New on DVD: Oscar-winning 'Slave' available


One of the big names at Sunday night's Academy Awards was "12 Years a Slave," with nine nominations and three wins, including best picture.

But long after the Oscars are done, people will likely still talk about the film, directed by Steve McQueen ("Hunger," "Shame") and based on the real-life story of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man kidnapped and sold into slavery in pre-Civil War America. Northup's memoir has resonated with audiences for more than a century, and the story was adapted for the screen 30 years ago, as "Solomon Northup's Odyssey," with Avery Brooks as Northup and Gordon Parks as director.

The McQueen film has been overwhelmingly praised; Rotten Tomatoes tallied 254 reviews and counted only nine as negative. And the home-viewing releases (Fox, $29.98 DVD; $39.99 Blu-ray) offer ample insight into how such a film came to be made.

The Blu-ray includes a 40-minute piece on the making of the film, including interviews with McQueen, screenwriter John Ridley and cast members, as well as Ejiofor reading from Northup's memoirs. The DVD offers two shorter segments, on the movie's creative team and the composing of the musical score; those pieces are also on the Blu-ray.


Jennifer Lawrence, an Oscar winner last year for "Silver Linings Playbook" and a nominee this time around for American Hustle, will be on store shelves Friday with her box-office smash "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" (Lionsgate, $29.95 DVD/digital; $39.99 Blu-ray/DVD/digital).

The successor to the screen "Hunger Games," and the second installment in the trilogy of books by Suzanne Collins, "Catching Fire" was an improvement on the first film, a more intense and grimmer tale. Lawrence once again plays Katniss Everdeen, the plucky winner of the Hunger Games in the tales' dystopian future America; her victory helped make her a rallying point for protesters and revolutionaries, and so has made her a threat to the head of state (Donald Sutherland). Katniss is accordingly sent into another, deadlier round of games -- with not only her fate but that of her followers in the balance.

With a story still in progress, "Catching Fire" ends on a cliffhanger; it may also leave some spectators uncertain about what will happen to a character played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, who has since died.

It's entertaining, but the harrowing presentation might be upsetting to the younger fans of the Collins novels. As I said when the movie was in theaters, there is a difference between reading a description and actually seeing incidents like the brutal killing of a protester or a bloody flogging. So take that PG-13 rating seriously.

The DVD includes audio commentary by director Francis Lawrence and producer Nina Jacobson, deleted scenes, and a peek at the new movie "Divergent," based on another hit book series. Along with those features, the Blu-ray has a making-of documentary.


Also of note this week: "Girl Rising" (Cinedigm, $29.95 DVD), a look at girls in nine other countries (among them Afghanistan and Haiti), with celebrities including Meryl Streep and Kerry Washington providing narration. It has been shown in some theaters and on CNN, and aims to increase awareness of the need for education for girls around the world.


Down video road: "Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues" comes to digital on March 11, DVD and Blu-ray on April 1. The Ben Stiller version of "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" will be on digital on April 1, DVD and Blu-ray on April 15. A Criterion edition of the Western classic "Red River" will be on DVD and Blu-ray on May 27. "The Bletchley Circle: Season 2" will be on DVD and Blu-ray on April 15.


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