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Blu-ray Review: The Hunger Games
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The Hunger Games Blu-ray Image

The Hunger Games
Blu-ray | DVD
DIRECTOR: Gary Ross
WRITER: Billy Ray, Suzanne Collins, Gary Ross
STARRING: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz, Stanley Tucci, Alexander Ludwig, Amandla Stenberg, Wes Bentley, Donald Sutherland, Willow Shields, Paula Malcolmson, Toby Jones
Lionsgate Home Entertainment
RELEASE DATE: August 17, 2012

Before a movie adaptation of The Hunger Games was announced, I knew not one thing about it, not even the title. Going into finally seeing the movie for myself, I knew it was based on a wildly popular book series and whatever small story and character tidbits picked up while writing about various casting news and such. This is how I prefer going into any movie, whether it be an adaptation or sequel or completely original, so that there is no expectation whatsoever.

The premise is simple, yet also quite brutal. After an apocalyptic event transforms North America, a wealthy government called the Capitol takes total control over the less-wealthy people and forms them into thirteen districts. After an uprising by the people ultimately results in the destruction of one of the districts, an unthinkable punishment is put into effect to keep everyone in check: each year, one boy and one girl ages 12-18 from each of the twelve districts will be selected at random to compete in the Hunger Games, where all 24 will fight to the death until only one remains.

The people of the twelve districts are poor, sometimes forced to reach out to the Capitol in order to survive, which only results in a higher chance of being selected to compete in the games for those who are young enough. District 12’s Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and her family take every precaution to avoid being chosen at the “Reaping” to compete, to the point of starving themselves, but when her frightened little sister is selected, Katniss is forced to do something no one else has: volunteer herself for the Hunger Games and risk death to save her sister.

Let’s get to the elephant in the room (it’s a really big room, I assure you) right off the bat. Yes, this is a brutal movie based on a brutal story. There’s no way to dance around it, The Hunger Games tells a story that involves kids killing each other in a desperate attempt to survive. But that’s not only what it’s about; the violence is not exploited, it’s actually handled quite professionally. There are times where you might be surprised at how vicious a PG-13-rated movie can be, but for the most part (after you get past the savage start to the games) the violence is quick or implied and then it’s right back to the survival aspects of the story.

This is a movie not about violence, but, as is touched on quite a bit in the special features listed below, about the full experience of Katniss Everdeen. From her last days at District 12 to her overwhelming arrival and introduction at the Capitol; from training and being treated like royalty to the moments it all becomes real and the games officially start.

It’s also a movie that, if you’re the type to read a little further into the symbolism of things, examines an alternate version of our country and the not-so-unbelievable hardships it might face. Clearly we’re not about to send kids off to fight to the death for the sake of entertainment, but it’s no secret that things aren’t exactly sunshine and rainbows here in the States, and there’s a real fear in a lot of people that government is inching closer and closer to a point of no return where they control so much more of our lives than anyone is willing to accept.

But personally, I try not to look too hard for symbolism or overthink things too much unless it’s required (usually because I lack the necessary brain power). Over all other things, I watch movies because I seek compelling and/or entertaining stories, and that’s exactly what I found in The Hunger Games.

The premise itself is about as compelling as one could ask for. Dropping these characters into this place that so cruelly punishes its people automatically creates drama, and though the situation is a difficult one to watch, it’s hard to look away because you’re cheering for these people to somehow overcome their oppressors.

But even though the people that run things are evil, it’s the world itself that really won me over. There’s such a wonderful mixture of genres—sci-fi and action and western and post apocalyptic and fantasy and so on—that all come together to create a world unlike many I’ve ever seen in a film. One scene you’re in a grey and dreary poor district, the next you’re in a gigantic and colorful futuristic city, then to a massive man made outdoor setting. Beyond all the characters and stories and music is this incredible ever-changing multi-sensory experience of a world I truly enjoyed visiting, especially in the high definition Blu-ray offers.

I could tell there were some things in the movie only those who have read the books would understand, despite not having read them myself (yet). But nothing felt so crucial that it affected the overall story; instead, it felt like they were sure to add a couple of intriguing moments to perhaps lead you into checking out the books later, such as the mysterious three-finger salute Katniss throws up (which I discovered I apparently cannot do). If so, it’s a pretty smart way of going about things, and I’m certainly planning on checking out the books eventually.

The performances are also exceptional, with a nice combination of established veteran actors in smaller supporting roles and up-and-coming young actors in the primary roles. Everyone does a fine job, but it’s really Lawrence who’s the driving force behind the whole machine. I shouldn’t even refer to her as “up-and-coming” anymore; she’s a superstar with a huge career ahead of her…not that anyone needed me to tell them that.

I could pinpoint the many things that were done well, but that could take a while. The Hunger Games is a massive production with a ton of talented people coming together to combine their respective skills and create something memorable. It won’t be for everyone—those who are easily disturbed will have trouble getting past the violence involved—but for the rest of us it’s a movie well worth seeing. From the director and actors to the makeup and costumes to the set design and music and editing, everyone brought their A-games to bring author Suzanne Collins‘ creation to life. We can only hope that the sequels can equal or surpass the bar that’s been set.

SPECIAL FEATURES

As you might have been able to tell, I was a big fan of The Hunger Games. But it didn’t end with just the movie. The Blu-ray also offers a ton of fantastic bonus content that, for me anyway, enhanced the movie I had just watched. This is a rare occurrence, and always exciting.

The World is Watching: Making The Hunger Games — A collection of videos looking at the making of The Hunger Games. But it’s not 20 minutes and done—this bad boy is LONG. We’re talkin’ over two hours. An in-depth look at the adaptation process, the actors and how they became involved, set design and costumes and makeup, training the actors in their fighting styles, special effects, post production editing and composing the score, all the way through the premiere and response.

This feature added a polish to my thoughts on the movie itself. I already liked it a lot, but had a whole new level of respect after watching the entire making of feature.

You can pick which individual section of production you want to see made, but I highly recommend hitting PLAY ALL at the very top and watching the whole damn thing. It’s a must-watch for anyone who wants to really see what goes into making movies like this happen.

It also made me really nervous about the Hunger Games sequel, Catching Fire. I knew it looked bad when director Gary Ross departed from the sequel (later replaced with Francis Lawrence) because Lionsgate was in a rush and he’s not the type to rush his work, especially when adapting something that has such a passionate following. But this making of feature really goes into how detail-orientated and meticulous Ross is in his craft, and you really can’t help but worry about the quality of the sequel when we know it won’t be getting the same amount of patience and care he brings to the table. The people who are working with him absolutely praise his style of filmmaking, and you can just tell none of them will be as happy working with someone new.

Game Maker: Suzanne Collins & The Hunger Games Phenomenon — A featurette looking at author Suzanne Collins, where she got the idea for The Hunger Games, the reactions to the book, and its impact on fans young and old.

Letters From the Rose Garden — A powerful three-page letter written by one of the book’s biggest fans, Donald Sutherland (yes, the 77-year-old actor who plays President Snow) to director Gary Ross on his character, his beliefs, and his motives, read by Sutherland. Then the scenes Ross, knowing the importance of collaboration between actor and director, created in response. Yet another reason to worry about Ross not doing the sequels.

Controlling the Games — A featurette looking at the game center where the Gamemaker and his crew control what happens within the arena of the Hunger Games, similar to a Truman Show type setup.

A Conversation With Gary Ross and Elvis Mitchell — A chat between director Gary Ross and film critic Elvis Mitchell.

Preparing For the Games: A Director’s Process — A brief look at director Gary Ross’s process to filmmaking and a scene for an example.

Propaganda Film — A propaganda video explaining the events in Panam’s history that led to the creation of the gladiatorial event known as the Hunger Games.

Marketing Gallery — Trailers, posters, and images.

Trailer

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