Reel Talk in the Pages is a feature done by my Bookish Boyfriend Max, in which he critically compares a popular work of fiction to it’s film counterpart. Being rather new to the YA world, Max finally read The Hunger Games this past year, and now having seen all of the movies, has quite a lot to say.
Well, here I am Mr. Johnny Come Lately. I know I know. The phenom has passed. All of the films of the Hunger Games series are finished and either on the big screen or on Blu Ray. And here I am just reading the FIRST ONE?! Yes indeed, ladies and germs. Yes indeed. I must have looked a sight reading this one on the subway. Man, look at this guy. 2012 called and it wants its cultural phenomenon back. OK OK I’m done. But seriously, I love arriving late, long after the hype train has left the station to pick over the remnants and see what real substance is left behind. So here we are on the dawn of 2016 with me making my opinions known on the novel and film The Hunger Games. So without further ado, let’s get these reels rollin’.
For the sake of brevity I will assume that anyone reading this has read and seen the films of these 4 pieces of fiction and will warn you from now on I WILL BE SPOILING EVERYTHING IN THESE PIECES OF FICTION.
Book vs. Movie, Scene by Scene
Scene 1: The Beginning/World Building.
Book: The novel sets a dark tone from the very beginning, painting the portrait of a bleak world in which the oppressed people of the world are brutally watched over by a totalitarian state. Our hero, Katniss Everdeen, is revealed as someone who breaks just enough rules to survive in a brutal and unforgiving world and (believably) only really thinks of keeping herself and her (small) family alive. She mostly only cares about her sister and her hunting partner, Gale, and kind of her mother on days she’s feeling generous. Verdict: Good beginning. I was impressed and really enjoyed seeing the world through Katniss’ eyes.
Film: Actually pretty well reproduced version of the events outlined in the book. You are shown the dilapidated buildings, starvation, and run down miners shuffling along to another long day in the pits of hell. Most of the actors give great performances, except at this point in the film I was left feeling that Jennifer Lawrences’ delivery came off as flat. Then I remembered that Katniss has a pretty flat affect when speaking and decided that the performance was actually pretty faithful to the character. It’s just weird to see someone with almost no charisma. Verdict: Pretty well done. A little silly that Katniss bought the pin for Prim. Otherwise, not a bad start.
Scene 2: The Reaping/Journey to the Capitol.
Book: We get a real sense of how terrible the reaping is and how everyone lives in constant fear. There’s some great black humor between herself and Gale during and before that I don’t believe could have been translated. Katniss’ inner monologue as Prim is called and her subsequent action as volunteering as tribute has great emotional weight. The sequence in which she says goodbye to anyone was the highlight of this part of the book for me. I liked how she didn’t realize how many people actually cared about her until she was being shipped out. In brief, I liked the train sequence a lot. It set up her conflicted feelings for Peeta and Effie and Haymitch/ the whole dynamic between them is a delight. Seeing the start of the uneasy quasi partnership between her and Peeta was also a well done scene.
Film: Both of these scenes were disappointing to me. Aside from the obvious missing internal dialogue was just a lack of the same punch that the novel has. The scene in which she tells her mother not to abandon Prim “again” is given very little narrative context in the film until one scene (that is later in the film) so Katniss comes off as needlessly cruel. The exclusion of Madge and Peeta’s father was also disappointing for me as those two packed some emotional weight for both the reader and Katniss. The train sequence also fell a bit flat for me aside from the wonderful performance of Woody Harrleson, who plays a great interpretation of Haymitch in every scene he is in. My eyes just about rolled out of my skull when all the people gave Katniss the little death salute when she volunteered (you know, the one you are given no context of within the film and would have to have read the book to know what it is)
Scene 3: The Training Center/Games Prep/ The Capitol in General
Book: Some great world building gets done in these scenes as well as really getting to know our main cast of characters. Katniss has a lot of her dreams in this whole sequence which build up her past, and her conversations with Peeta develop that relationship a little bit. The training center scenes are especially good as we get a chance to see how the tributes size each other up. The scene in which Katniss shoots the apple and the Caeser Flickerman interviews are highlights for me, as they really give us some introspection into Katniss as a character. I also really really loved Cinna and the rest of Katniss’ prep team. They were great characters in the books and the way Katniss comes to like Cinna is a pretty important piece of her character development.
Film: More disappointments all around. The training center sequence was rushed and I didn’t really get the same sense of development from it. I also had a really hard time taking Josh Hutcherson seriously at any point in this part of the film. To me, having rewatched this film so closely after finishing the books, I couldn’t believe him as Peeta, whom I had come to like by the end of the first book. The idea that he can hurl 100 pounds, to me, is hilarious in this movie. That and the sequences in which he and Katniss talk and the scene in which Peeta gets interviewed (and Katniss’ assault of him afterwards) came off as completely forced. As the film went on I could see that there was no real passion between the two leads, and this early in the film it was already a problem. For me Stanley Tucci’s Caesar Flickerman is a real highlight. He really brought that character to life and gives a great performance. Lenny Kravitz’ Cinna was also fun, but he didn’t do much and his “friendship” with Katniss is given a lot less context.
Scene 4: The Games
Book: The games in the book were very well done. We get a sense of the hopelessness it invites and the struggles each of the participants go through. More importantly though, you actually don’t really see much of the tasty murders. “Max” I hear you say, “You liked that you saw LESS action in a book? Surely you kid.” Most times if you said this statement, you would be 100% correct. But honestly, I think that the lighter hand that Collins took in this sequence is just what the narrative needed. You get much needed character and relationship development. You get to see how Katniss thinks and reacts. What her true colors are, and exactly how much she will do to get the job done. Highlight of the games for me is, of course, the death of Rue. You really get a sense that Katniss came to care for this person and losing her so quickly after realizing this really squeezed a lot of the remaining hope out of her. It is implied that in watching Rue die she got a horrifying look at losing her sister, the one person which she unequivocally cares about in her world. An excellently done scene.
Film: The set up was decent. I didn’t really like the presentation of one gamemaker, Seneca Crane, as a kind of supreme deity of the games. While I did like Wes Bentley’s performance and the scenes with him in them, it just didn’t feel as authentic. As for the games themselves, they were okay. I like and dislike how you see things that are happening outside of the games as they are happening. The sequence in district eleven was clearly put in to set up things for the next film, which was fine with me. The reactions of Gale were a little hilarious to me as I didn’t believe the performance within a performance that Katniss (Lawrence) and Peeta (Hutcherson) were giving in the arena for one second. If I was a sponsor I wouldn’t have given them one dime. Doomed love? Please. Lawrence and Hutcherson have no chemistry. It hurt these scenes. The moments of violence also fell a little flat for me. The Rue death scene happened so quickly it’s hard to digest it and truly feel the weight and Kato as a character came off as kind of a hilarious jock so it was pretty stupid when they give him the couple of weak lines to try to humanize him. Why humanize someone at that point? The ending of the games was poorly handled. Probably my least favorite part of the film
Scene 5: The Ending
Book: Again, we get some great moments here. For me the best scenes were the closing interviews with Caesar and Katniss’ confession to Peeta as they were going home. We also get a great setup to the second book with the terrifying presence of President Snow and Haymitch’s warning to Katniss about how bad her situation really is. The book closing left me hungry for more so hopefully I will be able to pick up Catching Fire soon.
Film: A decent ending mostly driven by strong performances by key members of the cast. Donald Sutherland’s President Snow has some great moments here and the whole Seneca Crane de facto execution was very well done. The viewer gets a real sense that this story is not over and a good setup for the next film.
Overall Retrospective Review:
Book: Four Stars: A great piece of fiction that deserves to be praised. It is well written, goes at a good clip and has some emotional ups and downs and my much beloved character development. We see a young woman lose what little innocence she may have had and the beginnings of something big to come. It could stand on its own, but when I finished it I definitely felt excited that there were 2 more to go. All that being said there are parts that drag and sometimes Katniss feels a little too flat so it’s hard to really identify with her as a person.
Film: Four Stars: A pretty faithfully done retelling of a good story. The film did skip over some (relatively) unimportant details and also gives you a view into what’s coming next, but overall a very well done adaptation of the source material. The effects are already getting a little bit dated and some things were definitely for the movie moments. (Kado and his stupid little speech.) In any case I’d give it a thumbs up.
And there you have it folks. Feel free to let me know your thoughts in the comments below.
About the Reviewer
Max is a twenty-something recent psychology grad, avid gamer, and self-proclaimed Hufflepuff. He and Cristina met in high school, where they bonded over a mutual love of food, Harry Potter, and Disney. When he’s not dutifully attending book events with his book blogger girlfriend, he can be found gaming, reading fantasy & sci-fi, and becoming overly invested in Food Network shows with Cristina.