Turning any literary piece into a feature film series is always a risky business - especially for properties aimed at the younger market. Some, such as The Golden Compass and Eragon are phenomenal failures while others such as Harry Potter and Twilight have been enormous successes for their studios. When Lionsgate decided to make Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games into a film they give it a "modest" $US78 million budget (actually a little more before Tax Credits reduce the cost). With a worldwide gross of almost $US700 million at the box office it's fair to say that this release has been a phenomenal success.
Every year in the ruins of what was once North America, the Capitol of the nation of Panem forces each of its twelve districts to send a teenage boy and girl to compete in the Hunger Games. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen volunteers in her younger sister s place and must rely on her sharp instincts when she s pitted against highly trained Tributes who have prepared their entire lives. If she s ever to return home to District 12, Katniss must make impossible choices in the arena that weigh survival against humanity and life against love.
Before I get into what I personally think about this film, I must point out that I haven't read the books, so I can't make direct comparisons over the accuracy of this film to Suzanne Collins' literature. Browsing the internet though it's clear that some people have issues with the race of some characters in the film as well as the use of Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss - a 20 year old playing a 16 year old character (ever seen the ages of some of the American Pie actors folks?) and, perhaps more significantly and one I could agree with, that for someone mean to be starving due to the lack of food, she isn't exactly the slightest built person you've ever seen. But I can't go on as that's other peoples opinions. What do I think of the film?
In terms of the plot there is a little bit of unease with the fact that children as young as 12 are killing each other however the bloodshed is handled in a fairly artistic way that allowed the filmmakers to receive an M rating in Australia - we still don't recommend this for young teens. With a runtime of 142 minutes the movie is fairly long, but never feels slow or dragged out. In fact, after seeing some of the deleted scenes on the extras disc, this film could have run a little longer with no impact on the pacing.
As many of you know one of my pet peeves about films being used today is the excessive use of shaky cam, and it takes about 60 seconds for it to rear its ugly head in this film When Prim and Katniss are talking in the bedroom. It has been reported elsewhere that Gary Ross used the technique to increase the action and tension, but the opening scenes are nothing more than the main character, Katniss, walking through her local village. Fortunately, and strangely, to me the amount of shaky-cam use seems to diminish as the film goes on (except the action scenes).
Now I'm not sure if Suzanne Collins has seen The Running Man but there are certainly a few similarities between the classic Steven King novel, and Schwarzenegger film, and this film. A TV Show where combatants fight to the death with millions watching, the pre-event interviews, the tracking devices, the manipulation of the "playing field" to suit TV audiences and keep the contestants within the grid, and the public uprising. I'm not saying it's plagiarism, there's certainly enough unique here to keep things fresh and different, but quite often I was reminded of Arnie's classic film.
I'll admit I went into The Hunger Games somewhat skeptical that it was just a ripoff of one of my favourite movies of all time, and while there are certainly similarities, The Hunger Games really is a fantastic film - hell, it may even get me to read the books - well worth checking out.
Also impressive is the video quality of this Blu-Ray release really is spectacular. Encoded using the AVC MPEG-4 codec at the films original 2.40:1 aspect ratio this film, even with the 142 minute runtime is given plenty of room to breathe with a bitrate, according to our PS3, that often approaches 40Mbps.
Despite being shot on a budget of under $100 million the set design, real-world locations, costumes and production values ensure this is a spectacle. From the grey, depressing visuals in District 12, to the bold, colours used in the Capital, and lush greens of the forests this looks fantastic and fortunately the film retains a huge amount of fine detail. Even with the amount of shakiness with the camera this transfer holds up extremely well. Contrast levels and detail even in the darkest of scenes are superb.
Kudos must also go to James Newton Howard, as well as the band Arcade Fire who composed the Panem national anthem, for a rather memorable and impressive score for the film which really sets the tone perfectly for each of the films key scenes.
There is only one other audio track on this release besides the primary lossless track - that being a Descriptive Narration for the Vision Impaired which is encoded at a rather low Dolby Digital 2 channel track at 256kbps. Why not give these tracks the surround sound treatment as well?
Besides the feature film Disc One does contain trailers for the Miley Cyrus and Demi Moore film LOL (2:16/HD), the rom-com Life Happens (2:17/HD), and What to Expect When You're Expecting (1:46/HD). These trailers play before you get to the main menu.
We now move onto Disc Two which contains the bulk of the extras relating to the creation of the film.
Suzanne Collins & The Hunger Games Phenomenon (14:04/HD): Strangely the extensive list of extras - and this is the first of the two discs of extras - starts with this pretty dull look at the book but doesn't include any interviews with the actual author. A lot of people discuss how great the book is, and how it appeals to everyone.
Letters from the Rose Garden (9:26/HD): This featurette focuses on how Donald Sutherland wrote a 3-page letter to Gary Ross detailing his thoughts about the President Coriolanus Snow and his motivations after reading all three books. Donald reads out the letter he wrote which is pretty impressive. Ultimately the role of President Snow went to Donald Sutherland.
A Conversation with Gary Ross and Elvis Mitchell (14:09/HD): Here we have a candid interview in which Gary Ross details much about the adaptation from the book and production process. Certainly interesting it's worth checking out.
Propaganda Film (1:34/HD): This is the full propaganda film that is seen, in part, in the film.
Marketing Archive (4:38/HD): This section contains Theatrical Trailers (Teaser, Theatrical, Extended Theatrical), Still Photography Set (30 images) and Theatrical Poster Gallery.
Preparing for the Games: A Director's Process (3:00/HD): This is a quick look at Gary Ross' preparations for filming.
We now move onto the second disc full of extras (Disc Three), with a focus more on the various Tributes (characters) that appear in the movie. Given that many of these characters are only given a few minutes of screen time, but a lot more in the book, we're sure that fans will be keen to hear about the actors playing each role in the film.
Stories of The Hunger Games (28:28/HD): Broken Up into two parts ("Casting The Tributes" (10:41) and "Stories from the Tributes" (17:47)) this featurette looks at casting the actors who play the roles of each of the Tributes with each of them offering insight into their experiences on the set including the stunt work and the pranks.
Biographies (2:56/HD): Here we have Biographies including Gender, Height, Weapon and District Info for the Tributes Cato, Clove, FoxFace, Glimmer, Katniss, Marvel, Peeta, Rue, and Thresh. Not much here really.
Photo Album (3:10/HD): This is a series of photos from the film shoot of various cast and crew.
Review By: Dave Warner