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Thursday, November 12, 2015

Why Mockingjay Works Better As A Two-Part Film

In just a couple of weeks, Mockingjay Part Two will hit the theaters and conclude The Hunger Games series on film. io9.com has an interview with producer Nina Jacobson and director Francis Lawrence about how splitting the adaptation of the third book into two movies allowed them more freedom.

Naturally, the comments section followed with multiple people saying that the only reason it got split into two films was so the studios could make more money. Never mind that's the opening line of the io9 article and it's the Captain Obvious statement to end all such statements. So that begs the question: Why couldn't they just do a three-hour movie to get more stuff in from the book?

What, you think every single arc that needs to be completed and characters whose relationship with Katniss Everdeen needs fleshing out could be accomplished just by adding 35 minutes? Oh wait, did everyone forget that the first two Hunger Games film clock in at nearly two-and-a-half hours each? And they had to cut plenty of stuff out, too.

Of course, one can argue (and I would agree) that much of the stuff that got cut out of the first two films wasn't important to include in the films. The entire arc with Madge Undersee and how she was related to the Mockingjay pin was eliminated. Additional background on Katniss' relationship with Prim (most notably the goat story) is gone. The Avoxes are reduced to the background. We never see Gale's family or Peeta's family. Katniss' prep team gets just a couple of cameo appearances in the second film. The District 8 refugees who tried to locate District 13 are never mentioned. Heck, the entire arc that closes the first book, about how the Capitol is mad at Katniss for showing up their spectacle, is reduced to a few quick "let me sum up" scenes in the first film.

Even with all that material reduced or scrapped, the first two films still ran nearly two-and-a-half hours each. So how could one honestly think everything that gets wrapped up in the third book could get addressed in one three-hour film? Wasn't one of the complaints about Mockingjay that the third book seemed rushed, lacked suspense and didn't neatly tie up every loose end? Doesn't it sound like keeping the film adaptation to one three-hour ride cause the same problems?

Hey, I'm aware of how Hollywood operates with these final installments ever since the final Harry Potter film was split into two parts. But setting that aside, there are several good reasons for why Mockingjay's film adaptation works better as a two-parter and, in some ways, improves upon the book.

A warning: Spoilers follow, so don't keep reading if you haven't read Mockingjay.

1. President Alma Coin isn't a flat character. The Hunger Games books are told from Katniss' point of view, so we only know what she thinks of everyone. And while you can get to know enough about the major supporting characters who appear in the first two books, you don't get that with Coin, who plays a major role in the events of the third book but comes off as one-dimensional because, well, we only really know what Katniss thinks of her and get just one book to explore what Coin is all about.

Having others communicate to Katniss what Coin thinks of her is fine in a book told from first person, but not in a film in which omniscient is most often the point of view. And with so many points to touch upon in the third book, and thus the third film, you need to know more about who Coin is and give her an arc that further defines her relationship with Katniss and District 13.

It starts in which you sense that Coin doesn't know how to communicate to the District 13 residents and thus why she's not the one to be leading a revolution, then watches how she's proven wrong about forcing Katniss to do something she's not comfortable with and actually let her go out and convey her real emotions, to having a bigger incentive to rescue Peeta and the other tributes than just trying to appease her. When Coin approaches Katniss during Mockingjay Part One and tells her she won't forget how Peeta warned everyone in District 13 about the attack, you sense she's honestly grateful.

And that gives you more reason to wonder about what Coin's intentions will really take when people respond strongly to her speech after Peeta and company are rescued and she can claim her first real success for District 13 against the capitol. Now we have a reason for her to believe that Katniss might be a threat to her and would better serve as a martyr rather than a symbol.

Try fitting Coin's arc into a single movie and you will more likely have what the book paints her as: Almost a clone of President Coriolanus Snow, except she backs the underdogs, so yay revolution! That's not what I want to see, nor should anyone else.

2. Finnick Odair and Johanna Mason's relationship with Katniss can be explored. In the second book and movie, it's clear Katniss sees Finnick and Johanna as obstacles, not fellow Panem citizens to sympathize with. She only hangs around with them at first because it's convenient for her. It's not until the third book that her relationship with them is further explored, and she finds a way to bond with them both. She goes from seeing them as someone she feels she's forced to be with, to people she actually wants to associate with.

The first part of Mockingjay allows for Finnick's relationship with Katniss to be explored in depth, particularly when Finnick acknowledges that he didn't believe Katniss truly loved Peeta at first, but now knows she really does. It also means you can flesh out how Katniss can relate to Finnick because each of them have a loved one being held captive in the Capitol. That could get lost by trying to cram it into a single film.

Johanna, of course, doesn't appear in the first film until the end, and hopefully they'll explore her relationship with Katniss in the second part. They should have the room to do so, given that at least a couple of plot points from the second half of the Mockingjay book either won't or likely won't be addressed in the upcoming film. Given how well they fleshed out the Katniss-Finnick relationship in Part One, I'm optimistic they'll do the same with Katniss-Johanna in Part Two. At the very least, it shouldn't be one or two brush-off scenes that you would more than likely get in one production.

3. It allows the District 8 bombing scene to have a greater effect. The whole point of the hospital bombing was to get Katniss to say somethng truly meaningful, because she says her most meaningful words when she's truly pissed off at President Snow and the Capitol. How are you going to fit that scene into a three-hour film when you have a lot of other ground to cover? Do we just have her peek inside and then scurry away with the bombers start coming until she fires off an arrow and then does a summed up version of her speech? Because that would suck.

The whole point of the action scenes in the book is not to go around blowing up stuff or firing cool weapons, but to give the reader an idea about how they impact Katniss and allow her to demonstrate how fired up she is about President Snow and his tyranny. Try to fit it all into a three-hour film and it's far more difficult to convey that to everyone.

We'll find out in the second part how they do the scene with District 2, but something tells me that, too, would have had far less impact if they tried to do one three-hour film instead of splitting it into two parts.

4. Not only does Effie get a purpose, it can be given its proper due. One of the biggest problems with the Mockingjay is Effie makes no appearance until the end, when she shows up to tell Katniss what a big day she has when it's time for Snow's execution. It makes you wonder why she wasn't the Capitol resident who got dragged into District 13 to work alongside Katniss.

The film not only corrected this, but if it hadn't been split into two parts, you would have lost that chance for Effie to be the one Capitol resident who Katniss can connect with. As we know, Cinna is the only such resident Katniss has a deep connection with, but in the second book, there are hints that Effie cares for her, and those hints are greater in the second film. And in Mockingjay Part One, Effie drives home the point that she knows Katniss better than Plutarch Heavensbee and what really drives Katniss.

Condense everything to one film and, once again, it's likely the relationship Effie has with Katniss is reduced and we aren't able to learn that Effie is the one reminding Plutarch that he can't control Katniss like he thinks he can. That's important to driving home that Plutarch may want to think he's in charge, but instead he has to adapt.

5. Katniss gets to confront President Snow much sooner. It was understandable that Katniss would have little contact with Snow in the first book until after the Hunger Games ended, and that the second book is when he would take a greater role as the antagonist. But in the third book, all we see from him are his methods of taunting Katniss in an effort to break her spirit, until they finally meet face to face near the book's conclusion. The film addresses this oversight by giving us a meeting betwen the two near the end.

Sure, one can argue that the scene might come off a bit awkward, because why would Snow concern himself with talking to Katniss with uprisings turn into to full rebellion? And the attempt to rescue Peeta may drag on a bit long. But you know what? When I rewatched the film, I found myself loving that meeting between Katniss and Snow. It's exactly what was needed to allow Snow to drive a point home to Katniss.

Not only do Jennifer Lawrence and Donald Sutherland have good chemistry, but their meeting allows Katniss to ask Snow if she convinced him that she really loved Peeta (an important plot point in the second book and film) and that she would gladly turn herself in if Snow would stop this, and Snow coldly tells her that events have gone far beyond whether she loves Peeta or not and he won't stop reminding how she's responsible for everything that's happened.

Driving that point home helps remind everyone that while Katniss is the sympathetic character, she has to learn to deal with the consequences of her actions and dislike of Snow, while allowing Snow to make a valid remark -- albeit in a twisted manner -- that rebellions come at a significant cost.

More importantly, Snow isn't simply reduced to confronting Katniss after he's been deposed and leaving people disappointed for something greater. Of course, it remains to be seen how they handle things in Part Two, but I have more hope that their final confrontation will be a bit more dramatic, rather than kind of ho-hum.

You can argue about how much Hollywood just wants to rake in the dough, but sometimes a book can't be condensed into one film and given proper treatment. No, the Hobbit didn't need to be turned into three films, but if you really want to ensure storyline arcs are paid off and loose ends are tied up for The Hunger Games series, you can't just boil down Mockingjay to a single film, or you're likely to get the same complaints some people had about the book to begin with.

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