The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Blu-ray

Rating: PG-13

Cast:
Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen
Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mellark
Jena Malone as Johanna Mason
Sam Claflin as Finnick Odair
Donald Sutherland as President Snow
Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket
Lenny Kravitz as Cinna
Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman
Philip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch Heavensbee
Woody Harrelson as Haymitch Abernathy
Liam Hemsworth as Gale Hawthorne
Jack Quaid as Marvel
Taylor St. Clair as Ripper
Sandra Ellis Lafferty as Greasy Sae
Paula Malcomson as Katniss’ Mother
Willow Shields as Primrose Everdeen
Bruce Bundy as Octavia
Nelson Ascencio as Flavius
Alan Ritchson as Gloss
Stephanie Leigh Schlund as Cashmere
Meta Golding as Enobaria
Jeffrey Wright as Beetee
Amanda Plummer as Wiress
Toby Jones as Claudius Templesmith

Directed by Francis Lawrence

Special Features:
Audio Commentary with Director Francis Lawrence and Producer Nina Jacobson
“Surviving The Game: Making Catching Fire” Documentary (Blu-ray Exclusive)
Deleted Scenes
“Divergent’ Sneak Peek
Digital HD Ultraviolet

Other Info:
1080P High Definition 16×9 Variable 2.40:1 and 1.78:1 (IMAX Sequences)
7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
Spanish Language
English and Spanish Subtitles
Running Time: 146 Minutes

The Details:
“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” is based on the novel by Suzanne Collins.

Shortly after the previous film, President Snow finds that the Districts of Panem are starting to rebel. Inspired by Katniss Everdeen’s example in the 74th Hunger Games, they begin to fight against the government with deadly results. He attempts to quiet the rebellion, but word is starting to spread. Feeling his rule threatened, Snow decides he must find a way to get rid of Katniss without making a martyr of her.

President Snow sends Katniss and Peeta on a publicity tour through the districts in an effort to show them that the girl is nothing special and under his control. He even threatens their families in order to get them to cooperate. And as an added threat, he tells them that they must convincingly look like they are in love in order to sell the story, much to the chagrin of Katniss’ true love Gale. But the tour only cements the determination of the rebels, so President Snow decides to get rid of Katniss the only way he can do so – in yet another Hunger Game.

On the 75th anniversary of the games, he calls an ‘all-star’ tournament of the previous winners. All of varying experience and age, the previous winners are none too happy about being thrown into the games yet again, but Katniss and Peeta will have to face off against all of them if they have any hope of making it out alive. Little do they realize that much more is at stake than their own survival.

“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some frightening images, thematic elements, a suggestive situation and language.

The Movie:
I never read any of “The Hunger Games” books, so I’ve had to judge the films on their merits alone. I liked the first one, so I was eager to check out the sequel. While I enjoyed the previous film more, I think this sequel is pretty entertaining as well.

“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” offers a lot of what was appealing about the first film – the dystopian future, the bizarre costumes, commentary on media and government, intense action, and more. It also features the return of the hilarious Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket, Stanley Tucci as smarmy talk show host Caesar Flickerman, Woody Harrelson as the surly Haymitch Abernathy, and Donald Sutherland as the menacing President Snow. Seeing them slip into the roles again is like seeing old friends.

Jennifer Lawrence returns as Katniss Everdeen and she’s just as awesome in the role as she was before. She handles the physical aspects of the character like a pro, but she also gives a lot of subtle emotion in her performance as well. Katniss has to pose for the cameras and put on an act for them, but under the surface you can see her seething and wanting to lash out at those in the Capitol. And her very last scene in the movie conveys so much emotion in just her eyes alone. She’s impressive.

Joining the cast are a few new faces. Philip Seymour Hoffman comes on board as Plutarch Heavensbee, a games designer for President Snow. On the surface he seems like yet another generic villain, but there’s a lot more going on with his character that adds extra dimension to him. Sam Claflin is also noteworthy as Finnick Odair, another Hunger Games winner that keeps Katniss constantly guessing. One minute he seems like a vain pretty boy, the next he’s literally carrying an elderly competitor on his back to safety. Those layers to his character make him interesting. Then there’s Jena Malone as Johanna Mason. She has an enormous chip on her shoulder and is like a darker, angrier version of Katniss. She’s vocal, fearless, and sexual – everything that Katniss would probably like to be but isn’t.

As for the games themselves, a few interesting twists are thrown in. I don’t really want to spoil them for those that haven’t read the book, but the entire arena itself has a theme to it that our heroes must discover. That allows for more cool and entertaining ways for the competitors to be killed.

Before seeing the movie, I heard a lot of people saying that this sequel was better than the first film. I felt just the opposite. While I still thought that it was good, I felt like the first one had better action, better world building, and a better story.

The potential pitfall of any trilogy is that the middle point is often the weak part of the story. The first part sets up the world and the conflict. The final part has the big climactic confrontation. That just leaves the middle point to connect the two together. A friend of mine termed this ‘bridge syndrome’ at one time. “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” suffers from that to some degree. You could almost watch the first film and the final film and follow the story without problem. There are maybe 15 to 30 minutes of critical narrative in this movie that you really need. The rest does little to move the overall story along. I don’t want to get into spoilers, but you’ll get the idea if you see it.

“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” also ends on a cliffhanger. As a fan of “The Empire Strikes Back,” I love cliffhanger endings, but the one here didn’t feel terribly satisfying. There were bigger, more epic moments that it could have ended on earlier in the movie. Instead it ends on a less spectacular note. In fact, when it ended I said, “Is that it?” I wasn’t even sure if it was actually over.

One of the novelties of the first film was seeing the world and the costumes and characters for the first time. Now that the novelty is gone, we almost don’t even bat an eye when we see Effie Trinket appear in a bizarre outfit or we see sweeping images of the Capitol. You expect this film to take it all to the next level and it doesn’t do that. It sticks with the familiar and doesn’t offer anything significantly new.

Finally, if you overanalyze the story, you’re going to find a lot of plot holes. I can’t discuss a lot of them without spoiling the movie, but suffice it to say that the arena has a lot of aspects about it that don’t make a lot of sense if you over think it.

While “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” is an entertaining film that is worth checking out, I think audiences will find themselves walking out of theaters wanting to see “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1″ more as that seems to be where the real story and excitement will be.

The Extras:
At first glance, this looks like a rather modest selection of bonus features, but there’s a bit more than you might expect. First up is the “Surviving The Game: Making Catching Fire” Documentary. It features over two hours of interviews, making-of footage, and other cool stuff. There are segments on the costumes, the cast, the visual effects, shooting in Georgia, shooting in Hawaii, the fight scenes, and other stuff. As a fan of “Face Off,” it’s fun to see Ve Neill featured so prominently in the bonus features. You see her experimenting with makeup for Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket. You see her in the rainforest of Hawaii applying makeup for Jennifer Lawrence. You see Ve working with the dozens of extras for the party scene. It’s nice to see her and the other talented artists working behind the scenes. The documentary also shows how they transformed various locations around Georgia into the dystopian future. From an artists’ commune to a downtown hotel, all of these places are turned into amazing sets. Also notable in the documentary is a very brief interview with Philip Seymour Hoffman. He unfortunately doesn’t look very good in the interview. He wears a trucker hat, disheveled clothes, and he seems to slur much of what he’s saying. It’s rather unsettling knowing that he ultimately died of drug overdose shortly after this was filmed. Also notable is the absence of Suzanne Collins from the featurettes. You’d expect the author to have some presence, but she’s never shown. Still, the entire documentary is otherwise a very through and revealing look at the making of the film and required viewing for any “Hunger Games” fan.

The Blu-ray also features an audio commentary by director Francis Lawrence and producer Nina Jacobson. There are also some deleted scenes, but they are quite minor and very brief. The most notable is a scene where President Snow explains the origin of the Mockingjay to Plutarch Heavensbee. Another scene shows Plutarch burning an envelope, but I’m not quite sure what the significance of it was. Maybe the book readers can provide some insight.

Also included on the Blu-ray is a sneak peek of the upcoming film “Divergent.” I haven’t read the book, but my teenage daughter was extremely excited to see this. However, when we played it she said she had already seen it online. Maybe it’s not as exclusive as the sticker on the cover suggests. Watching this sneak peek and otherwise knowing nothing about “Divergent,” it sure feels a lot like “The Hunger Games” in that it features a young woman fighting an evil government in a dystopian future. Hopefully it has more to offer when it hits theaters.

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