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Now Playing: Hungry for More ‘Games’?

Even though I haven’t read the books, I quite enjoyed the adaptation of the first ‘Hunger Games’ novel. Sure, the story felt like a teen-friendly ‘Battle Royale‘ knock-off, but it established a grim dystopian world with some great action sequences. My biggest complaints were the random, unnecessary use of shaky-cam and a lack of characterization and emotion. Luckily, those gripes are addressed in the second installment, the new and improved ‘Hunger Games 2.0′.

‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’ picks up six months after Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) became the first couple to jointly win the titular kill-all competition. The duo has returned to their impoverished District 12, but things are no longer as they once were. Katniss and her best buddy Gale (Liam Hemsworth) still sneak into the No-Man Zone for wilderness hunting, but she’s hardly the person that she used to be. Katniss suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. She can’t let an arrow hurl towards her next meal without her mind seeing it pierce the flesh of someone that she killed in the games. Sleep offers no escape from her horrors, as her dreams are plagued with nightmares. The public romance with Peeta has withered away. Was it real? Or was it simply for survival? Whichever it was, it forces Gale to push Katniss away, and Katniss in return pushes Peeta away. The only happy constant that she has is her income, her new home and her family.

The movie almost immediately introduces us to a new aspect of the world. Six months after the end of the games, the victor – or in this case, victors – travel to each of the Districts for public appearances, like a press tour. As Katniss and Peeta are forced to take their made-up relationship on the road, they notice that there’s a lot of unrest throughout the Districts, including riots and rebellion with brutal/deadly consequences. To ease the uprising, the sinister President Snow (Donald Sutherland) threatens Katniss. If she and Peeta don’t genuinely sell their relationship and make the Capital look better, her family, Gale and everyone she cares for will be killed.

Of course, Snow’s a genuine bad guy, so no matter the result of their pretend romance, he has a plan to finally remove Katniss from the equation. The Tributes of the upcoming 75th annual Hunger Games will be victors from each of the Districts. Basically, it’s a best-of the Hunger Games. With Katniss being the only female victor from District 12, she has to play.

The first ‘Hunger Games’ movie was written by Suzanne Collins (author of the novels), director Gary Ross (writer/director of ‘Pleasantville‘) and Billy Ray (writer of ‘Captain Phillips’). Their screenplay was decent, but Ross’ direction was lacking. Jennifer Lawrence can act her ass off, but Ross couldn’t pull the necessary performance out of her. To the advantage of the series, ‘Catching Fire’ was adapted by two Oscar winners: Simon Beaufoy (‘Slumdog Millionaire‘) and Michael Arndt (‘Little Miss Sunshine‘) – and it shows. Not only has their screenplay won me, a guy who’s never read the books, over, but it pleased my wife, whos’ a die-hard fan. According to her, the screenplay is almost completely faithful to the second book, the only omissions being small, non-consequential elements.

New director Francis Lawrence (‘I Am Legend‘) keeps the non-game moments interesting and entertaining, as well as breathing life into the intense action. Most importantly, he achieves a strong level of emotion throughout the whole picture. A great deal of this comes from his actors. Lawrence gives a much stronger performance than she did in the first movie. For the first time in this series, I could empathize with the characters – their despair, sadness and fear. ‘Catching Fire’ works on a much higher emotional level than the first movie.

I remember hearing lots of complaints about the first movie from parents disgruntled by the story. They didn’t want their ‘tweens and teens to see a film about kids forced to kill other kids in an arena death-match. If that bugged you about the first film, rest assured that no children participate in the ‘Catching Fire’ games. Sure, Katniss and Peeta are supposed to be teenagers, but who’s really buying twenty-something Lawrence and Hutcherson as teens?

If you enjoy any aspect of ‘The Hunger Games’ – the first movie or the books –you ought to enjoy ‘Catching Fire’ too. It has all of the elements for a mega-hit blockbuster, as well as the technical merits of simply being a well-made film.

Rating: star Now Playing: Hungry for More Games?star Now Playing: Hungry for More Games?star Now Playing: Hungry for More Games?star Now Playing: Hungry for More Games?halfstar Now Playing: Hungry for More Games?

42 comments

  1. Freakyguy666

    I heard the Imax version fills the full screen during the entire hunger games tourney. In fact, the director said he wanted the viewer to feel like they were “there with Katniss” so he expanded the aspect ratio a la brad bird in mi4 when cruise steps out of the skyscraper. Should be interesting to see if they keep this effect for the home release.

    • I haven’t heard this. Do you know if they shot on IMAX cameras like Brad Bird did with MI4, or did he just expand the ratio like Ridley Scott did with Prometheus?

        • Freakyguy666

          Interesting comments from the director regarding why part 3 will not be filmed in IMAX….”There will be more technology used in the third film, but there won’t be IMAX scenes,” he said. “We are shooting the third one digitally because there are more claustrophobic, underground scenes that won’t be suited for IMAX.”

          This certainly is consistent with my view that scope films are no longer necessarily intended to appear bigger than 16×9. In fact, according to this director the opposite is true.

          • Does the director say that the third movie will be composed for any ratio other than 2.40:1? No, he doesn’t.

            http://mashable.com/2013/11/21/hunger-games-catching-fire-imax/

            IMAX is a specialty venue, like a theme park attraction. You continue to mistake the added height of IMAX as being somehow representative of how movies should be displayed in all theaters everywhere. It does not. The director of Catching Fire does not want his movie projected at 1.85:1 in non-IMAX theaters. It will be projected at 2.40:1 in all theaters except IMAX.

          • Freakyguy666

            The point is that contrary to Josh’s belief that scope (2.35:1) is “always” supposed to be projected larger than 16×9 (1.77:1) many directors specifically have gone on record as saying that the IMAX aspect ratio (which is closer to 1.77–especially in most IMAX cinemas where they are actually 1.9 vs 1.44 in true IMAX) is, in fact, intended to be projected larger than scope. Clearly, Josh’s belief is proved wrong.

          • I’m not having this argument with you again. You clearly do not comprehend the meaning of the word “many,” given how often you misuse it.

            This is a thread about the new Hunger Games movie, not about your aspect ratio fetish. Please do not derail it any further.

          • Freakyguy666

            I watched this movie tonight in real IMAX and the aspect ratio change was well done. I truly hope the effect stays intact for the blu ray as Drew opined. And to clarify, I believe Chris Nolan, Brad Bird, Sam Mendes, Joseph Kosinski, James Cameron, Michael Bay, JJ Abrams, and now Catching Fire’s Francis Lawrence together qualify as “many”.

          • You can cross Brad Bird, Sam Mendes and J.J. Abrams off that list. All three directors instructed that the official “OAR” for their movies on Blu-ray is 2.40:1, not open matte. Brad Bird is on record saying that he found the alternating aspect ratios in his own M:I-4 distracting, that he never intended the movie to be seen that way except in the specific circumstance of IMAX theaters, and that when it comes down to it, “I would rather have a consistent aspect ratio.” (His exact words.)

            Kosinski had alternating aspect ratios on Blu-ray for Tron Legacy, but went back to 2.40:1 for Oblivion, which suggests that he’s over the open matte gimmick.

            Michael Bay is dubious as well. Although there is an alternating aspect ratio version of Transformers 2 on Blu-ray, it was only released as a limited retailer exclusive. He had the primary Blu-ray release of that movie transferred at 2.40:1. And when he made the third Transformers movie, he gave up the alternating aspect ratios and went back to a constant 2.40:1.

            So that really only leaves you with Christopher Nolan, James Cameron and Francis Lawrence. That’s three directors. According to the MPAA, over 100 films are rated for theatrical release per year on average. In no form of mathematics known to man does 3% constitute “many.”

            And I’m being generous in giving you that 3%. These three directors have not made movies with alternating or open matte aspect ratios in the same year. The more accurate statistic would be these three directors compared against all movies released theatrically since 2008 (the year Nolan made The Dark Knight, the first movie with open matte footage for IMAX). That brings you down to about 0.5%.

            And you call that “many.”

            I think it may benefit you to go back to school and take some elementary level courses in mathematics, logic and deductive reasoning.

          • William Henley

            Interesting comments from the director regarding why part 3 will not be filmed in IMAX….”There will be more technology used in the third film, but there won’t be IMAX scenes,” he said. “We are shooting the third one digitally because there are more claustrophobic, underground scenes that won’t be suited for IMAX.”

            Makes sense:

            SPOILER

            Much of the third book involves Urban Warfare in futuristic enviornments (actually reminds me a lot of Logan’s Run for interior, Blade Runner-isq exteriors, except more claustrophobic). My guess is that much of the movie will be fairly tight shots. IMAX really does better on big-sweeping vistas. I also wouldn’t be at all surprised if we saw the return of Shaky-Cam in the final acts of Mockingjay, which would look awful in IMAX.

            As far as which is more immersive, the point is kind of moot here. In a story such as this, the aspect ratio is chosen for which aspect ratio is going to best-fit the story that is being conveyed. An open-frame format such as IMAX is not going to properly convey the atmosphere of the first half of Catching Fire or any of Mockingjay (hence why the entire movie of Catching Fire was not filmed in IMAX).

            Having a more open frame does not necessairaly lead to a more immersive movie experience, or else all movies would still be filmed in 4:3.

            But we’ve had this argument before. We are not going to convince each other.

            The director’s choice to not film any of Mockingjay in IMAX makes perfect sense to me. It isn’t about which aspect ratio is more or less immersive, it is about which aspect ratio properly tells the story, and I agree with the director – 2.31:1 is the best aspect ratio for that story.

          • Freakyguy666

            Josh, you continue to miss the point. You have repeatedly stated that “under no circumstances” should 16×9 be projected larger than Scope. Now you are diverting from that erroneous statement by talking about blu rays. Every one of these directors, Chris Nolan, Brad Bird, Sam Mendes, Joseph Kosinski, James Cameron, Michael Bay, JJ Abrams, and now Catching Fire’s Francis Lawrence, have gone on record as stating that the Imax aspect ratio is intended to be projected larger than Scope. Why is that so hard to get thru your head???

          • What I said is that under no circumstances should a TV show be projected larger than a scope movie. Your reading comprehension is as poor as your debating skills.

          • Freakyguy666

            So for the record, you are now acknowledging that Scope is NOT intended to be the largest aspect ratio. This is in contrast to what you have actually written on these very blogs…I could dig up the actual quotes if you want….but this is great. You’re making progress!

      • I was watching the film so intently and so caught up in the moment that the last 50 minutes flew by and I did not notice the aspect change. I hope they open it up like The Dark Knight on BluRay.

        • William Henley

          It seems to me that the larger the screen, the less I notice aspect-ratio changes. However, on a small screen it is really noticible – like in Greese – the opening credits are not as wide as the rest of the movie. Also is any wide-screen movie that has 4:3 material in it at some point, it is also quite jaring on a television.

          On large and giant-format screens, your eyes focus on the center of the screen, and the wider scope is there to help fill the perephial vision. On a television, your eyes focus on the whole screen (and sometimes the surrounding area – an argument for CIH, but let’s not beat that horse again), so a movie with shifting aspect ratios is way more noticable.

          You cannot recreate an IMAX experience at home, so why even bother? You can recreate the theatrical experience (to an extent at home), and as all movies that have IMAX scenes are framed to be safely matted for the majority of movie goers, that should be the prefered transfer that you see on disc.

          Of course, idealy, a studio would ship a movie with both versions, accessable by seemless branching on the disc

        • Ted S.

          Wow you didn’t notice when the screen filled up? Did you see it at a fake IMAX theater? I saw it at a true IMAX, the screen is 6 stories tall and when the screen filled up, I totally noticed it. The entire arena sequence was in full screen and it looked spectacular! I wish other filmmakers would use IMAX sequences like this, I hate it when they keep switching back and forth. JJ Abrams did an awful job with Into Darkness, the constant aspect ratio changes were quite distracting.

          • No, I did not see it at a FAKE IMAX theater. What I said was exactly what happened. Usually I would notice it Immediately, but to the directors credit I was more interested in what was going on in the movie. I was less inclined to be bored and start focusing on things like the color of the chairs.

            Yes it looked spectacular and I definitely had a WOW moment when they entered the arena.

  2. Drew

    ‘Star Trek: Into Darkness’ didn’t have any scenes filmed with legitimate IMAX cameras. Select scenes were filmed with digital IMAX cameras. ‘The Dark Knight’, ‘Transformers: ROTF’, ‘Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol’, and ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ all featured scenes shot with genuine IMAX cameras. ‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’ does, as well.

    The greatest thing they did was avoiding switching aspect ratios. I’ve seen the film three times, in a genuine IMAX theatre, now, and the use of IMAX is brilliant! When Katniss is on her way up the tube, to go into the arena, it’s still in 2.35:1. When it goes black to transition into her appearing in the arena, it switches to IMAX, and when she is revealed, you’re looking at 1.44:1. Wow! It stays that way until ******SPOILER ALERT******she is pulled out of the arena by hovercraft. It’s still 1.44:1, as she is lifted out of the arena. It goes black to transition into the hovercraft, and when she appears, it’s back to 2.35:1. The entire film up until the games is 2.35:1, and the climax is 2.35:1. The entire Hunger Games is 1.44:1 (or 1.9:1 if viewing in digital IMAX).

    The way it was implemented was a stroke of genius! We get the entirety of the Hunger Games in IMAX, and the rest of the film in scope. The photography of the Hunger Games demands that it will be transferred this way to blu-ray. If it’s not, the Hunger Games are going to look downright silly. I’ve watched closely, three times, now, and there is positively vital picture information above and below the scope frame, in almost every single scene, during the Games.

  3. Drew

    Sorry, I stand corrected …

    ‘STID’ DID feature scenes shot with genuine IMAX cameras. It looks like the theatre that I saw it in had switched to digital, before I screened ‘STID’. Hence, I believed that digital IMAX was responsible.

    • Transformers 4 is the first movie to use digital IMAX cameras. Star Trek into Darkness used real IMAX 15/70 film. You can see the cameras in action in some of the supplements on the Blu-ray.

      I haven’t seen the new Hunger Games yet, but it’s conceivable that the director may have shot the games scenes with both IMAX and 35mm cameras in alternate takes, some framing for 1.44:1 and some framing for 2.40:1. Seems unlikely to me, though. The number of IMAX theaters that can project 15/70 has dwindled to, what, half a dozen in the world at this point? The IMAX scenes would have to be framed safely for cropping to at least 1.9:1 for digital IMAX venues.

  4. freakyguy666

    Drew,

    2 questions…

    According to the imax site the aspect ratio change is not abrupt as you imply. It actually “grows” to fill the screen as she goes up the tube. Perhaps it was changed after the imax interview?

    Secondly, if “the Hunger Games are going to look downright silly” without this transition, are you suggesting that all non-IMAX theatrical showings are downright silly? As far as I know, the IMAX version is the only version that has this dynamic aspect ratio.

    TIA for your reply.

  5. Drew

    There’s no “growing.” There’s a flash, a loud crack, it goes black and then it’s IMAX. I know I’m not describing it as such, but it’s very subtle. I’m betting that non-nerds in a digital IMAX auditorium won’t even notice the change. It’s implemented extremely effectively.

    In regards to your question about non-IMAX showings, I’ll only say that I really can’t imagine the Hunger Games looking proper, during a non-IMAX showing. As I said before, it’s not like TDK or MIGP, where the framing is clearly with scope in mind. To me, it seemed like the director completely ignored scope framing, during the IMAX scenes. I’m talking about legs, crucial foliage, important scenery, and possibly, even the tops of heads being cut off.

    • freakyguy666

      If what Drew says is accurate with regard to framing during the IMAX scenes, it begs the question why not open up the aspect ratio during non-IMAX theatrical showings as well? It should also be noted that the Review on this site is apparently based on a non-Imax version and yet Luke did not have any issues with framing.

      In any case, I think Drew makes a good case for the bluray including this dynamic aspect ratio, but who knows? I figured Brad Bird would do that with MI4 and he stuck with scope throughout the bluray…

  6. Drew

    Josh,

    I think you hit the nail on the head. The director must have shot the Games footage with both IMAX cameras and 35mm cameras, concurrently. Thanks for the comment. I had considered that, but didn’t know it was possible/plausible.

    • Another possibility is that the 2.40:1 extraction was taken from a common top-line with the IMAX, rather than from the center of the film frame. That’s how James Cameron shot his movies on Super 35 (and digital for Avatar).

  7. Superman

    I’ll say this, we all know JLaw can act (she does have an Oscar after all) but the big surprise for me was how good Elizabeth Banks was. I’ve never thought she WASN’T a good actress, I’m just saying she really shined in this.

  8. Drew

    Oh, okay. That would actually make more sense. Extracting it that way would be a lot more economically efficient. I want to see the scope version, so that I can try to judge how it might have been done. This method seems the best bet.

  9. Drew

    Josh,

    Stop saying “2.40:1.” :) It’s your forum and your rules. And you said that you would always refer to it as 2.35:1. Do I really need to pull up the blog post, and link you to your own words? ;) Let’s just always say 2.35:1, as you preciously dictated. There’s no need to give the AR geeks ammunition. :-p

    • Do they need ammo. I enjoy knowing if a film has been modified from the ways it was presented in the theater un necessarily. But even I don’t need that drum beaten to death.

  10. William Henley

    I was finishing the third book while waiting in the theater for the first movie to start when it came out.

    I felt the first movie followed the book more closely, with dialogue lifted almost word-for-word from the books. My issue was that the movie just wasn’t that good. The directing was awful, the acting was sub-par, and the use of shaky-cam was annoying.

    As far as books go, I felt that the series constantly went downhill after the first book, but the second movie was highly superior to the first. There are more changes between book and movie in Catching Fire, but the changes do not affect the story, and actually lead to, in my opinion, a better movie.

    As mentioned in the review, the greatest things about this movie are a better screenplay, NO shaky-cam, better directing and better performance from the actors.

    As someone who had read the books, I also completely bought the casting for the different characters in the movie.

    My only real complaint is that I wish they had of added probably about 5 extra minutes to the film to have a bit more character development of the other victors. It didn’t need to be long, but MINOR SPOILER – it is hard to realize why Katniss really trust the other victors (its glanced over in just a few seconds – easy to miss), and you don’t form emotional attachments with the other victors like you did in the book. It really wasn’t THAT critical to the movie, but it would have been nice.

    Overall, I was very much pleased with this movie, and think it is significantly better than the first.