The unprecedented success of The Hunger Games paved the way for this second installment in this series, and it shows no signs of slowing down. Fans of the novels will know that this is where, pardon the pun, the spark really starts. And star Jennifer Lawrence has been pretty busy since she first donned the bow and arrow and set the world on fire. Lawrence won a Best Actress Oscar for her work on Silver Linings Playbook, was nominated again for Best Supporting Actress in American Hustle and starred in this little film which happened to be the top grossing film of the year (surpassing even Iron Man 3). Suffice it to say, it’s got to be good to be Jennifer Lawrence. The Hunger Games showed that the film had legs and Catching Fire showed that this wasn’t just a flash in the pan. The series will wrap up with the forthcoming two part Mockingjay, but let’s take a look and see what’s happened to Katniss and Peeta since we last left them.[alert type=”danger” title=”Warning”]
Potential spoilers might be contained within the body of this review. If you’ve not seen The Hunger Games, you might want to stop here.[/alert]
The Hunger Games have provided Panem with two victors: Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). In an act of defiance, these two have beat the odds and now stand to live their lives out in wealth and bliss. However, sensing that Katniss might represent a symbol of revolution, President Snow (Donald Sutherland) decides to use the 75th Hunger Games as an excuse to get rid of Katniss. In this third “Quarter Quell”, each district has to provide a male and female that have already won the Hunger Games. Suffice it to say that Katniss isn’t excited about this, having just survived the first time around. New gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) has a few tricks up his sleeve that will make these new games ones they won’t forget. With the threat of an impending revolution and Katniss the spark, will a revolution ensue or will these games douse the ‘girl on fire?’
A friend of mine told me, when asked, that “Catching Fire is just pure entertainment.” And it is. For those that have read the books (and I have), this is everything that we’d expect the movie to be and more. The cast of characters is a little broader, and older, the action more intense and the message a bit more political (this trend will continue). We’re treated to a more recognized ensemble cast with the likes of Amanda Plummer, Jena Malone, Phillip Seymour Hoffman (in one of his last performances) and Sam Claflin as well as some of the old faces that were present in the first. Though there’s a new director at the helm, Francis Lawrence (I am Legend, Constantine) it doesn’t really slow the pace down in the least. Catching Fire is exactly what you’d think it would be and the two and a half hour runtime seems to fly by. Again, this is everything you’d expect it to be – and more.
Video: How’s it look?
As with the predecessor, the visual look and feel of this film is similar to The Hunger Games. This was the top-grossing film of 2013 and I think you know what I’m going to say – this looks the part. The 2.40:1 AVC HD image is simply spectacular in every way, shape and form. Detail is top notch, the locale of Hawaii used in the jungle sequence seems to resonate and heighten the mood, the various Districts all have their own unique look and feel as well. Flesh tones look normal and natural, we can see the beads of sweat, the drops of blood and everything in between in the film. Black levels and contrast work well off one another too. Simply put, this is stunning in regard to looks.
Audio: How’s it sound?
Again, I don’t think there’s much out there that could really top the way this movie sounds. The robust DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack literally pulls no punches. Form the grand parade of participants, to the resonating score to the thuds and booms contained therein, this is one amazing sounding track! Vocals are rich and pure, we can hear the squeal of Katniss in a few scenes when in pain, the yelling of the other combatants and the ever so subtle score that sets the mood and tone. If you’ve seen The Hunger Games, and I have to assume anyone reading this has, then you’ll fully know what to expect here.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Lionsgate has again loaded this two disc set down with some pretty good supplements. Let’s take a look.
Surviving the Game: Making Catching Fire – This features nine different segments that deal with every inch of the film.
A New Kind of Hunger: Continuing the Saga – Producer Nina Jacobson talks about meeting and living up to the expectations of the sequel as well as some interviews with the cast and crew (mainly Lawrence and Hutcherson).
Visual Vocabulary: Building a World – Director Francis Lawrence discussed the sequel, opening up the story and characters, the stakes being higher and so forth. We also get some insights into the physical look and feel of the different districts depicted in the movie and how they differed and expanded from the first film.
Stirring things up: The Cast – We’re told that the people who work on this movie “genuinely like one another” and the reunion allowed them to pick up right where they left off. The new faces in this film are also explored.
Fashion Forward: Costume, Make-Up & Hair – The elaborate and unique looking civilization that was “beyond the beyond”. The same creative team from the first film is back and we get a look at the new costumes, opulence and the flamboyance of the new characters.
Let it Fly: Production in Atlanta – The city of Atlanta wasn’t only chapter to shoot in, but the locale was near where the first one was filmed as well as a perfect setting for District 12. The rustic and more natural appeal of the region made for perfect setting for the majority of the film.
Moves and Countermoves: Stunts & Weapons – The action has a more “adult twist” for this film since the actors were literally older. We get some insight with the stunt coordinator and we see some of the training that they endured for this film.
Tick Tock: Production in Hawaii – For the “Jungle” sequence, the production moved to Hawaii where the actual “Hunger Games” part was filmed. Hawaii was perfect due to its exotic locale, yet industrialized enough where they could transport in film equipment, etc.
Threading the Needle: Post Production – The more complex sequences, the tighter schedule contributed to the more advanced special effects. Editing, mixing, visual effects and sound design are all covered here.
The Revolution Lies: Reflection & Looking Forward – Director Francis Lawrence talks of the upcoming Mockingjay films (two parts) and the ongoing productions that started during the filming of Catching Fire. The challenge was to finish this film, while also prepping for the two movie finale.
Deleted Scenes – “The Hob”, “Train Station”, “A Wrinkle”, “Switching Envelopes”, “Finnick Ties Knot”
Audio Commentary – director Francis Lawrence and Preducer Nina Jacobsen team up for a pretty informative commentary track that’s chock full of information. These two obviously work well with one another and though some of the information is repeated in the documentary, it’s a good listen.
Sneak Peek at Divergent – I can’t say as I blame Liongate’s Marketing Department for putting a trailer for their upcoming movie on the biggest Blu-ray of the year, but I just wonder how relevant this feature will be in, say, five years?