Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Hunger Games Mockingjay part 2 review

Readers of this blog will know I am a secret fan of the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. I've read all three books, and now I've seen all four - yes, four - films. So how do the films stand against the books?

These films (unlike many adaptations for the screen) follow the books faithfully. I loved the first one. The original Hunger Games was always going to translate brilliantly to the big screen with its reality TV concept of the Arena and all the fabulous costumes and showmanship. I thought the second film Catching Fire was even better than the first and looked forward to seeing the third, only to discover (frustratingly) that the third book Mockingjay had been split into two.

The first part of Mockingjay on screen didn't really work for me. The trouble with splitting a book into two films is that the viewer doesn't experience the full story arc or the satisfaction of the ending. The second part was a long time coming, and I was rather hoping that there would be some flashback or reminder of the first part... but there isn't. We plunge straight into a scene where Katniss is recovering her voice (from being strangled by Peeta, if I remember right) and, while this cleverly reintroduces Katniss as a character, I found myself wishing I'd re-read the third book beforehand or at least opted for the double bill running parts 1 and 2 back to back. It took me a while to identify all the characters and recall the plot.

So was the decision to split the third book in the trilogy a cynical marketing exercise, or stroke of artistic genius? Spreading the final book over two films certainly allowed more room for dramatic scenes such as when Katniss and her unit are infiltrating the Capitol, but much of the third book deals with a quite realistic civil war and I did not really enjoy that aspect of the films as much as I enjoyed reading about it in the book. There is little of the original Hunger Games glamour in Mockingjay, and while the war scenes were done well, if I want to watch war scenes I'll watch the news. This, of course, is part of the power of the trilogy, but whether it translates as well into film I'm not so sure. The ending is rather bleak and didn't feel quite right for such a strong character as Katniss, but that might follow the book faithfully too... to be honest, I can't remember exactly how the final book ends after the main plot resolution.

I enjoyed revisiting the characters, especially Katniss' old mentor Haymitch and her boyfriend Gale. In this film, Katniss lives up to the 'kat' part of her name and proves to have nine lives, which had me cheering her on. There were one or two places - wise comments made by the characters - that made me smile, providing light relief from the more intense scenes. So why didn't I enjoy the final part of the trilogy on screen as much as I enjoyed the book? I'm not sure. I only know I didn't come away from Mockingjay with the same feeling that I took away from the first two films.

Maybe the third book would have been better done as a single film with the war scenes shortened to allow more focus on the plot twists? Perhaps there will be a director's cut version released eventually? In the meantime, the unicorn recommends stocking up on popcorn and either watching the boxed set of the first three films on DVD beforehand, or going to see the Mockingjay double bill!

Saturday, 21 November 2015

An interview with David Wailing

Today I am over at Authors Electric interviewing David Wailing about his Auto series of books set in 2022, when everyone has a digital personal assistant app called an auto:

You know you want one!

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Girls of Troy

The unicorn has just spent a few years in ancient Greece with three of the girls who survived the Trojan War: Queen Helen's daughter Hermione; Princess Cassandra's slave Eirene; and eldest daughter of King Agamemnon Electra. In Frances Thomas' delightful Girls of Troy trilogy, these three young narrators bring the myths to life, giving an overview of the whole story from the moment Queen Helen elopes to Troy with Prince Paris, through the long years of war, to the violent fall of Troy and its aftermath back in Greece when the victors return with their captives.

In Book 1 Helen's Daughter, Hermione has been thrown out of her father's house after her mother elopes to Troy, and tells us in her own words how the Greek kings use her mother's 'abduction' as an excuse to raise an army of a thousand ships to sail across the sea and attack the city. This is actually a relief for Hermione who, having emerged from her mother's shadow, meets Achilles' handsome golden-haired son in the most romantic of the three books. Under the protection of centaurs and Achilles' faithful Myrmidons, the two young people seem to be heading for a happy ending, until Hermione's cousin Iphigenia is summoned to take part in what is maybe one of the most tragic scenes of the whole war. As a reader with a fairly good knowledge of the Greek myths, I found knowing what is coming actually made this story more compelling. Hermione gets a fairly happy ending, but by then the men are fighting at Troy and the story is far from finished.

In Book 2 The Burning Towers, we move across the Aegean Sea to Troy and find out what it's like to be a slave in the royal household as the faithful Eirene (who herself has the Sight) tries to look after her mistress Princess Cassandra, who screams her prophecies of doom as the Greeks attack the city. Not knowing what happened to the slaves makes Eirene's story one of the most interesting of the trilogy, and although there is not as much romance in this book as in the first title Eirene does eventually get a happy ending too.

Book 3 The Silver Handled Knife deals with what happened after the victorious warriors sailed home to Greece with their captives. But the Greeks have been gone a long time, and the women they left behind have not all been sitting weaving in their rooms waiting patently for their husbands' return. Electra's mother Queen Clytemnestra, understandably upset with her husband King Agamemnon for the terrible thing he did to their daughter Iphigenia at the start of the war, has taken a lover, and neither of them are too pleased when King Agamemnon turns up again bringing his share of the spoils from Troy. So they murder him, which starts a trail of revenge told in Electra's words. This is perhaps the toughest of the three stories, as it deals with members of a family killing each other, but the author makes a good attempt at showing the reasons why they act as they do. Electra's final words "I am a survivor" bring the trilogy to a satisfying end.

Part romance, part tragedy, part historical adventure, the three books are tightly written with delightful details of the period. The author has clearly done her research and does not flinch from the more tragic aspects of the original tales by Homer, which means these books should appeal to adult readers and older teens looking for rich storytelling and depth of character. If you enjoy the Greek myths, you won't want to miss these!


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