The worldwide phenomenon of The Hunger Games continues to set the world on fire with The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1, which finds Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) in District 13 after she literally shatters the games forever. Under the leadership of President Coin (Julianne Moore) and the advice of her trusted friends, Katniss spreads her wings as she fights to save Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and a nation moved by her courage.
The first two 'Hunger Games' movies were dutifully focused on the gladiator-like carnage taking place inside the Hunger Games dome. We've moved on from that, to a smarter, more satisfying storyline. 'Mockingjay – Part 1' throws us head first into the frothing grassroots revolution of Panem. The oppressive inhabitants of the districts are primed to rise up and overthrow President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and his cronies, all they need is a little encouragement. That encouragement comes in the form of Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence). She's the face of the rebellion. A mutiny fueled by slick media-produced propaganda pieces. The war of television airwaves for the control of the populace's collective mind is something that 'Mockingjay – Part 1' does really well.
As the face of the revolution Katniss, a refreshingly humanistic heroine, is asked to put the people on her back. After her courageous showings in the Hunger Games she's seen as an ideal candidate that the population of Panem can rally behind. Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) become her puppet masters. Most of the time they appear utterly unsympathetic towards her individual needs. They're uncaring bureaucrats who happen to not be President Snow. So, they're a safer option Katniss supposes. While in reality Katniss is being batted around like a cat's ball of yarn. Sure, the revolution of Panem seems a righteous undertaking, but taking advantage of a vulnerable young girl begs the question if the ends justify the means. Certainly the ethics of Heavensbee and Coin are murky, at best.
The two of them meticulously plan Katniss' every move. It's like watching a demented dystopian behind-the-scenes political campaign. Everything about Katniss is fabricated. She's dressed like a superhero. She's asked to gaze over the Capitol's destruction of District 12 and emotionally convey her thoughts. It's no wonder she's unable to function most of the time. What's interesting about Katniss and her place within the story, is that she isn't made out to be superhuman. She's susceptible, emotional, and even irrational at times. She's – gasp – human. What a novel concept.
Without giving any thought to organically grown heroes. The ones who are born from legends of bravery and victory, Heavensbee and Coin rush to manufacture a hero themselves. There's no time to wait. Just like the Capitol's attempts at scaring the population into obedience, the rebellion's message is every bit an illusion. A slight-of-hand, meant to rile people up. To strike their nerves. To get them to act. Quickly.
Now take everything I said about Katniss and apply the opposite to the people of Panem. They're so pathetic, and easily controlled. It's hard to have sympathy for any of them. They're all so willing to run into certain death while whistling Mockingjay calls and signing the latest rebellion approved Katniss song, that they fail to realize there are going to be mass casualties. They all act like well-intentioned zombies, ever-ready to be blown to smithereens if it means doing so in the name of Katniss.
Contrast the population of Panem to the oppressed people in 'V for Vendetta' and we can see that they never really go through an evolution to revolution. I suppose one could argue that the residents of Panem have been so beaten down, that their identities have been completely stripped from them. The only problem with that theory is that the individuals the story chooses to follow are certainly extremely individualistic minds.
With less action and more talking, Lawrence is asked to do a lot more "acting" here. She's great. There are so many times where the emotional outbursts could border on the obscene, but Lawrence does a great job toeing the line between great acting and over acting.
The "Part 1" in the title should be an unmistakable clue that this only represents half a story. It doesn't diminish the effectiveness of the tale, however. While it feels needlessly cliffhanger-y, 'The Hunger Games: Mocking Jay – Part 1' is every bit as good – if not better – than its predecessors.
Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This is a pretty straightforward release as far as Blu-ray releases go. It comes with a 50GB disc, a DVD, and a code for an UltraViolet Digital Copy. A slipcover is included.
'Catching Fire' was packed with special effects as Katniss fought her way out of yet another Hunger Games. Here, the special effects are a little more understated, but still very well done. Most of the movie's visual detail is in capturing the intricate facial expressions of people plotting a revolution.
Facial detail is superb. When that camera zooms in faces are presented in lifelike glory. Age lines, pores, facial hair, it's all visible. You can even make out the individual capillaries of Kantiss' eyeballs after a fairly traumatic scene toward the end. The beards of Haymitch and President Snow are wonderfully rendered. Katniss spends a lot of time walking around over rubble. The ruins of the surrounding districts are perfectly reproduced here. You can see crumbled stone, rocks, dust, rebar, and crushed concrete.
When there are special effects, like the Capitol bombers and subsequent explosions, they're presented nicely here. They never look cheap or ineffective. There's a slick, glossy sheen to everything, giving it a heightened science fiction feel. Color is muted, but true to itself. Black areas are beyond reproach. What I did notice was some very minor banding around flashlight beams. Other than that the entire movie looks nearly flawless.
'Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1' is packed with some audio goodies that early adopters of certain technologies are going to fawn over. So, not only does this Blu-ray come with a Dolby Atmos track, it also comes with DTS Headphones: X technology. People who have already upgraded and adopted these new home theater technologies will find 'Mockingjay – Part 1' to be a wonderful source of what could be.
The audio here is really fantastic. Even if it is a talk-heavy movie compared to its predecessors in the series. Dialogue moves around purely in the front channels. Directionality with its pinpoint accuracy, places voices exactly where they are on screen. The sub-woofer is constantly drumming away, whether it be because of the bass-heavy soundtrack music, or the explosions provided by the Capitol. Either way, there is plenty of explosive rumbling going on.
The surround sound capabilities are also in top form. The rear channels capture music and various amounts of ambient sound. During a few energetic action scenes, the rear channels are bustling with volatile action. During the quieter scenes that rear channels still manage to harness the more subtle sounds of Katniss' lonely District 13 environment. Even those without Atmos capabilities will still be able to enjoy the audio prowess of this latest 'Hunger Games' release.
Possibly the smartest 'Hunger Games' movie to date, 'Mockingjay - Part 1' accurately navigates the tricky world of media propoganda and the influencing nature it can have on the masses. With stellar video, amazing audio (not to mention a few technology perks), and a packed-to-the-rim package of special features, the latest 'Hunger Games' installment comes highly recommended.