Movie review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2

Before you read this post, there’s a spoiler warning: I discuss scenes from the book and the movie, including the ending. These scenes are discussed in detail. If you want to be completely surprised, stop reading now! But if you’ve read the book and/or you don’t mind spoilers, read on….


In true movie franchise style, the adaptation of the final Hunger Games book was split into two movies: Mockingjay – Part 1 and Mockingjay – Part 2. I finally got round to seeing Part 2 last week, and it was almost exactly as I had expected. While I’ve been a fan of the series since I read the books in 2011, the last book is arguably the weakest and splitting it into two movies was a mistake. In my opinion, Mockingjay – Part 2 lacked the suspense, grittiness and plot strength (including the political symbolism) of the first two movies.

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The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – part 1

I took some time out of my busy schedule this weekend to go and see the latest installment in The Hunger Games movies: Mockingjay (part 1). Before you read this post, there’s a spoiler warning: I discuss scenes from the book and the movie, so if you want to be completely surprised, stop reading now! But if you’ve read the book and don’t mind a few spoilers, read on….

Firstly, I think that Jennifer Lawrence is the perfect Katniss Everdeen. Lawrence has become one of my favourite actresses, thanks to her powerful performances on screen. In The Hunger Games series, she portrays the many facets of Katniss’s character with great expressiveness: her devotion to her mother and sister, her courage and the way she becomes a reluctant heroine, warily playing along with the story of the star-crossed lovers to please Capitol audiences, before realizing that she is in love with Peeta for real.

One of the reasons why I like The Hunger Games is because of the strong female protagonist. Although Katniss values the friendship of Gale, she is fiercely independent and doesn’t need a male sidekick to help her out. Mockingjay: Part 1 does play on the Katniss/Gale/Peeta love triangle, but then so does the book. Katniss is less independent and less of her own person: she is being molded to be the poster-girl of the rebellion. There are a few moments of comic relief, notably when she is instructed to act for the propos: Jennifer Lawrence does an excellent job of acting as though she is a person who cannot act!

Mockingjay: the symbol of the rebellion

Mockingjay: the symbol of the rebellion

The majority of the movie takes place in District 13, with occasional forays to District 12 (Katniss returns to see the devastation wrought by the Capitol bombs), other districts and the Capitol. The claustrophobia of living underground in District 13 is vividly portrayed; as a viewer, I found myself searching for greenery and fresh air, the same way Katniss does. Unlike the first two movies, there are hardly any scenes outside in nature, apart from a peaceful scene where Katniss and Gale go hunting above ground and another scene when Katniss sings The Hanging Tree.

Mockingjay – Part 1 has attracted criticism for being low on action and high on talking and strategizing. Many people, including myself, feel that Mockingjay is the weakest book in the series. Even if it means being more faithful to the books, I do think it was unnecessary to break it into two movies. This has become a habit of major movie franchises habit: breaking the last book in a series into two movies, e.g., Harry Potter and The Hobbit, which has split one book into not one, not two, but three separate movies. It is such a blatant way of bringing in more money to the box office. That being said, I enjoyed the movie and it was suspenseful enough for me; I’m not a huge fan of action-packed movies. Part 1 ends shortly after the captured tributes, Peeta, Johanna and Annie, have been rescued from the Capitol. There’s a jolting moment when Peeta and Katniss are reunited that makes viewers jump, even though I knew what was coming. It made me jump when I read the scene in the book!

I’m light-headed with giddiness […] Peeta’s awake already, sitting on the other side of the bed,looking bewildered as a trio of doctors reassure him, flash lights in his eyes, check his pulse. I’m disappointed that mine was not the first face he saw when he woke, but he sees it now. His features register disbelief and something more intense that I can’t quite place. Desire? Desperation? Surely both, for he sweeps the doctors aside, leaps to his feet and moves towards me […] My lips are just forming his name when his fingers lock around my throat (Mockingjay, 2010, p. 206)

Despite a few criticisms, I’m looking forward to the finale of Mockingjay in November 2015. I read the last few pages of the book in feverish anticipation and the ending in the Capitol truly shocked me. You’d better take a packet of Kleenex to the movies next year!

Did you go to see Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 (to give it its full title!) this weekend? What do you think of it?

The problem with feminist characters

During the past few days, I have read at least two or three separate articles on why Katniss Everdeen is such a great female role model. Katniss is the lead protagonist of The Hunger Games series of books and films. She is a very human character with flaws and vulnerabilities. She is also determined, strong and she does things on her own terms. In her fictional dystopian universe, a futuristic imagining of the United States, inequalities between social classes are a bigger problem than inequalities between gender.

The most recent movie, adapted from the book, focuses partly on revolutions and uprisings in the twelve districts which are controlled by the totalitarian regime of the Capitol. And Katniss’s refusal to define herself by relationships with men, unlike some other mainstream franchise characters (Bella Swan, I’m looking at you), has led to her character being acclaimed as a pop culture feminist role model.

Photo credit: © 2013 - Lionsgate Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013).

Photo credit: © 2013 – Lionsgate
Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013).

The issue of gender discrimination in film is nothing new. The Bechdel test was developed in 1985 and it scores movies and other works of fiction based on the criteria that “it has to have at least two [named] women in it who talk to each other about something besides a man” (Bechdel Test). Recently, a few independent Swedish cinemas have started rating the movies they show and giving them a grade based on whether they pass the Bechdel test. I think there are flaws with this: a movie can still be sexist or demonstrate gender inequalities even if it contains two female characters who talk about something other than relationships. But it does highlight the fact that a lot of movies are based on models of gender bias which do not fit the feminist ideology of equality. Perhaps needless to say, The Hunger Games passes the Bechdel Test with an A grade.

However, the fact that we need to make a point out of having strong female characters demonstrates that we have a problem. Don’t get me wrong, I think it is great to have feminist characters, especially in mainstream franchises. But I think the fact that we have to make such a big deal out of it is representative of a wider problem: of inequalities which still linger. It highlights the issue, at least in my eyes, that it is necessary to define characters by feminist and non-feminist. By all means, we still need to work towards equality but I hope that it will become standard for women to be represented in all forms of media without gender discrimination. Only then will we know that true and meaningful progress has been made.

News for fans of The Hunger Games

There’s a lot of excitement going on in the world of Hunger Games fans (of which I am one) at the moment. The first full-length trailer for Catching Fire was released yesterday at the MTV Movie Awards! I don’t know about you but if you’re a fan, I’m sure this trailer has more than whetted your appetite for the movie. Let me know your thoughts on the trailer by leaving a comment below.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire release date – November 22, 2013 (I am so impatient!)

The Hunger Games movie review

At long last here is my Hunger Games movie review! And I would like to prefix it with the following Spoiler Warning: this review contains spoilers from The Hunger Games book and film, including the ending, so if you don’t want to know what happens I suggest you avert your eyes. You have been warned!

Where to begin? With the main character would be a logical starting point, I suppose.
Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen is superb. I had my doubts initially but after seeing the film, I agree with the praise of the critics. Her performance is so nuanced and faithful to the book character that I found lines from the book running through my head at times during the movie. When she rode in the chariot with Peeta and caught sight of herself on the screen, her surprise at her appearance showed on-screen: ‘I am not pretty. I am not beautiful. I am as radiant as the sun’ (quote copyright Suzanne Collins, 2008, The Hunger Games). You can tell how many times I’ve read the book, being able to quote lines ad lib!

Lawrence outshines the other actors in the movie and Liam Hemsworth (Gale) in particular does not have any real long-lasting presence in my opinion. It is a shame that Gale’s character in the movie is nothing more than the hunky best friend. In the books he is a leader of the rebellion, a strong character who takes a stand against the Capitol. I hope that he will become less a part of the background scenery in the movie adaptation of Catching Fire and that his character will be better-developed and more involved. But admittedly, the first book focuses mainly on Katniss so I can forgive this, although more back story on Gale’s character wouldn’t have been a bad thing.

I think Josh Hutcherson is good as Peeta but the movie makers cut far too many of his lines, resulting in a more wooden character on-screen than the one in the book. But there is plenty of room for character development in the next film and if I seem a little harsh here, I do actually like Hutcherson’s portrayal of Peeta very much. Regarding the other actors, Effie (Elizabeth Banks) and Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) are perfect on-screen representations of how I imagined them in the book. Overall, I have no particular criticisms with the performances of the rest of the cast.

Effie and Katniss: the juxtaposition of obscene wealth and hopeless poverty
Photo by Murray Close – © 2011 Lions Gate Films Inc.
No copyright infringement intended

The photo above shows what The Hunger Games is really all about: wealth and poverty and the ability of dictators to manipulate whole countries into submission. In a world where people buy $20,000 couture while children are starving, some points that The Hunger Games makes are not very unrealistic at all. The Hunger Games is a pop culture phenomenon which comments, in part, on pop culture phenomenons (reality TV etc) and I think the film makers succeeded in balancing the political messages of the book without letting them override everything else in the movie.

The cinematography of the movie is very well done. A lot of people have commented and criticized the shaky hand-held camera during action scenes but I didn’t have a problem with the shaky camera work in the violent parts of the movie. It wasn’t distracting at all, in my opinion, and it allowed the film makers to achieve a fine balance between emphasizing the chaotic free-for-all at the Cornucopia during the fight scenes and avoiding too much violence.

Regarding the music, James Newton Howard’s score is beautiful but is under used in the film. There is remarkably little music in the movie but this is a good thing, in a way, because it avoids manipulating the audience’s emotions and instead means that more emphasis is placed on the abilities of the actors. The agonizing silence in the reaping scene after Prim’s name is picked is especially effective.

My main criticisms are as follows:

1. I would have liked to see how Katniss and Gale first met, with an emphasis on the fact that Gale is Katniss’s hunting partner and friend, because I think that viewers who haven’t read the book probably jump to the incorrect assumption that Katniss is in love with Gale. Nothing especially crucial to the plot was lost but I preferred the added details in the book.

2. Rue and Katniss’s relationship was not sufficiently developed. The main problem I have with the movie is the lack of development, e.g. as mentioned above in terms of Gale. Some scenes were simply too short but I appreciate the difficulty of condensing a whole novel down into movie length. Nevertheless, Rue’s death scene is as heartbreaking and tragic on-screen as it is in the book.

3. The cave scene with Katniss and Peeta was cut far too short. They missed out Katniss telling the story about how she got Prim’s goat and a lot of other lines from the book, especially Peeta’s lines, were cut. It made a difference to me because, having read the book a few times, I know exactly how I wanted it to be and it didn’t match my expectations.

4. President Snow. I just don’t think that President Snow (in the movie) is evil enough. When reading the book, I imagine him to be completely different from his on-screen appearance; a snake-like man with small features which is how the book describes him. Donald Sutherland doesn’t resemble book Snow. But then again, Donald Sutherland also played Mr Bennet in the 2005 Pride and Prejudice film so I kept half expecting him to declare that ‘Mr Darcy has arrived, Elizabeth’ and make a few witty jokes. The on-screen President Snow doesn’t display enough menace and isn’t cold enough to realistically make the audience believe that here is a man who is happy to command the bombing and torture of innocent civilians, not to mention overseeing the barbaric Hunger Games.

5. The scene on the train when Katniss tells Peeta that she was just acting and that she wasn’t really in love with him didn’t have enough impact. In the book the atmosphere feels a lot more strained and tense at the end, especially with the fact that Katniss has defied the rules of the Capitol.

All in all, I wanted more detail, especially in the areas I mentioned above. I don’t think enough emphasis is placed on the fact that Katniss has laid the foundations for a rebellion against the totalitarian regime of the Capitol and I think the ending is also too rushed. It should be more menacing and sinister. But then again, it was never going to match up to the depth of the book. On the whole it is a faithful adaptation and is better than most book-to-movie adaptations. I am eagerly anticipating Catching Fire!

What do you think of the movie?

The rebirth of the dystopian novel

The Hunger Games front cover - image source: Wikipedia. No copyright infringement is intended and all rights belong to their respective owners

You’ve probably heard of The Hunger Games. You might even have read The Hunger Games trilogy of books or gone to see the recently released movie adaptation. And to you, it might be just another mainstream franchise which pulls in big money at the box office. There is no disputing the fact that it is mainstream: The Hunger Games spent over 100 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and the film is now at the top of movie charts worldwide. But just because it is turning into a franchise to rival Harry Potter and the like doesn’t mean that it should be viewed as trivial. Sure, I would be among the first to admit that, as with all pop culture phenomenons, there is too much hype surrounding it in my opinion. But I think it is unique compared to most other big-name pop culture trends and media franchises because Suzanne Collins’s writing actually portrays a meaningful message.

The trend for dystopian literature is rising and rising; the worldwide success of The Hunger Games exemplifies this. I find it interesting that there are currently so many recently published dystopian novels on the market. It makes me wonder whether global reading trends are influenced or perhaps driven by world affairs; socially, culturally and economically. Is it a coincidence that dystopian fiction is experiencing a revival when the economic situations of many countries are so bleak?

In a quote from their dystopian fiction page, Utopian and dystopian fiction, Wikipedia says that “Dystopias usually extrapolate elements of contemporary society”. And that is exactly what the author of The Hunger Games has done. Part of the acclaim which surrounds the series relates to the key focal points of the books; Suzanne Collins takes current societal and cultural issues, presenting them using stunning yet subtle comparisons which remind us of our frequently inconsequential ‘First World problems’. I can see significant parallels between the fictional world of Panem – a futuristic United States as portrayed by Collins – and the state of our world. For example, the stark contrasts between the wealthy Capitol and the impoverished Districts whose inhabitants work to provide goods, gadgets and fuel for said Capitol reminds me strongly of low-paid factory workers toiling to churn out the latest gadgets and cheap clothes for spoiled, privileged Western consumers.

There are several other instances where Collins made me stop and think, especially surrounding the issue of the desensitization to violence. Yeah, yeah, you’ve heard it all before; there’s too much violence on TV and in video games etc. But that is precisely the point. When something is omnipresent it loses some of its initial bite, like a threat which is repeated but is never actually carried out. This is one of the themes of The Hunger Games. The Capitol citizens are so desensitized to violence that they are happy to watch reality TV shows based on shocking brutality. Of course, this is not a new concept: violence was a spectator sport in Ancient Rome and Suzanne Collins has said that “the world of Panem, particularly the Capitol, is loaded with Roman references” (source: A Conversation with Suzanne Collins) as well as being based on the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. Nevertheless, it is a point worth thinking about.

And to conclude, another one of the reasons why I am a fan of THG is because of the heroine, Katniss Everdeen. After a certain other pop culture trend which I feel slightly embarrassed to mention in the same sentence as THG, it is refreshing to read something mainstream which has such a strong central female character and which does not have a ‘girl meets boy’ story as the plot.

I look forward to seeing the movie this week so expect another Hunger Games themed post very soon. I have doubts about the casting (President Snow in particular is different from how I imagined him) and the way in which the subtle themes from the book will be portrayed on-screen but we will see…

The Hunger Games official trailer – linked from YouTube.

And I got through a whole discussion of The Hunger Games without once attempting to compare it to Twilight…until now. Oops! Just one sentence: it isn’t Twilight, no matter how much people keep comparing it, and Katniss is the complete opposite of insipid Bella.

See you next time!