Friday, 19 December 2014

The Hobbit and The Hunger Games: Which is Better?

Both The Hobbit and The Hunger Games have been the box office highlights of the winter over the past three years, with last year’s instalments finishing as the fourth and fifth highest grossing films of 2013 respectively. The Battle of the Five Armies and Mockingjay: Part 1 have both once again been very successful this year - but which is better? We break both films down to their basic components.


Is there any hero in current Hollywood franchises as compelling and as convincing as Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen? The cocksure Marvel superheroes all possess plenty of charisma and can be great fun to watch, but none of them are as humane nor identifiable as the reluctant hero Katniss.

Three films into the series and the supporting characters are similarly fleshed out, while some of the best character actors in the business (Julianne Moore, Woody Harrelson, the recently deceased Philip Seymour Hoffman) ensure that the film remains a compelling spectacle whoever is on screen.

There’s plenty of talent on Five Armies’ cast list too, but is ill-served by near-unanimously two-dimensional characters. Martin Freeman and Ian McKellen buck the trend with their always watchable characters Bilbo and Gandalf, but are both in this final instalment almost completely side-lined.


Virtually every line in Mockingjay expands its dystopian universe and deepens the political allegory at the heart of the film, giving us a rich and detailed picture of a society struggling against a repressive regime. Pretty much every line of Battle of the Five Armies is exposition.

Both films are structured around battles, but whereas that of Five Armies is exclusively of the swords-and-shields kind and all for the sake of a mountain full of gold, Mockingjay dramatises a far more subtle and fascinating war of propaganda, and the struggle to breakdown the aura of fear that helps protect the suppressive state.
Special Effects

The raison d’etre of The Hobbit films seems to be to showcase the best CGI has to offer, and in the case of Smaug the results are spectacular. But the monumental dragon is only in Five Armies for a few minutes, after which follows a procession of forgettable creatures and exhausting fights.

The perfectly choreographed moves of each of the armies may be impressive, but ultimately looks like little more than thousands of computer pixels moving perfectly in unison, rather than real characters doing real things. Mockingjay may not feature any ground-breaking special effects, but whenever there is a CGI explosion it at least feels as though something is at stake and that real people are in peril.

Actually being about something

Mockingjay looks at the struggle for revolution at both a societal and intimate level, and contains such themes as the sacrifices necessary for freedom, how the masses can be unified and inspired by a hero, what it’s like to be that hero, how an all-powerful state manipulates via the media, and not forgetting the intricacies of a romantic love triangle.

Five Armies isn't really about anything. All plot strands are only there in order to converge in the lengthy battle sequence that give its name to the title, which adds up to one of the more vacuous experiences at the cinema this year. Any past notion of the story being about how the biggest things can be achieved by the smallest people has long disappeared under a rubble of excessive computer-generated destruction.

So it’s a resounding victory for the Mockingjay, which does better in every department. Hopefully Hollywood will realise that it is new, fresh premises like this that make the best blockbusters, and won't continue to be so reliant on rebooting tired old franchises in the future. 


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