You know it’s the end of November because, as anticipated, the latest installment of our beloved Hunger Games films was released this past weekend. November might never be the same after Mockingjay Part 2 comes out next year. What will YA lit lovers do when our beloved trilogy, which has become a four part film franchise, is all over? Thankfully we have another year before we have to really think about such things, so let’s get to the task at hand and talk about the first installment of Mockingjay.
Mockingjay Part 1 landed into our film watching universe this past Friday making quite the splash with the year’s biggest film opening weekend, earning a whopping $123 million. Even with the impressive feat of the year’s biggest opening, this is actually the lowest the franchise has performed. To be fair, Catching Fire set a really high bar for these last two films in the franchise, because not only was it critically acclaimed but it was fan approved and a moneymaker. So why the “light” opening? Is this more of the feared YA lit-to-movie fatigue people seem to be so nervous about? Probably not. Mockingjay is controversial for most fans of the Hunger Games trilogy and there is almost always a love it or hate it quality to the final book in a series. Also, it was the biggest weekend of the year! Not too shabby, even if it is the lowest opening yet for one the Hunger Games films.
It’s always fascinating to watch all of the excitement and hype leading up to these movies. There was a lot of chatter about the decision to make this final book into two movies and a lot of discussion around how to keep the final, most violent book PG-13 appropriate. So with all of that in mind, how did the filmmakers do with Mockingjay Part 1?
Mockingjay Part 1 is probably the weakest of the films so far, landing a B- at best. Unfortunately, I’m not alone with the grading on this one. Rotten Tomatoes shows the critics ratings at 66% and the fans rating at 80%. There are some great elements to this film, but the biggest issue most people seem to have is about the decision to split Mockingjay into two movies. Part 1 is a slow-paced emotional film, which is completely different from the previous films. At times, the pacing and heavy-handed exposition can make this film feel like a placeholder for the next one. Entertainment Weekly has this great article that discusses the dilemma over whether or not Mockingjay Part 1 can really even be considered a movie. Highly recommended read to anyone, who, like me, enjoyed the film but also struggled with how much I actually liked it.
Part 1 does have some amazing moments. How could you not when you have this many talented people in one film? Katniss singing after visiting a destroyed District 12 with her propo team. Gut wrenching and heartfelt. The final scenes with Peeta. Terrifying. Liam Hemsworth finally getting to do something in one of these movies other than stare moodily at the camera was nice to see. But, do you know who was missed most in this movie? Peeta. Josh Hutcherson steps up his game with every movie in this series, and Part 1 is no different. His scenes were few and far between because of where they chose to split the story, but he made all of his scenes count. He was missed by Katniss and me.
The filmmakers should also be commended for keeping the very violent source material to a PG-13 rating. Many questioned if it was even possible to keep this at an appropriate MPAA rating for fans. They did a great job of showing violence, but keeping it from getting too visually overwhelming for the younger fans. The hospital scene was powerful but not too gruesome. It’s a hard line that they are playing with and so far they have done a really great job. I’m just curious to see how Part 2 ends up, given that’s where most of the actual fighting occurs.
For the purists at heart, Mockingjay Part 1 does not stray very far from the source material. When you have approximately 5 hours of film time to adapt a 390 page book, there really isn’t much need to stray. If you’re keeping track, here is the breakdown of the 7 biggest changes from page to screen. Honestly, the movie adaptation could have benefited from more page to screen changes and keeping it to one film. It’s still a good movie and one that I would recommend to any Hunger Games fan. I’ll still be there next year on opening night for Part 2, sad that my November movie tradition is coming to an end, but there is a part of me that wishes I could’ve seen what the filmmakers could have done in one movie.
What about you, readers? What did you think of Mockingjay Part 1? Do you wish it was one movie instead of two?
-Katie Shanahan Yu, currently reading Unhinged by A.G. Howard