HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Title: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
HTS Overall Score:87
With Dystopian tween novels being adapted to screen in droves and failing miserably, it’s a wonder that “The Hunger Games” series has garnered such success in an area where most of the tweeny books being adapted are bombing on the big screen. “The Host”, “Beautiful Creatures” and the like such as the upcoming “Divergent” all have one thing in common, poor actors and poor scripts. Strangely enough, “The Hunger Games” has dodged that bullet by actually hiring competent actors, directors and script writers (shocking isn’t it?). Where others have failed, Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and the rest have made millions upon millions and endeared themselves to fans everywhere. I’m going to be the first to say that I wasn’t THAT impressed with the first film. It wasn’t a bad film by any means, but it relied too much on fans knowledge of the source material and catered directly to that bunch. I had never read any of the books so I went into the film without any prejudice or preconceptions and constantly had to ask my wife (who has read the books) what something meant, since symbolism and events whizzed right over ones head if you hadn’t read the books. This time, director Francis Lawrence, did a much better job at creating a cohesive MOVIE, instead of a companion piece to the books. I was actually shocked at how much I truly enjoyed “Catching Fire” and cannot WAIT for the 3rd book to be adapted to film (2 films to be exact, since it’s getting the “Twilight Breaking Dawn” treatment).
The battle is over for Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), their time in the hunger games has brought them fame and fortune beyond compare. While the rest of the 12 districts live in squalor they are playing the crowds, touring the capitol, all for the amusement of the fat cats living in luxury, ignoring the plight of all those people who weren’t as lucky. While it may seem to be fun and games to the rest of the world, Kaniss and Peeta are in turmoil, having to live with the lives they took in the 74th Hunger games and keeping up appearances that they actually ARE in love, for the camera. Haymitch, their mentor drinks himself under the table and Katniss finally starts to understand WHY he has lost so much hope. To make matters worse the rest of the 12 districts have put Katniss up on a pedestal and see her as a dim ray of hope for the rest of them. This hope is NOT something the capital and president Snow (Donald Sutherland) want to happen. This “hope” has fermented rebellion and the tenuous hold the capital has on the downtrodden is starting to fade. In an effort to curb the rebellion Snow and the new Game Keeper, Plutarch Heavensbee (The late Phillip Seymour Hoffman) come up with the new and improved 75th anniversary Hunger Games, where instead of random tributes the pool of candidates will be the winners of previous games. This means that Peeta and Katniss are now back in the games again, and this time they’re pitted up against winners of years past who are all just as hungry as they are and just as anxious to win.
Fighting for their lives, Katniss and Peeta have to make new allies and new friends in order to survive. Teaming up with Finnick (Sam Claflin), Beetee, the technological genius and a group of others they band together and try and fend off a hunger games filled with new traps and even more devastating machinations thought up by the game master. As they wind their way through the course, Katniss starts to realize that not everything is as it seems, contestants seem to be keeping things from her and the course of the game itself is strange to the touch. What lies beneath will take her and mold her, from the young girl who wants to save her family and friends, to what her destiny has always been, the savior of her entire people.
As I said earlier, I really didn’t think the first movie was all that spectacular, much to my shock, I enjoyed “Catching Fire” enormously. The actors seemed to have hit their stride here, flexing their muscles and growing into the role put before them (well, except for Liam Hemsworth who lacks all the charisma that his brother has). Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth banks now are as comfortable in their roles as old clothes, both hamming it up and becoming endearing at the same time, and Stanley Tucci…well the man can do no wrong. Even playing the wildly ridiculous role of the TV host Caesar, he still manages to be funny instead of wildly annoying, which is a feat in and of itself since the Caesar’s character is so annoying that you’d expect to want to hang Stanley Tucci out to dry. Not only has actors stretched but with the addition of director Francis Lawrence the pace has dramatically picked up. Even with an hour and 20 minutes of exposition and character building before the games, the pace never drags and never seems dull. The machinations of the despotic government and the sheer anticipation of the games to come is more than enough to keep you on the edge of your seat. When the games do start it flies off the handle and is barely contained as the action heats up and the tension builds to epic proportions.
While the first film felt like backstory, “Catching Fire” is the real start of the series as the film runs at a break neck pace, slowing down only enough to keep the viewer’s onboard. It’s always sad to see a movie where you realize that this is their last film on earth, and it’s heartbreaking to see Phillip Seymour Hoffman playing his last major role so soon after his demise on earth. Sometimes it’s so distracting that it’s hard to focus on the movie, but Hoffman is such a master at his craft that you’re more than willing to get lost inside of his character, instead of thinking about what happened.
I do have SOME complaints. Again, Liam Hemsworth was an EXTREMELY poor choice for Gale, Katniss’s true love, and his bland acting is just jarring when he’s on screen. Josh Hutcherson isn’t the greatest actor on earth, but still he can act circles around Thor’s younger brother. I do wish Lenny Kravitz was more prominent in the film, he was such an under rated character in the first film and his heartwarming performance was just as poignant in “Catching fire”, albeit just a bit shorter.
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some frightening images, thematic elements, a suggestive situation and language
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=14684[/img]“Catching Fire” is presented with an excellent AVC encode for us today with a dual aspect ratio. The first hour and twenty minutes of the film are in 2.40:1 and then once the games start the film opens up to a 1.78:1 aspect ratio to accommodate the IMAX section of the film. Considering what’s at stake here, the film takes and even darker and moodier presentation, with deep blues and greys, creating an oppressive feeling over the imagescape. There’s plenty of bright colors in the arena, but that blue grey color grading follows the film about like a dog, never once going home. Even in the really dark scenes the blues shine through, so much so, in fact that it tends to wash out the blacks a bit and make them kind of grey where the blue overlaps so heavily. Unfortunately this was the only real flaw to the encode. The Detail is phenomenal and you can see every pore and freckle on J-Law’s face, but that persistent color grading made some of the dark scenes look a bit washed out, and even if it IS intentional, it was a bit distracting. Contrasts and skin tones are really well done and the disc is about as perfect as one could hope for in the digital artifacting department.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=14685[/img]Matching the video blow for blow, Lionsgate gives us a fantastic 7.1 DTS-HD MA track with a widely detailed sound stage. Surrounds are in constant use and give us a wide array of sounds to immerse the listener in. The roars of the capital elite flood through all channels and the sounds of Katniss’ steel arrows whistle over your shoulder with pin point accuracy and clarity. Dialogue is never too soft and or too loud so my remote stayed right on the floor the whole time without need for adjusting, even during the heaviest action scenes. Dynamic range is excellent and gives us a really well done array of effects that range from the soft sounds of a footstep crunching in the forest or the overwhelming roar of the surf as it pounds our heroes into the ground. The LFE was fairly restrained for the first hour and twenty minutes, giving us some nice weight to the capital scenes, but when the games begin, all gloves are off and the sheer power of the low end really tears up the room. Well done and nicely detailed, it’s really close to perfection, and one of my favorites of the year.
• “Surviving the Game: Making Catching Fire” – 9-part feature-length documentary
• Audio Commentary with Director Francis Lawrence and Producer Nina Jacobson
• Deleted Scenes
• Sneak Peak at "Divergent"
Most sequels tend to not hold up as well as their predecessors, but luckily the “Hunger Games” series appears to be getting better with each film. I can only hope that “Mocking Jay” part’s 1 and 2 keep rising in quality as this one has done. A tight and cohesive film that really brings home the action and makes you even more revolted at the despicable actions of the domineering President Snow, and the apathetic citizens in the capital. The film is great, the audio is great and the video is great. My only real complaint in the whole enchilada is the missing extras. “The Hunger Games” was LOADED with extras on a second disc, while this set has a meager 4 special features. With the millions that this movie had made I was hoping for a more comprehensive set of extras, but don’t let the meager extras dissuade you from picking up the film. Highly recommended.
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Stanley Tucci, Woody Harrelson, Emily Banks
Directed by: Francis Lawrence
Written by: Simon Beaufoy, Michael Arndt
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1 and 1.78:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 7.1, English DD 2.0 for Night Listening
Studio: Lionsgate Films
Runtime: 146 minutes
Buy The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Blu-ray on Amazon
Recommendation: Buy It
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