The Hunger Games accomplished what Twilight could not. It transcended the bounds of “young adult” entertainment and became a cultural phenomenon across a wide swath of demographics. It was a joy to see theatrically, and even better the second time on Blu-ray.
Much of The Hunger Games success can be attributed to author Suzanne Collins, writer/director Gary Ross, and star Jennifer Lawrence. Ross was able to adapt Collins’ story for the big screen in a gritty, human and sometimes “indie feel” way. He has a clear pulse on the heroine Katniss Everdeen, which in turn is reflected by the strong performance from Lawrence and her supporting cast including Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Donald Sutherland, Stanley Tucci and Lenny Kravitz.
There is a moment in The Hunger Games when Katniss is seconds away from entering the tube that will whisk her away to the arena and certain death. It is in this government manipulated arena that two tributes from each of the 12 Districts of Panem are sent to fight to the death with only one leaving alive. Lawrence is priceless in this scene, conveying pure fear through subtle trembles and her expressions without uttering a word. She is one of the most vulnerable and equally strong female heroines to hit the big screen in some time.
Social subtexts are strong in The Hunger Games, from the lining up of Tributes at the Reaping selection lottery that recalls World War II concentration camps, to the opulent Capitol of Panem where wealth and power are second nature. The Hunger Games is ultimately about the first steps toward shifting the balance of power from the rich to those to support them as much as it is about the journey of Katniss from an isolated and unapproachable survivor to a symbol of hope. Everyone who watches it can place themselves on one side of the fence or the other and relate to the events transpiring.
What stood out the most about The Hunger Games during a second viewing and first on Blu-ray is how well the tension holds up despite knowing what comes next. Ross’s pacing strikes a great balance as it slowly builds up to the actual Game and splices in quiet moments to offer a breather from the chase. The only scene out of place is when Katniss builds an elaborate memorial for a fallen friend without seeming to care that someone could pop out the woods and toss a knife into her forehead at any moment.
The Hunger Games is the third highest grossing film of 2012 at the time of its home video debut. It’s a big deal and as such demands a premium Blu-ray presentation.
Lionsgate clearly recognized the need to optimize The Hunger Games on Blu-ray and dedicated an entire disc to the film and the film only. The result of this decision is a stunning 1080p video presentation worthy of the Panem Capitol’s high standards. Collins’ story travels from the bleak coal mining town of District 12 to the lush CGI-generated Panem Capitol, and finally to the dense forest where the game arena is constructed. Several of the sequences take place primarily at night, including the climactic battle.
Despite such visceral diversity and numerous nearly black scenes to manage, the transfer handles them all with ease and grace. Details are striking, from the stark makeup on Effie’s face to the sweat on Katniss’ brow. Black levels are strong and composed even in the most demanding of situations where the cinematography offers only a hint of light. It’s a presentation that matches what was seen theatrically, which is really all anyone can ask for.
The extra space on the movie-only disc allowed Lionsgate to pack on a solid 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track. The Hunger Games score and effects are loaded with deep bass tones that play out throughout the film in varying ways, from roaring fireballs to a death notice cannon. I was afraid the bass would either not reach deep enough or overpower dialogue. Both those fears were invalidated with multiple instances of stellar LFE, crisp and clear dialogue, and enveloping surround use. As for those extra two channels, they make a noticeable difference during the Games’ action scenes and when Katniss and Rue practice their mockingjay whistle as the birds respond.
Beyond the Feature
Lionsgate has packaged The Hunger Games on Blu-ray with a slipcover case, a digital copy, and in a first for the studio, an UltraViolet copy. A DVD version is not included and in no way missed as it would have cluttered up the package with three discs.
All of The Hunger Games bonus features are presented in high definition and all but one are shared with the DVD edition. There’s no commentary track with the cast or crew, but ‘The World is Watching’ 8-part documentary is there to pick up the slack and make you question how the series can go on sans skipping a beat with Gary Ross having turned down the sequel.
Preparing for the Games: A Director’s Process (Blu-ray Exclusive, 3 minutes) – The lone Blu-ray exclusive is a brief visit with Ross as he discusses writing and subsequently The Hunger Games movie.
The World is Watching: Making of The Hunger Games (2 hours, 2 minutes) – This eight-part documentary with a useful “play all” option is almost as long as the film and loaded with the full array of typical “making of” material spanning the scripting process through to the film’s completion. There are behind-the-scenes peeks, interview snippets with the cast and crew, and plenty of self-congratulatory nods to go around. The latter I could do without, but this documentary still should be the first stop on a bonus features exploration.
Game Maker: Suzanne Collins and The Hunger Games Phenomenon (14 minutes) – Scholastic Books’ David Levithan makes his second appearance after popping up in ‘The World is Watching,’ this time to discuss the books with Collins.
A Conversation with Gary Ross and Elvis Mitchell (14 minutes) – The next one-on-one chat is with critic Elvis Mitchell and director Ross. They naturally talk about the challenges of adapting Collins’ enormously successful book for the big screen.
Letters from the Rose Garden (9 minutes) – After he was hired to play President Snow but before filming began, Donald Sutherland typed out a three-page email to Gary Ross explaining his thoughts on the character and the rose garden he spends a couple scenes in. Sutherland narrates the email in its entirety on top of scenes from the film. It’s a bizarre analysis with additional ramblings drawing comparisons to Ted Bundy and the state of his car. The rose garden scenes were born out of that email. Sutherland is either a genius or a mad man and I’m not sure which.
Controlling the Games (6 minutes) – The most high-tech aspect of the film is where the gamemaker controls The Hunger Games from his command center. This featurette dives into Gary Ross’ design for the center which had to be greatly expanded upon from the book.
Propaganda Film (2 minutes) – The short propaganda film that plays during The Reaping in the movie’s first act is presented here in its entirety. It’s a must-see after watching the feature film, if only once.
Marketing Archive (5 minutes) – A basic collection of trailers, posters and photos from the film. All stuff most of you have probably seen online already during the promotional push leading into the theatrical release.
The Hunger Games lived up to its hype and Lionsgate lived up to high expectations in delivering the first of four planned films based on Suzanne Collins’ book trilogy in a stellar high definition presentation. Fans of the books and film will be the harshest critics, and I suspect they’ll be pleased with the arrival of The Hunger Games in their homes.
– Dan Bradley
Shop for The Hunger Games on Blu-ray for a discounted price at Amazon.com (August 18, 2012 release date).