Catching Fire, Francis Lawrence provides the franchise some continuity after taking directing duties from Gary Ross, who likes many other directors of these YA films, stepped away (this was nearly outlined in a recent Entertainment Weekly article). So with Lawrence you get similarly visuals and finish out the four-picture trilogy.
And speaking of which, that leads me to my biggest complaint about Mockingjay Part 1: it’s the fact that it was split into two movies but shows no reason why. Much the same way Peter Jackson did with his Hobbit movies (should’ve been 2 instead of 3), we get seemingly unnecessary filler, almost like an episode of a serialized drama where the main plot line gives way to talky scenes because of budget constraints. Here, nothing really happens until maybe the “third act” (such as it is) and even then it’s kind of a letdown, though I’ll give it credit, not quite as the cheesy, TV-esque Matrix Reloaded cliffhanger.
When it comes down to it, this is a downright dull movie which is a shame as there are some good, even powerful, moments (like Jennifer Lawrence’s haunting song at the shoreline) but for all the good, there are so many dull spots that overshadow everything else and compared with the wonderfully suspense-filled Catching Fire, doesn’t hold a candle. Perhaps once the second part is released, and hopefully Lionsgate somehow combines the two, it might make for a decent two-parter but as it stands it’s just not enough; it falls into similarly pratfalls of the middle part of a trilogy.
SPECIAL FEATURES – 5.0/5
This release comes with semi-glossy slip cover. Inside contains a standard DVD Copy as well as a Digital Copy redemption code.
Audio Commentary features Director Francis Lawrence and Producer Nina Jacobson. Both participants are straight-to-the-point providing details on this adaptation, working with certain actors and just giving general tidbits on the making of the film.
The Mockingjay Lives: The Making of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 (2:14:19; HD) is an expansive 8-part documentary providing behind-the-scenes footage with interviews by members of the cast and crew talking about the plot and characters surrounding the movie. If only all of these blockbuster films received this kind of treatment. Only other one I can think of are the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit releases (Extended Editions). ** Blu-ray Exclusive **
Straight from the Heart: A Tribute to Philip Seymour Hoffman (11:03; HD) is a feature where his fellow cast mates and crew recall their time working with the late actor (Mockingjay Part 2 will be his final film). ** Blu-ray Exclusive **
Songs of the Rebellion: Lorde on Curating the Soundtrack (8:10; HD) – This short featurette has an interview with the young singer/songwriter and her responsibilities on putting together the soundtrack. ** Blu-ray Exclusive **
Deleted Scenes (11:18; HD) – There are nine scenes provided that range from walk and talks to just quieter, more reflective moments. Nothing phenomenal nor would change the quality of the film but nice at least to see them.
Music Video (4:05; HD) – “Yellow Flicker Bear” by Lorde ** Blu-ray Exclusive **
Last up is a sneak peek (4:11; HD) to another Lionsgate YA adaptation, Divergent Series: Insurgent.
VIDEO – 4.5/5
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 slings onto Blu-ray presented in its original 2.40 widescreen aspect ratio and a 1080p high-definition transfer. The details of this transfer looks sharp, colors are well balanced and there weren’t any apparent signs of artifacts, aliasing or other flaws. Not sure if I’d categorize this as reference material, see next section for that, but it’s a fine looking video especially for one that seemingly takes place in darkness (and even daylight scenes are dark in tone anyway).
AUDIO – 5.0/5
This is the latest film to receive the new Dolby TrueHD Atmos track which, for those without the proper receiver, will decode to a still expansive 7.1 channels. The lossless track in a word sounds amazing. Dialogue, as well as the soundtrack, are crisp and clear throughout but where it comes alive is for those (few) action-oriented sequences with excellent depth and nice balance between each channel giving home theater owners an incredible aural experience. It’s an amazing track worthy of showing off to friends and family, though I wish there were more action scenes…
OVERALL – 4.0/5
Overall, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 had a lot of potential especially comig after the well received, and all around well made, Catching Fire. What we got instead is what felt like the middle installment of a trilogy that had a thin story and characters who really didn’t develop that much (though at least Lawrence’s Katniss does make a bit of progress) and is merely there to bridge one movie to another. This is a case where splitting two movies was a mistake and I think it would’ve made for a solid final entry. Sure, it would’ve been close to three hours but if Transformers: Age of Extinction could get away with it, so could Hunger Games and its far superior story (by comparison anyway).
The Blu-ray released by Lionsgate, however, is utterly fantastic and nearly perfect. Starting with the video and audio transfers which were both excellent, the number of bonus material was amazing from a decent audio commentary to a making-of documentary that was 10-minutes longer than the feature itself.
Brian Oliver, The Movieman
Check out some more screen caps by going to page 2. Please note, these do contain spoilers.