The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 Dolby Atmos Review

3/29/2016 8:53:00 AM
 
Following the (awful) trend started by Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the final installment in The Hunger Games trilogy was split into two parts. I reviewed Mockingjay – Part 1 a year ago and return here to share my thoughts on the Dolby Atmos soundtrack found on the Blu-ray of the conclusion.

The Blu-ray disc is pretty well packed with a variety of extras that should satisfy all but the most rabid Games fans. On top of an audio commentary featuring the director and producer, you get several short docs along with a two-plus-hour, eight-part making-of documentary, and a 42-minute episode with set visits and actor interviews, all adding up to more than five hours of Panem coverage.

I can’t imagine someone would jump into this film without the backstory of the first three, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend it. The first three films not only establish the iconic, revolt-leading Mockingjay that Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) has become here, they also develop the internal relationship conflict she constantly struggles with between Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and Gale (Liam Hemsworth). Further, they are also just really entertaining, especially the first, which remains my favorite of the tetralogy. This film is also infamous for Philip Seymour Hoffman’s unfortunate death during the filming, making you wonder just how differently it might have been edited had Plutarch Heavensbee been around till the closing credits.

Where Part 1 was a bit slow and plodding, focusing on developing and setting up the story for the final conflict of Katniss taking on President Snow (Donald Sutherland) after him having firebombed her district into ashes, this movie features far more action and picks up almost immediately following Part 1, with Katniss in an infirmary being examined. Katniss declares war on Snow and sets out to the Capitol bent on assassinating him. This creates all-out war as the rebels march on the Capitol avoiding various sinister booby traps and ambushes along the way.

Or, as Finnick (Sam Claflin), said, “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the 76th Hunger Games!”

One of the things that makes this dystopian tale deeper than others (Divergent, Maze Runner) is that the characters seem to have more depth and the dialog moments between them seems more meaningful and real, especially the conversations between Katniss and Peeta. The 137-minute movie is in 2.40:1 aspect and features a Dolby True HD 7.1 Atmos soundtrack.

Spoilers ahead…

The audio does a terrific job throughout the movie of defining cramped indoor spaces. Whether it is the sterile buzz of fluorescent lights in medical rooms, the low, flat reverb in tight spaces, or the distant report and echo of explosions, the Atmos audio helps flesh out scenes throughout.

A great example of this is found early on at about 5 minutes into chapter one as Katniss goes flying off to District 2 and the dropships whiz by the right side of the room. The next scene features Gale and Katniss talking inside the plane and the room is filled with subtle clicks and groans and rattles as things move and shift around the cargo hold of the plane they’re in, while the steady low hum of the plane is in the background. At 7 minutes the plane prepares to land and you get some announcements from PA speakers overhead.

At 28 minutes into chapter 4, Katniss rides an elevator down into the armory and the elevator whizzes by the sides of the room and up overhead. As she walks through the rows of bombs you get a ton of atmospherics in the huge room including distant announcements. Moments later, the plane takes off and flies from the back to the room, overhead into the front. When it lands, you are inside the tight cargo space with Katniss, the metal locks unclamping overhead.

At 37:30 in chapter 6, you get the crunching of boots on gravel traveling up the left side of the room as the small band marches into frame. The scene is pretty quiet at first, with some swirling wind, but you’ll also notice the distant chatter of machine guns and small arms fire, explosions, and blasts that echo and can be heard all around the room; the subtle background audio definitely putting you into the war zone. At 38:50, Katniss shoots an arrow into a trap, causing a wall of fire to engulf the room with a nice explosion that will make a good sub flutter your pants.

The band runs into its next trap at 48 minutes into chapter 7, which begins a nice 4-minute audio fest as they all funnel into a courtyard and will make for a great showroom demo. You hear the soldiers stacking up on either side of the room and then a pair of machine guns open up, blasting rounds all around the room. Concrete chips and explodes off the side and back walls as the steady barrage of shells rips the courtyard apart. Moments later another trap is triggered with a loud, unexpected explosion in the front of the room. There’s no time for mourning Boggs (Mahershala Ali) as yet another trap is triggered at 50 minutes. This tripped pressure plate causes large doors to close, locking the group into the courtyard. The huge concrete doors close high up on the walls around the room, really sealing you into the space, and then a massive wave of tar floods into the room. The tar wave hits steps and splashes up high into the room, with bass rumbling that feels like the tar is lapping at your heels. The tar oozes up, forcing the group to seek refuge on the upper floor of an abandoned building. When the tar reaches its peak, you hear it lapping and bubbling at the side walls and overhead and then slowly receding and sliding back down.

Chapter 9 starts at around 1:03 and “the arena has moved underground,” with the band climbing down ladders to the tunnels beneath the Capitol. This begins a lengthy underground scene that is filled with terrific audio, with lots of creaking sounds of pipes overhead, steam venting, water dripping and trickling, and shows that terrific demo scenes don’t need to include explosions and mayhem. The scene begins with a train racing by overhead, its audio perspective changing as the camera moves. The steady hum and buzz of fluorescents and low ceiling constantly reminds you of the cramped quarters. At 1:04, a train races by the right side of the room and into the back. Note the audio starting at 1:06:18, as water trickles all around the room, and especially as you are focused on Peeta how the drops change in location as he moves. Great stuff. Even during the conversation between Peeta and Katniss at 1:08, the quality of the dialog and the reverb and the distant sounds keep you in the tunnels and heighten the moment between them.

The big underground action scene starts just seconds into chapter 10 and lasts the entire chapter. It begins with creepy voices echoing in the distance, the voices swirling around the room and disorienting the group as unseen trouble approaches. This scene reminds me of Aliens, when they were being attacked from the overhead passageways inside the Nostromo. “Game over, man!” There are several false starts to the attack which does a great job of building tension in the scene as the band slowly moves through tunnels, Gale lighting their path with exploding crossbow bolts. When the attack finally happens, the scene kicks into high gear as the Mutts swarm. The battle rages around the room with concussive explosions, frenzied music, gunshots, and the snarling and growling Mutts coming in from all sides. Once they escape the tunnels, they immediately step into a firefight with gunshots that blast tile around the room, fire traps that come down from the ceiling, and razor floor traps that chew up the ground beneath your feet. This is definitely the most intense fight of the film, and features terrific audio, but use discernment when selecting this as a demo.

Chapter 12 starts with Gale and Katniss trying to sneak their way into Snow’s compound. A steady announcement booms out of the speakers around the room, shifting in location and reverberation as the camera moves. At 1:32, a battle erupts in the square beginning with a rocket the streaks into the front wall. There is the heavy chatter of a big machine gun and smaller weapons blasting away from all sides. Rockets streak past and things explode, sending rubble overhead and crashing down all around you. The audio really mimics a first-person shooter as it changes in relation to the character’s position on screen. At 1:35, the battle has its climatic conclusion as ships fly by overhead dropping parachute “presents” down on the crowd. The parachutes twinkle all around the room and then KABOOM! A huge explosion goes off, reducing audio to a muted blur of wind and yelling around the room. A second explosion blows Katniss off her feet in a wave of fire that engulfs the room.

The final 40 minutes of the film are mostly filled with housekeeping, explanatory dialog, and story clean-up as Katniss confronts Snow and comes to terms with the fact that she jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire. At 1:51 in chapter 14, President Coin (Julianne Moore) addresses the assembled, preparing the crowd for Snow’s execution, Coin’s voice echoing and booming loud throughout the room as she urges Katniss’ aim “to be as true as her heart is pure.” Shortly after the crowd swarms into the room shouting and yelling.

The finale does a more-than-satisfactory job of wrapping up the trilogy, and the film’s conclusion starts at 2:03 in chapter 16, taking place outside with birds chirping and leaves rustling softly around the room as we see Katniss is finally allowed some peace and joy in her life.

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