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The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD UltraViolet Review

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013) movie poster The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Theatrical Release: November 22, 2013 / Running Time: 146 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Francis Lawrence / Writers: Suzanne Collins (novel Catching Fire); Simon Beaufoy, Michael deBruyn (screenplay)

Cast: Jennifer Lawrence (Katniss Everdeen), Josh Hutcherson (Peeta Mallark), Liam Hemsworth (Gale Hawthorne), Woody Harrelson (Haymitch Abernathy), Elizabeth Banks (Effie Trinket), Lenny Kravitz (Cinna), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Plutarch Heavensbee), Jeffrey Wright (Beetee Latier), Stanley Tucci (Caesar Flickerman), Donald Sutherland (President Snow), Toby Jones (Claudius Templesmith), Willow Shields (Primrose Everdeen), Sam Claflin (Finnick Odair), Lynn Cohen (Mags), Jena Malone (Johanna Mason), Amanda Plummer (Wiress), Sandra Lafferty (Greasy Sae), Paula Malcomson (Katniss' Mother), Patrick St. Espirit (Commander Romulus Thread), Alan Ritchson (Gloss), Stephanie Leigh Schlund (Cashmere), Meta Golding (Enobaria), Stef Dawson (Annie Cresta), Bruno Gunn (Brutus)
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is one of DVDizzy.com's Top 100 Movies of the Half-Decade (2010-2014).The Hunger Games: Catching Fire ranks 18th in our list of the Top 100 Movies of the Half-Decade (2010-2014).

Buy The Hunger Games: Catching Fire from Amazon.com: Blu-ray Combo • DVD • Instant Video

Before The Hunger Games opened theatrically in March 2012, the most optimistic outlook envisioned the first adaptation of the bestselling young adult novel series performing on par with a Twilight or Harry Potter movie. Hunger Games even exceeded those tall expectations. Opening big and playing long, it outgrossed all five Twilight and eight Harry Potter films domestically with a staggering haul of $408 million.
Many YA adaptations, from Percy Jackson to Eragon to The Seeker, had aimed for big numbers and fell absurdly short. Hunger Games triumphed with undeniable four-quadrant appeal. It was a youth-oriented adventure whose values parents could extoll and whose content and high quality production could easily engage and excite non-readers and adult moviegoers too.

In the twenty months following its release, The Hunger Games inspired no backlash or fatigue. Still, sequels historically do not build upon their predecessors commercially. Few and far between, exceptions are usually the result of a period of pent-up demand/ticket price inflation or an irregularly explosive home video afterlife. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire benefitted from neither of those. Still, it added $16 million domestically and over $150 M worldwide to the already robust grosses of the original film. It took a while and seemed in doubt until a Christmas week boost, but on Thursday, January 9th, in its 49th day of release, Catching Fire overtook Iron Man 3 to become the domestic box office king of 2013 releases.

As formidable as it may be, commercial success is not the most impressive thing about this franchise. Hunger Games has ascended to pop culture dominance without compromise. Critics loved the first film as much as moviegoers. Each seemed to love the second a little more. Probably due both to the youth of the film's primary following and to the astronomical mainstream appeal, the series has had to settle for minor awards: People's Choice, Teen Choice, Kids' Choice, MTV Movie Awards, the Golden Globes' Original Song category. Even the final Harry Potter earned little more than such marginal recognition, a fact that reflects worse on awards organizations' narrow-mindedness than on the films, whose artistic achievements rival those of their greatest contemporaries.

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mallark (Josh Hutcherson) are catching fire at the opening ceremony of the 75th (Third Quarter Quell) Hunger Games.

Catching Fire opens not long after Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mallark (Josh Hutcherson) of the impoverished District 12 became co-victors in the 74th annual Hunger Games. Traditionally, only one winner emerges from the televised, government-organized competition in which randomly chosen young tributes from all twelve districts use strategy, skills, and alliances to outlast the others. Posing as young lovers who would rather die together than see the other perish, Katniss and Peeta both survived in what Panem's President Snow (Donald Sutherland) considers an act of defiance. He especially views Katniss, who volunteered in place of her younger sister, as a threat for the hope she has given the downtrodden masses in this economically disparate dystopian future.

Katniss must bid farewell to her hometown love Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and her mother and sister to embark on a victors tour with Peeta, past champion Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) and District 12 chaperone Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks). With this year holding the 75th annual Hunger Games, the Capitol invokes the Quarter Quell format, meaning that past victors of varying ages (one of each gender per district) will compete in another fight to the death. Katniss and Haymitch's names are chosen, but Peeta volunteers in his mentor's place.

Katniss and Peeta form alliances with an assortment of tributes, including the brazen Johanna Mason (Jena Malone), the overconfident Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin), silent aging Mags (Lynn Cohen), and odd, tech-savvy middle-aged couple Beetee and Wiress (Jeffrey Wright and Amanda Plummer). Their domed interactions, overseen and choreographed by new head gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman), expose them to poison fog, ferocious monkeys, tempting Jabberjays, and other obstacles in addition to opponents' hostilities, and, of course, hunger and dehydration.

Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) deliver solemn speeches at the districts of fallen young tributes. President Snow (Donald Sutherland) is concerned by the hope that Katniss gives the downtrodden masses.

For such a mainstream force, this series is unusually artful and offbeat. Harry Potter seems like the most fitting comparison, but that wizarding adventure franchise was very British and somewhat traditional in its thrills and good/evil mythology. Hunger Games is American in origin and less global in its appeal,
but its class and pedigree feel on the order of Potter. Warner Bros' octet of fantasies attracted respected award-winning actors and filmmakers largely from the UK. Hunger Games has similarly assembled strong predominantly American talent on both sides of the camera.

Lawrence has since blossomed into a full-fledged movie star and an Oscar winner for Silver Linings Playbook, but she had little more than the acclaimed indie Winter's Bone (her first of now three Academy Award nominations) and TBS's "The Bill Engvall Show" to her name when she was cast in the lead role. To some, it may have looked like Lawrence was taking the Kristen Stewart route, sacrificing promising artistic credibility for cinematic immortality and a few years of big paychecks.

That clearly has not been the case, with the actress doing an extraordinary job to keep this lucrative franchise respectable and dramatically fulfilling while still somehow finding time for substantial grown-up movies, like her two decorated turns for writer/director David O. Russell. I can't think of any other film actress who has risen this quickly and extensively on such quality work. Even her X-Men prequel, whose follow-up arrives in May, was several notches above that Marvel series' history to date. If she can continue to elude both burnout and public backlash, the latter an especially oppressive force in our cynical Internet age, Lawrence could be enjoying the most interesting and exciting career of any film actress in recent memory. That must be simultaneously invigorating and terrifying for a 23-year-old who was basically unknown just four years ago.

Though it is distributed by the merged companies behind Twilight, Hunger Games feels closer to Lawrence's breakthrough indie Winter's Bone in sensibilities. Gladly, it is fundamentally different and better than that angsty vampire and werewolf teen romance universe. The romance of Hunger Games is never the main event, taking a backseat to this complicated political climate and these life-or-death competitions that feel like a believable evolution to today's reality television. Catching Fire again revels in pageantry, making sure you take in the rich contrast between the opulent Capitol and the drab surrounding districts, including Katniss' own. We don't get into the games until the 80-minute mark, more than halfway in. When we do, there's no feel of "been there, done that." I'm not sure how we're spared that déjà vu, but we are. The different contestants, stakes, behind-the-scenes intrigue, and inspired conflict distinguish this outing from the previous. The Games remain taut, creative, and compelling. Despite that intimidating runtime (which, it must be said, is barely 135 minutes pre-closing credits), only briefly in one action sequence does the picture come close to lagging.

Johanna Mason (Jena Malone) has nothing to lose while competing against fellow past victors in the Third Quarter Quell Hunger Games.

Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend, Water for Elephants) assumes the helm from Gary Ross (Pleasantville, Seabiscuit) to no evident detriment or even noticeable change. Whereas the first film credited its screenplay to author Suzanne Collins and Captain Phillips scribe Billy Ray, this one hails from Simon Beaufoy (127 Hours, Slumdog Millionaire) and Toy Story 3, Little Miss Sunshine's Michael Arndt (calling himself Michael deBruyn, for some reason). Likewise, the change doesn't preclude from this sequel dispensing more of the first film's winning fabric. There's an abundance of technical appeal and imaginative fantasy (or science fiction, if you prefer), but they both serve to complement the character-driven storytelling,
which in contrast to Potter, doesn't even require you know the books to feel like you're getting everything you should be.

I didn't expect Catching Fire to live up to its predecessor so fast and fully. Now that it clearly did, I'm cautiously optimistic that the finale, the obligatorily split into two parts Mockingjay, can uphold the high standard this and next Thanksgiving. Francis Lawrence is directing both installments, which seems reassuring, although screenplay duties have been taken over by Danny Strong, an actor whose writing résumé of HBO telemovies and Lee Daniels' The Butler does not entirely put at ease.

So big is Catching Fire that it has inspired Lionsgate and Summit, the two studios least enamored with the combo pack (having denied such an edition to the original film and all but one Twilight movie), to offer a Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD UltraViolet release to 2013's biggest hit and 2014's likely bestseller. It was released yesterday, in between the standard Tuesday street dates for that special event feel.

Watch a clip from The Hunger Games: Catching Fire:

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD UltraViolet combo pack cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

Blu-ray: 1.78:1-2.35:1 Widescreen; DVD: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Blu-ray: 7.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Surround 2.0 (English)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Both: Dolby Digital 5.1 (Spanish), Dolby Surround 2.0 (English, Descriptive Service)
DVD Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled or Captioned
Release Date: March 7, 2014
Suggested Retail Price: $39.99
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (1 BD-50 & 1 DVD-9)
Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase in Cardboard Slipcover
Also available on DVD ($29.95 SRP) and on Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

It probably just about goes without saying that Catching Fire offers an exemplary sensory experience that lends it to the Blu-ray's demo-worthy picture and sound. The clean, sharp picture preserves the film in its all states, from the icy tones of District 12 to the monochromatism of certain night scenes to the vivacious hues of the Capitol. The 7.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack, meanwhile, is absolutely excellent, engulfing you in tasteful ways on a consistent basis. The mix is potent enough to make you wonder how this film was snubbed in the two sound categories, even if the Oscars aren't willing to consider it for the bigger categories it should. For that matter, how is a film so widely seen denied the Costume and Hair & Makeup nominations it so plainly deserves? Lionsgate nicely even includes a Dolby 2.0 soundtrack that's optimized for late night viewing.

Nearly half of the film, basically the entirety of the Hunger Games segments, were filmed in IMAX. The Blu-ray takes the Christopher Nolan approach, opening up the image to 1.78:1 for these sequences. The DVD does not, sticking to the 2.35:1 aspect ratio of standard theatrical engagements. If you're not looking for them, the dimension changes could easily slip past you. I went quite some time before noticing. Though I'm generally not crazy about this type of varying aspect ratio, at least it's not constantly going back and forth as Nolan's Batman movies do. If this is Francis Lawrence's preferred vision, so be it. But it's odd that Blu-ray gets one thing and DVD gets another.

Elizabeth Banks undergoes extensive make-up as part of her transformation into Effie Trinket. Francis Lawrence directs his costumed cast in the comfort of shorts.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Blu-ray's all-HD extras begin with a sneak peek for Divergent (6:43), the forthcoming YA adaptation that Lionsgate/Summit is clearly hoping performs like Hunger Games. It's more of a promotional making-of featurette than extended trailer with talking heads and behind-the-scenes footage complementing film clips.

Next up comes a feature audio commentary by director Francis Lawrence and producer Nina Jacobson. Featuring so little interaction that you suspect they were recorded separately, theirs isn't the most interesting or free-flowing of tracks. Information shared tends to be standard fare: filming locations and conditions, stunts and visual effects.
More remarkable is the revelation that a few frames of a violent moment had to be trimmed to secure a PG-13 rating from the MPAA. While some will certainly appreciate this, a movie of this caliber with such a huge, passionate fan base deserves a more exciting commentary.

"Surviving the Game: Making The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" (2:24:55) is an epic nine-part making-of documentary which runs nearly as long as the film itself does. It aims for more than just the same old, starting with the cast and crew reflecting on the first film's impact. It moves on to discussing finding a new director to replace Gary Ross, finding and designing locations, shooting on film, the camaraderie of the new and returning cast, the characters' costumes and evolving looks, Effie's hair and makeup, challenges and perks of filming in Atlanta (including a frigid outdoor water park closed for the season), training and stunts, filming sequences in IMAX, the editing process, adding visual effects, scoring, and the series' future. The piece benefits from a wealth of perspectives: cast, producers, crew members, Scholastic publishers. It's an exhaustive documentary but one you enjoy watching given its fine treatment of an interesting subject.

This deleted scene shows an envelope catching fire in the hands of Plutarch (Philip Seymour Hoffman). The Blu-ray's top menu employs the pretty colors of the 1990s Charlotte Hornets.

Most of the five deleted scenes (4:35) are short and insignificant, but the reel includes a good extended conversation between President Snow and Plutarch

and a solo Plutarch scene (which bears greater than usual interest following Hoffman's recent death).

The same DVD sold on its own, without a two-disc edition, the combo pack's second disc includes the commentary and the deleted scenes, but not even a moment of "Surviving the Game", which is unfortunate.

Both discs open with a standard trailer for Divergent. The DVD follows that up with trailers for Ender's Game, Twilight Forever: The Complete Saga, and an EPIX promo. The DVD repeats the same three ads from the menu's "Also from Lionsgate" listing, while the Blu-ray leaves that Divergent trailer menu-inaccessible. Catching Fire's own trailers are disappointingly absent on both discs.

Once again, Lionsgate has poured extra effort into the Blu-ray, with Hunger Games-themed FBI warnings and "Mandatory Previews" screens giving way to inspired colorful animated menus, which are virtually guaranteed to be 2014's prettiest. The Blu-ray supports bookmarks and also resumes playback. The DVD's menus are a lot more routine, playing screen-filling film clips to score in between appearances of the flaming Mockingjay emblem.

Joining the two similarly-labeled discs inside the slipcovered eco-friendly keepcase are an insert promoting Suzanne Collins' books and your codes for redeeming the iTunes and UltraViolet digital copy plus 4,000 free coins for the Panem Rum mobile game.

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) wows Caesar Flickerman and his captive audience with her winged Mockingjay dress.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The rare sequel to follow something excellent and not disappoint, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire stands as one of 2013's most enjoyable, entertaining, and well-made films. Its Blu-ray combo pack quickly emerges as one of 2014's best releases, dazzling with an outstanding feature presentation and nearly five hours of mostly high quality bonus features. While I have no doubt that Lionsgate will one day release a big box set with all four films, probably for Christmas 2016, there's no good reason to deny yourself of this fantastic and versatile set until then, which will be the best way to revisit this installment before Mockingjay, Part 1.

Buy The Hunger Games: Catching Fire from Amazon.com: Blu-ray Combo / DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
The Hunger Games | 2013 Blockbusters: Gravity • Iron Man 3 • Man of Steel • Oz the Great and Powerful
Jennifer Lawrence: American Hustle • Silver Linings Playbook • Winter's Bone • X-Men: First Class • Like Crazy • The Beaver
Josh Hutcherson: Journey 2: The Mysterious Island • Bridge to Terabithia • Howl's Moving Castle • The Kids Are All Right
Philip Seymour Hoffman: Doubt • The Master • The Ides of March | Liam Hemsworth: Paranoia • The Last Song
Written by Michael Arndt (Michael deBruyn): Toy Story 3 • Brave • Oblivion

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Reviewed March 8, 2014.



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