2.40:1 and 1.78:1 1080p
Audio: DTS-HD MA 7.1 English, DD 2.0 surround English (Optimized for Late-Night Viewing), DD 5.1 Spanish
Subtitles: Optional English, English SDH, Spanish
Extras: Audio Commentary; Surviving the Game: Making Catching Fire; Deleted Scenes; Sneak Peek of Divergent; The Hob: Inside District 12; The Alliance; Friend or Foe; One Vision; Digital Copy code
Released: 7 March 2014
Gary Ross declined to direct The Hunger Games: Catching Fire even though his adaptation of the first novel grossed more than $400 million in the United States and more than $600 million worldwide. Ross cited concerns about the highly-compressed schedule that Lionsgate wanted in order to release the sequels in consecutive years. Fast-tracked productions are notorious for incomplete scripts, shoddy computer-generated visual effects, and editing mistakes.
Lionsgate picked Francis Lawrence to replace Gary Ross. Lawrence helmed Constantine, I Am Legend, and Water for Elephants, though the bulk of his career was spent on music videos. Prior to watching Catching Fire, I had only seen Constantine, which has a mildly amusing and occasionally goofy story about a demon hunter. As I was unfamiliar with Lawrence's directorial style, I waited for early reviews to see if he would simply mimic Ross's aesthestic for the first movie.
Catching Fire was released on Thursday night, 21 November 2013. The Hollywood Reporter and Variety published early reviews on 11 November and 12 November, respectively, and both reviewers indicated that the movie was an improvement upon its predecessor. I was cautiously optimistic.
This time, I did not pre-order IMAX tickets. I wanted to avoid long lines and hysterical crowds. However, I couldn't resist the hype and went to see it at midnight on opening night at a regular theatre. I went to see it again that Saturday at a Digital IMAX venue, in which the image expanded vertically from 2.40:1 to 1.78:1 for the Arena Sequence. The next week, I saw it twice in a Giant IMAX venue, in which the image expanded vertically from 2.40:1 to 1.44:1. Yes, I saw the movie four times in two weeks, whereas it took me four months to watch the first one three times.
I'm not under any illusions that Francis Lawrence or any of the filmmakers may have read my review of the first film. However, they addressed all of my concerns about Gary Ross's movie. Moreover, Francis Lawrence made better use of the transition to IMAX than any other director before him. (That group includes Christopher Nolan, Michael Bay, Brad Bird, and J.J. Abrams.)
Instead of several long countdowns leading up to the start of the Arena Sequence, the filmmakers used screen time well. The actual start was shot effectively, unlike in the first movie when the huge Cornucopia basically blocked our view of the Tributes. In the first movie, the computer-generated visual effects looked terrible, especially the dogs that appeared near the end of the story. This time around, the visual effects did not look so transparently fake, and the angry monkeys were appropriately menacing. James Newton Howard's music score for this movie is much better than his work for the previous entry, though I have to admit that “Horn of Plenty” is in slight danger of being over-used. Finally, none of the actors rubbed me the wrong way that Wes Bentley did in the first movie.
After I saw Catching Fire, I caught up with the rest of Lawrence's filmography. It's clear that Francis Lawrence has a distinctive directorial style, one that was neither handicapped by the tight production schedule nor subsumed by the corporate machine. Lawrence employs an Average-Shot-Length that is noticeably longer than what you usually see with American action blockbusters. The camerawork is graceful, elegant, and occasionally even sublime. I am very glad that Lionsgate asked Francis Lawrence to finish the series with Mockingjay Part 1 and Mockingjay Part 2.
The video was encoded in 1080p. The American BD release includes a transfer that transitions from 2.40:1 to 1.78:1. At this time, we don't have a Blu-ray option for constant 2.40:1, though the Japanese Premium Edition (available via Amazon Japan) includes both versions on separate discs. The image looks very good, though one wonders if the picture could have been improved if the Extras had all been moved to a second Blu-ray. There are some soft shots here and there, though they're not distracting enough to be irritating.
I really enjoyed listening to the movie in theaters, and the DTS-HD MA 7.1 English track allows me to enjoy listening to the movie again at home. In particular, the timbre of the cannon shots during the Arena Sequence made a deep impression on me. Surround use is very effective with regards to music cues and certain scenes, such as the one with a swarm of jabberjays.
Gary Ross did not record an audio commentary for the first movie, but Francis Lawrence and producer Nina Jacobson recorded one for this installment. This is a low-key affair with long gaps and not as much substantive information as one might hope to hear.
“Surviving the Game: Making Catching Fire” is a comprehensive, nine-part documentary that is about as long as the main feature.
There are a few Deleted Scenes, including one that removes any doubts about how much Plutarch Heavensbee influenced the 3rd Quarter Quell.
There's a “Divergent Sneak Peek” meant to whet viewers' appetites for the next Young Adult franchise from Lionsgate (after Twilight and The Hunger Games).
Finally, “The Hob: Inside District 12” is available as an Easter Egg. Basically, press the red button on your remote control when the spinning logo changes. “The Hob” plays like a propaganda piece from within the story's reality.
Disc 2 is a DVD with the movie in constant 2.40:1. The DVD also includes the audio commentary, deleted scenes, and “Divergent Sneak Peek”.
Disc 3 is a DVD with three additional featurettes.
“The Alliance” covers the returning cast members. “Friend or Foe” provides additional footage of Sam Claflin, Jena Malone, Jeffrey Wright, and Amanda Plummer. “One Vision” discusses how the first and second books made the transition to the big screen.
This version is available only at Target stores and Target.com. It includes a custom book-style case, a plastic see-through slipcover, and a Digital Copy code that can be used with iTunes or Ultraviolet.
Once again, the Target Exclusive is the best version for a Hunger Games movie in North America. However, the Japanese Premium Edition may be the best overall release anywhere in the world, with two versions of the movie presented on movie-only discs (for maximum bitrate space) and with most of the Extras, including the Target-exclusive featurettes, presented in high definition video.