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!