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Reasons the Hunger Games Movie Can't Capture the Essence of the Novel

Updated on February 27, 2014
Fans know that the book is better than the movie, but what makes the difference?
Fans know that the book is better than the movie, but what makes the difference? | Source

This page contains Hunger Games spoilers. Continue reading at your own risk. If you do not wish to view spoilers for the movie or book, please turn back now.

You Hear it All the Time: "The Book was Better than the Movie!"

Readers say it all the time, and movie watchers often groan as a result of hearing the same thing, over and over again about every book that was ever made into a movie: "The book was better than the movie!" This is true in most cases, but is especially true of The Hunger Games book and movie. Why is the movie so ineffective at capturing the real horror of the novel?

Well, the answer to that is brief and simple: The action in the movie cannot truly illustrate the experience of being in the arena the way that the book's use of first person can. Any time a movie is made from a first person novel, it carries the risk that the movie will not be able to adequately translate the content from the page onto the screen. For those who have extensively read books and watched the movies based on them, this is obvious. Moves are two dimensional and lack emotion: Books allow you to feel as though you're in the story with the main character.

Additionally, movies often change things from books, either adding or subtracting important elements from the book in order to make the film more effective. Fans of the book were initially in an uproar about the absence of Madge Undersee from the film, for example (and the same with Uriah from the Divergent movie).

The problems with The Hunger Games movie go beyond these simple truths, however. Read on to find out more.


First Person Narrative Captures the Voice of the Character

Any time a novel is written in first person, it captures the voice of the main character of the story. This is surely the case with The Hunger Games. Katniss's voice is strong and her characterization is very clear for those thorough readers who dig deep into her personality. One cannot claim that she is a wonderful person who acts selflessly in surrendering her life for her sister, but it's also clear in the book, reading in Katniss's voice, that she has a good, if defeated, heart.

Moreover, the novel allows the reader to follow through the development of Katniss's personality as she develops and changes through the course of the story. Because so many of these changes are deeply emotional, they cannot be adequately reflected in the costuming and acting in the movie. Actors and producers can do a lot, but it will never hold a candle to what an author can do to make a story really pop.

The Development of Relationships

Katniss's character is developed and defined through the relationships that we experience through reading her thoughts. In order to get the full scope of her personality, we must understand Katniss's relationships with the people around her. In part because the movie leaves characters out (such as Madge Undersee) and in part because it lacks the strength of a first-person narrative, it fails to illustrate the relationships that Katniss has with the people in her life. Additionally, in gallops along too quickly in its demonstration of the relationship between Katniss and Gale as well as between Katniss and her mother.

Without these relationships, Katniss's character can't fully develop and the full reality of the horror inflicted by the Hunger Games cannot be completely understood. While the movie is amazing, it isn't a substitute for reading the book. To capture the full essence of the effect the games have on the people of Panem, one must reach into the relationships and the mind of its main character.

Buttercup, Prim's cat, is a significant part of the story, but is left out of the movie. Not entirely, of course, as he is depicted as a mangy black and white cat in the beginning of The Hunger Games but is otherwise ignored from the movie's story.
Buttercup, Prim's cat, is a significant part of the story, but is left out of the movie. Not entirely, of course, as he is depicted as a mangy black and white cat in the beginning of The Hunger Games but is otherwise ignored from the movie's story. | Source

What's Up, Buttercup?

In the movie, not much is up with Buttercup at all, as he's mostly left out of the film adaptation of the story. For those who have not read the book, you may not even know that Buttercup is Prim's pet cat, an orange tabby that followed Katniss home to beg for her scraps from her game bag. Prim took a liking to the cat and took him in, though Katniss has repeatedly threatened to cook and eat him, since in her mind animals are only good for food.

Prim's compassion shines through with her pleading the case for keeping Buttercup as a pet. While we can see Prim's loving nature throughout her interactions in the movie, her relationship with the cat becomes key in the end of the series, with Mockingjay and it is disappointing to see that this has been absent from the movie.

Buttercup's absence will likely affect fans the most in the ending of the final movie in the series (Mockingjay, Part 2).

Lady, Prim's goat, is also strikingly absent from the movie.
Lady, Prim's goat, is also strikingly absent from the movie. | Source

While We're on the Subject of Pets, Where is Lady, Prim's Goat?

In the book, Prim's goat, Lady, plays a powerful role in keeping the family alive. She is an additional illustration of the way that Katniss views animals: Lady serves the purpose of providing cheese for the family to eat and additionally she allows Prim to sell the cheese for hard cash.

This seemingly insignificant creature helps the reader to understand the poverty of the Everdeen family and the extents that they must go in order to survive. While the movie provides some understanding by illustrating Katniss and Gale hunting in the woods, it fails to fully define what it is to live in the poverty of District Twelve.

To add to this (in brief), the movie also struggles to show the viewer that there are varying classes in District Twelve. For example, Mrs. Everdeen was born to the merchant class but left it to marry her husband. Peeta's family continue to be part of the merchant class, while the Everdeen family is part of the servant (mining) class.

The full horror of the Reaping cannot be fully illustrated in the movie.
The full horror of the Reaping cannot be fully illustrated in the movie. | Source

Nobody in the districts is safe from the Reaping, not even the children of the district mayors.

The Full Horror and Meaning of the Reaping Cannot be Realized without Defining Social Classes

In the book, the social classes are easily distinguished from one another. Readers understand that the Capitol is the highest class of people in Panem, while the districts are below the Capitol. Though it is never fully outlined, there are three segments within the districts as well: The Upper districts, the Middle districts and the Lower districts. The Upper districts include districts 1-4 (where the careers come from, in districts 1, 2 and 4 -- though the movie says only 1 and 2), the middle districts include districts 5-8 and the Lower districts include districts 9-12. Districts 1-4 are considered relatively wealthy, districts 5-8 are the middle class of Panem, and districts 9-12 are the poor districts of Panem.

This is, in and of itself, significant, but it is poorly illustrated in the movie. Furthermore, each of these districts contains classes of people. The merchant class is more well-to-do than the servant class. Each district has both a merchant and a servant class (of sorts). For example, the best people of District 2 often become Peacekeepers.

So what about this makes the Reaping so significant? Even the mayor's daughter, Madge, had her name in the reaping ball.

"How many times is your name in today?"

"Forty-Two. I guess the odds aren't really in my favor."

What is Tesserae?

If you haven't read the books, you probably don't understand what Tesserae is. The process isn't exactly simple, but here is an explanation:

Each person in the districts has their name placed into the reaping ball once for every year they are eligible for Reaping. Children are eligible from the time that they turn 12 years old, so a 12 year old would have her name in the Reaping ball once, while a 16 year old would have her name in the reaping ball five times and an eighteen year old would have his name in the reaping ball seven times.

This is relatively simple, without tesserae. When Katniss asks Gale how many times his name is in the reaping ball this year, she's asking him how much tesserae he's had to take out.

Tesserae is an allowance of grain and oil for a single person as part of a family, which helps to feed that family. Children between the ages of 12 and 18 may purchase tesserae for their families, at the cost of putting their name into the reaping ball additional times. One allowance of tesserae may be taken per family member every year. Each allowance puts your name into the reaping ball one more time per year of eligibility.

Katniss is sixteen, and she has three family members. Her name is in the reaping ball 5 times to start with because of her age. However, she has taken tesserae for her family -- mother, sister and herself. This means that her name is in the reaping ball an additional three times for every year. When she was 12, therefore, her name was in the reaping ball 4 times. When she was 13 her name was in the reaping ball eight times. When she was 14, her name was in the reaping ball twelve times. When she was fifteen, her name was in the reaping ball sixteen times. This year her name will be in the reaping ball twenty-four times.

The government uses poverty to take advantage of its children in the districts, and in so doing punishes their parents.


The Significance of the Hovercraft Seen in the Forest Scene in the Movie

Early in the movie adaptation of The Hunger Games, a hovercraft flies overhead, causing Katniss and Gale to crouch out of sight. Though it isn't exactly covered in the movie, they aren't supposed to be outside the fence, which would normally be electrified. Because District 12 is so poor, however, electricity doesn't always flow through the fence, and Katniss and Gale are able to make their way outside of it into the forest, which is forbidden to them.

This hovercraft has additional significance, however. On a previous occasion, Katniss and Gale witnessed a girl and a boy running for their lives through the woods when a hovercraft shot and killed the boy and captured the girl. Later in the book, Katniss and Peeta encounter the girl as an Avox (a Capitol servant whose tongue has been cut out).

Without illustrating this horror, the scene fails to make sense and should probably have been cut from the movie.

The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games, Book 1)
The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games, Book 1)

If you haven't read the book, but have seen the movie, you should be able to follow this article but you've been missing out on so much! Purchase the book on Amazon to read it and catch up on what's missing!


Whenever possible, I suggest books in hard back. You can use the link to navigate to the Kindle or Paperback versions of the book, but I personally believe that this novel is worth owning in hard cover. I own it in hard cover, paperback and in Kindle.

The Key to the True Horror of the Capitol is the Muttations

The movie loses the effect of the muttations, in part because it doesn't explain what they are. At the ending of the book, Katniss, Peeta and Cato must ward off a group of twenty-one canine muttations which are threatening their lives. Cato is pushed off of the cornucopia to fall to the ground, where he is dragged inside the opening and tormented by these dogs. It isn't the dogs that kill him in the end, however, but Katniss, who must shoot her opponent with an arrow in order to put him out of his misery. (Clearly this is also a change the movie made from the book).

What is missing? Though it's obvious that the movie attempted to illustrate this, the muttations were created from the dead tributes once they were air lifted out of the arena. Katniss and Peeta must view the eyes of the people they have killed or who have otherwise been killed (with Rue and Marvel being two of the most tragic) as they fight them off and attempt to kill them again.

This entire scene is butchered in the movie, and you must read the novel in order to get the full effect of this experience.

The Movies Muttations Scene

Does the movie lose too much from the book?

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The Movie is Excellent in its Own Right, but Can't Hold a Candle to the Book

Clearly this is a personal opinion, but I feel that the movie, while excellent, couldn't hold a candle to the book. The Hunger Games is intense, emotional and horrific. Many dystopian stories can be considered "horror" and this book surely fits the bill. The movie, however, fails to be truly terrifying because it leaves out too many key elements.

What did you think? Did the movie hold up to the book? Was the acting enough to make up for it? Would you have done something differently? If so, what? Feel free to answer the poll to the right and to discuss your thoughts in the comments, below. I'd love to hear your thoughts!

© 2014 Becki Rizzuti


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