It’s an exasperating, infuriating moment.
You spend roughly two hours—often more—of your life spent staring at a screen waiting for the story, but the only thing that starts are the ending credits. You are then hit with a stunned revelation of “That’s It?”, followed by shock or aggravation, indignant that you could have given the movie the benefit of the doubt. It wasn’t slow enough for you to get up and leave, (it showed some promise or potential that left you wanting more), but overall the story you paid for (in time and, theoretically, money) simply wasn’t there.
If you have ever felt this way, congratulations! You’ve been Mockingjay’d!
I should probably explain.
/mah-keeng-jā · ˈsinˌdrōm/
When the primary set-up and action of a film comprises the entire time allotted, unnecessarily extending the story into one or more subsequent films. Can be applied to any sort of media (television, literature, etc…).
Synonyms: Bamboozled, Swindled, Hoodwinked, Duped, etc.
It’s not an unfamiliar concept. However, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 is not the first film to fall into the trap (all set-up, no action, To Be Continued). It’s just the most recent and most egregious, having been aided by the rave reviews of Catching Fire and high expectations of the series. Many Lord of the Rings fans know this frustration from The Hobbit, while those more television-oriented probably better relate to American Horror Story: Freakshow.
There are countless examples of this, but Mockingjay is notable for how remarkably pointless and unnecessary the split was. None of the previous books had been divided. The final book isn’t particularly longer than the first two. Harry Potter and the Prolonged Camping Trip Deathly Hallows had that much going for it (Also, it could be argued that prolonging the viewing experience a little bit further was acceptable for such a profoundly loved series. Though, thematically, seven movies would have fit better with the numerology. And Part 1 could have used some edits. The movies did, however, have plenty of material to work with).
So why pick on Mockingjay, you ask? Well, Mockingjay was its own sort of betrayal. The quality lacking in the quantity was likely done for monetary reasons, much like the dual-movies comprising Eclipse of the Twilight Saga (Then again, staring at attractive, likely sparkly people seemed to be the entire point of the franchise, so perhaps the extension gave fans more screen-time for staring). The circus-couture of the Capitol was nowhere to be found, which would have served to contrast the hours of relentless grey. The undercurrent of untouchable tension between President Snow and Katniss quickly became stale, rather than feeling like a build to another cathartic arena. Without the dimension provided by the rest of the world, the movie was monotonous. Do not confuse this with District 13 being rightfully Soviet grey—it should be, but the novelty quickly wears off without the Capitol to provide contrast and impact.
The split compromised the story—and perhaps ruined the final chapter—in such a recognizable extension of a first-act that it’s obvious and applicable to other films. Turning one book into three, like the Hobbit, is rare. The story in Eclipse might not have made a single good movie no matter how much you condensed it. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows did have more than enough material; it was just handled poorly. As for American Horror Story: Freakshow, (well, that’s TV), while the perennial-first-act certainly applies, there’s simply more time to deal with everything when you’ve got ten to twenty-six hours to write (depending on your season length).
Movies do not have the luxury of time. Few movies warrant being three hours long—and fewer still longer than that—and multiple movies need to contain their own story arcs, even if they’re related to previous or subsequent films. There’s nothing wrong with a franchise so long as there is story to support it. Ideal sequels add to the world of the first movie and thus justify their own existence.Most sequels, however, are met with a groan as studios capitalize on popularity; so is there a point to imagining the ideal? Is it a waste of time to dream of a world where sequels surpass, let alone equal, the preceding movie(s)? Catching Fire, by near all accounts, certainly did—which made the failure of its follow-up so much worse. But so did The Dark Knight. Were these exceptions to the rule? Or did they just establish a new rule of the middle-movies of trilogies being the meaty center of a boredom sandwich? Can we not have a movie with three-acts anymore? Is Mockingjay just another confirmation of the trend toward feature-length single acts? Are we heading towards a future where internet super-cuts reduce movies to reasonable lengths and engaging pacing?
***Written by guest writer Torbeast***
Images From: Lionsgate, Tumblr, Funnyjunk.com, Dirtyurban.wordpress.com, Thereeldealonfilm.com