Having never read the books, seeing the events of Suzanne Collins' dystopian society in which kids kill other kids in an arena while millions watch, makes me wonder how these books could be considered "young adult" fiction. There's some heavy stuff going on here. Sure, it's not as gory as a similar movie like 'Battle Royale,' but no one pretended that that book and subsequent movie were for kids. This is brutal!
Everyone knows the story of 'The Hunger Games' by now, right? Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) lives in a futuristic society ruled by a cruel upper-class who keep a stranglehold on the poorer people in their society by holding games every year where 24 children are chosen randomly throughout the 12 outlying districts. These kids are then put into a dome and told to kill each other. The last one standing wins. It's a cruel world Katniss lives in.
After her younger sister is picked during what is called "the reaping" Katniss volunteers herself to take her place. She's a capable archer and stands a better chance than her sister in the games.
I'd be lying if I told you that it wasn't hard to watch the first few moments after the games commence. Gary Ross' cleverly employed shaky-cam helps deaden the senses, but you still see a few blood spatters and knife thrusts as teenagers brutally murder pre-teens.
'The Hunger Games' could have easily been rushed to theaters amidst its wave of surging popularity. It did come to the screen pretty fast, but it doesn't feel rushed when you sit down and watch it. It doesn't feel like, say, 'Percy Jackson' for example, another popular young adult series, that was rushed out the door and ended up feeling more like a made-for-Disney-Channel movie than a big budget adventure. 'Hunger Games' on the other hand has that grand scope to it, and it feels like a big budget adventure.
Much of that success should be laid at the feet of the outstanding cast assembled for the film. Woody Harrelson as Haymitch, a person who won the games once but now drowns his sorrows in alcohol, is just the person to play that part. Who embodies inner struggle better than Harrelson? Speaking of inspired casting, what about Stanley Tucci as the flamboyant broadcast announcer Caesar Flickerman? Then at the center of the pack you have Jennifer Lawrence, an accomplished actress who showed how well she can play this kind of hard-nosed heroine in 'Winter's Bone.'
Ross, who hasn't directed action until now, employs many of the tiresome clichés of modern day action movies. The shaky-cam here is bothersome. It's understandable why it's used, and to his credit he employs it sparingly (this isn't as bad as a Greengrass film). It's blatantly used to cover up the more intense action scenes, to simply give a semblance that bloody action is taking place. All so they could get away with a PG-13 rating. Could you imagine a young adult fiction series getting an R rating? That would be the day.
'The Hunger Games' is entertaining enough, mostly because its stellar cast really carries the movie along. The story has been seen before, as it's a mixture of 'The Running Man' and 'Lord of the Flies,' but it still holds enough excitement and "Did they really just bludgeon that kid to death?" surprises to make for a solid blockbuster adaption.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
The standard 'Hunger Games' Blu-ray set comes with two 50GB Blu-ray Discs - one for the movie and one for the special features - and a code for an UltraViolet Digital Copy; however, this Target exclusive also comes with a better-looking case (here's hoping that Target will continue this tradition with the future movies so that they all have a matching look on my shelf) and a bonus third Blu-ray disc containing new special features that focus on the roles of the Tribute characters. All three discs are housed in a unique three-fold case that vertically slides into a matted and embossed black slipcover featuring unique artwork. It's labeled as a Region A release.
Lionsgate's 1080p AVC-encoded presentation is quite a treat. Overall, this is a strikingly clear, very well produced big budget movie whose visuals transfer really well to the high-def format. Faces feature as much detail as they possibly could. There may be a little too much detail in the case of Efie (Elizabeth Banks). Her close-ups reveal how caked-on her make-up for the movie really is. Close-ups on other people reveal all sorts of facial details, from Donald Sutherland's unruly beard hair to Lawrence's smooth, rosy-cheeked skin. Detail on textures is also great as tree bark is naturally bumpy and rough and clothing shows individual threads or wrinkles depending on whether it's woven or leather.
Colors are great here too, even though there have been quite a few post-production filters added onto the look. Depending on the setting a light green or light blue filters has been added. Green is a dominate color here, as the entirety of the games are fought in a lush forest setting. The sterile environment of the command center controlling the game offers cool blues. The strange clothing of those people in The Capitol pop off the screen as pinks, yellows, purples and neon blues are commonplace. There really isn't a color that isn't represented here in one form or another, making for a highly colorful presentation that is rendered well.
Blacks are deep and sufficiently inky. Shadows are perfectly delineated too, offering a detailed view of people and objects even in low light. I didn't notice any artifacts to report. Banding and aliasing stayed at bay. There was one scene where a character's shirt shimmered for a few seconds, but that was it. The rest of the movie is flawless looking, reminding me of what I saw in the theaters when it first came out.
If the visual presentation was near perfection, the 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio presentation is perfection. This is a butt-kicking, ear-thumping audio mix that puts you right smack-dab in the center of the action and never let's go.
The additional two channels really help in providing and enveloping feel. As Katniss runs from other game participants we can hear them yelling at her through the rear speakers as the rush of foliage and the crunch of twigs are happening in the front. A swarm of killer bees is unleashed and all of the channels fill up with a deadly buzzing that really makes you feel like you stepped into the middle of a bunch of angry bees. LFE is also astounding. Fireballs shoot past Katniss as a wildfire is created in the game. The loud whoosh and boom they create rumble the floor, walls, and pictures if you've got them. Even subtle ambiance is completely noticeable. The scene where Katniss and Rue use mocking jays to communicate offers pin-point accuracy in the speakers as the whistling mocking jay song bounces from one channel to the other as it travels further away.
Dialogue is always clear and comes directly from the center channel with the front channels offering pitch-perfect directionality when needs be. There's nothing that's left out here. Lionsgate's audio mix covers all the bases and what you end up with is a demo-quality track which you could use to show off your set-up.
'The Hunger Games' delivers the goods on Blu-ray when it comes to packing a punch in the technical categories. The physical look of this Target exclusive is worlds better than the standard Blu-ray release, although you basically have to be a die-hard to enjoy the content of the special Target-only bonus features disc. Fans will absolutely love this release, while casual film buffs will probably like it too. You already know what you're getting with 'Hunger Games' so it's pretty easy to know if it's for you or not. I, for one, find the story entertaining and the movie well-acted. This is a highly recommended release for sure.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.