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The Hunger Games(2012)
In a not-too-distant future, North America has collapsed, weakened by drought, fire, famine, and war to be replaced by Panem, a country divided into the Capitol and 12 districts. Each year two young representatives from each district are selected by lottery to participate in The Hunger Games. Part entertainment, part brutal intimidation of the subjugated districts, the televised games are broadcast throughout Panem. The 24 participants are forced to eliminate their competitors, literally, with all citizens required to watch. When 16-year-old Katniss' young sister, Prim, is selected as the mining district's female representative, Katniss volunteers to take her place. She and her male counterpart Peeta, will be pitted against bigger, stronger representatives who have trained for this their whole lives.
For more about The Hunger Games and the The Hunger Games Blu-ray release, see the The Hunger Games Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on August 9, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence (III), Liam Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson, Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci, Wes Bentley
Director: Gary Ross
» See full cast & crew
The Hunger Games Blu-ray Review
Not too many empty calories, but make sure to take your dramamine with this meal.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, August 9, 2012
My wife is a saint, and I'm not just saying that because she typically checks in on my reviews and will be seeing this. She has been a faithful reader to both of our boys throughout their childhood into their adolescence and even occasionally (when they'll permit it, anyway) their teen years. She dutifully read every last page of all the Harry Potter books to our sons as they were growing up, and as anyone who has ever made it through even one of J.K. Rowling's vast opuses will understand, that was no easy task. I first became aware of The Hunger Games when my wife and one of my boys shouted out during a Modern Family episode (one of the very few "appointment television" outings we share as a family), "Look! Alex is reading The Hunger Games!". Typically clueless father that I am, I had been unaware that my younger son had been reading The Hunger Games for some time and my wife had occasionally been "helping him out" by reading out loud to him at bedtime, and had in fact become so enamored of the story that she began reading the series herself in her spare time (spare time being a decidedly relative term in our household). And so excitement was palpable when the film version of The Hunger Games was announced, and became almost unbearable when my son found out his school was actually going to sponsor a midnight field trip to the premiere for kids interested in going, despite it taking place on a school night. (Midnight premieres have of course undergone a shocking reevaluation what with the recent tragic events in Aurora, Colorado, but about the only concern expressed at the time of The Hunger Games' premiere was how the kids were going to be able to haul themselves to school the next day after having sat in a movie theater until 3 o'clock that morning.) Rather interestingly, the critical assessment the next morning from my wife and son was rather disparate. My wife thought the film was generally successful (with a few reservations), while my son more or less hated it.
Not having read the Suzanne Collins trilogy, I came to The Hunger Games with probably completely different expectations than either my wife or my son, and my opinion probably falls somewhere in between their extremes, with perhaps a slight tilt toward my wife's assessment. Not knowing about which if any parts of the book had been excised probably helped, as I wasn't "missing" anything since I didn't know it was indeed missing, but on the other hand there were numerous times where I wasn't quite sure exactly what was going on or what was being referred to, and only my wife's quick tutoring about The Hunger Games' labyrinthine world brought me up to speed.
For those who, like I was, are not familiar with The Hunger Games' set up, we find ourselves in a dystopian future remnant of the United States, now a totalitarian regime run by the despotic President Snow (Donald Sutherland), who keeps the citizenry under the thumb of an oppressive government that wants to terrorize and control its citizens. The country, now known as Panem, has been split into twelve districts, with the lower numbers closer to the capital and enjoying greater wealth and privilege, and the outlying, higher numbered, districts wallowing in abject poverty and misery. In fact the early scenes of heroine Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence), a resident of District 12, the lowliest of all the districts, could have been ported over from a slightly futuristic version of Lawrence's breakthrough role in Winter's Bone.
Around three quarters of a century earlier, the country had been wracked by revolution, and though a certain peace ultimately prevailed, the ruling elite decided to exact a perennial revenge on the rebels by instituting The Hunger Games, an annual event where two youngsters from each district are thrust together in a fight to the finish, with only one victor remaining. The Games are broadcast on television, kind of like a real life Survivor, hosted by a smarmy emcee (Stanley Tucci) who delights in interviewing the soon-to-be victims and then waxing eloquent as they all meet their fate in the so-called Arena, a vast expanse of territory that a control center can inject various elements like weather, forest fires or the occasional mutated beast into on a whim.
Katniss' partner from District 12 is a young man named Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), who has harbored not very secret romantic feelings for Katniss for some time. The one previous winner of the Games from District 12, Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), who acts as the kids' mentor in their brief training regimen, decides he can exploit a "star-crossed lovers" angle to win the pair valued "sponsors", people that pony up dough to provide them with needed items during their travails, items that could in fact end up saving their lives.
So, those of you who are just finding out about the nuts and bolts of The Hunger Games from the above paragraphs may well be asking, "So, what's the problem? Sounds like an exciting premise," and indeed it is, only here's the rub: very little of what I've just described is actually imparted to the audience in a straightforward narrative manner. Things are kind of gotten to discursively a lot of the time, with glancing statements or frankly just implications that leave the audience to surmise what's going on. The film was adapted from a lengthy novel written in the first person, and obviously things had to be streamlined and even jettisoned, but there's a sometimes shocking lack of precision in getting the audience needed information along the way. Contrast this with the admittedly longer Harry Potter series, where so many little jots and tittles of J.K. Rowling's world were lovingly explained, usually in a fairly entertaining if admittedly expository manner.
The other niggling qualm that some audience members, probably those skewing to a somewhat older demographic, may complain about is the relentless "shaky cam" that director Gary Ross employs throughout large swaths of the film. Some of this may have been due to the wishes to keep this a PG-13 rated film, so that the inescapable violence at the core of the story isn't dwelled upon, with the camera zooming here and there with nary a pause in between. But that doesn't really explain the opening 45 minutes or so of the film, before any overt violence even begins, when Ross' camera seems to be suffering from ADHD. (My son actually quipped that it was great that they had hired a handicapped cameraman for the film. When I asked him what he was talking about, he answered, "It's obvious the guy didn't have arms, Dad." From the mouths of relative babes, as they say.)
Putting these two issues aside, the film does have a remarkable narrative flow, even if there are times where newcomers aren't going to know exactly what's going on. Lawrence, who (if I may be permitted to gloat) I identified some time ago as a breakout star and virtual lock on an Academy Award nomination for Winter's Bone , which she did in fact receive, manages to invest Katniss with both spirit and vulnerability. Hutcherson is a bit less effective as Peeta, and some Twilight fans may in fact be rooting for Katniss to end up with a more sullen, darker haired character named Gale (Liam Hemsworth) who is evidently pining for Katniss from afar. Harrelson is quite good as the initially drunken Haymitch, and a vastly underutilized Lenny Kravitz is great as Cinna, Katniss' "stylist" for the Games.
If I had actually read The Hunger Games, I'd probably be utilizing that oft-used adage, "The book is better." But even without having read the book, I can't help but think that at least a few elements could have been better explained to those not already ensconced in Collins' complex world. On the other hand, my wife, who has not only read but absolutely loved the trilogy, actually found the film more fulfilling this second time through. One way or the other, there's a lot to like in The Hunger Games, but many are probably going to be hungering for the actual books after having watched the film, wondering exactly what it is they may have missed.
Note: Whoever planned and/or authored this set of discs obviously had a sense of humor. When the disc with the main feature boots, we're treated to a huge fanfare with flags passing by offering images of the various contestants. Then we get a big piece of text stating: Previews for Your Mandatory Viewing. There's a lot of other, smaller text scrolling beneath the main message, things warning about not being in compliance and the like. (Just to reassure anyone worrying about this, the previews can indeed be skipped by pressing the Next Chapter button on your remote several times). On the second disc which has the bulk of the special features, that typical warning assuring us that the views expressed in any featurettes or commentaries don't necessarily reflect the opinions of anyone anywhere is posted on a battered old metal sign hanging on a barbed wire fence, just like the one that warns Katniss not to veer outside of District 12 early in the film.
The Hunger Games Blu-ray, Video Quality
The Hunger Games is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Lionsgate Films with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 2.40:1. Perhaps because the sound design is so spectacular (see below) and the relentless "shaky cam" makes the image seem blurry to begin with, the film's overall visual look may not pop quite to the degree some would expect— but fear not, this is for the most part a flawless high definition presentation. As is so frequently the case in the contemporary film world, the digital intermediate has been significantly color graded and filtered, with many of the forested Arena sequences cast in pale green or cool blue hues. This can potentially rob the image of at least some fine object detail, but the results here are generally quite exemplary, especially in close-ups. Despite the artificial filtering, colors are nicely saturated and if not exactly "accurate" looking (an increasingly irrelevant term in today's color-shifted film world), very robust. The image is crisp and clear and for the most part very precise. The only two concerns that may present any problems are some extremely minor stability issues and some variable contrast. The stability issues are really much less than one might expect, given that so much of the film takes place in heavy foliage, which for some reason wreaks havoc with high definition presentations a lot of the time. The contrast issues are a bit more of a head scratcher, as so much of the film looks good and one would assume that with a DI this would be a replica of the theatrical exhibition. But notice how hard it is to read the second note from Haymitch that Katniss receives after Peeta has been injured. These are very minor qualms however in an overall great looking transfer.
The Hunger Games Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Before we address The Hunger Games' stupendously exciting lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 audio mix, mention must be made of something I at least have never seen before on a Blu-ray release: a Dolby Digital 2.0 track that has been (in the words right there on the audio menu screen) "optimized for late night listening". I don't know why that struck me as inherently funny, but there you have it—for you people staying up way past your bedtime, there's a wonderful Dolby Digital 2.0 track on this disc expressly set up for your listening needs. Now on to the track that most high definition aficionados are going to be listening to, no matter what the time of day (or night). This DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 is simply a huge, unadulterated "wow" from start to finish. Impeccably immersive and full of some of the coolest surround effects I've heard in some time, this track regularly assaults the senses with all manner of discrete channelization and bombastic LFE. I defy most listeners not to startle when they first hear the cannon which announces the deaths of various participants (and listen to how carefully it's placed in the sound field with differing amplitude along the way). One of the coolest effects comes a couple of times in the film when a huge spaceship hovers over head. The LFE here is absolutely astounding and one of the most notable things about it is how it vibrates and pulses over the listener—this is an LFE "wave" of sound. There are too many wonderful moments, both large and small, to really list in any detail, but the track sports absolutely reference quality fidelity, with huge variances in dynamic range and a totally visceral sense of "being there".
The Hunger Games Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The BD containing the main feature also has three supposed bonuses, two of which at least are fairly useless "supplements", at least when measured as having any intrinsic content themselves:
The Hunger Games Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
The film world has been jonesin' for a new franchise ever since Harry Potter put down that bizarrely faced dude with the name no one ever wanted to say. Is The Hunger Games that franchise? Based solely upon box office receipts, one would be prone to say "yes", but The Hunger Games is a decidedly darker enterprise than the overall relatively cheerier world of Hogwarts and environs (yes, yes, Rowling's universe had all sorts of malevolence in it, but at least most of the kids weren't running around trying to kill each other). This first film had a huge hurdle to overcome, namely pleasing rabid fans while trying to bring the two or three people who hadn't actually read the book (guilty, sorry) into the club without boring those who already knew the gist of what was going on. The results are mixed, but at least now the foundation has been built for what could indeed be an incredibly exciting set of films. There's probably no denying that the film works best for those who have already read the books and can "fill in the blanks", so to speak, but there's certainly enough here for newbies to get involved in a compelling vision of what basically amounts to State controlled and sponsored murder. This Blu-ray offers great video and spectacular audio and comes jam packed with excellent supplements. Recommended.
The Hunger Games: Other Editions
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