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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

March 7th, 2014

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray Combo Pack

The Hunger Games came out in 2012 with high expectations. Many thought it was going to be a good movie and do very well, especially for a spring time release. Instead, it broke records, including best mid-night screening for a non-sequel, biggest March weekend, biggest weekend for a non-sequel, etc. And thanks to its high quality, it had better than expected legs. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire came out last fall and earned even more money at the box office. Is it as good as its predecessor? Or can it be even better?

The Movie

Catching Fire begins shortly after The Hunger Games ends. For those that don't remember, at the end of first film, Katniss and Peeta won, because the rules were changed so that if two people from the same district remained, they would both win, rather than the usual rules where there could be only one winner. However, that rule was changed at the last minute, but instead of attacking each other, they threatened to kill each other. The Gamemaker, Crane, backed down, but this meant Katniss and Peeta had made powerful enemies. (It also cost Crane his life.)

Katniss tries to spend time with Gale, her boyfriend before the games. However, she's having problems with PTSD, understandably so. She also can't spend a lot of time with her boyfriend, because she has to keep up the act with Peeta. Her defiance of the rules in the Hunger Games made her enemies and things will be worse if the people think they were not standing up for love but instead were standing up to the Capitol, they will kill her family, perhaps even destroy all of District 12. This is such a serious threat that President Snow came to District 12 to deliver it in person.

Katniss doesn't have a lot of time to ruminate over that threat, as it is time for the Victory Tour. She and Peeta have to go through all 12 Disctricts to show off and to make sure the Districts want to celebrate and not rebel. They also have to sell everyone on their love, which is a bit of a problem, as they are not even friends. Peeta suggests they should at least become friends, partially to sell the romance better, but also because it is nice to have someone to talk to. The first stop along the way is District 11, which is where Rue and Thresh came from. Their first visit goes well, sort of. Peeta and Katniss both give very heartfelt emotional speeches, but the result is the people of District 11 giving Katniss the Mocking Jay salute, which results in the man who started it getting executed right there. Knowing that the stakes are much higher, Katniss decides she and Peeta should get married.

The tour ends with an opulent party at the president's mansion --

Before I continue, a vomitorium isn't a room where Romans used to vomit so they could continue eating. It's the name of the big arched passageways in stadiums and amphitheaters where people could spew forth into the streets. Spew forth, hence the name vomitorium. Obviously it isn't a room to puke so you could keep eating. I have puked far more times than I can remember, but I've never puked and felt like eating right away. The most I would want to do is suck on a Tums to get rid of the acidic taste in my mouth. Moving on...

At the party, Katniss meets Plutarch Heavensbee, the new Gamemaker. Later we see Plutarch talking to President Snow. The Rebellions are getting worse and Katniss is the symbol of hope. President Snow thinks she must be killed, but Plutarch suggestion another option. Kill her image. Make the people of the Districts think she's just another member of the Capitol, not one of them, while at the same time making them more afraid of reprisals. Destroy their black-markets so they have even less, while increasing the numbers of beatings and executions.

Once back home, Katniss meets with Gale. She desperately wants to run away, like they had planned in the first movie. However, when Gale learns of the uprisings in the other Districts, he's determined to stay so he can fight with the cause. He gets a chance sooner than he thought he would. A new peacekeeper, Commander Thread, shows up to implement Plutarch's ideas, but Gale steps up to defend an old woman being beaten, so he is beaten in her place. Katniss tries to step in and stop it, as does Haymitch, and then Peeta.

When President Snow sees what they did, he tells Plutarch she needs to die, as do all of the Victors who think they are above reprisal from the Capitol. As such, Plutarch plans something special. Because it is the 75th Hunger Games, the third Quarter Quell, the only people who can be chosen as tribute are the still living winners from previous Hunger Games. Since there is only one surviving Female Tribute from District 12, Katniss is sure to be chosen. After understandably freaking out, she goes to Haymitch and makes him promise to save Peeta. Both Katniss and Haymitch are damaged, for lack of a better term. Even if either of them were to survive the Games, they have done things that they can't forgive themselves for. Peeta is a good person and deserves a chance at a good life. Haymitch agrees and if Peeta's name is called, he will volunteer. It's a good plan, except when Haymitch is called, Peeta volunteers in his place.

The 75th Hunger Games will be a lot more dangerous than the previous year. Not only will Katniss and Peeta have to face past winners, many of them skilled killers, but they will likely know that Katniss is the real reason they are being brought back into the games and she will be the biggest target as a result. They will need to find an advantage if either of them are to survive, but what that advantage could be a spoiler.

Having a chance to review both The Hunger Games and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire presents some problems. Because they are sequels, and not just sequels but part of a book trilogy that is telling one larger story, there are obviously many more similarities than there are differences. This is great news for people who loved the first movie, as it means there's more of what you liked in the first movie, but it doesn't give me a lot to talk about. What am I supposed to do? Link to the previous review and say, "It's like that, only a bit better." I should probably give more details than that.

First of all, Catching Fire feels bigger in scope; it feels like it is building up to something more than what we get. Obviously it is, because there is a third book yet to be adapted, but the film does an excellent job making us anticipate the next two installments, not just fill the time before the action really starts. The acting is even better this time around, which is really impressive considering the caliber of acting the first movie had. Philip Seymour Hoffman was amazing in what was one of his final performances before his death. The action scenes felt more somber than last time around with many of the deaths taking place off camera. This is fitting, as audiences shouldn't be entertained by the tributes dying. It runs counter to the message of the movie.

There are some flaws in the movie, one of which I already hinted at. There's not a lot differences between the two movies, for obvious reasons. We learned about the dystopian world in the first movie, so we don't learn a whole lot more in the second. We see the Reaping, which is only a little different this time around, same with the training and the pageantry. Because there's so much that is repeated, the film drags a bit in the middle and the scenes in the Capitol are where the movie hits its lowest point. Additionally, the romance in the movie is again the weakest part of the movie.

Overall, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is the best $200 million hit from last year that I've seen and I've seen eight of the thirteen films that reached that milestone. (I'm still hoping Gravity will arrive and Frozen should get here in a week, so that might change.) Although, if the worst thing you can say is it is the third best big-budget release of the year, that's high praise.

The Extras

If you just look at the back of the DVD or Blu-ray cover, there doesn't seem to be a lot of extras. The DVD only has an audio commentary, some deleted scenes, and a preview for Divergent. That's not up to par for a first-run release. The Blu-ray only has one exclusive extra, a making of documentary. ... A nine-part, two-and-a-half-hour long making of documentary. That's awesome. That more than makes up for the limited extras on the DVD.

As for the technical presentation, the film looks and sounds amazing. The Hunger Games portion of the movie was shot using IMAX cameras, so the movie switches from 2.40:1 ratio to a 1:1.78 ration just over halfway through the movie. Regardless of the ratio, the level of details is stunning, as are the colors. I don't think the movie is quite as colorful as the first film, but that's an aesthetic choice, not a problem with the transfer. It is also a darker film, but you don't have to worry about shadows swallowing details. The audio is just as strong as the video. It's a 7.1 surround sound track and the mix takes full advantage of all of the speakers. It is damn near reference level quality and the only reason it is not is because for much of the film it is dialogue-heavy, so it is not as showy as some other movies.

The Blu-ray costs just $20, which is $4 or 25% more than the DVD. Even if the Blu-ray didn't have exclusive extras, it would be worth the upgrade. With the feature-length making of documentary, it's a bargain.

The Verdict

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is clearly Pick of the Week material. It is an improvement over the first film and the first film was amazing. The DVD doesn't have a lot of extras, while the Blu-ray Combo Pack is loaded and the much better deal.

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Filed under: Video Review, Gravity, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Wes Bentley, Woody Harrelson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Josh Hutcherson, Jennifer Lawrence, Donald Sutherland, Patrick St. Esprit, Liam Hemsworth, , Dayo Okeniyi