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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • English DTS-HD 5.1 Surround
  • English subtitles
  • 1 Disc
FEATURES
  • Video interviews with McQueen and actor Michael Fassbender
  • A short documentary on the making of Hunger, including interviews with McQueen, Fassbender, actors Liam Cunningham, Stuart Graham, and Brian Milligan, writer Enda Walsh, and producer Robin Gutch
  • "The Provo's Last Card?" a 1981 episode of the BBC program Panorama, about the causes and effects of the IRA hunger strikes at the Maze prison and the political and civilian reactions across Northern Ireland
  • Theatrical trailer

Hunger

Blu-ray
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Steve McQueen
Starring: Michael Fassbender
2008 | 90 Minutes | Licensor: IFC Films

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $39.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #504
RLJ Entertainment

Release Date: February 16, 2010
Review Date: February 6, 2010

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SYNOPSIS

With Hunger, British filmmaker and artist Steve McQueen has turned one of history's most controversial acts of political defiance into a jarring, unforgettable cinematic experience. In Northern Ireland's Maze prison in 1981, twenty-seven-year-old Irish Republican Army member Bobby Sands went on a hunger strike to protest the British government's refusal to recognize him and his fellow IRA inmates as political prisoners, rather than as ordinary criminals. McQueen dramatizes prison existence and Sands's final days in a way that is purely experiential, even abstract, a succession of images full of both beauty and horror. Featuring an intense performance by Michael Fassbender, Hunger is an unflinching, transcendent depiction of what a human being is willing to endure to be heard.

Forum members rate this film 8.4/10

 

Discuss the film and Blu-ray here   


PICTURE

Steve McQueen’s critically acclaimed 2008 debut receives a lovely Criterion Blu-ray release, presenting the film in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 on this dual-layer Blu-ray disc. The transfer is presented in 1080p/24hz and has been approved by director Steve McQueen.

Despite the film’s dreary look the high-def transfer found here still manages to come off looking particularly beautiful. The film’s colour scheme is not at all glamourous, a good chunk of the film taking place inside prison cells where the inmates have spread excrement over the walls (just to give an idea how dreary the colour scheme actually is) but somehow colours still manage to come off alive and vibrant, particularly sequences with a good amount of blue. Saturation is spot on and black levels are also perfectly deep and rich. Detail and definition is high, and there are no visible artifacts. Though this shouldn’t be a surprise for such a new film there is no damage to speak of in the source materials. In all it’s an incredibly beautiful looking transfer for what is probably an otherwise devastatingly (and purposely) depressing looking film.

10/10

All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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AUDIO

The film doesn’t call for much since it’s a very quiet film, but the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track found here presents the audio perfectly. While I admittedly had issues with some of the Irish accents (which has more to do with me than the audio found here,) dialogue, or what little there is in the film, is natural and clear. Some sound effects manage to wonderfully fill out the environment ever so subtly and naturally, creating a perfect mood for the film without calling attention to them. There are a few jarring moments and some decent splits (a loud moment with a flock of birds sounding to be flying overhead for example, or the opening scene, and a couple beating scenes) but the majority of the track is quiet and not altogether that active. Bass is also very low key. But sound quality is sharp and crisp and it seems to perfectly reflect the intent of the film.

8/10

SUPPLEMENTS

Looking over the supplements listed for this Blu-ray (and its DVD counterpart) I wasn’t expecting much, thinking this almost looks like a lower-tier title (the DVD edition is only one-disc, both editions have no commentary, and maybe just over 90-minutes worth of material.) But I was pleasantly surprised with the quality of the supplemental material as a whole. All material is found under “Supplements” in the fly-out menu.

First, shot exclusively for this Criterion release, is a 17-minute interview with director Steve McQueen. Anyone disappointed by the lack of a commentary track will be somewhat satisfied with this as the director covers the film quite thoroughly in the short time span. He pushes what his intentions for the film were and explains a lot of his stylistic choices, all in an effort to make the audience experience the film’s subject matter, but only as an “observer” and not as a “participant.” He talks about being a child and first hearing about the story of Bobby Sands and the hunger strike, and the impact it had on him. He also talks a bit about the shoot, recreating the Maze prison (he wasn’t allowed to film at the actual prison) and working with Michael Fassbender. He also mentions some of his other work, but unfortunately more in a passing manner. He’s incredibly engaging and the segment flies by. I feel I would have enjoyed a commentary by the man, but this somewhat makes up for that.

The Making of Hunger is a 13-minute feature that at first feels more like a fluff PR piece, but begins to show more meat as it progresses. It gathers brief interviews with the various participants, including McQueen, writer Enda Walsh, producer Robin Gutch, and actors Michael Fassbender, Liam Cunningham, Stuart Graham, Brian Milligan. It focuses primarily on the unconventional manner of the story and the film (which sounds to have been somewhat rooted in the actual script) and how now is the perfect time to be telling it. But it’s strongest aspect would have to be the portion that concentrates on the 22-minute scene between Fassbender’s Sands and Cunningham’s priest. I was tempted to write it off at first but it gets much more interesting as it progresses.

Following that is a 14-minute interview with Michael Fassbender conducted by critic Jason Solomons. It looks to come from a press junket but it’s a decent piece. They of course cover how Fassbender lost weight but thankfully this only brief (yet interesting.) Fassbender also covers how he went about his research, but again, like with the previous making-of, the most interesting aspect has to do with the work he and Cunningham put into their longer scene. He seems particularly proud of the film and his work in it and this alone makes it an excellent interview segment.

Next is probably the coolest feature (and one I’m sure only Criterion would have bothered including) is an episode from the BBC program Panorama. The title of the episode is The Provos’ Last Card and runs 45-minutes. The segment was filmed a few months after Bobby Sands’ death and just after the death of the tenth (and what would turn out to be final) prisoner, Michael Devine, on the hunger strike, even capturing footage from a funeral. This may prove to be the most fascinating feature on here and the one I was most appreciative of. It works on a lot of levels, including the fact it adds some context to the film. It not only offers a look at the hunger strike and its effects but it really offers a through, fairly unbiased look at the political tensions in Northern Ireland (“The Troubles”) and the I.R.A. It gets interviews with various civilians and members of various political parties, and also shows how Thatcher’s handling of the situation of the hunger strike was probably hurting more than helping. It’s filled with great archival footage, including riots, footage of Thatcher’s speeches (all of which appear as audio in the main film,) a look at an I.R.A. manual, and footage of the actual Maze prison and the prisoners (including a look at an actual prison cell where feces had been spread across the walls, showing McQueen recreated it quite vividly.) I was particularly pleased that it never really took sides, questioning the actions of both the I.R.A. and the British government. It’s a fantastic addition and the one I’m most pleased with. Definitely worth viewing.

The disc then closes with the film’s American theatrical trailer which makes it look far more conventional than it actually is.

And of course this release comes with a booklet containing a short essay by critic Chris Darke, briefly covering the actual events, McQueen’s career up to this film, and offering a brief analysis of the film itself. I don’t know if I agree with him on how “political” this film is, where he feels the film is extremely political and I can’t say I feel the same thing (while maybe McQueen does side with the prisoners the film as a whole never feels like it sides with anyone,) but I still found it an excellent read.

There’s more I’m sure Criterion could have included, such as a commentary, and possibly a look at McQueen’s other work; there’s a lot of mention of it but nothing, other than clips, are actually shown. Otherwise, while a small release, I was still quite happy with the supplements presented here.

7/10

CLOSING

The film is certainly devastating, and probably draining, so I have to say that the film may not be one many find themselves coming back to often. But for those that do want to own it you can do no wrong with this Blu-ray edition. The image and audio are fantastic, presenting the film perfectly, and the supplements are informative and quite interesting, though I admittedly hoped for more. Still, despite that, this disc comes highly recommended.


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