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THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Liam Hemsworth, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz, Stanley Tucci, Amanda Plummer, Jeffrey Wright, Jenna Malone, Sam Claflin, Philip Seymour Hoffman
Director: Francis Lawrence
Audio: DTS HD 7.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio: Lionsgate
Features: See Review
Length: 146 Minutes
Release Date: March 7, 2014

Since the last games, something is different. I can see it.”

What can you see?”

Hope.”

Film ****

The Hunger Games trilogy remains one of the strongest works of fiction I've read since the Harry Potter books. They take place in the future, but they are not about technology or science, but rather that human condition of yearning to be free, and how long humanity will sit still for tyranny before the reward of rebellion becomes greater than the risks.

When the trailers for Catching Fire first appeared, I applauded the way it promoted the film WITHOUT giving away the major points of the story...difficult to do, but well worth it for those who were not familiar with the books. I was, and I for one was glad that nothing was spoiled.

Therefore, I will attempt to do the same here, so forgive me if this review seems a little skimpy with the details. I will, however, assume that you have seen the first film; if you have not, go check it out right away, and then come back here. No worries...I can wait.

The first story left off with the first ever dual winners of the annual Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Hutcherson). The Games, of course, are a terrible spectacle whereby the omnipresent Capitol, headed by President Snow (Sutherland) maintains power and control over the subjects in the outlying 12 districts by forcing two tributes from each district, aged 12 to 17, one girl, one boy, to compete in a brutal game of survival in which only one comes out alive.

By pretending to be in love, Katniss and Peeta earned the sympathy and support of the game's viewers, and even a chance to either ensure the games had no winner, or two, as they threatened suicide rather than to kill one another.

As winners, they are to be set for life. Both are from the exceedingly poor District 12, but now they and their families take their place on Winners' Row, along with the only other winner from their district, Haymitch Abernathy (Harrelson). They have nice homes for themselves and their families, and will be taken care of for life.

However, all is not well. The imagined love story did not impress Snow, nor so much those in the districts who have had enough, and saw their act as one of rebellion, not love. Snow makes it clear upon their families' lives that they must use their new fame and popularity to quell any semblance of rebellion. It isn't easy...as they begin their victory tour of the districts, their attempts to play innocent lovers is met with more and more signs of uprising. And it doesn't help that the pretend love story is only make-believe for one: Peeta actually does love Katniss, even though she leaves a friend behind in Gale (Hemsworth).

And that is really as much as I dare say for those who don't know the story. I will conclude by saying the first movie showed the 74th Hunger Games. The 75th is coming up, and each 25 year anniversary marks a “Quarter Quell”, in which case a new twist is added. Haymitch actually won the 50th anniversary games, in which each district was required to offer double the amount of tributes, meaning 48 went into the arena instead of 24. What Snow has in mind for this Quarter Quell is nothing short of evil.

I will say that even more than the first movie, this one follows the book very closely. I knew every twist and turn, but I still marveled at how well Susan Collins' story was brought to the screen with style and integrity.

And I will also say that includes the obvious parallels to our own modern society: government maintains control by divisiveness, turning districts against each other as a distraction while more power is seized, “taking care” of the poor (by basically controlling their food and not even allowing them to try and provide for themselves), and using a brutal reality show as mass entertainment. The best science fiction is always grounded in some sense of reality, and it isn't too far a stretch to see this kind of future ahead of us.

And finally, I will say, do not be frustrated at the story's end. It ends exactly where the book ends, leaving you restlessly hungry (no pun intended) for the conclusion of the story, which will unfold in the two part finale Mockingjay...sadly, without Philip Seymour Hoffman being able to finish the crucial role he added to the tales.

Jennifer Lawrence has had a remarkable career for one so young, with two Oscar nominations and one win. She brings the strength and resilience needed for Katniss, and like the character, finds just the right note of grace under fire.

This film surpasses the first in every way, mostly because of faithfulness to the story that so many readers (like me) have come to know and love. It's big, spectacular entertainment told with imagination and thoughtfulness, and a truly great movie.

Video ****

This is a glorious high-definition transfer from Lionsgate...there is much detail here, and it all rings through with incredible crispness and clarity, from the darkest scenes to the brightly lit festivities of the Capitol.

Audio ****

The dynamic range of this HD 7.1 track is remarkable; lots of action, and some quiet moments of reflection. The open spaces of the outdoors come alive perfectly with ambiance and subtleties.

Features ****

There is a filmmaker commentary, followed by a 9-part making-of documentary. There is also a handful of deleted scenes, and a sneak peek at the upcoming Divergent.

Summary:

It gets better and better, and trust me when I say the best is yet to come. But for now, enjoy the remarkable, thrilling achievement that is The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, particularly on this top-notch Blu-ray offering.

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