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The Hunger Games (4K UHD Blu-ray Review)

Hunger-GamesFollowing on the heels of Harry Potter and the Twilight films, The Hunger Games was the next in line to carry the torch of big time young adult novel adaptations turned blockbuster films.  This first film was expected to do well, but wound up taking in a massive box office haul, which not only was a record for when it was released, but also for something that wasn’t a sequel or based off of anything prior.  This first film catapulted Jennifer Lawrence into superstardom and made her the total “it girl” that still seems to be running.  Starting in 2012 and ending in 2015, the series came and went in a flash.  But fear not, the complete series is now hitting 4K UHD, the first to have its entire run on the format (Unless you count the nu-Trek as its own series, but technically, its part of the longer 13 film ouvre in the lore).  

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Film 

Academy Award-winner Jennifer Lawrence (The Silver Linings Playbook) stars as Katniss Everdeen, a skilled Hunger Games contender who unwittingly comes to represent the rebellion protesting the corrupt Capitol that fosters the brutal competition.

This first film in the Hunger Games series is the only one that I had read the book for.  And that book I really took a liking to as it was a spin on a film I really enjoyed a lot from the early 00s, Battle Royale.  The book featured a really interesting and strong lead character in Katniss Everdeen.  When it came to adaptation for the film, there came some nits and picks, but overall I think they did the book some good justice.  It had a care for the source material with sort of its own things to say to go along with a strong cast.

Gary Ross winds up being what Doug Liman was to the Bourne films, where he does the first one and someone else would do the rest.  His vision for the film is a pretty strong one, and one I didn’t expect going in, but fell in love with immediately.  Hunger Games takes its science fiction cues and inspiration from the pre-Star Wars 1970s films.  Costumes and locations follow in the sort of blank, generic emptiness that adds an extra layer of haunting seen in films like Conquest For the Planet of the Apes and Woody Allen’s Sleeper.  Oddly, I also get some vibes from The Apple as well.  Stuff like the police attire and the downtown of District 12 just scream that.

In terms of camera work and photography, I both like and don’t like where Ross’ head is at.  It aims to have that documentary, int he moment type style akin to (Mentioning again) the Bourne series.  Sometimes it understands how to work this, at other times its messy and (And not in a good way) seems to shake around just to shake around.  However, one of my favorite moments in blockbuster films in the last few years is the moment the games begin.  Ross, the DP and the editor NAIL it.  Its a panic, craziness, insanity, dread, violence and done with an incredible silence while saying and showing a lot at once.  This moment is perfect, and within seconds captures every feeling of what you need to know about the game.

Here’s the role that catapulted Jennifer Lawrence from indie darling to massive superstar.  In these YA films, you may load them with known character actors and strong vets to surround, but your youth needs to be strong too.  And here’s a case where one elevates this film to a whole other level that makes it never once feel you’re watching a film in the YA canon.  Lawrence is outstanding here, and proves (As if Winter’s Bone hadn’t already) that she’s cream of the crop for her generation.  She makes everyone around her better, even Vanilla Hemsworth.  With her scenes, both by herself, with her age-appropriate co-stars or with the veterans holding strong, this feels less like a teens movie and more like an event blockbuster.

Those supporting performers put in some great turns as well.  Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks are both terrific, all in with their characters while also finding chemistry with one another as well.  Lenny Kravitz has a nice surprisingly solid turn as Katniss stylist.  Stanley Tucci is very colorful and incredibly loose and fun which we don’t get to see very often.  Donald Sutherland puts in some of his career best work, crafting a vile and iconic villain in that of President Snow.  One thing you just can’t knock in this movie is its cast and the performances they bring (Well, maybe not Vanilla Hemsworth.

My one gripe with the movie in comparison to the book, is that in the book, you’re in the games and have zero idea what’s going on outside of it.  Some of what we think may be going on is through Katniss’ inner monologues which can’t be translated on screen.  So where they change it is to actually show this stuff and broaden Stanley Tucci and Toby Jones role to overexplain and spoonfeed the audience exposition.  I guess that’s one way to do it, but it sorta dumbs it down a tad.  I really enjoyed the sense of loneliness and helplessness the lack of outside communication gave the story in the book.  However, its a nit pick and because I read the book first I can’t really know what it’d be like if I hadn’t.

Hunger Games, while thrilling, is also a double edged sword.  This movie delivers in terms of action, having good guys and villains along with some action bits and fights with applaud worthy crowd pleasing moments.  But, in devious fashion, you’re a dick for clapping when you think about the actual reality of the situation they are in.  What really are you applauding or fist pumping.  Its a dark territory that I don’t think the script quite manages to translate the book well on, but Jennifer Lawrence’s performance manages to kind of add that to it.  I also think the film is full of dark humored moments that highlight what is so wrong and deeply flawed with this form of entertainment that makes you just feel awful (Things like highlight videos, pampering of contestants, etc).

The Hunger Games is a terrific popcorn thriller that goes a bit deeper than just surface level action and violence.  Its basically a more commercialized version of Battle Royale that gives a bit more focus on character and background detail as opposed to exploitation.  The world can have both.  Its completely enjoyable and I feel will hold up for many generations and stands tall with the likes of Harry Potter.  Then again, who am I convincing here…you’ve more than likely seen this as it was a pretty significant phenomenon for 4 years.

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Video 

Encoding: HEVC / H.265

Resolution: 4K (2160p)

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1

Layers: BD-100

Clarity/Detail:  The Hunger Games makes its jump to 4K UHD with a decent enough jump in quality.  You’ll immediately notice a more crisp picture.  Details also seems to seep through with a little more

Depth:  Right away, you’ll be able to see a difference in the picture quality in 4K with the overall more three dimensional appearance of the film.  Right away, watching Katniss and Gail in the woods, you’ll notice how smoothly they move and how loose they are in their environment.  The woods, caverns, cities and such seem to stretch back a little further while also appearing more crisp and full of detail.  This first film has a some very rigid and quick, shaky camera movements that make it hard to appreciate some of this, but when you get good clean shots, its pretty impressive.

Black Levels:  Blacks here are much more beautiful in appearance, feature a strong and detailed appearance in 4K compared to Blu-ray.  Hair follicles, clothing textures and pattern as well as surfaces open up to some more in depth features that maybe weren’t as clear before.  The inner workings of the forest and the night time sequences reveal much more and provide deeper, cleaner presentation of the darkness.  Indoor training sequences also strengthen up, giving a bolder, more dimensional image.

Color Reproduction:  The Hunger Games is a dingy, color zapped look in its aesthetic, but that doesn’t mean this is devoid of any riches.  Greens find themselves a nice palette with many different shades and tints through the forest leaves and grassy areas in the film.  In Panem, Stanley Tucci’s hair and outfits bring a really strong, bold blue to the screen that pops over.  When we are on his talk program the room just gets richer with color.  Reds become stronger, purples are a good element as well.  Whenever fire comes into play, oranges and reds from it are big, loud and come flying right off the screen.

Flesh Tones:  Skin tones have a cold look to them and carry that appearance from start to end of the film.  Things warm up a little bit when they are in some of the Panem sequences.  Compared to the Blu-ray, some more freckles, blemishes, lip textures and facial lines are more noticeable.  Skin color has a bit more fuller feel to it with some more reds being apparent.  I also noticed things like some very faint blood spatter on some characters’ faces/necks that I really couldn’t recognize before.  Wes Bentley’s beard is a bit more texture with the ability to see strong definition of the hairs and even his skin through the beard.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean

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Audio 

Audio Format(s): English Dolby Atmos (English 7.1 DTS-HD MA default), Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, French 5.1 Dolby Digital

Subtitles: English, English SDH, Spanish

Dynamics:  Wow, what an experience this new Dolby Atmos track is for The Hunger Games.  There a sequences in this film that scream DEMO ME! DEMO ME!  My favorite moments were parts that dealt with some land mine explosions and forest fires.  An incredibly engaging experience from all around.  Sound effects are top notch here with plenty of intricate little sounds, covering all possibly aspects perfectly gauging every weapon or instrument of destruction.  Hearing things like leaves crunch feels so fresh and give you a perfect perspective in the room with which you are watching.  This is quite a terrific experience.

Height:  From above you are treated to a couple arrows whizzing by, but you get some raging fire, mockingjays humming, beeping and some other nonchalant environmental moments from the ceiling.

Low Frequency Extension:  Fire, crashes, explosions, apple plopping down, arrows impaling as well as some deep scoring moments and the train rushing down the track all rock the sub woofer.  And I mean this thing shakes the damn room, and it feels AWESOME!  The scene where they are clearing out the woods with fire bombs crashing down is probably the ultimate highlight for the film for a myriad of reasons and the subwoofer’s involvement is a big reason for that.

Surround Sound Presentation: All seven channels as well as above (already mentioned) are fully utilized to create a complete environment through the entire film.  Arrows whizzing by, fire bombs shooting down from the sky and most of the action sequence feature great back and forth and travel all around the room.  Things like mockingjays singing, crickets chirping and more can pop up in any speaker at any given time, giving a lifelike and random feel to the viewing.  The fully realized environments and the sweeping strength of the action sequences make for a winning experience.

Dialogue Reproduction:  Dialogue is crisp, loud and plenty audible at every turn in the film.  Vocals accurately find diction and reflection to any environment they are in.

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Extras 

The Huger Games comes with the Blu-ray edition and an UltraViolet digital copy of the film. Additional bonus materials (Found on previous releases) are on the Blu-ray version of the film.

Audio Commentary

  • With Editor Stephen Mirrione, Visual Effects Supervisor Sheena Duggal, and Supervising Sound Editor Lon Bender

Game Maker: Suzanne Collins and The Hunger Games Phenomenon (HD, 14:15) – An overview of the impact of the original novel lead by Scholastic Books’ David Levithan that brings in people like Drew McWeeney to school teachers to students to cast members discussing the appeal of young and old to the film.

The World Is Watching: Making The Hunger Games (HD, 2:02:00) – An 8-part documentary covering every part of the process in bringing the film from the page to being in front of the camera to being sold to audiences.  Its incredibly in depth and brings in a load of people to each pertinent aspect to be interviewed and fill in the cracks, wholes and riches of an understanding to the production.  Everything flows from segment to segment, person to person.  Its pretty outstanding and really could stand for 4 stars as a sole piece of bonus material.

Letters From The Rose Garden (HD, 9:08) –  Gary Ross and Donald Sutherland go over a 3 page letter that Sutherland wrote him after getting cast in the part and reading the source material.  Sutherland compares his feeling on the film to leaving Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory.  His letter talks about power (Comparing it to horniness), and an obsession with roses.  This is a phenomenal example of an actor’s dedication to their craft, preparation and understanding of their character and the world they are about to enter.

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Summary 

The Hunger Games is an entertaining and thought provoking blockbuster film that elevates itself above YA contemporaries and provides more than you’re asking for in a popcorn film like this.  In its 4K UHD Blu-ray debut, it features a step up in the video department and a phenomenal experience in the surround presentation.  A new commentary is featured and it carries over the most essential bonus features.  For the ones that weren’t, you have the Blu-ray copy that still has them.  Visually, this isn’t a disc that’s going to drastically sell one on the format, but if you’re a big Hunger Games fan, the last time you bought it was probably around 2012 (Or cheaply as its been on many Black Friday sales since), so a little upgrade for a new format isn’t going to hurt.

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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