**WARNING: SPOILERS ABOUND**
The Hunger Games has made that fabled and increasingly impossible jump from book series to cultural and blockbuster phenomenon. Given the gargantuan success of the first film and the increasingly positive word of mouth preceding the sequel film adaptation, “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire”, the real question on the minds of Games’ fans and Capitol citizens alike is unanimous: what the hell is Francis Lawrence and Lionsgate going to do with Mockingjay?
It is no secret that the Hunger Games series fully experienced the law of diminishing returns as each successive sequel book premiered. Even before the first film wowed most of the world (although still disappointed some fans, despite being widely hailed as one of the more faithful adaptations in existence) the final book and end to the story of the Capitol and the Games, Mockingjay, was met with a resounding sigh of disappointment from fans and critics alike. The final installment is not only long, but it dismantles many of the relationships and fan-favorite ideas that have been built over the course of the series in lieu of psychological discourse, gore-filled blood baths (saying this in the context of the already super violent Hunger Games universe, mind you), character expulsions, cheap death scenes and beating it over the heads of the readers that war is bad and good vs. evil is not always black and white (points most readers already fully grasped by the end of book 2.) The result is a mess that would make Effie Trinket vomit; a bloated, boring, insensitive misfire that seems as though author Suzanne Collins either suddenly got sick of writing her characters or simply sunk a knife into the beautiful mahogany of her own series.
Given the nature of the publishing industry and how fiercely protective they are of their franchises, I was actually quite shocked that Mockingjay ever made it to print. For the longest time, too, I said nothing to fellow readers as I was almost certain of the response I would get. Boy was I wrong. Not only was my opinion shared, but some other fans of the series were far, far more upset by Mockingjay than I was. This criticism was not of the superfan, super-illogical drivel that is so common in beloved series, but actual, fervent issues that seemed to be decently unilateral among readers. Length, absence of characters, poor story flow and construction, mishandled character deaths, conflicting themes, the list goes on. This creates an interesting problem, or perhaps opportunity, given your perspective, for the film adapters. Mockingjay simply cannot be translated directly into a two-part film without making some extremely serious changes. The mass public simply won’t buy it and even though readers are usually quite adamant about faithfulness in translation, most of the ones I spoke to agreed that while the first two installments were great material for mass-film translations, a point I wholeheartedly agree with, Mockingjay needs some help before it can go to the silver screen.
I took some time via simple conversations with fans of the both the film and book series and while not everyone agreed (which is largely impossible given the nature of the beast), there were many areas where their opinions, as well as some of my own, overlapped. Francis Lawrence and Jennifer Lawrence, as well as writer Danny Strong, already announced some changes to Catching Fire and heavily insinuated that some drastic changes would be made to Mockingjay. Some of the Catching Fire changes listed are as follows:
- Peeta is “manned up” a bit and swims, instead of needing rescuing, at the beginning of the Quarter Quell.
- Effie Trinket’s character and conscience are expanded and she is more dynamic than static (like she was largely in the books.) Her screen time has also been heavily increased compared to the novel.
- Twill and Bonnie are excised from the story and District 13 is revealed in a more “interesting” way, according to Jennifer Lawrence.
- The game center from the first film will appear once again, a dimension widely viewed as an inspired addition to the series.
These are relatively small changes, but they reflect a positive point amongst the filmmakers: bringing the essence of a story to life sometimes requires changes. Given these changes and the general disappointment concerning Mockingjay in literary form, here are some of the changes I have heard that fans, as well as a few of my own, would like to see incorporated into the two-part epic that will be Mockingjay:
- Effie Trinket’s character needs to be present, in some form, during the revolution and her dissent from the Capitol, as well as support of Katniss and change of character/conscience, made a larger plot point. Given that Effie, via the films, has become an even more beloved character, I think we are already seeing this happen in the second film and will see it continue. This, in my estimation, may end up being the biggest change to the third film. I expect her character may have an entirely different story altogether in the 3rd and 4th films.
- Peeta’s brainwashed stupor needs to be present, but heavily reduced and he needs to be “there” during the revolution, not relegated to a flimsy romantic side character. Some even suggested replacing this story line completely, which honestly, I would be more than okay with.
- Individual district revolutions, and the connections to the fallen victors, needs to be expanded upon and actually shown, not just talked about. (Already hinted at in the Catching Fire trailer footage.)
- Katniss’ love triangle with Peeta and Gale needs to be resolved in a louder, more revelatory manner. Additionally, Katniss needs to actually express genuine love towards Peeta, not the simple apathy present in the books. (Of all the points, this was the most agreed upon.) Again, we have already seen this start in the film adaptation of book one where it is no question that Katniss is truly falling for Peeta, a change I am hugely glad they made.
- Katniss’ fall from grace after shooting Alma Coin and being sent back to District 12 as a lunatic is probably the single biggest disappointment of the entire series for readers. Katniss needs an entirely different, more proactive and heroic ending.
- District 13 needs to be streamlined and the story there intensified with almost everyone qualifying that this was the longest and most arduous part of the story. The best suggestion I heard? “Instead of just mulling about in a bunker, the film should take the post-apocalyptic setting of District 13 to tell the story of how Panem came to be.”
And finally, the single most controversial of all the changes, but one that I have completely fallen in love with upon reflection. Take a breath, here we go…
- Gale needs to die…and by Katniss’ hand. Gale is heavily inferred to have been the source of the plan that killed Primrose as well as swaths of innocent people at the hands of Alma Coin, with his fire and passion for seeing the Capitol fall blinding him to the costs at which it will come. This needs to happen at a climatic moment wherein the frustrations both romantically and the continually expanding rift between Katniss and Gale is fully expressed. If done correctly, this could be wildly dramatic, cathartic and heartbreaking. I see a grand moment where Katniss makes the decision but goes to Gale’s side after she plants a bow in his chest, a crumbling Capitol behind him as he sees his dream finally come to life as he leaves this life. I would sob, absolutely sob. It’s the kind of death that is full of gray area, hard to watch, heartbreaking for the fans, but also a welcome departure and moment of closure for this character (closure that is inexplicably absent in the book, wherein there is almost no resolution with Gale at all, which is just not going to fly for a film audience.)
These are merely thoughts from critically-thinking readers and fans who want nothing but the best for this overall amazing franchise. Not everyone agrees on these ideas and indeed a few don’t think anything needs to change at all, but It seems the filmmakers and actors have already picked up on and started making some of these changes, so only time will tell if Mockingjay will be the story fans deserve instead of the one the one they got. I, for one, think that change is a good thing.
What are your thoughts on the series? Should Mockingjay be changed? What else would you like to see different in the final two films?