| The Hunger Games Blu-Ray |
PG-13, 142 Minutes
1080P @ 2.40:1
2 Disc Set: Disc 1 Movie; Disc 2 Extras
Presented in MPEG4-AVC, AWBR of 36.0Mbps
DTS-HD 7.1 Audio (Primary Track)
DD 5.1 Spanish Track
Itunes and/or VuDu track digital copy included
A few years ago, someone handed me a book and said "You have to read this", which marked my introduction to the book series by Suzanne Collins, "The Hunger Games". The series, which comprises three books (Hunger Games, Mockingjay, Catching Fire) had a huge global reach for scholastic - a story of a future world where things didn't work out the way we would like. The capital is relocated far inland (in the film, presented basically as Denver) and Panem, a new pan-American government forms around controlling the resources of the new landscape.
When I sat down to read the first book, I had low expectations; many YA-oriented books tend to shy away from difficult issues or present things in a very hazy way so to allow the reader to openly debate what things mean. I've often thought that this is done in order to make YA books friendly to a classroom; to give teachers openings to explore ideas. I don’t have a problem with that, but it doesn’t always make for the most rewarding reading. By the time I was 100 pages into “The Hunger Games”, I knew I was in for something completely different. While many may still think of this as YA, to me it falls into that mystical category of just “good SciFi”. It tests a theory and explores how a world would look if resources were in doubt, and a central government rose up to take control of those resources.
The story begins in District 12, an outer district from the main capital (think Pennsylvania or Tennessee in the storyline) where Coal Mining and natural ore are the highest priority. Unlike the heart of the government, life in District 12 is continually challenging – luxuries are scarce, and the culture lives mostly hand to mouth, struggling to maintain an existence. Some 74 years before the book “Hunger Games” the outer districts revolted from the capital, an attempt to change the hierarchy of resources and were summarily defeated. All that Katniss, our hero knows is that this turn of events led to the creation of the “Hunger Games”, a way to remind the districts every year that they must obey the capital, or the retaliation would be terrible.
When we enter the film, we see Katniss and Gale, her hunting companion are engaging in a hunt for food. People who are fans of the book sometimes wonder: how do you translate complex ideas or internal monologues to film? From the get go, “The Hunger Games” manages to do this effectively. The book focuses on the illegalities of hunting, the threat of being caught – in short order, the film is able to convey this, allowing simple dialog and visuals to convey how different the world is just outside the fence of District 12, and how their fates could be changed good or bad if they stay.
The film quickly turns to the horror that is the games themselves and does something that I think reminds us how different the perspective on the games is from the viewpoint of the capital and the viewpoint of the districts. The capital views this as somewhat a punishment still 74 years later of the districts for their rebellion. But the capital has come to believe that the games themselves act as a unifying force, a chance for the districts to root for themselves and – if their district wins – to receive perks and benefits in food and resources. As our head game master points out early “it unifies us”. The film effectively gets to the bubbling resentment the districts feel though, that for them, there is no reward, only a continual torture for actions that feel more and more just as the years pass. The districts are completely aware that they are outmanned, outgunned, and cannot face off in a military struggle with the capital (at least not at the point of this book) but the low boil of resentment is definitely growing within the population.
This is something the film does amazingly well; it takes a lot of the exposition of the book and turns it visual, giving us cues and short asides to let us in to the way the districts view their world. Katniss has one of the most effective representations of this, seeing her life ripped away from her in a dream where she remembers her father killed in a mining accident.
Suzanne Collins has said part of the idea of the story came from the Greek myths of Theseus, and the government in the role of those who appeased the minotaur. But what she has done is provide a backdrop that allows for significant serious political debate that appeals to those on the left and the right of issues; discussions of the power of government as well as self and state supports, the value or lack thereof in war.
I don’t want to get to the heart of the games because this is a film that really deserves to be appreciated on its merits. If you’ve read the story, you know how this goes. If not, I will tell you the film manages to get across everything you could ask for in a literary adaptation. While there are some changes I don’t think worked completely (most importantly to me is the possession of the mockingjay pin, which they will have to redress later) the story manages to get across every key point as well as significant amounts of dialog and it does so in a way that pays strong homage to the book while embracing the visual format.
The Video 4.5 / 5
The Hunger Games is presented in 2.40:1 in AVC @ an AWBR of 36Mbps. With the statistics out of the way, you’d think this would be one of the most stunning pristine films you’ve seen. Well, let me say I find the way that The Hunger Games was filmed to be fantastic – it rotates cleanly between pristine environments and steady and long arc shots which show off the beauty of the capital to scenes of memories, inserts of dingy communities and hand-held “shaky cam” that follow our heroine/heroes as they make their way through the game front.
There will be those who dislike the basic design of the film in this way; they will view the shaky cam as hurting the overall picture quality. I’m not sure I buy that argument. The film seems to use those scenes with such significant purpose that I have to view it as an effect the artist was after, and it pays off in setting up the difference for the view between areas of the film. The beauty and sterile look to the capital is so counterbalanced by the off-center shaky nature of the arena and District12’s “Hub” that it really sucks the audience in.
That said, there are some issues with brightness or contrast in scenes where readable text is important. In viewing on my 65”, I found that text in notes or on screens was sometimes sharp and readable, sometimes not. This is a bit of an issue as some of those are important for the audience to follow the heart of the story.
The Audio 5 / 5
This is one of those films that challenges our rating system. If I could give this film a 6 / 5 I would. The DTS-HD 7.1 mix absolutely redefines what I have come to expect from a blu-ray release. Not only is dialog crisp and sharp, but the 7.1 mix is used so effectively that it pulls you completely into the film. I’ve joked with people that many 7.1 mixes seem to just make the sides a way station between front and rear. That’s definitely not the case with “The Hunger Games”. The audio is expansive and your sides are used in a way where they present true discrete and sometimes important audio cues. The use of LFE is absolutely everything I could ask for from a disc.
The effects in this title are so well rendered that this is now my reference disc to show off my 7.1 setup.
The Extras: 3.5 / 5
On your first disc, you receive:
MetaBeam: A commercial to prompt you to download an app for your iPhone/Ipod/Ipad or Android device. Pass. I didn’t even try this.
DTS-HD Audio Check
The World is Watching: The Making of the Hunger Games (122 Min, 1080P, MPEG4-AVC VBR 31.6Mbps, AC3 2.0 audio). I’ve often found behind the scenes documentaries to be the short order thing they throw in on any disc. Let me say that this is not one of those paint by numbers behind the scenes documentaries. This actually does take a pretty deep and detailed track of how this moved from book to film, the training of actors, the complexity of making this work in a PG-13 target film and more. I found some portions of this very interesting, especially discussions of the actors physical training and how to make sure The Hunger Games didn’t get hit with an “R” rating.
Propoganda Film 1:34 (1080P, MPEG4-AVC VBR 29.7Mbps, AC3 2.0 Audio) This is the propaganda film seen in the background during the opening sequence explaining to the districts why the games and reaping still occur from the capital’s viewpoint.
Game Maker: Suzzanne Collins (1080P, MPEG-4 AVC VBR 31.8Mbps, AC3 2.0 Audio). This is an interview series with Scholastic publishing editors and staff about the impact of the book, how they knew this book would/should be a success on first read, etc. I admit, I didn’t care for this extra at all, very hard to follow.
Letters from the Rose Garden 9:08 (1080P, MPEG-4 AVC VBR 31.8Mbps AC3 2.0 Audio). This is maybe one of the most controversial extras I can remember on a film such as this. Donald Southerland pulls no punches in his thoughts about what he feels The Hunger Games represents to him, how he views the world, etc. I have to say, I’ve always found the political line of thought of Hunger Games to be very open for people of any side of the political isle to find things that they embrace about it. Right Wing Republicans, for example, might find roots in a powerful central government that strips the people of the ability to fight back. Those who are liberal left in ideology may find this to speak to how we treat those in need etc. I think both of those are great for discussion. But this extra would definitely not be welcome by those who consider themselves of the conservative variety.. who may be pretty offended by the way this comes across.
Controlling The Games 5:50 (1080P, MPEG-4 AVC AC3 2.0 Audio) this is the creation of the game center as we see within the film; the game center is of course unique to the film and not really touched upon directly in the book.
A Conversation with the Director 14:30 (1080P, MPEG-4 AVC AC3 2.0 Audio). This is a pretty straight forward run of the mill discussion of what attracted the director to this work.
Also included are marketing materials, stills, trailers, etc.
Summary: High Recommend
I have to admit in watching through this disc I get the distinct feeling that we’ll see another release of “The Hunger Games” an extended version or one which contains deleted sequences, which aren’t here. It makes sense for them to hold back such a version until we get ready for the release of Catching Fire (corrected), the next film in the franchise. A film like this will sell huge volumes on Blu-Ray. It’s easy for people to pick up a blockbuster they love. In light of that, it’s very easy for the studio to go cheap and give you a basic version that they know you will buy.
But here, the version we receive in the first bite of the apple is so good that it’s hard to pass. The audio in this is reference quality, the picture and detail is very good, and for fans of the film you’re reading this review long after you purchased. But if you haven’t heard the 7.1 in a true 7.1 configuration, this is a blu-ray that might encourage you to upgrade.