I went into Mockingjay today with managed expectations. The new Hunger Games film is the first in a two-part adaptation of the trilogy’s final book, which by now raises concerns of faddishness, and the book itself – I read it a couple of years ago – is not the series’ best. (That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it. I did, but both as a finale and a novel, it felt just-okay. Fans tend to agree.) The main strength of Catching Fire, last year’s film, was that it lived up to its source material, widely and wisely viewed as the best book. For Mockingjay, part one at least, to maintain the standard, filmmakers would need to improve on the text.
I shouldn’t have worried, because the the film isn’t just better than the book – it actually enhances it, accentuating elements I hadn’t noticed or appreciated.
The Hunger Games franchise has always been a textbook example of how to film a bestselling book series. (Harry Potter‘s mutilators, take note.) Consistently, it’s employed sensitive direction, pitch-perfect casting and an intently faithful scripting (Potter butchers, take further note) – but most importantly, those at work behind the camera have always taken advantage of film’s distinct storytelling powers. Whereas Suzanne Collins’ novels are told entirely through first-person narrative, restricting readers to the viewpoint of Jennifer Lawrence’s lead character, the first two films – instead of trying in vain create the same effect – show us unseen events only mentioned or guessed at in the books, fleshing out Collins’ story and wider world. Mockingjay does this somewhat less, perhaps because Katniss knows more of the plot this time round, but uses its status as a film in totally new ways. [Read more…]