Book vs. Film – The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games (2008) by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games (2012) by Gary Ross

It’s been awhile since I read the book and I read it in two days – the following two days I read the second book. Which is to say that my memory of these four days that happened sometime last August are vague at best. Also, these four days immediately followed me writing my bachelor thesis… wow, I just remembered that. I am amazed that I  remember reading The Hunger Games at all.

I loved the book – the first one, that is. It is well-paced, it is exciting, it is captivating. Katniss Everdeen is not a likely hero, sometimes she is not even likable. But she is practical, and I think this is one of her best characteristics. It is what makes her effective, leave it to Peeta to be likable.

The story is not simple: Thirteen districts fought against the Capital in a war  about 74 years ago and they lost. That is why “The Hunger Games” were invented. Each district – except 13, because 13 has been wiped off the map – sacrifices 2 of their children to these games where only one will survive. A cruel concept, kids killing each other off and this concept works much better in the book than it does in the movie.

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) from District 12 volunteers to participate after her sister Prim has been chosen. She and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), a baker’s son, travel to the games. Katniss makes an impression with the judges when she shoots an arrow at a roasted pig they are about to eat while she is performing. She is considered to be a strong fighter but also a high risk by President Snow who fears an uprising of the 12 districts.

And he is right: Katniss’ behavior in the arena defies standards. She becomes a recognizable face who cares for others. She becomes the underdog everybody loves – including Peeta who has been in love with her since forever. It is this love that sponsors and audience crave and the organizers of the games use it to their advantage. But in the end it is Katniss who challenges everybody and wins – but the price for this victory might be high.

The movie follows the same storyline. Katniss Everdeen has been well cast with Jennifer Lawrence. The fighting is amazing, the supporting cast is great with young and older actors/actresses that show great performances. Still, I did not enjoy the movie half as much as those two dazed days I read the book.

Of course, there is always the premise that the book is considered better, more elaborate. The story has more space to reveal itself, we learn more about the characters, a new world opens infront of our eyes. But it is not only these undeniable truths that pretty much work for every literary adaptation. I felt that the movie lacked a lot of the warmth the book holds. Katniss is a loving person, even though she is not the most show-y when it comes to affections. She cares deeply. The movie shows very little of this. It seems the movie makers readily sacrifice the warmth of the book for the Twilight-look, as I would like to call it. Well, with vampires this might work but The Hunger Games is about human beings – even though some of them have a twisted sense as to the definition of entertainment.

A lot of the coldness of the movie derives from the sterile settings. From the book, I had the sense that everything in the Capital would be luscious, overly plushy, kitschy. But many of the settings were bare. The scenes in the training area are especially disappointing, metallic, and, yes, cold.

This, of course, does not a bad movie make. I am usually not someone who builds too many expectations but I was still disappointed. The movie in all was entertaining but not something out of the ordinary. The best aspects were the great cast, and seeing some of the more memorable scenes of the book unfold – though the whole storyline with Rue (Amandla Stenberg) was… again, disappointing.

I have already mentioned that the aspect of kids or young adults killing each other is more difficult to put into a movie than a book. Although the book was quite graphic, it was not visual. The killing of that small curly-haired boy (was he from District 5?), for example, was gruesome. The premise of The Hunger Games is, of course, this same cruelty, the unfairness, the paralysis of the parents but actually seeing these young people killing others their age (and some of them even enjoying it) is disturbing, especially considering that many among the audience are the same age as the youngest that are being killed here. I am not exactly a prude when it comes to violence in the movies (horror after all, is one of my favorite genres) but this was harsh… maybe because it felt real.

The love triangle is certainly something I could have done without – book and movie. Considering the book, I always hoped that the girl who gave Katniss the mokingjay-pin would reappear (she was the mayor’s daughter but I don’t remember her name) and I totally would have shipped them. But she was cut from the movie (which made for an awkward mokingjay-pin exchange with Prim as a token that was not really a lucky charm). Just like in the book, I found movie-Gail much more appealing than movie-Peeta, so, I guess, you can put me down for Team Gail (Liam Hemsworth).

On the whole, the movie was okay, entertaining, with a great cast. But make no mistake – the book was AWESOME.

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