The main problem with The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 is right there in the title: “Part 1.” Even at 123 minutes, this is still just about half of Suzanne Collins’ final Hunger Games book, and it unfortunately feels like half a movie as well. It’s an introduction lacking a conclusion, all foreplay and no action, a film mostly concerned with tablesetting for its forthcoming sequel. In other words, it’s half the movie that fans of this franchise deserve.
What’s on offer in this partial outing isn’t bad, mind you. As it opens, embattled heroine Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence, brilliant as always) has escaped the clutches of the totalitarian Capitol and is in the keeping of District 13, an area she’d been brought up to believe was long since lost. Now, it’s a top-secret base for those hoping to overthrow the government of evil President Snow (Donald Sutherland), including former Gameskeeper Plutarch Heavensbee (the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman) and District 13 President Coin (Julianne Moore). The face of the revolution thanks to her defiance of the Capitol in previous installments, Katniss finds herself pressured to star in a cunning, canny propaganda campaign intended to incite revolution across the franchise’s central nation of Panem.
Though conflicted (and rightly so – the rebels’ motivations may be valid, but their hands are far from clean), Katniss ultimately agrees to become their symbol, hoping that her beloved Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and the other contestants from the last Hunger Games can be rescued from the Capitol, where they are being tortured and twisted into human puppets by Snow. Still, her heart isn’t entirely in it, and many of her ideological conflicts with Coin are exacerbated as the war effort intensifies.
Whereas the previous Hunger Games thrilled with intense action, Mockingjay – Part 1 is most exciting in terms of its big ideas. Easing up on the explosions and hand-to-hand combat, this third installment explores the nature of propaganda and murky ethics of modern warfare. It’s very much an anti-war film, contemplating the human cost of revolution, and its most affecting sequences are ones that depict the harsh realities awaiting those who fight for change (one, set to Katniss’ haunting rendition of “The Hanging Tree,” chills the blood).
Lawrence is simply remarkable throughout it all, anchoring the franchise’s most narratively modest outing with a depth of feeling that any other YA franchise would kill for. She brings relatability and iron will to a complex protagonist, commanding her every moment on the screen and ensuring that Katniss’ unusual situation never feels anything less than genuine. Hoffman, in his last role, turns Heavensbee into an alternately admirable and detestable figure, a man of action willing to take the ethical fall for those movements that are necessary, but nonetheless nightmarish, to consider for victory’s sake. And Moore, with an unnerving side-parting, makes a strong introduction as a supposedly righteous character whose ruthless tactics make her more Snow’s equal than she’d ever allow anyone to admit.
Mockingjay – Part 1 is not afraid of moral ambiguity; it embraces it. For a blockbuster production to explore militaries’ use of propaganda and disinformation is both startling and spectacular. That it will take another movie to fully answer the questions this one raises, though, is an asterisk that’s sometimes hard to disregard.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 Blu-Ray boasts a terrific 1080p transfer that allows for perfectly clear image with strong detail, especially during close-ups on characters’ faces (you haven’t truly seen HD beards until you’ve seen what Sutherland’s got going here). The color palette is broad and vibrant, with some scenes bathed in yellow and blue hues (similar to past franchise entries) but nothing that distracts from the action unfolding on screen. No issues to report – this is a fine transfer.
It’s in terms of its sound that this release impresses more, however. The Dolby Atmos (core Dolby TrueHD 7.1) track is a standout, prioritizing the echoes and reverberations of noise that are common inside the underground District 13 while allowing for extremely crisp, enjoyable dialogue. The few action scenes are intense experiences, utterly immersive in the thrilling score, explosive sound effects and slighter background effects, but this is a stellar listen all the way through, even in Mockingjay – Part 1‘s quietest scenes.
Special features, in addition to a DVD and Digital HD copy, include:
- Audio Commentary with Director Francis Lawrence and Producer Nina Jacobson
- The Mockingjay Lives: The Making of Mockingjay Part 1 (2:14:19)
- Straight from the Heart: A Tribute to Philip Seymour Hoffman (11:03)
- Songs of Rebellion: Lorde on Creating the Soundtrack (8:10)
- Deleted Scenes (11:18)
- Lorde “Yellow Flicker Beat” Music Video (4:03)
- Insurgent Sneak Peak (4:11)
It’s a good day to be a Hunger Games fan. “The Mockingjay Lives: The Making of Mockingjay Part 1” is an insanely in-depth supplementary package spanning eight featurettes that cover everything from the narrative to visual aesthetics, makeup, character development, actors, stunts and post-production. Meanwhile, the audio commentary is specific and insightful, covering a lot of ground as well, and the tribute to Philip Seymour Hoffman is touching and well-done.
All in all, recommending The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 is an easy call. The video and audio are both strong, and the array of extras on this release is simply spectacular compared to more supplementary material on big releases like this. The film itself, though dealing with weighty questions, suffers from being the first half of this franchise’s swan song, and its slow pace may frustrate some fans. Still, the philosophy of this franchise is something that no other YA series can offer, and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 is the most satisfying installment yet in that department.
It may be elaborate tablesetting of the blockbuster variety, but The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 still intrigues with its unexpectedly philosophical approach to propaganda and the brutality of modern warfare.