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Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1, The (Blu-ray Review)

6 Mar, 2015 By: John Latchem

Street 3/6/15
Box Office $336.78 million
$29.95 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray
Rated ‘PG-13’ for intense sequences of violence and action, some disturbing images and thematic material.
Stars Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland.

It’s easy enough to gripe about the hot cinematic trend of late to split franchise finales into two parts, especially when they’re based on books (with the dissection of The Hobbit into a trilogy representing a particularly egregious example). While the financial incentives for doing this are obvious, the creative necessity isn’t always evident, usually manifesting in a middling film with a padded running time that serves as little more than set-up for the real movie everyone wants to see.

So here we have the third installment of “The Hunger Games,” and the first without the “Games,” based on the first section of the Mockingjay book that closes out the series.

Following her disruption of the games in the last movie, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) has been shepherded to the hidden District 13, which is ready to wage a full-scale revolution against the Capitol and President Snow (Donald Sutherland). District 13’s leader (Julianne Moore) wants Katniss to serve as the symbol of the war to rally the troops, a role the ultra-serious Katniss has trouble adjusting to until she sees first hand the destruction the Capitol is unleashing on other districts. And her fellow champion, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) has been captured by the Capitol and is being used as propaganda against her, prompting a rescue mission.

Suffice it to say, it’s a thin story that doesn’t offer much in the way of action and serves primarily as a two-hour prologue for the final movie. To put it in perspective, in the plot summary of the book’s Wikipedia page, the events of this movie are limited to two paragraphs out of eight.

Whether the split was the right creative choice won’t be known until after Part 2 comes out, but so far it feels like it could be, even with all its drawbacks, since it gives more weight to the escalation of the series’ story from the arena to a full-scale rebellion. And, at least Liam Hemsworth actually gets something to do in this one.

Even without the games, the film is buoyed by a terrific cast and solid production values, and there’s enough here to satisfy fans and casual viewers alike. On the whole, the film works primarily for the same reason the first two movies worked: the exquisite world-building on display.

Still, once the series concludes and fans look back on it as a whole, this is likely to be considered the most extraneous chapter.

In fact, the Blu-ray bonus documentary about the making of the movie clocks in at 2 hours 14 minutes, about 10 minutes longer than the film itself, and to say it’s more than thorough is an understatement. There are some good insights here about the creative process, as the filmmakers guide viewers through their thought processes while trying to justify the decisions they made in how to adapt the book. This covers pretty much everything, including decisions about which characters to drop or expand, and where to split the book in order to be left with a movie that could still be considered more or less coherent on its own.

Supplementing this is a feature-length commentary track with director Francis Lawrence and producer Nina Jacobson, which serves more as a scene-by-scene walkthrough.

On top of that, there’s also a heartfelt 11-minute tribute to the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, who died during production of Part 2.

Rounding out the extras are an eight-minute interview with Lorde about collaborating on music for the film; her music video for the song “Yellow Flicker Beat”; and 11 minutes of deleted scenes that include some interesting character moments.

Oh, and speaking of The Hunger Games without the “Games,” there’s a four-minute preview of the Divergent sequel, Insurgent.

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