None of the menacing fictional characters of the popular “Hunger Games” novels can kill Katniss Everdeen. The ones actually doing that are the flesh-and-blood people who own the film rights to the series, and who decided to split the final story, “Mockingjay,” into two parts and distribute them a year apart.
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“Mockingjay” opened in cinemas worldwide late last week, after a wild buildup that lasted almost a year and a massive marketing offensive that described it as “the event of the year.” But the disappointment is as large as the expectations were, since “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1” is nothing but a narrow, rickety and ineffective bridge that links the first two films (“The Hunger Games” and “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire”) with the final installment (“Mockingjay Part 2”), which is scheduled for release in November 2015.
In a perfect world, “Mockingjay Part 1” should have served as an introduction to the series finale. It should have been a moving, suspenseful and interesting stand-alone film. But when it ends, one is left with an extremely strong feeling of disappointment, together with the question of whether it was merely lust for profit on the part of the film’s backers (Lionsgate), who wanted to squeeze the mockingjay that laid a golden egg with a superfluous installment that would make them a few dollars more (“Mockingjay Part 1” took $123 million at the U.S. box office last weekend).
Such films are called franchise films in the industry – the branding and commercialization of a film series. “The Avengers,” “Star Wars,” “Harry Potter,” “Twilight” and “The Hunger Games” are examples. What they have in common is an attempt by the studios to stretch the brand and maximize it as much as possible. Instead of investing large amounts of money and energy in marketing a new film with no brand awareness, the studios prefer to identify protagonists and stories they can duplicate in at least three or four films, taking advantage of the momentum and public interest.
In this way, the studios can be sure of adding several hundred million dollars to their bank balances for several years in a row – even at the cost of a lesser-quality episode. And “Mockingjay 1” is indeed of a lesser quality, since a third of it tries to fill in unresolved details from the previous movie, “Catching Fire”; another third lays foundations for the final film; and what remains is not all that exciting.
The only positive thing about the branding and commercialization of the “Hunger Games” series seems to be the increased presence of Jennifer Lawrence, who plays Katniss, in promotional interviews for the film.
As “Mockingjay Part 1” unspools throughout the world over coming weeks, the franchise’s creators, currently hard at work on “Mockingjay Part 2,” will be keeping close track of the response on the social networks, like they did when “Catching Fire” was released five weeks before filming started on the two “Mockingjay” movies.
It will be interesting to see whether the audience forgives them for the disappointment of “Part 1.”