An awkward complexity surrounds these money snatching “Part” movies. Where they exist to enrich characters and give them development time – where otherwise impossible in mainstream cinema – they’re also caught in their own trap. Mockingjay cannot go all-in, less the finale appear weaker than the film which eventually follows it. Action, although tremendous in weight when featured, is restrictive and tight. Katniss is the focus rather than spectacle.
The overall rhythm of these Hunger Games features is not disrupted. They’re coming together cleanly and well considered. However, it is also increasingly difficult to point at one without another. Even if that seems obvious given its status as the third in a series, it’s not. The two prior were considerate of blanket exposition. Mockingjay is locked to a story cycle deeply dependent on others, the least accessible as an outlier.
As such, we’re into the fan stage of Hunger Games, where those who have been with the franchise are rewarded with pay-off. At least, almost. Mockingjay is only the build-up.
Jennifer Lawrence is given a chance to express a range of sorrow and rage as Katniss. Her empathy grows amidst the rumblings of a total rebellion against Panam’s outrageously ferocious government. Thus, Mockingjay forms a teen-friendly propaganda war, Katniss on one end, her Hunger Games partner Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) on the other. It’s like Starship Troopers with less bugs and two political perspectives.
There is hardly a mystery as to why it was split in two
There is hardly a mystery as to why it was split in two
So much of this film happens off screen. Katniss’ home District 12 is bombed. Audiences see rubble. The underground District 13 is bombed. Again, only rubble. Mockingjay plays close with its narrative, dealing in two hours of Katniss. So rarely does the story – or the scope – venture elsewhere.
In some sense, Mockingjay must exist. The events are important building blocks, if maybe not to this extent. There is hardly a mystery as to why it was split in two. Until complete, it’s difficult to gauge how much unnecessary space was given to this front-loaded side. As a stand-alone, Mockingjay is useless; in execution, it’s fine, maybe a touch dull. Morals and empathy are powerful creators of drama. Subtext is crucial and well expanded. Critically, it’s confusing and without an end because of stock holders. Is it to be rewarded for such a tactic? Maybe.
Until then, Mockingjay is a completed half-film stuck in a narrative holding pattern, brimming with on par (and better) performances, a litany of characters, and strong sense of urgency. So, it’s good. Sort of.
The first in the series to be done entirely on digital, Mockingjay is highly unimpressive in visual scope. Coming from the enormous splendor of 65mm IMAX in Catching Fire to this grayed and dim output is disappointing. It’s poor and lacking.
Some of this is design. Much of Mockingjay is situated underground – District 13 was forced under the surface. Light sources are not plentiful. Shadows are thick. As such, many shots are left flailing, searching for pleasing density without finding it. Black levels are somewhat muted.
Those styling decisions are fine. No harm. What worsens the appearance is a glassy and artificial glaze. Even the Arri Alexa appears to struggling in resolving these low-light situations. Mid-range shots are flattened and lack all impact. Fidelity and resolution are stunted, doubly so for a feature given production values on this scale. Images feel compressed, maybe due to Lionsgate’s encode (which features an acceptable bitrate) although this is doubtful given their performance on prior Hunger Games discs.
Scenes done in brighter exterior light, notably a major action scene in District 8, are hardly better anyway. Problems persist. By the time Mockingjay reaches a forest scene, backgrounds in establishing shots feel smeared. Trees and plants are presented without definition. It’s poor, and that’s being kind.
Not much saves it outside of defined close-ups (plenty of those), and there is a tragedy that the series moved onto digital. Visual consistency is a lost cause now. Even the color palette is washed. Some of this is tone – the story is moving ever closer toward rebellion – yet even things such as flesh tones are bland, albeit noise free. There’s no power left.
Thankfully, there is a rescue in the form of TrueHD 7.1 (or Atmos) audio option which blossoms Mockingjay into sonic bliss. This is the least action oriented of the series, but oddly one of the best sounding. The underground caverns/caves of District 13 are superb. They echo and catch all manner of activities as the camera moves through. This space feels humungous.
By the time this area is victim of a bombing, audio takes over. All of the space is filled with each blast, hitting the low-end and expressing the dynamic range to the fullest. Being underground only adds to the impressiveness of what this mix accomplishes. During a raid by more bombers on the surface (in another locale), the scale is only further accentuated. Tumbling smokestacks and crashing/exploding vehicles are immense.
Brownie points are given for the speeches too. Donald Sutherand’s voice has an uncanny projection when he takes over broadcasts to speak to the Districts.
Director Francis Lawrence and producer Nina Jacobson step up for commentating work, but it’s The Mockingjay Lives which proves essential. Seven parts run longer than Mockingjay: Part 1 itself at over two hours, with the documentary splitting into segments to detail specific aspects of production. While many are expected, their detail is extensive. The commentary barely seems needed.
Straight from the Heart is an 11-minute tribute to Philip Seymour Hoffman, Mockingjay his final completed film before his passing. Songs of Rebellion chats with Lorde about the soundtrack (the disc also features a music video of hers) with some deleted scenes endings the bonuses – unless a soon-to-be-outdated look at Insurgent is of interest.
Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.