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Listening to Atmos: ‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1’ Blu-ray Review

I’ll admit it…I’m a huge Katniss fan. I read the books and have loved all three of the movies. In fact, the Hunger Games series is one of the few franchises able to get me to leave the booze-filled comforts of my own home theater to venture out to the commercial cinema.

It has been four months since we outfitted our showroom’s theater with a Dolby Atmos system (read about it here) and I’ve managed to get myself on Dolby’s list of Atmos Blu-ray reviewers. I have been receiving every Atmos Blu-ray disc that has been released, except for one. 

For those keeping score, there are currently nine titles: Transformers: Age of Extinction, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Step Up All In, The Expendables 3, John Wick, On Any Sunday: The Next Chapter, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, Unbroken, and Gravity. I’ve watched nearly all of them in Atmos and the response to my last Atmos post reviewing John Wick and TMNT was so good, I thought I’d give you my reviews of the two biggest Atmos blockbusters to be released so far, Hunger Games and Gravity. The post got to be so lengthy that I divided it into two separate reviews. (Click HERE to read the Gravity review.)

To really experience what the overhead Atmos speakers add to a film, I watched both movies with the main 7-channel floor amplifier turned off, leaving just the four in-ceiling Atmos speakers playing. This gives a true sense of what is being mixed up to the Atmos channels.

In my previous post, I neglected to say that there are some serious plot spoilers ahead. If you have yet to see either of these films, A) what is wrong with you?!?, and B) proceed knowing there will be spoilers. Now, on to the reviews!

I’ll admit it…I’m a huge Katniss fan. I read the books and have loved all three of the movies. In fact, the Hunger Games series is one of the few franchises able to get me to leave the booze-filled comforts of my own home theater to venture out to the commercial cinema. Unfortunately, the nearest Atmos equipped theater is about a two-hour drive away from me, so I was really looking forward to re-watching Mockingjay in Atmos.

As befitting a film that grossed more than $333-million at the North American box office, this is a terrific transfer and features a lot of deleted scenes and some really interesting behind-the-scenes documentaries. Fans of the series will definitely appreciate the extras. The disc also includes what I believe is the very first DTS Headphone:X audio mix which is supposed to provide a virtual 11-channel headphone experience (I’ve yet to take a listen, so no commentary on that yet). The film runs 123 minutes and the 2.40:1 aspect ratio film looks great and definitely includes some demo-worthy scenes.

Sonically, much of this film is dialog driven and takes place inside the cramped, indoor, underground concrete, missile silo-esque bunker of District 13. The mix does a really great job of relaying the claustrophobia and closeness of the acoustic rooms and spaces, providing lots of reverberation and background mechanical, generator, and air circulation sounds that really help to place you inside District 13 with Katniss. Here are some scenes that stood out for me sonically:

Even before the titles come up, the film begins with Katniss disoriented and in an enclosed, echo-filled space talking to herself, with the echoes of voices and pipe sounds filling the overhead speakers. This cuts to a scene in a hospital room where Katniss reunites with Finnick and the sounds are replaced by the close, sterile buzz of fluorescent lighting.

At roughly the four-minute mark, the head of security, Boggs, escorts Katniss down deeper into 13 in an elevator and sounds of the doors clanging shut and floors whooshing by fill the ceiling. When they reach the bottom, the room fills with crowd sounds and chatter to set the busy scene.

At nine minutes, they raise the jet to fly off to see the ruins of District 12 and there are tons of clanging and hydraulic machinery sounds followed by the jet’s exhaust as it takes off. When the jet lands in 12 moments later, the engine/propeller noises convincingly raise and lift off up into the ceiling speakers.

As President Snow prepares for his speech addressing all of Panem at 15:30, his voice resonates heavily and clearly up into the ceiling, giving him a larger-than-life presence. When he begins his broadcast, there is rain pouring from the overhead channels in the various districts and his omnipresent voice takes on a large stadium echo quality filling the big outdoor venues, playing in sharp contrast to the confinement of District 13.

At 19 minutes, Katniss is in the dining hall with Gale and there is a ton of background chatter that is then interrupted by Caesar and the Capitol’s broadcast on all of the TVs. The audio of Caesar and Peeta convincingly reverberates as it is coming from multiples sources on screen and fills the large, open dining hall space. When Peeta calls for a cease fire at the end, the angry protests from the crowd of 13 diners pours from the ceiling speakers.

When President Coin addresses the masses 30 minutes in, her voice booms and the crowd murmurs fill the cavernous space. Minutes later, Katniss prepares to film her first propo and Plutarch’s voice booms disapproval and disappointment overhead from the recording studio monitor speakers. This is in real contrast to the natural echo of Katniss shouting and Haymitch’s slow claps and talking.

At 43 minutes, Katniss flies into District 8 and the jet hovers, stirring up lots of ground debris and then flies off overhead to disappear. This sets up the films first big action sequence at 48 minutes as Katniss and her team walk around outside. Creating the larger open space is the sounds of atmospheric and nature sounds swirling through the overhead speakers. This relative calm is broken by air raid klaxons and the chatter of anti-aircraft machine gun fire. Several explosions and debris blasts fill the room, as does the swirling audio from the attacking jets. The scene ends with the crackling or roaring fire as it burns in the new rubble as fire is catching.

Right before the one-hour mark, we have a couple of outdoor scenes — one in District 7 at 55 minutes and one with Katniss and Gale hunting outside 13 at 57 minutes — that really contrast the sonic spaciousness of being outdoors with the cramped indoor quarters of 13. The calm stillness of the latter scene is filled with nature sounds like birds chirping, leaves rustling, and water flowing.

At 1:07 in, we go down by the water in District 12 and the mockingjay’s whistles echo up to the ceiling. This is followed by Katniss singing “Are You,” which is mixed heavily up to the ceiling, setting the somber mood of the song and scene. In the subsequent scene, this song is echoed by the people of District 5 as they attack the hydroelectric dam. This is interspersed with the sounds of rushing water, shouting, gunfire and ultimate a massive explosion and flooding. Following the explosion, the Capitol loses power and you hear the eerie drop of background electricity sounds and the room is filled with stillness.

During the Capitol’s bombing raid on 13 at 1:15, the overhead speakers are filled with sounds of emergency sirens and announcements to evacuate to level 40. When the bombs hit, panicked screams, crumping explosions and sprinkling water and debris fills the room.

As the film reaches the big finale prisoner rescue at the 1:30 mark, Finnick’s running commentary fills the overhead speakers as he dialogs to fill the Capitol airwaves. This is augmented by sounds of the invading planes flying and zipping down ropes as the invaders go for the rescue. As Finnick’s transmission starts to break down, Katniss reaches out to Snow and where her voice is a frail and faint echo overhead, his booms through loud and clear.

At 1:47 following the silence of Katniss’ hospital room, the scene cuts to massive applause as Coin tells 13 about the success of the rescue. Her voice and applause fills the room as we follow Katniss as she walks down a hallway to discover a thrashing Peeta. The music swells and…END!

(Click HERE to read my Gravity review…)

John Sciacca is principal of Custom Theater and Audio in Myrtle Beach, SC.