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Andrew is a staff writer at the “The Hudsucker”. He is a 30 year old lawyer living in Ottawa. Besides legal jargon, his brain capacity is taken up by reality show trivia, video game walk-throughs and room escape strategies. Andrew is also happily in a long-term, long-distance relationship. Follow him on Twitter as @sublymonal.

“The Hunger Games – Mockingjay Part I”: Was it Worth Splitting in Two?

I will do my best to keep the review below free of significant spoilers. With that said, I would consider myself a pretty die-hard Tribute (as Hunger Games fans are called) but as a lawyer and a writer, I’m also inherently skeptical. I was skeptical when the decision was made to split the final Harry Potter book in two, but I could understand why. The book, while not the longest of the series, certainly was action-packed enough to fill somewhere between 4 to 6 hours of film. Color me twice as skeptical, however, when Francis Lawrence, the director of The Hunger Games movies decided to take the same approach to the final book in that series, Mockingjay.

A week prior to the film’s release, I even read a few spoiler-free reviews to see how the first half would hold up. They were hit-or-miss. Some critics said the split made the film feel like one long trailer for the second half, while others said Lawrence hit the nail on the head and used the split to build suspense for the series’ climax. I was, to say the least, anxious going into the movie theater on Thursday night. I have always thought The Hunger Games series of films has been the best book-to-movie series transition of any one I’ve known. From C.S. Lewis’s to J.K. Rowling’s, from J.R.R. Tolkien’s to Lemony Snicket’s, I’ve seen a few hits but a lot more misses and so for Lawrence to deliver two great films in a row, I was worried the magic would run dry when it came to the final book which had been perhaps unnecessarily split in two.

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen, Credit: Lionsgate

That said, after watching the film I can now understand the decision and have even come to agree with it. Perhaps it was Lawrence’s plan all along to use the first film to delve deeper into the emotional layers of each character and to tell the smaller stories that those who read the books closely would appreciate. This was one of the big complaints that fans of the Harry Potter series had. Small plot lines were taken out for the sake of time and often the result made the films less human. These smaller plot lines are what turn the characters into people, rather than just creations of the author’s mind. In Mockingjay, we see more of Katniss with her sister, Prim, who she originally entered the games for. We also see interactions between characters that may not be all that significant in the grand scheme of things, but go a long way to reminding the audience what we liked about Beetee, Effie and Gale. Lawrence even takes the time to lighten the mood with a bit of humor in an otherwise tense war-zone.

What has changed in the third film is that the story relies less on the constant driving action of the Hunger Games themselves and more on the cold war going on between the Capitol and the Rebellion. This creates plenty of opportunities for the talents of the film’s cast to shine. Jennifer Lawrence has proven her emotional worth in other films and taps into that same angst here to deliver a performance that feels raw, but in a good way. There are moments that almost feel like it’s not even acting anymore but Lawrence herself channeling those emotions and I think that’s what has made her version of Katniss so compelling all the way through the series and what has made both her and her character so likeable.

Josh Hutcherson as Peeta also delivers a performance that shook the audience throughout his brief scenes and left some people in my theater gasping near the end of the film, despite most of them knowing what would happen in advance, having read the books.

Julianne Moore as President Coin & the late Phillip Seymour-Hoffman as Plutarch Heavensbee. Credit: Lionsgate

I was also skeptical, I will admit by the casting of Julianne Moore as President Coin, the leader of District 13, which was thought to be destroyed during the last rebellion. I was not sure who I imagined Coin as when I read the books but Moore, like Tucci as Flickerman, Kravitz as Cinna and Harrelson as Haymitch, had me instantly believing the character was written for her. Her stern utilitarian demeanor was perfectly offset by her flashes of warmth towards Katniss and Francis Lawrence seems to ensure that Moore’s acting would perfectly mimic the character’s story arc from the books.

Seeing the events of the books transpire on film, right before your eyes, is a different experience and also a delicate one. It’s one that, it’s clear, Francis Lawrence wanted to get right. He wanted the audience to feel the range of emotions that Katniss feels because she is essentially, our eyes and ears throughout the film. Wherever she goes, we go and whatever she sees, we see. The films are in essence like the Games themselves in that way. We are compelled to watch Katniss’s struggle, to see how it will all play out, to root for her and to laugh and cry with her. That is why I feel Mockingjay Part I works and why I feel Lawrence’s decision to split the films up was ultimately the right one. The books presented a natural emotional cliffhanger and with the two films, Lawrence’s concern was obviously to get the emotion and the details right so that when the payoff comes during the second film’s climax, the loyal movie-going audience will feel the same thing that the loyal Hunger Games reader felt.

If you see the film this weekend, let me know what you thought in the comments. Was the decision to split the films the right one? Did the movie meet your expectations?

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2 Comments on ““The Hunger Games – Mockingjay Part I”: Was it Worth Splitting in Two?”

  1. Katie November 24, 2014 at 10:23 am #

    I’m going to make a point to come back here and let you know how I feel about the movie.

    I can see the franchise itself wanting to get as much money as it can as with all other large franchises that split the last movie in two, and two films doesn’t mean they’re trying to hold true to the book. It can be as simple as money in the bank.

    I’ll forgive HP considering Deathly Hallows pt. I was horrific and beautiful and all these wonderful things. I’m glad they had that movie stand separate from part II, because I wasn’t very happy with part II *dodges bricks* lol

    • Andrew Rogers November 24, 2014 at 10:28 am #

      Hi Katie, I’d love to hear what you thought after seeing the moving! I initially thought the primary motivation was money as well, but in retrospect, I have a hard time thinking of scenes they could have cut out while still staying true to the story. I was upset when they cut out the details of the Horcrux plot in Harry Potter because that was, essentially, the main thrust of the story. I feel like Lawrence kept all the little details that make the story emotional compelling in Mockingjay and that was why the two parts were necessary. Without those emotional details, it just feels like a visual plot summary to me, which is something I complained about during the Order of the Phoenix film.

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