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THE HUNGER GAMES
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci, Lenny Kravitz
Director: Gary Ross
Audio: DTS HD 7.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio: Lionsgate
Features: See Review
Length: 142 Minutes
Release Date: August 18, 2012

MAY THE ODDS BE EVER IN YOUR FAVOR.

Film ***1/2

The Hunger Games was a most-anticipated movie event for me, having read and loved the trilogy of books by Suzanne Collins. I found them not only some of the most imaginative, engrossing and hard-to-put-down fictional novels of recent memory, but also delightfully and subversively conservative in nature.

Though I don't think the author has offered commentary on the implications in her stories, it's hard not to notice what takes place in this nightmarish future world without comparing it to our own day and age. There is an all-powerful and oppressive government who decides who lives and who dies by controlling food rationing (think: Obamacare, but with grain...not a reality at the time, but certainly a long time pipe dream), who cuts out the tongues of those who speak out against it (think: the attempts to censor Rush Limbauh, Dan Cathy and others), and who maintains power by drawing lines between the haves and have-nots so that they stay in conflict with one another while ignoring how it continually consolidates power (think: the Democrat party playbook since the 1940s).

I didn't expect these notions to be played up on the big screen, and I was correct. In fact, I'm sure uber-liberals Donald Sutherland and Woody Harrelson might have had second thoughts had they read the stories. Mr. Sutherland grossly mischaracterized the youngsters in the movie as representing Occupy Wall Street...if anything, they are future Tea Partiers. It's not about who is wealthy and who is poor...it's about a central controlling government who decides which is which.

But whether the politics mean anything to you or not, The Hunger Games is, first and foremost, an example of brilliant storytelling that needed to make it to the big screen despite the obvious problems of deadly violence between kids between 12 and 18, as they are unleashed into an annual arena of bloodshed for the amusement of all, where only one will come out alive.

For Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence), the day of selecting two children, one boy and one girl, from each of the twelve remaining districts, is at hand. At age 12, your name goes in for the drawing one time, but each subsequent year, your name goes in an extra time, increasing your chances of being picked. Katniss is 16, and each year she has taken up the Capitol's offer of entering her name an additional time for each member of her family to receive an extra ration of grain.

However, on this day, it is not her, but her 12-year-old sister's name who is called. Refusing to let her die in the horrible combat of the games, Katniss steps forward to take her place. The boy that will represent District 12 turns out to be the son of a local baker named Peeta (Hutcherson).

They are brought to the Capitol, given great food, training, and comfort for what might be their last days on earth. Their trainer, Haymitch (Harrelson) has the distinction of being the only living person from District 12 to ever win the games...a nice advantage, if he wasn't now a slobbering alcoholic.

Katniss has skill with a bow, having spent years illegally hunting in the woods outside her district to keep her family alive. And, thanks to the talents of stylist Cinna (Kravitz), she is also transforming from a tomboy into the kind of girl that could easily distract a nation. She doesn't want to kill, but she wants to stay alive, and nothing, not even the strangely kind Peeta will keep her from returning home to her family.

The novels were told in first person, so other gimmicks for exposition had to be employed in the movie once the games begin, but that's a minor point. The games are thrilling, exciting, and yes, horrifying given what we know must happen, but the film manages to mute some of the horrors for the sake of a more palatable PG-13 rating, making it an easier go for young readers clamoring for the film.

The movie packs action, suspense, and emotion into two-plus hours running time, and even keeps the kind of twists and surprises that made the novels such merciless page-turners. And is it really that far off the mark? We don't watch fights to the death for entertainment, but we do make sports like ultimate fighting hugely successful franchises, and we enjoy seeing humanity debase itself on reality shows for our own amusement. How big a leap would this be, especially when you throw in a government who desperately wants you to look in any direction except at them?

Despite the veteran presences of Sutherland, Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks, this is truly a movie for and about young people, and the youthful cast is solid, starting with the radiant Ms. Lawrence in an increasingly iconic role. My other favorite bit of casting was Lenny Kravitz...if you've read the books, you're likely to agree he was a perfect choice for Cinna.

Science fiction has always used unbridled imagination to turn the microscope on ourselves and our condition. The Hunger Games is not a future of flying cars, laser beams or robots, but instead, something much more sinister, and a lot more close to home than we might care to admit.

Video ****

PHENOMENAL. I had a feeling this would be one of the year's best quality Blu-rays, and Lionsgate didn't disappoint. This is a visual marvel, teeming with life and detail in every frame, with eye popping color and the kind of startlingly crisp action that only 1080p can deliver. A treat from start to finish!

Audio ****

This DTS HD 7.1 track delivers everything you'd expect and more...explosive dynamic range going from the raucous games to the subtle moments of emotion. Don't be surprised if Rue's theme stays with you for days. The surround tracks and subwoofer work overtime here to deliver an unforgettable listening experience.

Features ***

There is a two-hour making of documentary, plus featurettes on the book (despite the title, Suzanne Collins does not participate), the special effects, marketing, the director's process, plus a conversation with director Gary Ross, as well as a digital copy. The full 'propaganda film' is a trip...the government berating those who turn on it, the one who cares for them and feeds them. All the extras are on the second disc.

Summary:

The world is indeed watching...the books and this film were tremendous hits, and for good reason. They tell an amazing story and force us to reflect upon the kind of world we are currently heading toward, and make us ask what kind of world we want to live in...one where we keep turning more and more control of our lives and deaths to a self-perpetuating nanny state who decides our winners and losers, or one where we will rise up and say “we take of ourselves and our own...just stay out of it”.

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