After the success of the Harry Potter franchise, which spawned eight cinematic offerings across 10 years, the notion of long-lasting film series, not only appeasing fans as they grow up with these productions, but producers and studios too, who make millions upon millions of dollars, thanks to several back-to-back box office hits, is a rather enticing one.
But with endeavours of this magnitude and longevity, comes a devotion from actors to portray characters across a number of years. It’s both a blessing and a curse, as while for some it’s a consistent stream of work, for others it can be somewhat disenfranchising, with the likes of Game of Thrones‘ Kit Harrington unable to cut his hair given his yearly commitment to shooting as Jon Snow, which can’t be all that fun.
It ties down performers for a hefty portion of their career – but it also represents something of a risk, because what happens if one of the stars was to tragically pass away during production – before the end of the franchise? In the case of The Hunger Games, Philip Seymour Hoffman died prior to the release of the final two instalments – but similarly to Oliver Reed in Gladiator, or with Paul Walker in the most recent Fast & Furious outing, the studio endeavoured to maintain the actor’s presence, and ensure that, in spite of his death, he remained in the movie.
In The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2, Hoffman’s Plutarch Heavensbee is a pivotal character, who, alongside Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) is behind the rise of Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), fully supportive of not only the rebellion, but of the protagonist’s survival, seeing her as a beacon of hope for the masses. Hoffman had shot the majority of his scenes already, but there is the occasional moment where his absence is truly felt, and we realise that this was a sequence he was supposed to have played a much greater role in – and those who have read the Suzanne Collins novels will know that last minute changes definitely occurred.
Thankfully there is a lot of pre-existing footage of the actor, who was only a week away from completing his shoot before his untimely death, so if you aren’t looking out for it, you may not necessarily notice the changes that have been made, though it’s fair to say there are a small handful of scenes where you expect Plutarch to become more heavily embroiled, only to then take a back-seat.
But what this film does point out, is just how great a loss for cinema Hoffman is. The film is marking the end of a remarkable, glorious franchise that breathed new life into the blockbuster and has shown just how much socio-political themes can be explored, and how we can studiously linger over war, while still aiming at a broad demographic, which includes so many teenagers; as Francis Lawrence and co. ensure they don’t patronise nor pander to the ‘young adult’ audience, instead treating them with respect, throughout.
But it also marks the end of Hoffman’s illustrious career in cinema, for this picture is the very final time we will see the actor grace the big screen. It makes for a profound, and at times, upsetting watch, because despite the lack of screen time, his ability to be so subtle and nuanced is on display, as with just one glance we gather everything we need to know about the character and his respective situation.
So while saying our goodbyes to Katniss, Peeta, Gale and President Snow – remember to make a special effort to take in as much as you can from Hoffman too, because rarely are we blessed with such an extraordinary actor, and one we should always cherish.