The Hunger Games is a Technical Wonder

Blu-Ray, DVD, Wal-Mart version with mocking jay pendant, Target version with a third disk of extras

Usually, in a movie review, I break down the plot and break down the quality of the story and then talk about a few technical aspects. But everyone knows what The Hunger Games is about and about the quality of it as a film. So I want to spend some time discussing the technical aspects that really make this film stand out.

It’s hard no to discuss violence when talking about The Hunger Games. Some people boycotted the movie based on the ideas, but these people hadn’t seen the film. They are totally unaware of how the violence is downplayed in the theatrical version. In an effort to keep the film rated PG-13 and bring in its target audience, very little of the violence is shown. While you see the action of the tributes, you never see them as they make contact with their target. For example, you may see a spear in a body but you don’t see it actually impale the tribute. Deaths are shown after the fact and the only tribute you actually watch die is little Rue. And even this is not gory or showy. It keeps things simple for the emotional impact.

In the same vein, the movie even minimizes Haymitch’s drunkenness. Gone is the scene where he falls of the stage drunk and when Peeta has to clean him up. The film makers only show him drinking long enough to establish his characters background and what he has to overcome to help Katniss and Peeta.

Director Gary Ross seems to have spent a lot of time deciding how to film the movie in order to effectively portray each scene. When filming Katniss, the Districts, and the games themselves, the handicam adds a very documentary fill to the arena and the uprising. Though it makes me nauseous for the first twenty minutes, it helps portray the urgency and fear that Katniss feels. This are contrasted with the smooth shots as the tributes move through the Capital giving a sense of peace in calm in the city that has no fear of these games.

The filming technique is not the only thing that sets the Capital apart. The set designers, costumers, and make-up and hair artists worked hard to develop the distinct look of the capital. The grays, greens, and browns of the Districts and the Arena, are not seen in the capital. The jewel toned, futuristic city stands out vividly in all aspects from Effie’s voice, to the Tribute’s costumes, to the prep team’s make-up.  It truly is a whole other world.

The editing is done well combining a mix of shots that tell the whole story. Breaking from the first person view of the book, the audience is able to see the full affect of the 74th annual Hunger Games. Mixed in with action of the arena are shots of Snow and his commands concerning the games and the game makers themselves adding logs and muttinations to the grounds. Including footage from the District 11 uprising really gives a feel of what is riding on the games, so we’re not surprised when President Snow is very mad at Katniss in the end.

But the movie couldn’t survive without quality actors. It’s refreshing to see a young casted movie with quality acting. Jennifer Lawrence (X-Men First Class) is excellent as Katniss. She manages the variety of emotion well and never seems as cynical as the book’s version of Katniss. Josh Hutcherson (The Vampire’s Assistant) is perfect as the lovable Peeta. He and Lawrence have a great chemistry that propels the star struck lover’s story line.  Liam Hemsworth (my favorite Hemsworth brother) was both lovable and stony as Gale, and I can’t wait to see what he does with his expanded role in Catching Fire. Of course, I can’t leave out the adult cast that gave life to their characters: Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, and Stanley Tucci give amazing performances. Wes Bentley is fabulous as the Head Game maker, and he made you even feel sorry for him.

The Hunger Games tells a brilliant story. The quality of characters and the plot draw you in, but it’s the technical aspects of the movie that give it its flair.

Extras:

A second disc of extras gives viewers the most generic features: making of featurettes, an interview with the author and photo gallery. The best extra is the full version of the Capital propaganda give, giving viewers a look at the destroyed District 13. In fact the most fun feature is the previews on the main disc. The screen states that viewing of the previews is “mandatory” and the Capital takes “control” of the TV to make you watch them. You can fast forward through them but don’t miss the trailer for Breaking Dawn Part 2.

Honestly, the second disc of extras could have been eliminated and a DVD/Blu-ray combo pack established instead.

Bottom Line: A great story, a strong cast, and a technical beauty.

Make sure to pick this on up on Blu-ray.

Sitting Down with the Titans

Blu-ray, DVD

Like many action movies of late that don’t star a superhero, Wrath of the Titans came through the theaters without much fanfare. It’s a solid sequel that continues a logical story intertwining myth with creatures and designs from the 1980s original Clash of the Titans.

Sam Worthington returns as Perseus who would rather stay home with his son than protect the world. But when his father Zeus is kidnapped and his power stripped away, Perseus must do something before Kronos escapes from Tartarus and destroys the gods and the world.  Joined by Andromeda, Perseus must collect the three sacred weapons (Zeus’s Lightening Bolt, Hades’ Pitchfork, and Poseidon’s Trident) in order to send Kronos back to his lair.

Worthington, like everything he does, really makes his characters come alive and in this installment he has on more clothes than the original. The interaction between him and Liam Neeson as father and son is explored in more depth and the two work marvelously together. The best part of the sequel is the new cast additions. Rosamund Pike as Andromeda ads a pleasant feminism to a male dominated world. Toby’s Kebbell as Agenov adds humor, and Bill Nighy’s appearance as the weapon maker is fabulous.

The CG is done quite well with most of the monsters blending in well with the humans and the atmosphere. It is some of the costuming that seems a bit much including Zeus’ terrible beard and wig. And why is it that Zeus ages but the only discernable sign of Perseus’ aging is that he has longer hair?  The final battle is choreographed well and enjoyable for the viewers though Hades and Zeus get a little too heart warming.

A better sequel than many other films get, Wrath of the Titans is an enjoyable action thriller that clearly deals with mythology without getting too obtuse or boring. Make sure to pick this one up at the Redbox.