The nation of Panem rose from what used to be North America, which war has all but destroyed. The new government, in a massive crowd-control effort, seeks to distract citizens with an annual Hunger Games ceremony in which a male and female teenager from each of the nation's 12 districts compete to the death. The last remaining contestant will be the victor. The others will be mourned.
The story, based on the popular young adult novel by Suzanne Collins, focuses on Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), a resident of District 12 who volunteers to play the game in place of her younger sister, who has been chosen in the selection lottery. She travels to the Capitol with Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), the male teen picked to participate from District 12.
Though many characters stand out as memorable, including smarmy game-show host Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci), the movie is really about Katniss's adventure, the journey in which she discovers that it would be better to die than to take another's life. Director Gary Ross has done a marvelous job of putting Katniss front and center without ignoring the others around her. The shifts between the forest, the site of the games, and the control booth are just right to remind us that the government, headed by President Snow (Donald Sutherland), regards the games as little more than prime-time television. The first hour of the film is slow at times, but once the teens hit the forest the pace picks up with palpable suspense. In a film where the gore might have been over the top, Ross has shown admirable restraint, creating good horror without going over the top.
The picture from the Blu-ray Disc is highly satisfying. Colors are variable and they run the gamut from the deep, realistic greens of the forest to the bizarre hues of the costumes that the people of the Capitol wear. Shadow detail is just fine and blacks are inky and solid. The sound is even better than the picture, with surround effects that can be downright scary, such as the roaring sounds of a forest fire that causes Katniss to run for her life.
The main extra on the second Blu-ray Disc included in this set is a two-hour production movie, The World Is Watching: Making the Hunger Games. There are a few other featurettes, including "Letters from the Rose Garden," a very odd little gem setting forth Donald Sutherland's intense feelings on his character.
The Hunger Games is often compared to the Japanese movie Battle Royale, and that film, which I consider a bit more intense and involving than The Hunger Games, has recently been made available by Anchor Bay with a stunning razor-sharp picture. Both movies remind us that perhaps we have not advanced very far from Rome, the Colosseum, and the gladiators after all.
Be sure to watch for: Much of the movie was shot in the Appalachian region of North Carolina to take advantage of the area's superb hardwood forests and deserted mining towns. Some of the movie's opening scenes provide glimpses of this region that are breathtaking in their Blu-ray detail.
. . . Rad Bennett