Friday, March 7, 2014
Blu-ray Review: 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire'
Article first published as Blu-ray Review: 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire' on Blogcritics.
When it came to seeing the first Hunger Games I was not impressed. Unable to attend the press screening, I didn’t see Gary Ross’ adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ young adult novel until after it was released on Blu-ray five months later. Having read and loved the first entry to the series, my expectations were high considering the overwhelming audience and critical response.
Not being prepared for the alterations made during the process of bringing the novel to the big screen, I was left completely underwhelmed. With the assignment of reviewing this Catching Fire Blu-ray release (available now), my wife decided she would read the first novel and we would revisit the first film. With time having passed, we were both able to accept the first film for what it is, and needless to say, she was as blown away by how much better this installment is over its predecessor as I was after the press screening back in November.
For anyone not swept up in the phenomenon, Catching Fire catches up with Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) back home in District 12, along with fellow Hunger Games victor Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson). Suffering from PTSD winds up being the least of her worries after a visit from President Snow (Donald Sutherland). He isn’t alone in not believing the love between the two winners and is concerned about it sparking a rebellion against the Capitol. If the two can’t convince the districts of their love Snow will have them both — and everyone they love — killed.
Katniss comes up with the idea that the two could get married after Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) warns them that they are on the gravy train for life and will always be in the public eye. Now, new head Game-maker Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman, R.I.P.) has come up with a new wrinkle to the annual Hunger Games for the 75th anniversary. This Quarter Quell will consist of all living victors to be reaped and thrown into battle. After Haymitch is selected, Peeta volunteers in his place and now the two must find allies within the participants — namely Johanna Mason (Jena Malone), Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin), Mags (Lynn Cohen), Beetee (Jeffrey Wright), and Wiress (Amanda Plummer) — if they want to make it out alive.
Lionsgate brings Catching Fire to Blu-ray in a DVD/UltraViolet combo pack. The ratio starts out in 2.40:1 before opening up to 1.78:1 for the Games section as it was filmed with IMAX cameras. Considering how much of the film takes place in the shadows of the districts or under the canopy of Hawaiian rainforests, the amount of detail on display is impressive. Blacks never result in crush and particularly in the Games sequence, noise never creeps in, and shadow detail is always abundant. Whenever something does take place in broad daylight, or on Caesar Flickerman’s (Stanley Tucci) stage, colors shine brighter. From blazing oranges to neon purples, they never bleed or bloom. All other anomalies are kept at bay as well. There’s no banding, aliasing, or even shimmer either. A top-notch transfer as should be expected from a new film.
Considering Lionsgate has used 7.1 surround mixes since the introduction of Blu-ray, their DTS-HD Master Audio really outdoes themselves. Whether it be cheering crowds or attacking jabberjays, surrounds are precise and enveloping. You’ll swear you’re sitting in the middle of the jungle right alongside the Tributes. Thankfully, the score never overwhelms the dialogue with directionality spot on. Booming fireworks, death canons, and striking lightning are given even more depth with fantastic deep and rumbly LFE.
As for special features, the Blu-ray and DVD both contain the six-minute “Divergent – Sneak Peek” which is an extended look at the upcoming big screen version of the first book in the Veronica Roth series. Hopefully this winds up more like the Hunger Games and less like last year’s The Host. An “Audio Commentary with Director Francis Lawrence and Producer Nina Jacobson” is extremely dry and a chore to sit through. Consisting mostly of pointing out what’s happening on-screen, there are a few fun anecdotes, but coincidentally, they’re also featured in the Blu-ray exclusive feature.
Speaking of which, you want special features, here ya go: “Surviving the Game: Making The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” is a 146 minute behind the scenes look with nine featurettes. Consisting of cast and crew interviews including just about everyone you could possibly think of, they are broken down into the following: “A New Kind of Hunger: Continuing the Saga” (11:07); “Visual Vocabulary: Building a World” (13:03); “Stirring Things Up: The Cast” (18:01); “Fashion Forward: Costume, Make-Up and Hair” (16:46); “Let It Fly: Production in Atlanta” (15:19); “Moves and Countermoves: Stunts and Weapons” (19:52); “Tick Tock: Production in Hawaii” (14:36); “Threading the Needle: Post-Production” (27:41); and “The Revolution Lives: Reflection and Looking Forward (9:09).” Four minutes of Deleted Scenes round things out but were wisely excised.
What else is there to say about the phenomenon that is The Hunger Games, really? Considering Catching Fire made way more money than the first and was even more critically acclaimed, fans should rejoice that Lionsgate has delivered their beloved Games on Blu-ray with a wealth of special features. That is, if they pick up this Blu-ray. It’s just too bad we have to wait so long for the two-part finale. Featuring excellent audio and video (especially the inclusion of the IMAX footage, c’mon Paramount, give us a re-release of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol and Star Trek Into Darkness already!), it’s a no brainer to pick up The Hunger Games: Catching Fire on Blu-ray today!
Cover art and photos courtesy Lionsgate