Mockingjay: Part 1 (AKA All The Feelings)

MockingjayI turned up to watch the Mockingjay: Part 1 film today, its official day of release, without any prep. I’d like to say that’s because I deliberately withheld re-reading the book or reading advance film reviews, but the reason is much more pedestrian: I’ve been so otherwise occupied with speedbumps I’ve hit in life that I almost forgot today was the day the film was coming out.

I even turned up to the cinema two minutes after the start time and breathlessly asked the attendant if I could: a) still go in; and b) go to the bathroom first. She assured me yes on both counts: there were some 20 minutes of ads before the film itself began (that’s probably the first and only time I’ll be happy to hear that).

Consequently, I was hazy on the plot points that would be contained within this film, and even hazier as I knew this would be the first of two films. That’s because the final book in the trilogy was deemed too big to fit into one (plus I’m guessing Hollywood saw an opportunity to force us besotted, addicted fans to fork out moar money for moar moofie tix).

In Mockingjay: Part 1, Katniss and Finnick are struggling. The first scene picks up with them having tormented nightmares from which they seem unable to wake even when they’re awake.

Katniss and co. are hunkered down underground in semi safety in District 13. District 12, their home, has been bombed to oblivion, with few survivors. Outside, the rebellion against the Capitol is well under way. Peeta and Annie are still captive in the Capitol, with Peeta trotted out as a kind of golden-child propaganda.

The rebellion needs Katniss to go on camera to create some pro-rebellion mockingjay propaganda, but she’s so traumatised by all she’s experienced and so pre-occupied by the thought of needing to rescue Peeta that she wants nothing to do with it. Both Katniss and Finnick wish they were dead.

This film, like the book, kicks the tale up a notch of seriousness, with propaganda—storytelling, controlling messages, reframing stories in order to invoke emotion, allegiance, and a taking up of arms—central to its adrenalin- and emotion-wringing success.

It’s tense and oppressive. We see and feel it from the expressions on the characters’ faces and the enclosed, concrete bunker-like accommodation they’re cooped up in. The stellar cast that includes Woody Harrelson, Julianne Moore, and Donald Sutherland is also up to the challenging of conveying all these senses and issues and emotions (unlike, cough, the cast of such films as Twilight).

As a side note, I felt all the feelings when Philip Seymour Hoffman was on screen. My general lack of preparation meant I was especially less prepared to see him than I would otherwise have been, and he appears early in the film and pops in regularly throughout. He is magnificent, bringing depth and warmth and humour to a character that was for me rather two-dimensional in the books. The film’s final credits include a dedication to him, which he richly deserves.

Likewise, Woody Harrelson reprising Haymitch and Elizabeth Banks reprising Effie Trinkett bring new gravity to their characters. Neither can rely on the over-the-top acting options they had in the previous films, as in Mockingjay the usually sauced Haymitch is sober and the usually flamboyantly attired Trinkett is forced to wear the same androgynous, definitively unfashionable khaki garb as everyone else. Yet through muted performances, both actors managed to convey key information and humanise and endear us to their characters more than ever.

While this film is somber-er than the previous films (not that I’d ever call them ‘light’), there are some well-timed moments of wit. One moment includes a condition Katniss issues for agreeing to being the mockingjay propaganda lackey: her sister ‘gets to keep her cat’ (pets are forbidden in the largely militarised zone). Another includes the muttered ‘We interrupt your regularly scheduled horse manure’ as the rebels temporarily take over the Capitol’s broadcast. Yet another is Haymitch saying he ‘can never fully support the woman [President Coin, the District 13 leader] in light of the prohibition’ she has in place.

I can’t tell you where they split the book/films in two, but I can tell you I’d forgotten all about the moment so was suitably surprised when it happened. Now I commence the long wait until Part 2 comes out and wraps up the trilogy altogether. I imagine I’ll feel all the feelings when that occurs, albeit for entirely different, please-don’t-let-it-end reasons…

TEENS PUT TO THE TEST – THE HUNGER GAMES LATEST RELEASE

Mockingjay, the 3rd book in Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games series was released recently to the delight of thousands of fans, and this final saga in the trilogy doesn’t disappoint.

Just like books one and two it’s full of action and suspense and feisty heroine, Katniss Everdeen is at her charismatic best.

In Mockingjay, the Capitol is angry and wants revenge. Katniss’ arch enemy President Snow blames her for the unrest and will stop at nothing to bring her down. And President Snow wants to make sure that Katniss suffers as much as possible before he destroys her.

Once again, I found myself hooked by Katniss’ story, wondering how she could possibly win against such impossible odds, and every step of the way I felt her physical and emotional pain.

For all her bravery and magnetism, she is also full of self-doubt and impulsiveness and it’s these flaws that make her real for the reader.

To add to the tension is the conflict between the rivals for her affection. Will she choose the angry and driven Gale or the damaged but heroic Peeta?

All three Hunger Games books have a well-constructed plot and a diverse cast of characters, and the events unfold at a cracking pace that keeps you turning the pages. They also offer something for the reader who wants to delve a little deeper to the themes and issues that lie just below the surface. It’s hardly surprising that these multi-layered books been translated into 30 languages and are being so widely talked about.

The books appeal to both YA and adult readers and the secret to their success seems to be in the way the teen heroes and heroines are put to the test and forced to confront their beliefs and fears.

For me, the Hunger Games books have the same features that make John Marsden’s Tomorrow When the War Began series so successful. Both series have plenty of action and great characters facing the moral dilemmas of war and who has the right to live or die.

What can be more compelling than teenagers forced to take risks to save the world in which they live and along the way, find their own identity and discover what really matters?

Mockingjay is written by Suzanne Collins and published by Scholastic.

Where in the World is Lisbeth Salander? Pt 1

Those who have dipped their toes into the chilly waters of ebook purchasing have likely done so through an international portal like Amazon. But when you buy an ebook from Amazon, where is your money going? Are you buying that book from an Australian publisher? Or is it going to a big American or British company? And why is it that your mate in the States can buy a copy of Mockingjay from the Kindle store but you can’t? The answer is territorial copyright and parallel importation restrictions.

For those who have no idea what those two phrases mean, allow me to quickly explain. Territorial copyright is the legal licence sold by the owner of a copyrighted work (in this case, the author of a book) to a publisher so that they can reproduce that work for sale in a particular territory. Parallel importation restrictions are the laws that force Australian booksellers to sell the Australian version of a book where it is available (to stop them from importing cheaper versions of the same book from overseas and cutting out Australian publishers). However, this protection of Australian publishers is not absolute. The rule that governs parallel importation in Australia is known as the 30 day rule, which essentially means that so long as an Australian publisher gets a book printed and available for sale within 30 days of its publication overseas, Australian booksellers can only buy the Australian version.

There is another loophole in the parallel importation rules, and that is for single copies of books. Booksellers are allowed to import a single copy of a particular book for a customer, and individuals are allowed to import their own single copies of books from overseas (from stores like Amazon).

So what does this mean for ebooks? At the moment, every copy of an ebook sold is sold as a ‘single copy’. Nonetheless, every major ebook retailer respects parallel importation restrictions and does not allow the sale of ebooks to Australia unless the publisher who is providing the file to the retailer has explicit rights to sell that ebook in Australia. Is this a legal requirement of our parallel importation restrictions? Well, at the moment, nobody is sure. That’s why ebook retailers are playing it safe and keeping Australian publishers happy.

So we’ve ended up in a bizarre situation. I can buy a copy of any book I like from any publisher I like anywhere in the world and have it posted to me here in Australia. But ebooks? No. I can only get a copy of an ebook that has been explicitly produced and given to an ebook vendor by an Australian publisher (unless the overseas publisher owns worldwide digital rights – quite a rare situation). Is this crazy? Yes. Is it fair? Probably not. But the solution? Unsurprisingly, it is not going to be a cakewalk. Tune in to the next blog, folks, and I’ll see if I can make sense of why this is happening and what cleverer people than me think might be done to sort it out.

Do Ebook Readers Read More Books?

There’s a persistent nugget of common sense that keeps floating around the web indicating that people who read ebooks read more books than those who read paper books.  It’s reared its adorable little head again on the WSJ this week, and I think it’s worth analysing it a bit deeper. Snip:

A study of 1,200 e-reader owners by Marketing and Research Resources Inc. found that 40% said they now read more than they did with print books. Of those surveyed, 58% said they read about the same as before while 2% said they read less than before. And 55% of the respondents in the May study, paid for by e-reader maker Sony Corp., thought they’d use the device to read even more books in the future.

You can see why people want it to be true (people other than Sony, that is). Ebooks are a bit of a boogeyman for publishers and booksellers – some of them like to pretend that ebooks spell (variously) the end of the book, the end of reading and the end of the bookstore. However, if it turns out that ebook readers read more books than paper book readers (and more importantly, buy more ebooks than paper book readers) then the amount of money that books make for everyone will increase, which will reverse a worrying downward trend in both reading and book buying over the past decade.

But the questions is – is it true? It’s obviously a very difficult thing to prove at this point. As the WSJ points out itself, it’s a bit too early to tell if the increase in reading will continue after the lure of the new gadgetry wears off. Nonetheless, let us indulge ourselves in some idle speculation.

It’s true that the early adopters of ereaders are likely to be both gadget-fiends and fairly big readers already. However, it’s very likely that the penetration of ereaders and ebooks into the ordinary book buying public will occur for a few key reasons, each of which, I believe, is directly related to why ebook readers read more books than paper book readers.

Firstly, there’s what’s called interstitial, or cereal-box reading. That is, ereaders and ebook technology lends itself towards the type of reading you do from the back of a cereal box while scoffing down your breakfast. And, let’s face it, the average person spends three years of their life on the toilet – what better time to finally finish Ulysses? (Especially if it’s already sitting on the iPhone you have in your pocket).

There’s also the ease of purchase. Despite the teething problems readers are experiencing at the moment in regards to book availability, pricing and territorial copyright, the digitisation of other industries has proven that these things eventually settle down. Not only are we already in a position to quite easily read The Passage while lining up in the pub or waiting for a YouTube video to load (two of the most distasteful waiting times in a modern human’s life), we can also buy, download and begin reading Mockingjay when we finish it without leaving our spot.

Tied in to the ease of purchase, of course, is the availability. How often have you gone into a bookshop looking for a book and left without it because it wasn’t in stock? How often do you end up tracking that book down elsewhere? If you’re lazy like me – almost never. When the ebook teething problems are sorted out, that will be a problem of the past.

So, to sum up: when it’s easier, faster and cheaper to get books, and you convert more interstitial time into time to read books – you will probably read and buy more books, irrespective of whether you’re a gadget freak or a book lover. What do you think? Are you convinced by my tenuous argument, or do you think the ebook is the end of civilisation? Sound off in the comments.