The Hunger Games: film vs the book

(I thought I’d published this a month ago but I forgot to, so here it is.)

My name’s Rowan and I’m a middle age fangirl. In the past I have been obsessed with (in no particular order): Buffy the Vampire Slayer, My Little Ponies, L J Smith books, Jem and the Holograms, Veronica Mars, Around the World in 80 days, The Chronicles of Fire and Ice, and most recently the Hunger Games. I devoured the books in a New York minute and was ridiculously excited to see the movie adaption the weekend it opened with my fellow fangirl and our respective other halves. I really enjoyed the film and thought it was pretty amazing. Jennifer Lawrence has some huge shoes to fill by taking on the role of Katniss and boy did she deliver. In short, the film rocked. But was it better than the book? Let’s use science* to find out! It goes without saying but spoilers ahoy!

*completely biased opinion.

The film is better

Jennifer Lawrence

Jennifer Lawrence can act. I mean I knew this from Winter’s Bone but she is amazing as Katniss. It’s a tough role given how much of Katniss emotions are held behind a stoical façade, but the emotional intensity she bought without saying a word. Loved it! Furthermore she’s hardcore. I haven’t been this into a strong heroine since Buffy and Veronica Mars and you know how much I love them. The contrast between her open hostility towards her mother and the sweetness with which she mothers Prim showed you exactly why she would volunteer. In a scene that actually gave me goosebumps.  Girl is going to get an Oscar one day, you can count on it.

District 12 vs the Capitol

The contrast between the downtrodden Appalachian District 12 with its muted colours staffed with Deadwood extras and the vibrant, glossy, modern Rome design of the Capitol was brilliant. I can’t convey how odd characters like Effie Trinket with her bleached brows, oddly coloured wigs and oversized shoulders look in contrast to Peeta and Katniss. It’s a perfect visual representation of the fin di siecle atmosphere of Panem.

That’s my fancy dress costumes sorted for the year now

Although an honorary mention goes to Seneca Crane’s facial hair. It makes me long for perfectly crafted topiary beard of my own. Except that would be weird. Shine on tragic Seneca you crazy diamond. (I digress but it was only in this movie that I truly understood the cleverness of Collin’s allusions to ancient Rome. The director highlighted these parallels with Seneca’s final scene with the bowl full of nightlock berries recalling the end of his poetic namesake. Well played Gary Marshall)

Caesar Flickmann

I love Caesar Flickmann, I love Stanley Tucci. He’s the perfect actor for flashy, vacuous, but very good, at his job talk-show host. I loved the way the film used Caesar and his Mogadashu sidekick  (seriously look at that hair) as expostion bots explaining the tracker jackers, commenting on who had died and the change in the gamekeepers tactic. The book is quite claustrophobic with it’s narrow first person focus on Katniss and although I wished the film had been more in the style of the Truman show, where we see Panem citizens watching the action inside the Hunger Games, I did appreciate the widening of perspective we did get.

District 11 uprising

Which brings me on to the uprising in District 11 as they watch Katniss sing a dying Rue to sleep then cover her dead body in flowers a revolution breaks out. OK, they may have cut out the scene where they send the bread, weep. But it effectively demonstrates how small actions in the arena can have a huge effect.

The sponsor scenes

In the book they seemed the ultimate deux ex machina of authorial intent. Uh-oh Katniss has got hideously wounded send down some medicine from her sponsors/god/me the author 🙂 But I minded it less in the book even if they did omit the scene where Katniss drugs Peeta to attend the feast at the cornucopia, where she can get medicine for him. Girl is cold and that’s why I love her.

The book was better

The ambivalence of Katniss and Peeta’s motivations

If I hadn’t read the books in the film I would assume that Katniss is actually falling for Peeta in the Hunger Games softens Collins satirical attack on reality show romances. I love in the book how mixed up Katniss’ feelings are for Peeta in her need for survival which contrasts completely to what she decides to do in Catching Fire. Also throughout the book she constantly doubts Peeta’s motivations: is he playing her for the cameras? Thereby justifying her actions. There seems no doubt in the film that Peeta loves Katniss, therefore the scene where we discover he has teams up with the Tributes is robbed from its power as we know he’s doing it for her. Unlike in the book where it casts real doubt on whether he was always pretending to love her? Only towards the end of the book do we realise that Peeta truly loves her in contrast to the film where it seems clear all along.  When Katniss reacts to the gamekeepers reversal on two tributes surviving, by drawing her knife of Peeta it makes her a much more complex and dark character than in the film. Effectively showing how much the games has warped her from the girl she was back in district 12

Violence

I reread the books before watching the movie and the descriptions aren’t actually that violent. However, because of the difference in medium your imagination can fill in the gaps in a book in a way it doesn’t do in the film. And my imagination, likes blood and lots of it. Look I get why they made this film an 12 so that it would make more money. But it’s a film about teenagers killing each other for our amusement. I think we need to vicariously get off on the violence but be simultaneously horrified by it to understand the attraction-repulsion felt by the Capitol vs the Districts. The camera style made it incredibly hard to see what was going on in the fight scenes. Also cutting moments like when Peeta defects to the darkside and finishes off the girl that started the fire to show he’s part of the Tributes (and also we later realise to protect Katniss makes him a much darker character in the book).

Haymitch

Sorry Woody Harrelson but book Haymitch with his bitterness and anger at the Capitol is so much better than film Haymitch. I was really sad they moved his entrance in the film to the train and opposed to IMHO in the book where during the drawing ceremony he falls up the steps drunk showing to the world and Katniss and Peeta the complete lack of help they have in the games. In the book the vehement dislike between him and Katniss is great and the way they come to uneasy understanding that are both unlikeable survivors is really strong. Here’s hoping they ramp up the rage for Catching Fire because I know Harrelson can rock that out.

Avox

In the book the Avox are servants in the Capitol who have had their voice box surgically removed so they are mute. Katniss recognises her Avox as a girl she saw on the run in the woods of District 12. They only appear in the background of the film which is a shame as I think they encapsulate that there are worst things than dying in the arena.

The mutts

In the books the mutts are creepy mutations with the faces of dead tributes. The ultimate horror for Peeta and Katniss is that they have to defeat the people they just killed. Like a real life version of those horrible dreams you have when you are trying to kill somebody and they just won’t die. In the book they are ‘magically’ generated creatures. I know the Capitol a monopoly on technology but why couldn’t the dogs have rised from the earth in cages instead of appearing like flickery magical apparitions. It really took me out of the film. Not to mention the effects are awful.

The camera style

The handheld filming style made me want to be sick. I mean, I get it the lack of budget meant that filming around the effects saved a lot of time and money. But before I got used to the filming style I spent the first ten minutes of the film trying not to puke into my popcorn. Not the ideal start.

Result

5 vs 6. You win this time book. But only just.

In short see the Hungers Games and read the book. They’re both brilliant.

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