From the outset Mockingjay – Part 1 looks distinctly different from the previous two film. After the lush greens of the first arena and the bright sun, sand, and water of the second, life in District 13 is tinged in grey. It suits the setting as so much is set underground though certainly some of the night/dark scenes could’ve been lit a bit better.
Here we have a Katniss who is full of guilt and regret for leaving Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) behind and it’s only when she has President Coin (Julianne Moore), the leader of District 13, pledge to rescue Peeta and the other victors captured by the Capitol that she agrees to be the Mockingjay – the symbol of hope and rebellion for the people.
Cutting the final book in a YA book to movie adaptation series became the norm after the success of both Harry Potter and Twilight so it was little to no surprise that The Hunger Games went down the same route. This does mean that Mockingjay – Part 1 has far less action than the previous films as now not only are Katniss and Peeta no longer in the arena battling to the death, but instead it focuses more on Katniss’s state of mind as the conflict between the Districts and the Capitol grows. That’s not to say there aren’t any “action sequences” – Katniss and Gale (Liam Hemsworth) get caught up in a Capitol bombing – but they are few and far between and instead the tension and drama is more character focused.
A key part of the Hunger Games has always been how well the tributes can make themselves likeable and appealing to sponsors as that’ll help them survive. This take on the PR and propaganda machine takes a different turn in Mockingjay – Part 1. Former Head Gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) plans to help the rebels by filming a load of propaganda films of Katniss to inspire the rebellion. It’s a pity Katniss works best when she’s not following a script. Just as District 13 are using Katniss in their propaganda, the Capitol is using Peeta and though the two of them are barely together during the film you can see how Katniss’s love for him (whatever kind of love that is) is still strong.
One of my favourite sequences in this whole series is in in this film. It’s a moment where Katniss sits by a lake with her film crew and sings a song called “The Hanging Tree” which is taken up and echoed by the mockingjay birds in the woods. That song is then used for one of Plutarch’s films and then a rallying cry for the people as they take a stand against the Capitol. The score by James Newton Howard is especially effective in this sequence too.
Nothing highlights the criticisms this series has on media/entertainment and how we consume it (both in the films and the books but especially in the books) than the fact that there were multiple upbeat techno versions of “The Hanging Tree” made and released. Using a song about a murdered man, a song with themes of freedom, death and martyrdom, as an upbeat song just feels very strange and wrong. I remember hearing one of the remixes when I was driving and doing a doubletake when I registered why the lyrics sounded so familiar but the beat did not.
Mockingjay – Part 1 lays a lot of the groundwork for the battle ahead and different character dynamics are given room to breathe like Katniss and Finnick (Sam Claflin) and Katniss and Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) which continues to be one of my favourite and the most interesting relationships in this series. 4/5.