Mockingjay Part 1 Trailers Promise Plenty of Action and Maybe Even Something from the Book!

I’ve never made any secret of the fact that I actually like movies, hence my title as unofficial faculty film fancier here at HogPro. The first Hunger Games movie, however, was mostly a tremendous letdown, despite a few useful and meaningful moments. Catching Fire was an improvement, though still with some shudder-worthy gaffes and a botched ending. This week saw the release of the final trailer for the first part of Mockingjay, set for release on November 21. The previews include big, loud, grab-those-viewers-by-the-lapels sequences, but there are a few moments that deserve some thought, consideration, and speculation. The shorter trailers that have been released, including Katniss’s return to 12, are actually quite thoughtful and haunting, boding well for the actual film next month. More TV spots have emerged, and more doubtless will appear in the airtime assault leading up to the film’s release. So, in our own prep for the big, big day, let’s look at some of what we can expect and dread, based on the previews we are seeing.

Something’s Rotten in the State of Panem
Even in a few minutes of promo footage, some of which probably is not even in the final print of the film (as if there is any such thing anymore thanks to director’s cut and deleted scenes options now), there are a few elements that seem likely to be of concern to close readers and students of the trilogy’s deeper layers of meaning and artistry.
• Good Grief, Gale–My students joke that I should have a bumper sticker than says, “Really, Gale’s not that important.” And he isn’t, not like Jacob Black, who is far more than a mere romantic rival. He serves vital plot functions, of course, but his most important job in the novel is to show Katniss her own dark possibilities. She and Gale are much the same: too much fire, not enough warmth. When Katniss recognizes her love for Peeta, she acknowledges that her attraction to Gale is due to their similar, often destructive, worldview, a worldview that leads, indirectly, to the great tragedy at the gates of Snow’s mansion. But she realizes the destructive power of his blind “get the Captiol at all costs” mindset, and she consciously abandons that route herself. Film Gale gets much too much screen time, too much in the trailers that makes him look like the hero and star of the show. In one shot, there is an image of him with “Corporal Hawthorne” beside it, showing his expanded role both in 13 and in the movie. Granted, much of this Gale-fest is due to the undeniable appeal of young Mr. Hemsworth, who is not hard to look at, but then, what do we expect of a guy whose brother is Thor? It is interesting to contemplate how the film makers will cope with the way Gale turns out. Will that conflict with the way they’ve portrayed him? Yes. What will they do about it? If other movies are any precedent, they’ll probably just ignore the book and do what they want, but we can hope that they will stay true to the story, allowing part 2 to convey its very powerful message of what happens when we choose to do terrible things, even if we do them for what seem like good reasons.
• Film Crew or Delta Force? Even before the film footage was released, there were plenty of promo pictures featuring the new characters to be introduced in this installment (we have to meet the Tributes, right?). Though less compelling than the gorgeous posters for the first film, these have been very noticeable; while one series showed our heroes in bleak, District 13 garb, another series depicts the Star Squad, the team that readers know will follow Katniss through her crucible of transformation in the second part of the story. Their transformation as film characters, hinted at in those posters, is more noticeable still in the previews. While it is not surprising that Boggs, a District 13 commando and leader, would sport a distinctly military look, filmmakers are obviously making Cressida, Castor, Pollux, and Messalla into far more military figures, disregarding the fact that they are a film crew in the book and merely get drawn into combat roles due to circumstances. Like the decision to only shave half of the actress’s head for the role of Cressida so she’ll be prettier(book Cressida is totally bald with her vines tattooed all over her scalp), the choice to make the film crew more tough and military shows movie gamemakers are aware of the marketability of a cool group of athletic, skilled, good-looking heroes, and also shows, yet again, their tendency to make their movie counterparts (Cressida and company are movie people!) more sympathetic (remember Seneca Crane? Totally unimportant in the books—sympathetic screen hog in the film) as well as more cool. After all, who doesn’t want to be the Avengers or the X-Men instead of the camera crew of the six o’clock news? Does it matter that this convolutes the text? Not to these spin doctors; they are out to sell a story.

• Beauty Base Zero–As with the first movie, I can see already that, once again, movie people are the same in books or in life. Katniss looks beautiful, even when she is mentally deranged. Her battle scars look like accessories, rather than anything unattractive. Like the film decisions that let Peeta keep his leg and made the 74th Games Victors come out of the arena looking no worse for wear than if they had experienced a long day on the rougher bits of the Appalachian Trail, the shots from the new film show that film makers will only go so far in depicting our heroine’s suffering. This does not bode well for part two, when the story’s artistry demands a truly damaged Katniss, one not prettied up again for more propos. With the kind of special effects available that made Bella Swan really look pregnant but emaciated or made Steve Rogers really look like a 98-pound weakling, such a feat is possible, but it seems unlikely given what we’re seeing so far.
All book-to-film adaptations have these sorts of issues, of course, leading me to finally throw up my hands and declare that the Hobbit film is a good time at the movies and sort of vaguely reminds me of some book I really love. Thankfully, I hope to have a theater full of my students, so that when we yell back at the screen, we won’t get tossed out. I am not sure I am actually welcome back at a certain theater after the Breaking Dawn 2 incident of recent memory.
But somebody, somewhere, does read

It’s not all bad news, though. In fact, of the three films so far, this one’s previews have been the most promising. Particularly fascinating have been the riveting District Heroes portraits, which hark back to the (often staged) portraits taken of miners, sharecroppers, and others, glamorizing or even creating their misery to justify government programs or the exploitation disguised as “helping” the poor, benighted rubes. The propos with President Snow, too, show a real grasp on the story’s messages of control and power. In the trailers, too, are hints that some of the novel’s literary artistry will travel to the screen:

• It’s Supposed to be Pretty–Since earlier film decisions cost the adaptations a chance to make the prep team useful characters at this point, they have instead opted for Effie in the role of Capitol refugee who helps Katniss. Elizabeth Banks, with her make-up-less face looking truly freakish, broken nails, and hair covered by an attempt at a stylish twist in her bandana (that bandana is patterned with schematics and map-like stuff that may matter later or may just have been left over from The City of Ember). When she puts on a brave smile, blinks back a tear, and pins on the Mockingjay pin for Katniss, there is a wonderful moment there, and it looks like we will get to see that Ms. Banks really is more than a  prettily painted face. I look forward to character development opportunities this will provide.

• More Familiar Faces–Though I don’t see nearly enough Finnick in these previews to set us up for part 2, there are some other promising glimpses. The phenomenal Philip Seymour Hoffman, who was a perfect Plutarch Heavensbee, did have most of his footage shot for the film before his untimely death this year, so his performance will be one to watch (cruelly ironic, considering that the District 13 masterminds plan to use Katniss’s footage the same way after her presumed death). Donald Sutherland’s chilly Snow looks just as sinister and fantastic as he has all along, even being allowed some direct conversation with Katniss. Jennifer Lawrence does a nice job delivering the tagline of “If we burn, you burn with us.” But the real face to watch is young Josh Hutcherson’s. Despite his considerable physical limitations in playing Peeta, Suzanne Collins herself said he should have been playing this part even if he had wings and was all over purple. Why? Because of how he showed he could do the hijacked Peeta portrayal. This is why he wanted the part, and why he got it. The glimpses of him, both under the Capitol’s control and breaking free to warn everyone in 13, are chilling, gripping ,and reason enough to make this movie worth watching.

• War–Though it’s probably more to sell the big-budget action-movie angle, the look of these trailers also shows that the filmmakers get, at least on some level, that this is a war story. There were some disappointed readers after Mockingjay, because they forgot that this is a war story, first and foremost, so it must be understood on that level. The scenes of destruction shown in the trailer may be gratuitous promotional fodder, but they do show the violence of war that Collins so aptly portrays, and even hint at some of the complexity and moral ambiguity of war that weave so strongly through Katniss’s story. Many of the big sets are clearly just audience- stunners, but the explosion of the dam (presumably during the bombing of 13) looks amazing and does have some connection to the book (through there is no dam in 13 in the text). The scenes of the hospital bombing, of the violence against civilians, all promise that this one will really earn its PG-13 and maybe, just maybe, will transmit some of Collins’s powerful story about the harm war does to everyone it touches.

After these propos, of course, gazillions of viewers will doubtless flock to the theater, and most of them probably will not have read the books, so they won’t notice any problem with the film as long as it delivers plenty of thrills. But perhaps a few of them might actually read the book, and that is an epic accomplishment in itself. Stay tuned after November 21 for the thoughts my students and I have after seeing the film…


  1. I have to disagree with a lot that was written here. I’ve been following the marketing really closely and a lot of what is written above just doesn’t match up with my experience. Francis Lawrence has stated that they are staying very close to the book, and basically only expanding to include events outside of Katniss’ POV instead of changing things from the book itself. I’m sure there will be changes like any adaptation, but with how close to the book Catching Fire was, I have a lot of trust in what Francis has said.

    -First, Gale. Gale has had some inclusion, yes. That is because this is the book where he has the most time in the spotlight. But in the promo? There is just as much Peeta, if not more. Lately almost everything is about Peeta (TV spots, the first clip released). They are making it very clear that Peeta is Katniss’ main worry and motivation in part 1. Gale is almost always in the background in the marketing, besides his individual poster(s). I believe he has had exactly one line in one trailer.
    Also Francis Lawrence has said that both Peeta and Gale will strongly show what they stand for in these movies. Peeta for peace and Gale for war. I’m certain that it will all play out just like the book based on his insistence on this point. He has also said that these movies will have for their main theme the consequences of war. I’m sure he wouldn’t leave out the most important examples of that in the series, no matter what Liam Hemsworth does or doesn’t look like.

    -Second, Katniss’ look. There is only one scene that we’ve seen so far where she is wearing any visible makeup (which is the first attempt at the propo, where she is supposed to be wearing a lot of makeup). Throughout the promo she looks much simpler and even younger than in Catching Fire due to this lack of makeup. I think we’re definitely going to feel Katniss’ mental state based on what we’ve seen so far and words from Francis Lawrence, et. al. Most of the time she is in the simple District 13 grey suit. No evidence that they’ve made her look “prettier” or more together than they should. From what Francis Lawrence has said I have no worries about missing Katniss’ suffering and ongoing struggles to become the Mockingjay while protecting Peeta. Will we see the scar in her arm from the tracker being removed? We don’t know yet. Definitely a possibility.

    -Third, Cressida. They were going to shave her entire head (Natalie Dormer had committed to it) but the final decision had nothing to do with being “prettier.” They decided that it was more of an edgy, Capitol look to shave part of the head. Maybe in your opinion the final result is “prettier” but that is not the intention that they have stated. Also you say that she has been made more “sympathetic” but I think she already had that role in the book…willing to follow Katniss into war zones and finally in what will be part 2 willing to follow Katniss on a made-up mission into the Capitol. She basically risks her life and safety repeatedly, first for the idea of the Mockingjay and the rebellion, and later for Katniss herself after she has come to know her better. Pretty sympathetic in my opinion.

    -Fourth which goes along with my last point, Cressida and her crew. Yes, they have been more equipped from what we’ve seen. But we don’t know if they’ll be played as military-types from the start. It’s entirely possible that they’ll be fish out of water in the beginning and grow into the “combat” roles that they eventually take up. We can’t know this without seeing it yet. But as most people in District 13 have the title “Soldier” and are expected to undergo military training it wouldn’t surprise me if our ex-Capitol characters have already begun or even finished their training in District 13 – I think it would be expected of any non-Mockingjay/average citizen living there. Katniss and her family were the exception to this rule, and her mother and Prim were still expected to contribute (and did, in the hospital).

    I don’t think these movies will be perfect but I think they will deserve more credit than you’re giving them now.
    I appreciate your comments about Josh Hutcherson – so far it looks like he will do a spectactular job. I definitely think that war in the Mockingjay movies will be devastating, all-encompassing and not glorified in the slightest. It will be great to see how Effie makes it in 13.

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