Following in the footsteps of the Harry Potter and Twilight series, The Hunger Games opted to split its last novel into two films. Sure, it's one big money-grab, but this franchise can certainly get away with it. Does that make it right, though?
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part I is a long movie and also sort of an unnecessary one. However, it's also a good movie, choosing to focus more on the people and less on the carnage. (Rest easy, there's definitely plenty of carnage.) Whether or not you find that disappointing depends on how much you appreciate a good "Hunger Games" installment -- because there isn't one of those this time around. (We'll get to that in a minute.) It doesn't really matter though, because if you're this far into the franchise, you're going to see this movie and it will pretty much leave you frothing for this November's big finale.
Speaking of which: If you haven't seen the other two movies, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part I isn't the place to start. First of all (and this is super important), there are no actual "Hunger Games." Also, the film picks up exactly where The Hunger Games: Catching Fire left off. If you don't know how and where that film left us, don't expect a recap -- or expect to know what the heck is going on here. And finally, you're going to need to know who is who because a boatload of characters are mentioned, with several of them getting a decent amount of screen time here.
Of course, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is front and center, as always. After the last "Hunger Games," she awakens to find herself in the relatively unknown District 13, under the tutelage of Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and District 13 President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore). Despite being part of the rebellion, the two don't give off a vibe that's a whole lot different from President Snow (Donald Sutherland) -- except without all of the theatrics and the Nightlock. The two recruit/manipulate Katniss to be the face of the revolution against Snow and everything else that's evil in the Capitol. That basically means she gets to travel to war-torn places, react accordingly, and have that content morphed into a series of PSAs.
Meanwhile, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) is stuck in the Capitol with the other remaining victors. Because of a few recent TV "appearances," he's also been branded a traitor by everyone associated with the rebellion. I don't want to give too much away here, but of course, Katniss knows otherwise. So like everything she does, she decides to become the face of the movement, aka the living, breathing Mockingjay, in exchange for Peeta's safety, his pardon, and the possibility of taking out Snow with her own two hands (and possibly one of those red-tipped arrows).
So yeah. That's about it. It's basically one long (123 minutes!) lead-in to the big Hunger Games finale. Despite that (and an unnecessary cliffhanger-y ending), there's a lot going on here. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part I may not be as high-octane as the first two installments, but there are plenty of emotions and a whole lot of kills. There are also a lot of characters. Aside from Peeta, Heavensbee and now Coin, Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), Beetee (Jeffrey Wright), Gale (Liam Hemsworth), and several other familiar faces pop up -- and get a lot more to do, since there's no actual battle ground keeping them out of the picture. It's a worthy installment and will definitely have you counting down the days to Mockingjay - Part 2's release.
As you can imagine, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part I looks spectacular on Blu-ray. The 2.40:1 image is a sharp one, with excellent detail throughout. The close-ups on Jennifer Lawrence's porcelaine complexion and the strands of her hair blowing in the breeze stand out, as does the surrounding carnage and cold scenery. This one has a really dark color palette, so it doesn't offer a ton of pop. However, it does occasionally throw a twinge of blue or amber into the overall picture, which can be quite striking. Even more impressive are the image's black levels, which is certainly a good thing, considering how dark the film is throughout.
If you have a Dolby Atmos setup, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part I is a must-have. It comes with the option to experience that immersive track. Unfortunately, I didn't have the opportunity to review this film with an Atmos system, but the Blu-ray does support Dolby TrueHD 7.1, which pretty much left me wanting an Atmos system. It's filled with strong, clear dialogue and a bold soundtrack. However, some of the film's most immersive audio can be heard in District 13's underground, echoey surroundings and of course, during the film's explosive scenes.
It's hard to justify splitting Suzanne Collins' final book in The Hunger Games trilogy into two movies, but why try? Just enjoy. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part I has very little about the actual games, but a lot of emotional character moments and a really great cast. The AV is absolutely icing on the cake, but shouldn't shock anyone that's seen the last two Blu-rays. Bonus points for the excellent 2-hour documentary that's included amongst the special features. If you're any sort of a fan, this one is a no-brainer.