Saturday, November 29, 2014

Mockingjay - Part 1 (2014)

Or, "Moves and Counter-Moves"

The first part of Mockingjay picks up where Catching Fire left off, and concerns itself with the introduction of District 13, the hidden district occupied by the rebels plotting against the Empire - er, Capitol - and with their efforts to use an emotionally devastated Katniss as the focus of a series of propaganda spots ("propos") to stir up the unrest taking hold all over Panem. I've read a lot of criticism of the filmmakers' decision to turn the last book of The Hunger Games trilogy into a two-parter movie deal, and believe me, I would have been the first person to criticize it if it weren't done for good reason. But I think it worked out perfectly well.

As a reader of the books, I had a pretty good idea of what to expect in the first half of Mockingjay - no more Hunger Games, lots of buildup, and probably not getting to the war on the Capitol just yet. Perhaps if I hadn't read the books I might have been more disappointed in the lack of "action", but as it was, I was very excited to see the parts that were depicted in this half of the story, and I thought it was very tense and emotional and set the stage very well for the ultimate conclusion to the story. I also felt like they picked a fine place to put the split.

Some of the overarching themes involve the rebels' use of Katniss almost as a tool for their propaganda, and the uncomfortable parallel of putting her in danger to enhance the emotional appeal of their propos, and the Hunger Games, which pits kids against each other for the Capitol's entertainment. Also, the tenuous connection between Katniss and Gale, and Katniss' newfound feelings for Peeta (that developed in the last movie) do a very good job, I think, at setting up the story's conclusion, in terms of romance (and not the fairy tale kind). Speaking of Peeta, the scene where he lets slip an important part of the Capitol's plans was terribly exciting!

My favorite parts of the movie probably revolved around the propos. On the one hand, I totally appreciated the value of making Katniss' feelings genuine, in order to create truly moving propaganda pieces. I like the idea - and this is developed more in the books, where the reader can get more inside of her head - that Katniss is not good at putting out a superficial image of being some kind of hero, but that what makes people look up to her is the fierce righteousness inside of her, which is spontaneous and cannot be ordered around.

On the other side, I felt that President Snow's reactions and counter-reactions to the propos and the rebels' attacks were also intelligent and compelling. Especially in the end of this first part, concerning (spoilers ahead!) the rebels' attempt at rescuing Peeta from the Capitol, and how expertly Snow turned that act so totally against them. This is a minor quibble, but I thought the movie could have ended on a far more incendiary cliffhanger if they had cut out after Peeta got knocked out trying to strangle Katniss, and then switched to a final propo from the Capitol featuring Katniss' recorded desperate confession of defeat.

(End spoilers)

All in all, I thought it was an exciting movie, completely on par with the quality of Catching Fire. It's too bad the first movie wasn't as good, but it's clear that bringing director Francis Lawrence on board was a good move. I have every confidence that the final installment will hold up to the standard of quality we've now come to expect in this series, and I can't wait to see the exciting conclusion!

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