Based on the best-selling second novel of Suzanne Collins’ award-winning trilogy, with a screenplay by Simon Beaufoy and Michael DeBruyn and directed by Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend), The Hunger Games: Catching Fire begins as, against all odds, Katniss and her fellow tribute Peeta have returned home after surviving The Hunger Games. Winning means they must turn around, leaving their loved ones behind and embark on a “Victory Tour” through the districts. Along the way, Katniss senses a rebellion simmering – one that she and Peeta may have sparked. At the end of the Victory Tour, President Snow announces a deadly 75th Hunger Games that could change Panem forever.
That crafty Capitol is at it again. President Snow (Donald Sutherland), with the help of his devious Game Maker Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman), has found a delightful, not to mention convenient wrinkle in the way the Hunger Games are dealt with. Every 25 years, or basically whenever President Snow sees fit, the Hunger Games gather up a bunch of past winners and have them battle it out, yet again. Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) aren't out of the woods yet, not by a long shot.
The movie, however, doesn't rush full-throttle into the games. Yes, those sequences are the most exciting and visually stunning, but the action that takes place outside of the Capitol's death dome is just as entertaining.
The relationship between Katniss and Peeta is a tenuous one. One, which on the surface, is adored by fans in every district. Like today's high-powered celebrity couples, Katniss and Peeta are expected to lap up the limelight. They're expected to be in love of every second of every day. It doesn't help matters that secretly Katniss loves Gale (Liam Hemsworth). A development that has drawn the ire of President Snow. Snow needs his loyal subjects to fall in line. Katniss' willful disobedience in the first games has caused a stir of uprising around the districts. He hopes that the spectacle of Katniss and Peeta's celebrity will distract them from the horrors of his reign.
The parallels of ultra-celebrity highlighted in 'Catching Fire' are its strongest asset. A bold comment on how enamored we are with celebrities, and how we can so easily be distracted by their lives.
Though 'Catching Fire' suffers from the same problems as the first movie. It lacks a believable scope. Whenever the Capitol is shown it's this expansive CGI as-far-as-the-eye-can-see wonderland of futuristic buildings; no doubt home to millions upon millions of citizens. Then we travel out to the separate districts. All of which are depicted as small towns, whose entire population fits nicely into the town square. The sizes of the surrounding districts, both in area and population, never jive with the grandiosity of the Capitol. How are these districts supporting the Capitol? They're so tiny.
The games are full of all sorts of technical wizardry. Here is where the movie excels as far as the first movie is concerned. The action this time around, while frantic at times, isn't nearly as nauseating as Gary Ross' shaky-cam. It's a wonderful change of pace actually seeing and understanding what's going on as opposed to guessing while we try to keep from getting sick.
Jennifer Lawrence is as great as ever, acting circles around the two boys meant to be her love interests. She's the heart and soul of just about any film she does, and that's true here too. Her portrayal of Katniss is a firm pillar on a shaky foundation of kick-ass heroines. There aren't many as far as Hollywood is concerned (knowledge you may have garnered by the severe lack of female heroes in those blasted hero montages shown during the Oscars telecast).
'Catching Fire' provides the same sort of emotional heft as the first film. It decently builds around its stable of increasingly likable characters. It outshines its predecessor as far as the action is concerned. Thank's for keeping the camera still Francis Lawrence! 'Catching Fire' is a more than worthy successor to the 'Hunger Games' franchise.
Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This is a Lionsgate Blu-ray release. It comes with a DVD, 50GB Blu-ray, and a code for an UltraViolet Digital Copy. The two discs are housed in a standard keepcase and accompanied by a simple cardboard slipcover.
Presented in 1080p, Lionsgate has provided a fine looking transfer here. Clarity is top-notch. The special effects are presented with crisp detail. The eye candy that you were expecting from 'Catching Fire' in high definition is certainly there. IMAX fans will be happy to hear that the IMAX ratios are kept. So, aspect ratios switch once Katniss enters the games.
Being a darker version of the story, both in narrative and visual aspects, 'Catching Fire' seems to have a lot more scenes which are plunged into shadowy darkness. This is where the transfer shines, so to speak. The shadows are dark, deep, and refrain from crushing detail. Blacks are as inky as they're supposed to be.
When the lights are up, color and contrast are near perfection. The intensity in the movie's colors is something to behold. With vibrantly bold primaries, the color palette really radiates off the screen. Close-ups are full of fantastic detail, down to President Snow's errant beard hairs. This is everything you were expecting from a big budget movie which relies on its visuals.
The 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is superb. Lionsgate really knows how to put together a 7.1 surround sound mix. They've been doing it for just about everything, from 'The Expendables' to 'Nurse Jackie' so it's no surprise that a movie like 'Catching Fire' is the cream of their 7.1 crop.
Here is a sound mix that makes you realize that those extra side speakers are really worth it. The surround effect provided by them with this mix is invaluable. Here they envelop the listener in cheering crowds, rioting mobs, and warring contestant battles. The rear channels are just as engaged, providing a full-bodied listening experience that covers the entire room.
Up front dialogue is always clean, always clear. Whispers are heard perfectly. LFE booms. The loud, thunderous cannon shot whenever someone falls in the games can actually be felt. This is a great track all around. Certainly demo material.
'Catching Fire' exceeded the prowess of the first film. It certainly is much better in the way of portraying believable, easy-to-follow action. Though, it also produces some pretty decent character building along with some great acting from some of Hollywood's stalwarts. The audio and video are pretty much perfect. The special features are expansive as far as runtime goes. That documentary is pretty informative as well. Add all that together and you get a highly recommended release.