By Daniel Lammin
1st March 2015

Its enormous success might have brought about imitators and attempts to steal the crown, but there's still no franchise quite like 'The Hunger Games'. In fact, it might be the most exemplary example of a young adult property with the capacity to become something special and distinct in its transition to the big screen (something even the 'Harry Potter' films never worked out). With 'The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1', the saga begins to barrel towards its finale, and to maximise on this, the team behind it have split the third and final book into two films (as seems to be the norm these days). But does this work against the film, or work in its advantage?

I'll admit, I haven't read a word of the books, but enjoyed the first film so much that I decided I wanted to experience them as films instead. How faithful they've been to the books, I have no idea and, frankly, don't really care, so I can only assess them from what I see on screen. In this third film, the traditional format of the arena-set blood bath is jettisoned, with Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) thrust into the limelight as a symbol of revolution by President Coin (Julianne Moore) of the previously-hidden District 13. Katniss decides to comply, but only if it will help Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), held prisoner in The Capitol. In the hands of President Snow (Donald Sutherland), he becomes a taunt to Katniss, and with every step she takes and every inch the revolution moves forward, Snow responds with fury and bloodshed. The games are over, and the battle lines are being drawn.


Apart from a few niggling problems, this series has consistently impressed with its quality, its integrity and its bravery, not watering down or taking half measures on its dark and difficult content. In terms of said quality, 'Mockingjay Part 1' doesn't drop the ball, and often improves it. Freed from the games format, it moves into more interesting psychological territory, under the assured hand of director Francis Lawrence. With Lawrence now spearheading the franchise after his work on the second film, it assures a level of consistency in the gritty and textured visual style, which in many ways is what sets these films apart from other YA fare. 'Mockingjay' is a dark film visually as well as thematically, lacking the colour and vibrancy that came with the Capital-set first and second films, but the attention to detail and verisimilitude never allow for it to become dull or fall into cliche. The residents of District 13 have a hard edge to them, like the survivors on Zion in The Matrix Trilogy but relatable, practical and without the dumb rave parties. This is also a far-less action-packed film than the others, probably due to splitting the book on two, but even though the rhythm is much slower and it ends up feeling longer than it should, there's a forward momentum to it, the sense that we're building towards something huge, and they still manage to find a satisfying yet nail-biting climax that satisfies and prepares you for the final chapter.

Then of course there's the cast, which is exemplary for any film, let alone a YA franchise. On top of series regulars Sutherland, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright and Stanley Tucci, they add the prickly gravitas of Moore as President Coin, Natalie Dormer as guerrilla filmmaker Cressida and Mahershala Ali as Katniss' military advisor Boggs. With the focus on District 13, Hutcherson and Sam Claflin have much smaller roles, but Liam Hemsworth finally earns his screen credit as Gale, actually becoming an active part of the narrative. Even with the calibre of talent involved though, these films still belong to Jennifer Lawrence, and this film gives her the chance to explore a Katniss riddled with shock and almost broken by her ordeals. For all her other accolades, she's probably giving her best performances in this series, and 'Mockingjay Part 1' sees her and her iconic character pushed to new limits.

This series has consistently impressed with its quality, its integrity and its bravery, not watering down or taking half measures on its dark and difficult content.

It's still hard to believe that these films can be as good as they are, and even harder that the quality of them hasn't diminished. 'The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1' is a handsome and affecting film that, even while setting up for a big finale in the next film, still stands confidently on its own. And if the end of this film is anything to go by, what awaits Katniss looks to something epic, powerful and horrifying.

For such a major release, this Blu-ray really pulls out all the stops. The 1080p 2.35:1 transfer is exemplary, handling the tricky balance of honouring the dark palette without sacrificing detail and clarity. The film looks beautiful and cinematic in high definition. The same can be said for the thunderous and beautifully balanced Dolby Atmos 7.1 and DTS-HD MA 5.1 tracks. Even though this is a sonically more subtle film than the previous two, there's still plenty to give your sound system some work to do, without ever sacrificing clarity of dialogue. I don't imagine this presentation could possibly be better.

Even though they've been pushing boundaries in terms of audio and visuals, most Blu-ray releases these days really drop the ball in terms of extra content, so it's a surprise and a relief to find such an extraordinary package with 'Mockingjay Part 1'. The first disc includes an audio commentary from Lawrence and producer Nina Jacobson, a touching tribute to Philip Seymour Hoffman (who passed away during filming), an interview with Lorde about her curating of the soundtrack album, a music video of her song for the film and some deleted scenes. All the material is well-made and steers clear of the usual press-kit rubbish. The highlight though is on the second disc, an excellent two-hour making-of documentary that candidly covers all areas of the production, from the tricky adaptation process to the evolution of the design to the casts involvement in the development of the film. These documentaries have become a standard with the releases of these films, and quite frankly, they put 98% of Blu-ray releases to shame.

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