Hunger Blu-ray Review
'Hunger' is presented in widescreen 2.35:1 with MPEG-4 1080p coding.
Much of the imagery in the movie is stark and bleak and this transfer mirrors the feature presentations sentiments. McQueen has employed filters and lighting techniques to achieve a precise tone to match the source material (while authentically recreating an early 80's ambience). Even outside the unwelcoming setting of the Maze, the image retains its dreary overtones. This Criterion release comes by way of a digital transfer of the 35mm negative, mastered at 2k. This updated BD transfer has also been approved by Mc Queen.
Although the print is rather muted, there is plenty of detail on show. Decrepit brickwork, rusted pipework and faecal plastering all stand out with clarity in the unwelcoming corridors of the Maze. Officer Lohan's bloody and swollen knuckles are well defined and a splotch of blood can clearly be seen on his shirt. All of the damage due to “misunderstandings” which the prisoners receive are presented with perfectly measured shades of reds and blues. The faeces covered cell of Sands is rendered in all its disgusting glory (it's even possible to pick out tiny lumps if you look closely enough!), with flies and maggots crawling around in the filth. Clothing detail is prevalent, such as visible textures of the many woollen jumpers which feature throughout (they were highly popular in the 80's!). Linen textures on the prison guard's uniform's are also in abundance. Facial close-ups are very impressive, exposing every pore, matted hair and faeces encrusted nail.
Shadow detail is absolutely sublime, with not one ounce of detail lost in the primarily dark setting of Belfast's notorious prison. The contrast ratio is also reference standard, with plenty of deep inky blacks on display. Although there's not a huge amount of grain in the picture, it still manages to feel decidedly gritty for the duration. Some of the long shots of the streets of Belfast exude a pleasing depth but there are no real instances of three dimensionality and the print is largely flat. The colour palette is decidedly dull and drab and you won't find any vibrant colours here. In saying that, the dour shading of the Maze looks decidedly solid, adding to the realistic nature of the director's delivery. The browns are particularly solid! Skin tonality is spot on, perfectly recreating the wan and drained faces of all the inmates as they face daily chastisement.
This is not the most impressive effort that BD has to offer but it is a solidly immaculate representation of the director's intended vision and so it comes highly recommended.
'Hunger' comes packed with a 5.1 dts HD Master Audio surround track.
Treating the audio engineering with the same artistic tenderness as the transfer, Mc Queen has opted for a restrained surround track so as not to detract from the visual aspect of the movie. Front steerage is perfect and the vocals are locked to the centre channel and are never difficult to follow. There are plenty of audible nuances throughout, such clatter of cells being destroyed or the whistle of Officer Lohan's breathing through his nostrils. The surrounds do provide some ambience, such as a whisper of wind or the depairing cries of inmates but they are mostly unassuming and gently add to the surround track, rather than dominating the soundstage. There are a couple of scenes, such as during the intense riot police segment, where they are more forceful and prevelant but for the most part they subtly add to the track. The same can be said for the sub, which is largely inactive for the duration. The only scene where the bass department got a look in was during closing scenes of the movie.
There's also no score per say on this release, McQueen simply lets his powerful imagery hold the movie together for the majority. There are a few instances of some violin based interludes and these are perfectly weighted in the mix. This absence of continuous audio distraction really serves to focus the audience's attention on the striking imagery, which I presume was the intended result.
Like the transfer, the audio presentation is stoically solid and matches the director's vision to perfection. While this is definitely not one to show off the power of your surround system, it's a perfect complement to the captivating source material.
As this is a Criterion Collection release, I expected plenty of worthwhile additional supplements. This release did not disappoint and while it's not as laden with extras as other Criterion releases, I'm sure that every possible decent extra is included here. Criterion themselves even conducted some interviews for this release, further demonstrating their dedication towards ensuring their releases offer the best possible BD package.
Interview with Steve McQueen (HD 17mins) - This interview was filmed especially for this Criterion BD release. Mc Queen speaks candidly about his feature production (including some of the more brutal and disgusting elements) and how he transitioned from artist to director. He speaks about his previous works and this one, explaining his directorial techniques. Expanding on the story of Sands, the director's passion really shines through and this feature is well worth a watch.
The Making of Hunger (HD 13mins) - This feature includes interviews with Mc Queen, Fassbender, Cunningham, Graham, Milligan as well as Enda Walsh (co-writer) and Robin Gutch (producer). The actors all give high praise to the movie and director, while explaining the roles they played and the difficult nature of filming some of the scenes. Walsh and Gutch chip in to comment on the delicate nature of the material and how much care they took to do the story of Sands justice. Again, this is another worthwhile feature.
Interview with Michael Fassbender (HD 13mins) - Film critic Jason Solomon interviews Fassbender in 2008, shortly after the release of the movie. Fassbender speaks about what Sands means to him, his experiences of working on the movie and McQueen (to whom he gives high praise). He also elaborates on the difficulties of filming some of the more emotionally draining scenes in the movie and includes insight into how a nutritionist helped him to lose the weight.
The Provo's Last Card? (HD 4:3 45mins) - This is an episode of Panorama (with legend David Dimbleby!), which was shown four months after the death of Bobby Sands. We get to visit the Maze prison and interviews with Sinn Fein leaders (and suspected IRA activists) Gerry Adams and Ruairi O'Bradaigh, DUP leader Ian Paisley and Labour Party Leader John Hume are also included. The politicians discuss the impact which Sands' death and Thatcher's opposition will have on the future of Northern Ireland and the IRA (the infamous IRA handbook is also shown). Interviews with families living in Belfast, who were directly affected by the hunger strikes (and other violence) in the North, also feature. This programme offers a highly interesting snapshot of Northern Ireland at a crucial turning point in the history of the Troubles and a fascinating glimpse into the real men involved in the hunger strike. It's also worth watching to see Panorama in HD!
Trailer - Included here is one high definition trailer for the movie.
'Hunger' was released in 2008 and was directed by Steve McQueen. The movie charts the notorious Maze prison hunger strikes which took place in 1981, a pivotal event in the history of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. The entire cast are perfect and the powerful central performance from Michael Fassbender, with his haunted eyes and drained visage, is wonderful. The direction and cinematography are both sublime and the movie is slathered in artistic beauty and depravity. Nothing is black and white; the people, the story of Sands or where the finger of blame is pointing and that's what makes this such a good movie (given the delicate nature of the source material). An exemplary director and a stunning cast means that this movie comes highly recommended; be warned though, there are some scenes which will shock.
The director approved transfer perfectly captures Mc Queen's dark vision of Sands' incarceration in the Maze. There's plenty of detail on show and the presentation is very solid. The uncompressed surround track is never going to make it into the demo material category but it is well engineered and perfectly complements the powerful imagery. The extras portion, as is to be expected from Criterion, contains some interesting features and interviews, which were conducted especially for this release. Overall this is a very strong BD release and comes recommended.
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