PLEASE DO NOT READ ON UNLESS YOU HAVE READ THE BOOK, SEEN THE FILM OR YOU DO NOT MIND SPOILERS.
This is an experiment for a new series of articles that either becomes a semi-regular or falls on it’s backside and becomes a one-off consigned to depths of blogging history. It’s inspired by one of my blog and Twitter buddies, Tabetha (a.k.a. @TheTeacherLady), who approached me with the idea of reviewing the book and then hosting a discussion about both the book and the film.
There are plenty of reviews of “The Hunger Games”, a lot of which can describe the book and the reader’s love for it a great deal more eloquently than myself. This led me to think that I shouldn’t even try to do a review of the book only.
So, what do you do when you feel that you can’t review a well loved book on a blog whose partial aim is to review books? Well, after completing the book, I decided on a different take on Tabetha’s original suggestion and do a Book v Film comparison, after all films and books are very different beasts, plus I’m a big fan of books and films.
I’ll go on the record here and say that I loved both and gave both a five star rating, but it was very interesting to note certain differences and compare/contrast what works for a film and what works for a book and where certain characters blur into their film counterparts.
As somebody who went about this “the wrong way round” of seeing the film first, it’s understandable that the world of the book was influenced of the look and feel of the film – from the way Effie Trinket looks to the the settings of the poverty stricken District 12 and the brutal arena of The Games itself.
What struck me was how faithful the film was to the book and you can tell that the makers of the film have really invested themselves in the “product” of the book. What I wasn’t prepared for though was the depth of the book in it’s world building which is very much driven by the politics of the world of Panem.
The film version of Panem is brutal enough as it is, but the book version comes over as a lot worse. One of the plot points that was, in my opinion, sadly overlooked in the film was that of the red-headed Avox girl that Katniss encounters and, to some extent, forms an attachment with. Alongside the fact that the concept of The Games is brutal enough in itself, but the punishment meted out on the Avox girl for being in the forest outside District 12 through removing her capacity of speech is, for me, one of the most chilling examples of Capitol justice. (Up until “Catching Fire”, which I am currently reading).
Another thing that is alluded to in the film, but is more firmly explained in the book is the politics of The Reaping itself, more specifically through the use of purchasing Tessarae grain at the expense of the individual concerned having to put their name in additional times into the Reaping selection bowl. In the film, this is presented in broad strokes through Gale mentioning that he has his name in the selection bowl forty-two times and through Katniss telling Prim that she shouldn’t put her name in additional times, as in the book.
However, the book goes into depth about how a twelve year old has their name in the bowl once, a thirteen year old twice and so on… and that’s even before the purchase of Tessarae grain. This attention to detail serves two purposes. Firstly, it shows the unfairness of the treatment to people such as Gale and Katniss who aren’t guaranteed their next meal in comparison to the Careers such as Clove and Cato who have the privilege of receiving specific training for The Games prior to their selection. Secondly, it underpins the shock the reader receives when Prim is selected in comparison to other female Reaping candidates who will have their names in more times than she.
Unlike the film, which by the necessity of film making is seen from various points of view, the book is seen wholly from Katniss’s point of view. This is very important as the reader has to receive a lot of information in short bursts to keep the plot moving. Also, the fact that with a single “voice” in Katniss, it’s easier to get an audience “buy in” of how she relates to people – especially the conflict in her emotions as to how she feels about Peeta and how she feels about Gale, the trials she goes through – both in her District 12 life and in The Games arena, and how she comes to specific decisions – such as her “romance” with Peeta and their eventual decision to attempt a double suicide to.
On the main, the film is not only faithful to the “spirit” of the book, which can be the case in film adaptations, the majority of the film is very faithful to the book’s narrative albeit with some elements of time compression of incidents.
Where the film does score over the book is the fact that although it is seen mainly with Katniss as the lead there are moments which are shown “off stage”. Firstly, you get a sense of the political intrigue that happens in The Capitol through the conversations that President Snow and Seneca have which re-enforces the threat over Katniss’s life – as seen in Snow’s “hope” monologue.
Secondly, you directly see the impact of Katniss’s actions on the emotions of others as a symbol of defiance. This is seen in the “District 11” scene where in the book she receives a loaf of bread from District 11 in the novel for the way she treats Rue following her death, which is emotional enough, this is replaced with a scene with far more emotional punch where Rue’s father leads a minor uprising in District 11 following the loss of his daughter.
Thirdly, there is the use of the “Greek choir” device of Caesar Flickerman and Claudius Templesmith describing certain elements of the Arena as an info-dump to substitute Katniss’s internal thought processes and descriptions, an example being the Tracker Jacker attack.
This aspect is harder to talk about as, inevitably, the line is blurred between where the novel versions begins and ends alongside the film counterparts.
All of the primary roles whether they are the leads, the other Tributes or the supporting cast match their book counterparts and it’s hard not to imagine the likes of, for example, Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson as Katniss and Peeta. However, the “multi voice” aspect the film allows for some additional character development.
The first example that I really picked up of this is in the character of Haymitch. In the book, the reader is led along the path that Haymitch is an alcoholic who drinks to forget the horrors of The Games as District 12’s only champion. However, there are scenes in the film which shows Haymitch’s disgust at The Games – notably through the reaction shot of when he sees a Capitol boy chasing after a girl with a toy sword reducing The Games to simply that – a game rather than a battle of life and death. The film also shows, as opposed to describing, how much of a tactician and politician Haymitch is as a Mentor, as demonstrated in the shots where you see Haymitch schmoozing the sponsors for the assistance required to help Katniss following the burns she sustains following the Fire Attack.
The second, and very subtle, example of this is when Cinna shows Katniss that the Mockingjay pin forms part of her outfit in The Arena. In the book, Cinna states that he only managed to get the pin through as it wasn’t deemed a weapon by the Gamemakers. In the film, Cinna shows Katniss the pin whilst shushing her which implies that the inclusion of the pin is more an act of defiance – something that is intimated further in the scene towards the end of the film when President Snow takes a keen interest in the pin.
Finally, as explained in the “Plot movement” section, you also get a feel of the multi-faceted role of President Snow. Out in the open, he is nice, friendly and the benign face of the law and order that The Capitol represents. In private, he is shown as indirectly threatening, intimating what will happen to people who either displease or fail him.
A fine romance?
One of the differences that some people have picked up and commented upon is the difference between the film “romance” between Katniss and Peeta. In the film version, which is in effect an action-adventure film, the romantic aspect isn’t played up – it’s there but it isn’t dwelled upon, it’s seen as a means to an end for both Katniss and Peeta’s survival in The Games and beyond.
Some people have also commented on the fact that the film version isn’t as cheesy as the book version. However, to place it in it’s context, Katniss is placed in a situation where she has to be strong whilst her emotions are all over the place internally. Does she trust Peeta? Does Peeta really love her or is it just a tactic? How do her emotions for Peeta compare against those for Gale? How far does she take the impersonation of a romance to play up to the cameras? As the book is written from her perspective, it’s understandable that a lot of description is given over to her thought processes of working her way through an emotional minefield.
Neither portrayal is wrong and it’s good to see that neither the book or the film falls into the “Twilight” (sorry for mentioning the “T word”) trap of weakening the character through romance.
Lions and Tigers and Mutts… Oh my!!!
One major deviation is the sequence near the end of the story where Katniss and Peeta encounter the Mutts. The book version works really well in the fact that the Muttations are created from the essence of the deceased Tributes. This serves to re-enforce the horror of the length the Gamemakers and The Capitol will go through to entertain the audience.
The film version works better in the context of the film as to have the horror of the Muttations as written in the books would neuter the on-screen impact of Cato’s eventual fate and the choice that Katniss has to make to spare Cato from being devoured alive by the Mutts.
In some respects, although both the film and book have imponderables flying around, the film has a tidier ending due to the fact that all the toys have to be put away. You get a sense that the future is uncertain, partly through President Snow’s ominous exit from the Gamemakers control room in the last scene of the film and partly through Peeta’s admission that he doesn’t want to forget what happened in The Arena, highlighting his feelings that he sees Katniss as more than a friend and fellow tribute.
In the book, the ending is messier which allows for plot elements to be carried over – Katniss admits that she doesn’t know where her feelings lie and that the relationship that she and Peeta had in The Arena is partly founded on a lie of convenience to ensure their survival. This adds uncertainty to the continuation of the lie that she and Peeta are madly in love – the basis of their decision to their suicide pact with the berries.
So, there you have it – my “Book v Film” take on “The Hunger Games”. It is only my opinion and if you asked a hundred people to write this article, you may get a hundred differing opinions. Apologies for the length. Please let me know what you think of it and whether I should continue with this thread.