With the incredible success of The Hunger Games, it was no surprise that Lionsgate would fast track a movie based on the second book in the series and release it a little over a year later, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Director Francis Lawrence (I am Legend, Water for Elephants) was brought in to replace Gary Ross, and fills those shoes rather comfortably (he would go on to direct the remaining two installments).
The Production: 4.5/5
It’s been almost a year since Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) beat the odds and were victorious at the 74th Hunger Games. Katniss is suffering from PTSD, having nightmares and hallucinations of those she had to kill to survive. Peeta is trying to deal with the fact that his big romance with Katniss is nothing more than an act for the citizens of Panem. As part of the preparation for the victory tour, President Snow (Donald Sutherland) warns Katniss that she needs to make him and the citizens of Panem believe that she and Peeta are truly and deeply in love, or her friends, family, and the entire population of District 12 will be destroyed.
While on the tour, there are incidents of civil unrest as the less fortunate districts look to Katniss as a symbol of defiance against the Capitol. Snow realizes that executing Katniss is not an option, as the districts will likely make her a martyr and the uprisings will escalate. New Head Games Maker Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman), though, has an idea – since this will be the 75th Hunger Games, also known as the 3rd Quarter Quell, why not have all of the potential tributes at the reaping be former victors, especially since Katniss is the only surviving female victor from District 12? Snow likes the idea, thinking that if Katniss dies in the games, his problems would be over. This obviously does not go over well the other victors, with many of the chosen tributes forming alliances hoping to bring an end to the annual slaughter in displaying their defiance on national television.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire could have easily been a retread of the first book and movie, with a replay of the games in a new locale and more dangers, but there is more at stake in these games, and the lead up to the games sets the stage for the final book and last two movies in the franchise. Director Francis Lawrence is able to give this outing a better pace than the predecessor, and spends more time better developing the various relationships between the characters (both new and old). Returning cast members Jennifer Lawrence (who took home an Oscar for her role in Silver Linings Playbook while shooting this film), Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Donald Sutherland, Liam Hemsworth, and Stanley Tucci continue the strong performances they established in the first film, and Philip Seymour Hoffman gives a very understated performance as Games Maker Heavensbee, providing for a nice twist during the cliffhanger ending.
3D Rating: NA
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire was shot in 35mm and IMAX 15/70 and completed as a 4K digital intermediate. That’s the good news, and is a noticeable improvement over the 1080p Blu-ray. Contrast is stronger, with deeper blacks that retain shadow detail. Colors are more natural, even though they are subdued for most of the film until the games begin, offering lush and varying levels of green for the jungle sequences. Fine detail is also better rendered, revealing threads and textures in the fabrics of the wardrobes as well as wrinkles and other imperfections in actors’ faces. The bad news is that the aspect ratio remains locked at 2.40:1 throughout the feature, despite the Blu-ray presentation replicating what one would have seen in an IMAX theater with the frame opening up to 1.78:1 as Katniss emerges into the games.
For this 4K UHD Blu-ray release, Lionsgate has upgraded the audio with a Dolby Atmos mix (with a Dolby TrueHD 7.1 core). I can’t say for certain if this is the same Atmos track used in the theatrical release (I did not see any of these films in a theater), but it is quite impressive and immersive. As great as the DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track on the 1080p Blu-ray is, the Atmos track is even more so, even when played back in a non-Atmos 5.1 configuration with additional front height speakers and Pro-Logic IIz enabled. Panning effects put you front and center, but there are also subtle atmospheric effects that are much better rendered in a spatial environment. Dialogue is clear throughout, never overpowered by music and effects.
Special Features: 4/5
All of the special features related to the film are available on both the 4K UHD Blu-ray and the included 1080p Blu-ray.
Audio Commentary with Director Francis Lawrence and Producer Nina Jacobson: The two participants talk about the making of the film, but there are several moments of complete silence.
Surviving the Game: Making The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (1080p; 144:55): A very comprehensive look at the making of the movie, viewable as one long feature or nine individual featurettes; A New Kind of Hunger: Continuing the Saga, Visual Vocabulary: Building a World, Stirring Things Up: The Cast, Fashion Forward: Costume, Make-up and Hair, Let It Fly: Production in Atlanta, Moves and Countermoves: Stunts & Weapons, Tick Tock: Production in Hawaii, Threading the Needle: Post-Production, and The Revolution Lives: Reflections & Looking Forward.
Deleted Scenes (1080p; 4:36): A total of five scenes are included.
Digital HD Copy: An insert contains a code to redeem a digital copy through Ultraviolet partners.
Fans will be pleased with the upgraded audio and video of this release and the inclusion of all of the special features, accessible from either disc.
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