The Hunger Games is sweeping the nation as the smash hit movie released two weeks ago keeps raking in the dough: 250 million dollars in 10 days means all three books will be translated to film. Hell, that might mean we’ll get 5 or 6 more knowing crazy Hollywood. When I checked my local library to see if I could get a copy of the book to refresh my memory I found out it’d take awhile as there were 148 holds. 148 holds on a book released September 2008!? I didn’t know there were 148 people within a 100 mile radius of me that still read in general these days.
Right in the face Katniss!
My theory of its success is twofold. One, people were already revved up by Twilight and wanted to see the next big love trilogy meets fantasy flick. Two, America and most of the globe are in love with the ultra violence. That isn’t to say nobody likes vampire romance, but I have a suspicion less kissy kissy and more stabby stabby is what the people want.
To be honest, I didn’t see this huge success coming. I read all three books last year and enjoyed them for what they were: Namely science fiction meets young adult. The books aren’t heavy on romance though, and are more about the protagonist trying to survive with absolutely no control of her situation. Of course she’s dealing with trust issues and doesn’t know how to deal with her feelings for the two different guys, but it’s her identity that is most important in the books.
As far as adaptations go the book was translated to film incredibly well. I can’t help but think author of The Hunger Games Suzanne Collins cowriting the script helped.
One surprise though, is that the book utilized a first person narrative through each of all three books, and it was a surprise to see the movies didn’t utilize a voice-over to mimic the book more exactly. Due to this change a lot of little details had to be changed in order to show and not tell. I won’t be nitpicking little details, but these are the major changes I noticed that changed the material, good and bad.
Considering everything below will compare the book and movie you’d be a nitwit to not expect major spoilers below.
Bad: Things they took out.
1. Katniss’ Trust Issues.
Leather typically helps people bond. Oh wait that’s bondage.
This is probably my biggest gripe with the film as the character of Katniss is severely diminished as far as her cocksuredness and the internal conflict she had in the books. One of the main themes in the book was Katniss questioning her own morality and just how easy it was for her to kill the other children. She even reasons she can kill Peeta at one point. This was taken out of the movie, largely through little details, but over the course of the film this change really resonates.
It starts in the opening minute of the game. In the book Katniss thinks she sees Peeta telling her not to run for the bow but she isn’t sure. In the movie it’s very clear he’s warning her. Overtly warning her shows Peeta is on her side, which weakens the twist of him turning on her and joining an alliance.
Later when Katniss is healing Peeta she does it for sponsors, not to make Peeta feel better or because she likes him. The filmmakers seem to be playing up the “will she or won’t she” aspect here when the real issue is about a girl caught up in something bigger than herself and trying to understand it. Instead she’s more of a hero doing what’s right. She actually doesn’t want to kiss him in the book, but forces herself to do so for survival’s sake.
In the book, when the gamemakers change the rules and say there can only be one victor when it’s just Peeta and Katniss, Katniss draws her bow on Peeta in fear of him attacking her. In the movie she completely trusts him. Of course, by taking out all the tension and trust issues spoken to above this makes sense to take out. If not, she’d look like a loon with no prior distrust to back up a fully cocked bow.
2. The Mockingjay pin is acquired differently.
In the book, the pin is acquired as a gift from the District 12 mayor’s daughter. This humanizes the rulers of the district, showing the government may not be as strong as we think. It also allows Katniss to learn the symbolic nature of the Mockingjay which also explains how the government isn’t as strong as some think. The bird was bioengineered to spy on the public but over time the public realized this and used it against the government.
This affects the second book/movie since the mayor and mayors daughter will be more important, but the hints as to the government losing its grip are lost. The meaning of the symbol on all the posters is lost as well.
3. Ultra Violence in great detail.
I found the book to be a lot more violent than the movie. This of course is due to the movie requiring a PG-13 rating which in turn forced all the gore and violence off camera. Is this such a good thing? Considering the human mind can perceive violence a lot more forcibly through visuals I’d say it definitely helps the sanity of the viewer and the children most likely watching. But it takes a very important element out of the series; namely the twisted and disgusting nature of the Capitol. Knowing children are dying and seeing them die for entertainment are two different things. Losing the violence essentially weakens this story element.
Good: Things they took out.
1. No Avox.
Notice the Avox at the top right
I always found the Avox, a name given to folks who tried to escape a district and are horribly mutilated for their crime, as very outlandish and weird. True, this creature is named as if it’s no longer human, and really slams home the inhuman nature of the Capitol and its laws. But this element felt forced to me. They do appear in the movie, albeit in the background waiting on Katniss before she enters the games. More than likely this element will be introduced in later movies anyway. It’s not really necessary in the first movie, considering the sequels will get much more complicated politically.
2. Haymitch is a total drunk.
In the book Haymitch is first introduced on Reaping Day and quickly falls off the stage in a drunken stupor. Later on in the train, the reader never sees him eat, but only drink alcohol. It’s a way to show he is serious about mentoring Peeta and Katniss when he starts to eat and drinks less. But is it really that necessary? In the movie he does drink, but not for long, and never is shown to be a fool. Why introduce a character element that will be negated anyway, especially when you only have 2 hours to get to the point.
3. Peeta’s father doesn’t bring cookies.
Before Katniss is thrown on a train and sent to the Capitol she gets to say goodbye to a few folks. In the movie that’s her mom, sister, and Gale. In the book, Peeta’s father also makes an appearance offering her some cookies and wishing her good luck. This always irked me, namely because his own son is in the games. How dare you give someone else extra energy, cookies, to help kill your own son. Katniss does end up tossing her cookies, hehe, and it’s a detail that didn’t need to be there. If it was left in the movie, people might start thinking Peeta is a little special or not worth living.
4. Mutant Hounds.
They look something like this
In the book mutant dogs are released on the remaining challengers with the eyes of past tributes. Oh, and they can walk upright. Say what? Talk about a Michael Bay element. This gave me pause, as if Suzanne Collins wanted some extra baddy at the end ala Saturday morning cartoons. It definitely adds an additional twisted and sick element to the thinking process of the gamemaker and the Capitol, but it’s otherwise a silly idea. Would viewers at home watching the games on live television even realize the eyes were from dead tributes? Weird.
Bad: Things they added:
1. Gamekeeper war room scenes.
Star-date 1456…oh wait wrong movie
Totally understandable addition, considering a movie needs an obvious villain or viewers will get wonky fast. Unfortunately this takes a lot of the fear of the unknown out of Katniss surviving the games and gives the viewer a safer feeling. In the book, Katniss typically only guesses at what is going on, and again this is due to the first person perspective, but that lends to the reader being more fearful. The movie implements shaky camera techniques for a reason; to keep the viewer off kilter and make us think it’s real. Well, cutting to a war room with a super awesome hologram table doesn’t do that.
2. Parachute gifts have notes.
In the book a sponsor’s gift was given with no message. The movie adds a nice little Chinese cookie message. An obvious addition to translate what exactly the gift is for to moviegoers. Sadly this takes a clever element out of the movie. The gifts were treated almost like riddles as Katniss had to figure out why the gift came, or what Haymitch meant by giving the gift at the time she received it. It allows the reader and Katniss to discover something together. I do think they could have kept this element, they’d just need Katniss to speak allowed, ala Robert Downey Jr. in Sherlock Holmes.
3. District 11 doesn’t give any bread.
In the book, after Rue dies, District 11 bands together and sends Katniss some bread, even though the gift was obviously expensive so late in the game. It showed a solidarity of districts that was lost from the movie. True, you get some of that after Thresh spares Katniss, but to get a gift from a District that isn’t your own is huge and the reader learns its the firs time it ever happened. This is the first sign of the political machinations moving in the direction of the next two books.
Good things they added.
1. “Hope” scene between gamemaker and President Snow.
In the movie, President Snow explains to the gamemaker his thoughts on withholding hope from the people. In the books it’s not clear Snow is a real villain until much later. Considering the Capitol needs a face to hate, this makes perfect sense to be in the film.
2. District 11 revolts.
This is another element you learn about in the sequels, but it fits well in the movie. Without it no real change would be felt across districts and it lets the viewer know Katniss is already changing the landscape. It doesn’t replace the omission of the bread gift, but it’s something.
3. We get to see Gale watch Katniss on TV.
In the book, Gale is seen before Katniss leaves for the games and then disappears from the book entirely. The shots of him watching Katniss keep him pertinent in the movie right till the end. In the books it was as if Suzanne Collins forgot about him, weakening his purpose. Of course this can only be done in third person and I’d imagine Collins would have had more Gale if she wasn’t bound by the first person perspective in the books.
4. The gamemaker gets his due.
This element is learned in book 2, but to be added in the movie is a big help in understanding the stakes. Without it, the viewer would just assume the game was over and nothing really changed. The addition of the berries is a nice way of showing how evil President Snow is too.
If you add up the good versus the bad above you get:
So did I like it?
Ultimately I was a little disappointed with the film because they didn’t do a lot to convert this into the visual format. There are many details they had to switch around to get the film to be a third person narrative, but I was hoping for more changes to the source material. Obviously they can’t do this or 12 year old girls will have the producers heads, but after reading the series I felt like it was an okay series that could have been improved upon. I was expecting The Hunger Games 2.0 and the film ended up being a very close representation of the book minus much of the internal conflict Katniss goes through. Instead of a conflicted character with a world on her shoulders she falls into the stereotypical heroes journey. It makes the movie a bit flat in comparison to the books.
Want to see the differences for yourself? Get The Hunger Games on Blu-ray, DVD, or Paperback from Amazon.