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The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Blu-ray Disc Released: 3/7/2014
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 3/1/2014
Let's review my history with The Hunger Games. My family frequents the book store, so I'm sure that I saw the book before I was aware of what it was. My daughter was assigned The Hunger Games as a Summer reading assignment, so I decided to check it out. I read the dust jacket and was shocked by how much it sounded like Stephen King's The Running Man and The Long Walk combined with the 2000 Japanese film Battle Royale. After my daughter read the book, my other daughter and my wife read it as well. (My wife actually plowed through all three books.) When The Hunger Games was released in 2012, I accompanied by female trio to the theater to see it. Now, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire has made its way to home video, and I'm once again dropped into this violent futuristic world.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire begins not long after the events of The Hunger Games. In that film, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) were forced to fight in an annual competition in which young people attempt to kill one another in order to win food for their home District. The pair won the battle by showing that they would rather die together than have one win. They were celebrated and then returned home to District 12, where they live in "Victor Village", alongside Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), an older winner who has become their impromptu mentor. While Katniss attempts to convince Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) that her affection towards Peeta was merely an act to win the game, President Snow (Donald Sutherland) informs his new game-master, Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman), that Katniss has become an inspiration to the downtrodden and that she must be stopped. Thus, Snow decides to change the game and have former champions (who were once promised amnesty) fight. Thus, Katniss and Peeta find themselves pulled back into the battle. This time, Katniss finds a new ally and being familiar with the game, she decides that she's going to forego the competition and find a way to get to Snow.
Again, going into The Hunger Games, I was somewhat familiar with the basic story. I found the film to be very uninspiring for two reasons. First, it seemed to assume that the audience had read the books and left out a lot of details about the war, the Districts, and food rationing. When I brought this up afterwards, my family assured me that it was in the film, but when watching it again at home they realized that I was correct and that they were projecting their knowledge onto the movie. The second problem was the oft-discussed camerawork instituted by Director Gary Ross. He tried to out Greengrass Paul Greengrass and the entire thing was nauseating.
Therefore, I really didn't know what to expect from The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. While it has its shares of flaws (which we'll get to in a moment), I liked it more than its predecessor, perhaps because that first film had set the bar so low. Despite its 2 1/2 hour running time, the movie never seems to drag. Director Francis Lawrence has dabbled in action and drama and he keeps things moving along here. Also, he does a nice job of balancing the violence and the more tender moments. The production design is top-notch, be that in the poor Districts, the lavish Capital, or on the island where the actual Games take place. The acting is about what you would expect from this sort of film and the addition of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman lends a very sinister air to things.
But, having some high points doesn't mean that The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a good movie. While this chapter doesn't seem to gloss over as many details as the first film (as far as I can tell), it has no problem blowing through seemingly important things which could have easily been covered. Why is "Victor Village" so big? How was Katniss' family adjusting to their new life? Had Katniss and Peeta had much contact since the last time we saw them? The whole "Quarter Quell" sub-plot feels jammed into the movie. We get that Snow and Heavensbee are doing it to get Katniss, but has this been done before?
Once the Games begin, the movie feels very similar to the first one. The characters run through the jungle and someone occasionally dies in a manner fitting a PG-13 movie. Yes, the setting is different, but the overall action feels similar. There is a twist concerning some dangerous areas on the island and Katniss comes across as far more clever in this incarnation of the Games. Still, I found the "allies" subplot to be underwritten. Why would they work together if the ultimate goal is to kill one another? In Battle Royale, the characters helped one another as a way to retain some semblance of their humanity, but the reasons in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire are unclear.
Of course, something like The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is review-proof and Katninss is always going to have her built-in fanbase. As far as an entry into the "YA book turned movie" sweepstakes, I've seen far worse entries than The Hunger Games series. Again, I haven't read the books, but I find the movies to be very sterile and free from emotion. They look fine and the budget is clearly on-screen, but I don't feel anything for the characters. Despite the franchise's passionate audience, the abrupt cliffhanger ending to The Hunger Games: Catching Fire was an interesting choice, and I am somewhat curious to see what happens next.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire also never touches on why everyone in the Capital is some flamboyant on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Lionsgate. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 25 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear showing no distracting grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look good, most notably greens and blues, and the image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is excellent and the actors are nicely separated from the backgrounds. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 6.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are nicely done, especially those which alert us to sounds coming from off-screen. The surround sound effects are very good, as they provide distinct sounds and clearly illustrate sounds coming from behind the characters. The subwoofer effects rock the low-end, most notably when the cannons are fired.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Blu-ray Disc contains a number of extra features. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Francis Lawrence and Producer Nina Jacobson. "Surviving the Game: Making The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" (145 minutes) is an eight-part documentary which includes "A New Kind of Hunger: Continuing the Saga", "Visual Vocabulary: Building a World", "Stirring Things Up: The Cast", "Fashion Forward: Costume, Make-up, & Hair", "Let It Fly: Production in Atlanta", "Moves & Countermoves: Stunts & Weapons", "Tick Tock: Production in Hawaii", and "Threading the Needle: Post-Production". As you can see from the titles, this covers many facets of the film's production and goes very in-depth. The segments contain interviews with the cast and creative team, as well as a wealth of on-set and behind-the-scene footage. As this runs longer than the movie, it gets a little tiresome at times, but those who can't get enough of the films will surely enjoy this. The Disc contains five DELETED SCENES which run about 5 minutes. These are all brief and don't introduce any new subplots or characters.
Review Copyright 2014 by Mike Long