Genre: Science Fiction / Distopian
Watched: December 5, 2014
I enjoyed the first film and loved the first book, but I wasn’t even able to finish Catching Fire (the novel) when I tried reading it years ago. The political mumbo jumbo really bugged me. Sure, if you’re a fan of the council scenes in The Phantom Menace or of The Matrix sequel’s Zion, you might groove to this kind of nonsense, but as a student of history I just can’t see how the A to Z of our current America could lead to this peculiar and lopsided society. And particularly not to 75 years of it, mildly unchanging. Sure, oppression is a long standing historic pattern, one of the broadest we have, but this particular type doesn’t make total sense. Or maybe it’s a matter of the stark division. You could have a vast array of rural poor, but you’d need a complex layering of mid level “collaborators” living in the district in privileged situations who helped perpetuate the system. And I don’t see how the Hunger Games themselves really keeps anyone in line, more likely it would inflame the situation.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C_Tsj_wTJkQ]
In any case, let’s discuss Mockingjay Part 1. Fundamentally, it was watchable, but flat and incomplete. This film suffers badly from being the first half of a single novel. The first two books/films share a common structure: districts -> selection -> prep for the games -> second half in the arena. By filming just first half of the third novel, this film is stripped of critical resolution, and ends up pure setup (or more specifically, transition). Now a year and half from now, when someone sits down to watch all four films on bluray, this won’t matter much, but it has a bunch of dramatic negative affects on the experience of watching this particular episode.
Not a whole lot happens. They try to to make a big deal of the “rescue” at the end, but basically we have a lot of dull scenes in District 13’s drab looking bunkers and a bunch of grim visits to destroyed or partially destroyed districts. Oooh, ah.
The character balance is all whacked. Peeta is barely in the film, only briefly on camera. Katniss’ “handlers” (Haymitch and Effie) are minor. The awesome Cinna is gone and Stanely Tucci’s amusing Caesar toned way down. Gale has a bigger part but acts the part of frozen slab of meat. We have a couple stiff new folks like President No Personality (Julianne Moore) and Philip Seymour Hoffman phoning in a final performance. I have no wish to dump on this fine fine actor, particularly after his passing, but this is hardly an inspiring performance from a man who was usually brilliant and intense. I actually like crippled Harlem kingpin hacker Beetee (Boardwalk Empire viewers will get the joke), but he’s a function rolled into a role. I.e. being the guy who “breaks into the capitals tech” by tapping on a keyboard. Newcommer Boggs is also likable, but hardly saves the film. The camera crew is dull as crap (except the mute guy). Even Margaery Tyrell, despite being a fine actress and darn cute, can’t help the situation; although her half-hair is positively distracting. However, Ancient Jack Bauer (President Snow) is still delightfully wicked.
Those jumpsuits and minimal makeup looks aren’t flattering either, although I thought the latter moderately effective. Also I completely fail to understand how District 13 has become so techie and industrialized when cut off when the other districts are stuck in the 1920s.
I was also bothered by the heavy emphasis on “filming” and “propaganda” over actually war. Moral is an important thing in a big conflict, however, this just felt too forced. Maybe it ties into my own above mentioned dislike for the whole bogus political setup. Maybe it panders to our media loving culture. I dunno.
Not a fan of those “suicidal charge of the extras” scenes either. Sometimes those things happen, like the peaceful assault on the Dharasana Salt Works, but these scenes were cheesy as hell. Let it be said that I’m generally not big on crowd scenes in movies not involving principle actors. This “showing” current conditions scenes usually come off forced.
Jennifer Lawrence singing was kinda nice though.
Fundamentally, this film is The Hunger Games without the thing that made The Hunger Games good: i.e. The Hunger Games! In both previous films (and books) it was the arena part that was by far the best. Leadup is just leadup.