It’s hard not to be impressed by blockbusters right now. 2013’s top three films were The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Iron Man 3 and Frozen. All good to great movies. Catching Fire proved the most successful of the lot, grossing well over $400 million, and even outperformed the first film. Jennifer Lawrence stars as Katniss Everdeen, who is forced to compete in a battle royale yet again in the savage Quarter Quell with Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) at her side, and with her love Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) watching from a distance. My The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Blu-ray review follows after the jump.
Confidently picking up the story where the first film last left off, Katniss has survived the seventy-fourth hunger games with Peeta (a first in the history of the event), and is now suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. She wants to be with Gale, but as President Snow (Donald Sutherland) makes clear, she’s got a job now: she has to pretend to be in love with Peeta for her survival, and to distract the population from revolt. She and Peeta are sent out on tour with Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), Effie (Elizabeth Banks) and Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) assisting them again while they give speeches and try to pacify the people. But no matter how well they stick to the script, there’s a revolution brewing. So Plutarch Heavensbee (the late Philip Seymour Hoffman), the new head gamesmaker, tells the president the quarter quell –for the seventy-fifth game – should bring back previous winners to fight again. This means that Katniss and Peeta must go back in, and this time there’s no way that they’ll be able to both survive.
For the new game, they’re joined by fierce warriors like Johanna Mason (Jena Malone) Finnich Odair (Sam Claflin), and weirdos like Beetee (Jeffery Wright) and Wiress (Amanda Plummer). But one thing unites all their competitors: They’ve won a Hunger Game, which means that they’re all killers.
The first film was directed by Gary Ross, who got the casting right, and the story right (though maybe not the action right, but it’s still a pretty good movie), where the sequel was directed by Francis Lawrence, who will be seeing the franchise to its conclusion. And though much of the casting and style of the film was determined by the first film, Lawrence does a great job, and gets excellent work out of everyone. In fact, my biggest concern with the follow up, Mockingjay, is that this film ends on a great cliffhanger, and by spreading the finale into two films, they’ll hurt their forward momentum.
Catching Fire is made by its performer. Lawrence grounds the film, while also creating a great female protagonist who isn’t simply a woman playing the man’s part. As a sequel there’s less of a sense of discovery as there was the first time, but she nails the material, both in the action sections and in the love story. One of the biggest deviations is that it gives her more feelings for Peeta, which makes sense in the film, though fans know where it’s all heading. Josh Hutcherson is good in his role as well, but he’ll always feel like the nice guy Katniss doesn’t really want.
But where these films have succeeded is in their supporting players, and this film has such a deep and varied bench with performers like Stanley Tucci, Toby Jones and Paula Malcomson on top of the actors previously mentioned all doing good work in brief scenes, but it’s – perhaps a little surprisingly – Claflin and Malone who walk away with the movie. In both cases they’re playing people who’ve killed in the past and it’s hard to tell what their motivations are once they get into the game. Malone in particular is ferocious onscreen, while Claflin is someone who played the Orlando Bloom surrogate in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, and seemed like the most boringest actor ever. Sometimes it’s the film, and sometimes it’s the role. He’s perfect here.
As it had to be, this film is bigger than the last, but it trusts audiences to follow along, and know what happened in the last movie, so there’s little wasted time. It has a similar structure as the first film in that it has another Hunger Game, but it never feels like the filmmakers are just going to the well of what worked the last time.
As a whole these adaptations are slightly stronger than the Harry Potter films, and since the Potter films were great, that says something. It’s hard to accept that when something’s a phenomenon it’s also good — as often the films that make the most money aren’t that great — but this is worthy of its success.
Lionsgate presents the film in widescreen (2.35:1) and in DTS-HD 7.1 Master audio. The film also comes with a DVD and digital copy. All of the Quarter Quell sequence was shot in Imax, so the film goes to a 1.78:1 ratio for about forty minutes of the film’s running time. There are two schools of thought on how to handle this for home video: the Christopher Nolan way, which is to go full frame during those shots, and the Brad Bird way, which is to just keep the same aspect ratio for everything. It looks like this section was shot in the digital Imax format. And where the sequences in Nolan’s Batman films that expand the frame definitely give a sense of greater detail, here the expansion of the screen doesn’t have the same level of detail difference, and so it’s just not as cool.
The film comes with a commentary by director Francis Lawrence and producer Nina Jacobson which isn’t all that interesting. They get caught up in location talk, and where we are in the story. There’s a nine-part making of (145 min.) that covers the process of making the film from start to finish, and gets all the main players (including both Lawrences, Hutchinson, Hemsworth, Malone, Claflin and more) to talk about how quick the sequel came together, shooting in IMAX, the stunts, and all of the best details about the movie’s making. It’s a pretty strong piece for something that runs this long, and reveals that Lawrence is a goofball on set (no real surprise). There are also five deleted scenes (5 min.), which amount mostly to scene extensions. The disc also comes with a sneak peek at Divergent (7 min.).