A big screen improvement: A review of Mockingjay Part 1

Mockingjay Part 1

Starring  Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, and Donald Sutherland.

*some spoilers*

If you read my post on the Mockingjay book then you probably know that I’m not a big fan of the third and final book in the trilogy.  For once, I finally hoped the movie could do something to spice it up a little and, for the most, I wasn’t let down.

Mockingjay Part 1 never went too far off course. Katniss was still very much contained in District 13’s bunkers, only emerging on occasion to do propaganda shots and visit other districts, but somehow the movie made you forget that fact. I wasn’t bored the same way I had been reading the first half of the book.

Katniss
The living-flesh Katniss played by Jennifer Lawrence was definitely a less dead-paned version when compared to the one we had to listen to all the way through the book. Her emotional distress over Peeta and hesitation over becoming the face of the rebellion is rendered in a clear and relateable fashion. We feel her pain, her pure exhaustion with the whole thing, and we also feel her fury when suddenly she responds to the horrific bombing of the hospital. We burn with her. I swear I felt goosebumps.
burn with us

PeetaJosh Hutcherson also gave an amazing performance. Considering the book is entirely from Katniss’ point of view, it was refreshing to glimpse him for ourselves and see his tortured expressions and gradual decline with every video clip’s appearance. Being part of Team Peeta, I was hooked, and Josh was wonderful in really conveying what had happened to Peeta while being held in Panem.

GaleHowever, I did notice that the movie made a remarkable change with Gale’s character. As I noted in my review of the book, Collins eliminated that conflict too easily, making Gale’s character almost dislikeable, which was unfortunate. Gale is a good person, and I think , by accident or not, Collins eliminated the reader’s empathy for him by making him too aggressive and in cahoots with District 13’s President. The film dials this “anti” back by a great deal, which serves in Gales favour. While I still love Peeta, I don’t hate Gale like the book made me want to (an unfair change for poor Gale in my opinion to begin with). This is especially made clear when Gale is given a chance in the movie to speak about what he saw the day District 12 was bombed and a level of understanding is reached between Gale and the viewer that the book and the reader didn’t achieve.

Hanging Tree, Mockingjay Part 1By now, everyone has also either seen, heard, or at least heard of the phenomenon of Jennifer Lawrence’s singing voice. While I doubt she will start belting it out on stage any time soon like some actresses (she literally cried a bit before having to shoot the singing scene, her director confided to media), Jennifer Lawrence’s simple, unaccompanied voice singing The Hanging Tree literally ricocheted through the audience. Goosebumps, again, were inevitably, especially when the chorus was taken up by the rest of the revolutionaries marching on the dam. If you want to listen to it again, like I have on more than one occasion , I’ve attached the memorable melody at the end of this post.

Of course, Mockingjay Part 1 leaves you hanging, which is to be expected. Even if you have read the book, this is upsetting. The movie was done well, which obviously leaves you wanting more. After viewing part 1, I’m dying of anticipation to see what they will do with the latter half of the book, which was better but not great either. This includes how they will progress without Philip Seymour Hoffman, who successfully brought Plutarch and his propaganda games to life.

Plutarch

Touchingly, Part 1 was dedicated in his memory.

 

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Is the uprising over yet? — A review of Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Mockingjay Cover

“You’re still trying to protect me. Real or not real?” he whispers.

“Real.” I answer. “Because that’s what you and I do, protect each other.”

*Some SPOILERS, but very minimal*

Panem is in chaos. After the Quarter Quell Hunger Games is interrupted by Katniss’ planned rescue from the arena, the uprising is in full swing. Those who were safely rescued alongside Katniss and anyone from District 12 before its nuclear destruction have been relocated to District 13’s underground encampment. By design, Katniss has unknowingly been made the symbol of this revolution started by District 13 as a ploy to take over the Capitol and restore it as a republic. Now that she has survived, it is expected that Katniss become the rebels’ pawn as their Mockingjay, however, she’s not so sure she wants all the responsibility the position requires of her. While her family may be safe, Katniss’ list of casualties that she blames herself for keeps growing and she constantly fears Peeta being made an addition the longer he remains in the Capitol’s hands. Consumed by her desire to kill President Snow and save Peeta but forever distrustful of District 13’s true motives, Katniss faces quite the emotional battlefield aside from the battle going on in Panem itself.

Before reading Mockingjay, I had been told by others that it wouldn’t live up to my expectations and that the final book failed where the first two succeeded. I remained skeptical; I mean, how bad could it be?

They were right.

Mockingjay is the definition of a final book quickly written to fulfill reader demand due to the series’ sudden claim-to-fame. For the majority of the book, there is an extreme lack of action or plot development. Katniss is barely part of the revolution and is seen mainly wandering around District 13, loopy on medication, and either doing or not doing what people tell her to. In the first two books, Katniss is in the thick of the action from preparing for the Hunger Games to surviving the Hunger Games. Everything slows down to an aggravating pace in Mockingjay. Most of what we hear is through hearsay or propaganda campaign face-offs between the rebels and Snow while Katniss awkwardly stands by, virtually useless and just a face.

Katniss is barely involved in the revolution and when she does go to one of the battlegrounds, her involvement is limited and it is only by pure accident that she gets any action when Capitol forces take them by surprise. The strong young woman who inspired this revolution to begin with is no where to be seen in this third and final book. Instead, every time Katniss gets any action, she is surrounded by a full team of body guards. When we do finally get to the Capitol and Katniss is in the midst of it, everything still feels very much told. I would almost compare Katniss to a block of wood at this point. Yes, the whole is to show Katniss as a generally closed off and conflicted individual, but we are supposed to be inside her head, right? But the reader does not feel the danger or urgency of the situation simply because Katniss’ reactions come across as staged and not genuine. Honestly, I no longer feared for her well being as I had in the previous books. Even when Katniss wasn’t on medication for a wound or her emotional hysterics, she still felt like a drugged character going through the motions.

The only one who kept the plot interesting was Peeta and his dramatic transformation into a danger not only to Katniss but to himself. The Capitol’s mind games and torture methods have destroyed him and turned him into a monster, a reality he soon realizes once he is rescued and detained in District 13’s medical ward. Peeta’s struggle to remember what is real and what isn’t is heart wrenching, targeting the reader’s empathy. It is only after having Peeta return to the plot action that Mockingjay begins to pick up the pace, if only slightly. The love triangle is reignited between Peeta, Katniss, and Gale, so while the revolution still feels distant at least there is an evident struggle in the limelight of Katniss’ often tiresome soliloquies.

Needless to say, I was disappointed. Mockingjay felt like a cop out. A quick, not-so-dirty finish to a series that started of great and then came to a lame finish. The ending felt waaaaaaaay too simple and easy for a trilogy that started off with kids killing kids for the entertainment of a sadistic government.

I hate to say it, but my money is on the movie (Part 1 is coming out this November). For once, Hollywood has a chance to make the book better. Good luck!

2 out of 5 book thumbs up

Image of a green book giving the thumbs upImage of a green book giving the thumbs up

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins, published in Canada by Scholastic Canada © 2010.

Available at The Scholastic Store, Amazon, Indigo, and independent bookstores everywhere.

A blaze of glory: A review of Catching Fire, the movie

catching fire move poster

Starring  Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, and Donald Sutherland.

I have been patiently waiting for the movie sequel to The Hunger Games to come out. I was also happy, now that I am through with school, that I was able to finish the book this time before watching Catching Fire on the big screen.

I am always wary when books are adapted for film. More often than not some important aspect of the book is lost and, ultimately, the film is ruined because of this deliberate exclusion. Catching Fire did not have this problem.

The story begins where The Hunger Games left off with Katniss and Peeta’s return home to District 12 after winning the 74th Hunger Games. But things are anything but perfect in the winning circle. Katniss is torn between her feelings for Gale and her “fake” feelings for Peeta, and at the same time she is haunted by memories of the Games, specifically Rue’s death.

On the day of the Victory Tour, President Snow visits Katniss’ home to confront her about her obvious defiance of the Capital’s power allowing her to win the Games. President Snow reveals to her that her actions have caused restlessness, inspiring rebellions within the districts. Threatening her loved ones, President Snow enlists Katniss to placate the districts and put an end to the uprisings during her tour appearances. However, Katniss is unable to sufficiently please President Snow as people continue to support her and the rebellion she has unintentionally come to represent.

It is after the completion of their tour that President Snow announces the 75th Hunger Games, which also happens to be a third Quarter Quell. The Quarter Quell incidentally allows the Capital to introduce a twist into the Games. The twist this year is that all qualifiers will be pulled from previous Games victors , meaning Katniss and Peeta must once again face the horrific violence of the Games for a second time.

There is plenty about this movie that has made it a blockbuster hit. It is full to the brim with an interesting blend of drama and action. The newly introduced victors are adequately cast as the movie exhibits the compelling and charismatic features each character that readers would be familiar with from the book.

Peeta continues to be a touching and honest character that one cannot help but fall in love with. I cannot imagine Katniss’ dilemma as I have become a fan of Peeta’s from the beginning, and the movie does not make this difficult for me to do. Josh Hutcherson is adorable in his portrayal of Peeta. However, this easy-to-love version of Peeta is also distracting. The book Catching Fire is not so straight forward. Katniss’ is torn between Gale and Peeta, a rightly so. Gale is just as admirable in his own right — a man with high beliefs and virtues. The movie fails to capture the enduring back-story between Katniss and Gale. Their budding love is easily overwhelmed by what the film has made prevalent: the two in-love victors of the Games.

My last dispute with an otherwise flawless film is the “forgotten pregnancy.” In the book, Peeta shockingly (and falsly) reveals Katniss is pregnant before the Games. However, in the film this revelation is  forgotten in the arena. Pregnancy in such circumstances would not be easily overlooked with all the killing and excessive physical activity. The book makes sure readers are aware of this impediment, even if it is technically a lie (but a lie the Capital must believe in), by having Peeta and the other victors constantly bringing it up in conversation.

Overall, Catching Fire is worth seeing. Few movies stay as true to the book as this one does, which is a nice change to witness and truly an accomplishment in terms of other book-made-movie flops. And Jennifer Lawrence gives another stellar performance as Katniss, embodying the persona in every imaginable way possible.

Katniss will not be returning to the screen until 2014 with the release of Mockingjay Part 1, and the second part of the movie will not be released until 2015. I am not sure how you feel about a part 1 and 2, but I am certainly tired of this movie trend. If The Lord of the Rings trilogy can be one film each then it can certainly be accomplished with Mockingjay.

Either way I will be in line to see how this revolution will fare against the Capital. Will Katniss rise to the occasion? Will she be able to save Peeta? Gale? Her family? And in the end, which man will win her heart?

I better start reading the Mockingjay to find out…