This blog post contains spoilers for anything with the word Mockingjay in the title. Consider yourself warned.
Most good films make you want to write. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay- Part 2 makes you want to read. Specifically, it makes you want to go back to your bookshelf, find your copy of the book, and scrutinise the second half in search of a discrepancy. It is not a challenge I recommend you stake anything of value on. You will fail.
OK, so not entirely. They skip out a couple of things for reasons of time, and by ‘a couple’ I do literally mean ‘two’: Katniss and Johanna’s training sequence for the Star Squad, and her imprisonment during her trial in absentia. But that’s it. It took me about half an hour to realise how closely they were adhering to the script, because it’s been a while since I read Mockingjay, and two hours more to understand why: the adaptation was undertaken by only one screenwriter, and it was the series’ author, Suzanne Collins.
For context: YA films are rarely written by the authors of their books. The Divergent film series has had nine different screenwriters, one of whom is Stephen Chbosky, none of whom is Veronica Roth. The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, the first and only film in the Shadowhunter Chronicles to be adapted for the big screen, was done so by Jessica Pontigo, not Cassandra Clare. Perhaps understandably, nobody let Stephanie Meyer anywhere near the Twilight films; they were written instead by Melissa Rosenberg. And even JK Rowling has had co-writers on every Potter adaptation to date (including The Play That Shall Not Be Named Because I Spent What Felt Like Most of My Half Term Waiting In That Queue And Still Didn’t Get Tickets).
Letting Collins write the screenplay single-handedly is, therefore, a bold and interesting move. It is generally assumed that novelists and screenwriters are adherents to two very different disciplines, and that the two skills are not necessarily seamlessly transferable. But letting other writers, however experienced, tweak the details of much-loved series- especially SFF stories, which come with their own, exquisitely constructed worlds- has its tradeoffs. Notably: ire.
Back in the dark days of 2012, when the first Hunger Games movie was released, fandoms were not really A Thing outside of their corners of the internet. (I mean ‘our’, of course, but for the sake of appearances I will attempt to look objective and refer to Potterheads in the third person.) And even if they had been, no mainstream studio believed that a film could profit out of fandom-love alone; they had to be adapted for mass-market consumption, hence the outsider screenwriters.
But now. Oh, now.
Now- in a post-Avengers, post-Nerdfighters, post-Gamergate world- we know the power fandoms can have. We know the passion with which stories are loved and the vehemence with which they will be defended. We have seen both the dark side- rape and death-threats from behind egg accounts; Anita Sarkeesian being forced out of her home to seek shelter with friends, because she thought one of the adherents of the stories she criticised would come to her house, and hurt her as badly as they had promised to- and the brighter one- Harry Potter fans staging a wedding between Dumbledore and Gandalf, outside the headquarters of the Westboro Baptist Church, after Obergefell– of fandoms. If fandoms cannot carry a film, nothing can. And Mockingjay Part 2- the second half of a book nearly all its viewers will have read; the fourth and final film in a series which almost all its viewers will have seen- was only going to be seen by fans. That, of course, showed in its box office sales- it had the weakest opening of the series- but that opening was still $275 million worldwide.
Watching a film which is almost a verbatim transcription of a book you have read and loved is a very strange experience. You watch your favourite characters fight valiantly for their lives and know exactly when and how they will fail. You watch hoods being lowered and know the faces that lie beneath them. You see parachutes drifting slowly from a clear blue sky, and beg that they will not touch the hands stretching desperately up towards them. You know when you will cry- seeing Katniss walk slowly, gaunt-faced, into an empty kitchen, see her scream ‘She’s gone! She’s gone and she’s not coming back!’ to the blank-eyed cat on the windowsill- because that is when you cried, when you read the book.
It is the pictures in your head alive- which is, of course, what all perfect books are. And when it is over, you do not want to rewatch it, because you have already seen it hundreds of times, watched it play out in your mind.
But you know you will see it again, anyway. Because you love it. And that was a given before you walked into the cinema.