Release Date(s)2014 (March 6, 2015)
- Film/Program Grade: C-
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: A+
Call me old fashioned, but I really like The Hunger Games franchise. Maybe it’s because the concept is so weird; but it has a certain dystopian logic to it – and I like end-of-the-world movies – especially when people aren’t wearing recycled garbage as clothing.
The first film feels a bit derivative, considering it’s loose similarity to the Japanese classic Battle Royale (which is a slice of genius in all actuality – feel free to read my and Dr. Jahnke’s thoughts on that film here), but as an Americanized, sanitized, YA take on that concept, I think it works well enough. The book is better, so if you read, definitely read the book series.
The ante was straight upped with Catching Fire. Fire was a surprisingly well-made film. It did everything it was supposed to do: broke the original film’s mold, continued the story, built on the mythology and spread out the visual world so we saw just how small the first film was in the universe Suzanne Collins created. Director Francis Lawrence was a brilliant addition to the creative team and provided a well needed spark that first film director Gary Ross wasn’t quite able to bring. Fire ends with a bang and a little bit of a WTF?, but so did Empire Strikes Back before it (an obvious nod – but if you’re going to nod, nod at the best).
With that, Mockingjay – Part 1 picks up right where the last film ended. Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is alone and reeling from the shock of having her entire world pulled out from under her. Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) has been taken by the Capitol and is being forced to broadcast propaganda urging the people of District 13 (the last untaken district) to stand down and give up. Katniss learns what happened to her own District 12 as a result of her actions at the end of Catching Fire and is non-too pleased and a bit shell shocked. With some prodding, she joins together with District 13 President Coin (Julianne Moore) and her leadership team, deciding to become a symbol of the rebellion – The Mockingjay – and directly targets President Snow (Donald Sutherland) in a series of video messages leaked to other districts to uplift them all to rebel against the Capitol. Whether this plan works and what it will take to save Peeta from Snow, unravels in the last half-hour of the film and, quite frankly, is left dangling for Part 2 to answer.
Visually, cinematically and every other thing we all look for in a good movie, Mockingjay – Part 1 has in spades. It’s a fair follow-up to the far superior Catching Fire, but it certainly suffers from what I consider an unnecessary stretching over two films – all too common these days. This particular film feels a tad bit flat and anticlimactic and there ends up being a lot of “moments” that don’t need to be in this film. And as good as Jennifer Lawrence is in this series (up to this point and in other films) there is only so much brooding, crying and tantrum throwing an audience can endure seeing from our heroes. Mockingjay – Part 1 the movie certainly matches the emotional journey she goes through in the book, but because this adaptation takes a few end chapters from Catching Fire and the first third of Mockingjay – where she is locked into a bit of internal emotional turmoil and self-doubt – all we really see here are a bunch of crying scenes and moments of deep seated turmoil. What’s needed is the “rising hero” reveal – a moment where Katniss comes to her senses and faces down the negative thoughts and fear. But we don’t get that in this film. Sure there is lots of forward momentum to the story, but there’s nothing to really hang on the character of Katniss. She doesn’t grow here. And that’s a shame. I’m sure that the next film will be a lot better for her, and when Part 1 and Part 2 are viewed all together as one film, I feel like this oversight will be less felt. Taken as a microcosmic moment, it’s simply not a smart move for a film. When all is said and done, Mockingjay – Part 1 leaves you wanting for more. Good for the sequel, not the best for a stand-alone film.
As you’ve all come to expect, this major release from a major distribution company looks great on Blu-ray. The video is a luscious high def transfer in 1080p at a 2.40:1 aspect ratio. Colors are gorgeous. Detail is tight and black levels (and there are loads) are spot on. I’d be surprised if someone can find a fault with this video presentation. Sound is presented in a very spacious English TrueHD Atmos Mix. I don’t have Atmos-compatible audio equipment, but the down-conversion is excellent – very lived in and roomy. Explosions happen in your viewing space and dialogue is well-presented. There is also an English 2.0 Dolby Digital track the consider “Optimized for Late-Night Listening” – I’m guessing that means it’s headphone friendly, a Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, a DTS Headphone: X Audio Track (another super cool headphone mix – you Millennials and your headphones) and an English Descriptive Audio track.
Extras are where it’s at for this set. It’s been a long while since a film came out the game with as much stuff as this disc has on one Blu-ray. First up are previews for Divergent: Insurgent, TV’s Manhattan, Age of Adeline, Mordecai, TV’s The Royals and an EPIX ad. The film is paired with a commentary track with Francis Lawrence and producer Nina Jacobson. Both know this world and love it deeply. There isn’t a lot of filmmaking insider info, but a lot of remembered moments and asides. It’s a very typical commentary these days for a movie that just came out. What we don’t learn there, we certainly do in the two hour and fifteen minute (spread over seven parts) making-of documentary The Mockingjay Lives. This thing really dives deep and really reminded me of a good old school special feature documentary that we truly love passionately here at The Bits. These are the reasons to shell out the extra money for a disc and not a download. If you needed more, there’s a spirited salute from just about every cast and crew member discussing the career and impact of Phillip Seymour Hoffman who passed away during the shooting for Part 2. There are nine deleted scenes that I don’t really remember now that I’m writing this, so I don’t think they added much. And rounding out the set are two features focused on Lourde. One is a fluffy interview called Songs of Rebellion: Lourde on Curating the Soundtrack which is interesting, if only to see Lourde be excited about her work and how she paired artists to songs and feelings inspired from the film. You’ll also find Lourde’s Yellow Flicker Beat music video which is a good song and a fun video. I was surprised how much good stuff is on this set, and based on the box office for this, I’d like plenty of people will like this set.
I’m looking forward to the next film this November. I’ll probably watch this again right before I see the next one, and I’m pretty sure that any critiques I have today will wash away once this film is linked to the next one. There’s enough here that I haven’t lost hope. I just wish they were able to find a way to showcase Katniss’ heroic journey without making one standalone film that showcased her at her weakest.
- Todd Doogan