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Page to Screen: The Hunger Games
Released in 2012, The Hunger Games film is largely regarded as one of the most successful female-dominated young adult movies at this time. Directed by Gary Ross, it presents the same story as Suzanne Collins (which makes sense as she was one of the screenwriters) with only minute changes with a different perspective more fitting to a cinematic audience. As a graphic representation of the original story, it gets to boast extremely strong visuals. It has a strong cast featuring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcheson, Liam Hemsworth, Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Lenny Kravitz, and many more.
Also, for some reason people were upset when a black-skinned girl was to play Rue, who comes from a district of darker skin individuals. That whole mess was silly.
Suzanne Collins' critically acclaimed novel is set in a dystopia, a world recovered from some kind of nuclear fallout where there is a central district and a number of subjugated others that largely support it. This was called Panem and the central district is the Capitol. In order to prevent civil wars from occurring, the Capitol hosts the Hunger Games where every district must offer up young adults and children to compete in a large scale death match for rewards and pride. The main character, Katniss Everdeen, volunteers to take her younger sister's place and experiences firsthand the cruelty of the arena as she begins to understand the Hunger Games themselves.
Differences in the Adaptation
It's definitely the most obvious change. Katniss Everdeen was a limited first-person persective in the novel and in the film adaptation it became third-person. While not truly changing the story, it offers new perspectives to both readers and non-readers alike. It also greatly limits a lot of Katniss's perspective, however. When trapped in a wilderness avoiding other people trying to kill you, much of the story is told in her mind and not out loud. To her credit, Jennifer Lawrence does a very strong job in demonstrating her thoughts through facial expressions. As a reader, I recognized a lot of her thoughts from the page. However, some new viewers might have missed the nuances of her impressions leaving the film and other actors to create the reality for this audience.
There's also a substantial change in this for the character of Katniss Everdeen. In the novel and film, she demonstrates few emotions aside form caring for her sister (and largely disregarding her mother), self-preservation, and guilt. These three emotions are what constructs her character and the latter two, especially in later works, turn her into a rather unlikable character (demonstrated in her saving Peeta only because Peeta saved her, as well as drawing her bow on Peeta immediately following the change of rule dictating only 1 can be crowned the winner). It can sometimes be hard distinguishing Jennifer Lawrence ('the celebrity who's just like us') from this iconic role which can give a very different impression to those who read the novel before watching the film.
Possibly one of the more disappointing moments of the film, the 'finale' of the Hunger Game released wolf-like mutations in the novel. These creatures were capable of walking on their hind two legs and jumping incredibly high. Furthermore, they were genetically designed to bear similarities to several fallen Tributes and Katniss even wonders if they simply didn't remove the eyes of her fallen competitors. In this writer's honest comment, I could have sworn they had released werewolves upon the group.
What we get in the film are large, hairless mastiffs. They're quite incapable of walking on two legs or leaping very high. In the face, they look just like angry dogs, not fallen Tributes. However, there's likely a representation reason for this as books are given the advantage of lightly describing an image while a film largely has to frame, set, and design every facet of the same image. It's likely that the graphic artists found it exceedingly difficult to create an image that everyone agreed on, resulting in a compromise with the underwhelming muttations at the end.
Dumbing Down the Violence
It's obvious why a lot of the violence isn't shown in the film (I'd argue that it would bring the film to a R-rating, which would drastically deplete its suitable audience). Still, as the book's main focus is about the horror that such a government could inflict (as Katniss is largely only a tool in the ongoing conflict), it becomes somewhat strained to appeal to its primary audience of young adult females. Peeta is sliced to the bone, Clove has her skull bashed in by Thresh with a rock, Marvel (Rue's killer) is shot in the neck where he suffocates instead of a quick kill to the heart, and Katniss leaves the spear inside Rue so that when her body is reclaimed, no one else can use the weapon. It's a brutal theme that permeates the book but it becomes diluted in its reach to achieve a wider audience.
Woody Harrelson's character is portrayed considerably much lighter in the film than in the books. In the film, you get the impression he's a bit of a drunk but he could ditch that habit at any time (which, as far as we can see, he does). In the book, it's far worse. He falls off the stage during the Reaping, spews and falls in his own vomit while watching previously recorded games, and is a huge embarrassment. It takes a lot of work on both sides for Haymitch to do anything useful for the District 12 Tributes.
The Avox Girl
There is absolutely no reference to her character in the film whatsoever. In fact, those who only watch the film have no idea what an 'Avox' is or that it exists in this world. Still, the character was largely just another contributer showing how terrible the Capitol is. In the film, there were quiet hints (Avoxes standing in the background, Katniss making a remark about losing their tongues) that go relatively unnoticed unless you read the book.
Katniss's Days of Dehydration
It's actually probably best that this isn't included in the film. True to the subtitle, Katniss spends a remarkable amount of time during the Game alone, searching for water, as her body is racked by the experience. While long stretches of Jennifer Lawrence in pain probably isn't suitable for entertainment, the movie adaptation felt almost as if Katniss wandered away from the bloodbath and found a creek immediately, which negates the hardship the book version of the character experienced.
Trailer for the Film
Largely, I would say this film was written primarily with the book audience in mind. While the story is understood without the book, there are many subtitles explained in the book that are merely hinted at in the film. One can appreciate the film much more after having read the book.
That being said, the film really brings alive much of the scenery described in the book. It makes itself a wonderful visual treat for the readers while providing some bonus scenes including those done by the talent Donald Sutherland. It does the original story justice as well and cuts out stuff that isn't as integral to the overarching story. All in all, it's a strong adaptation of its original source that might have done better in attracting new fans to the series from those who haven't read the books.
Book vs. Movie
For those of you who read the book and watched the movie, what did you prefer?
© 2014 Travis Wood