Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Hunger Games: Book vs. Movie

**Warning: This post contains spoilers about both the book and movie adaptation of The Hunger Games! Proceed with caution!**

We say it so often that it's become a cliche: "I enjoyed the movie, but the book was so much better!"

Although books and movies each have their own set of pros and cons, we can't help but be disappointed when we feel that the movie adaptation of a beloved book fails to live up to our expectations (though that rarely stops us from excitedly buying tickets to the movie anyway!).

Suzanne Collins' hit series The Hunger Games is perhaps the best loved young adult series this side of Twilight. The film adaptation of the first in the series broke records this weekend, raking in over $150 million dollars in the United States. Below, I break down the differences between the book and the movie to show each medium's advantages and disadvantages. Once again, this post is rife with spoilers!

Life in District 12

Book: Collins spends a significant portion of the first third of the book detailing the coal-rich, impoverished district that is Katniss Everdeen's home. The griminess and starvation of the majority of the residents is palpable on the page, and Collins takes her time describing Katniss' daily life: her relationship with her mother and sister, her friendship with fellow hunter Gale, her illicit trading at The Hob, and the differences between the wealthier residents of District 12 and the starving poor.

Movie: The film envisions District 12 as similar to Depression Era United States: women in plain, practical dresses, men going off the coal mine, etc. And although the film conveys the poverty of District 12, I didn't get the sense of absolute desperation that I got from the books--the fact that an illness or injury that leaves you unable to work might mean imminent starvation for your entire family. Seeing District 12 onscreen was thrilling, no doubt, but it was surely whitewashed from the horrors conjured up by Collins.

Point: Book

Katniss' Thoughts and Psychological Process

Book: The book is written from Katniss' point of view, which gives the reader plenty of insight into her thoughts and feelings. We see everything from her growing anger at The Capitol over the indignity of the Games, to her mixed feelings toward Peeta. In the book, for example, Katniss believes Peeta's romantic feelings for her are entirely a strategy for winning sponsors and thus, the Games. Her feelings toward Peeta change and evolve over the book, ranging from annoyance, to distrust, to betrayal, to affection.

Movie: The filmmakers wisely stay away from using voice overs (I am not a fan of voice overs in movies generally) to convey Katniss' thoughts. Instead, the movie focuses on action and plot points, rather than Katniss' psychological state at any given moment. This definitely takes something away from the emotional experience of reading the books and seeing Katniss transform. However, Jennifer Lawrence, who plays Katniss in the movie, does an excellent job of conveying terror, suspicion, and in some cases, love (especially for little Rue).

Point: Book, although the film is definitely helped by Lawrence's excellent performance.

Secondary Characters

Book: Although Katniss and Peeta are the main characters, Collins' novel is filled with colorful (literally!) supporting characters, such as drunken mentor Haymitch Abernathy, perky District 12 escort Effie Trinket, and TV personality Caesar Flickerman. The supporting characters often provide comic relief in the book, and either serve as mentors and helpers to Katniss, or, in the case of the other Tributes, adversaries.

Movie: This is one area where the movie really succeeded. The supporting characters in the film adaptation are perfectly cast and light up the screen. I was especially impressed by Stanley Tucci's performance as the gregarious Caesar Flickerman and Lenny Kravitz's (yes, him!) performance as Katniss' wonderful, warm stylist Cinna. The supporting characters are excellent foils to Katniss and Peeta (who, being from District 12 and in constant danger of dying during the Games, are often introverted and grave). They bring humor, color, and fun to an otherwise (understandably) grim tale.

Point: Movie

The Actual Hunger Games 

Book: One thing the book dwells on is how hungry and thirsty Katniss is and how much time she spends looking for food during the Games. This detail is taken for granted in the film, which focuses on more exciting (and violent) action sequences. But the suffering Katniss endures during the Games is so much more intense in the books. Additionally, the descriptions of the terrifying obstacles the Gamemakers place in the Games, such as the Tracker Jacker wasps and the Muttations at the very end are so much scarier in the book than on the silver screen.

Movie: The film faithfully adapts all the major deaths and occurrences from the Hunger Games, from Rue's death to Katniss blowing up the other Tributes' food. But even on the big screen the terror and excitement I felt while reading the book was never fully replicated. This is especially true at the end when Katniss, Peeta, and Cato are chased by the Muttations. In the book, these werewolf-like creatures are genetically engineered to resemble the fallen Tributes, making the attack all the more psychologically horrifying. In the film, they're still scary, but not quite to the same extent.

Point: Book

Take away: The Hunger Games movie is a great film and is very faithful to Collins' novel. I will definitely see the second and third movies when they come out and am looking forward to seeing Katniss' budding revolutionary tendencies and love triangle with Gale and Peeta unfold on the big screen. However, there is no substitute for the power of imagination while reading a novel. On the page, everything was more intense: sadder, gorier, grimier, scarier, more emotional. While the film is entertaining and fun, Collins' dystopic novel (the first in a trilogy) is the far more satisfying pop culture snack.

Find the books at Vise Library!

The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay are all available in our Juvenile Collection. Ask a librarian to help you find them!

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