Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Hunger Games: Book vs Film

J's Take

Whenever I hear of Hollywood adapting a book for film my first thought is usually "Yay! Good for the author!" My second thought is usually "I hope they don't screw it up." In the case of The Hunger Games, I can say Hollywood did not screw up.

I admit The Hunger Games was one of the first YA books I read (outside of the Harry Potter series) that I really enjoyed. Suzanne Collins doesn't waste a single word in the book. Every word, every phrase, every action has a purpose. Yes, the plot seems straightforward: In a post-apocalyptic world, Katniss Everdeen volunteers to take her sister's place in a violent, death match "game show" and inadvertently starts a rebellion. However, once I read the book, I discovered the plot isn't nearly as clear I wanted to believe.

Character motives are suspect. The politics ruling the games are murky at best. Loyalty is as rare and precious as diamonds.  Collins packs so much into her writing that I sometimes had trouble following all the threads, but she tied up all the important ones for Katniss by the end and left several to trail into the second book. In short, I loved the book.

So how does my love the book translate to the film? I really enjoyed the film. The writers, producers, and directors took great care in adapting the major points and following the characters' development. They showed restraint in keeping the gore and on-screen violence minimal but the sheer brutality of the Games isn't lost. The film captures The Hunger Games in all its so-called glory, from the beautifully shallow pageantry to the heartbreaking depths of sacrifice and sorrow.

Unfortunately, some of the more subtle nuances of the book's plot and character development are lost due to the constraints of time. The Hunger Games film already tops 2 hours in length (2 hours and 22 minutes, according to Fandango.com) and adding these subplots and lengthy character developments would've sent it spiraling into multiple installments. Does this mean its inferior to the book? Absolutely not. It's a great adaptation and companion to the book. If you haven't read the book, have no fear. You'll understand exactly what's taking place. (My husband hasn't read the book and loved the film.) If you have read it, I think you'll find it enjoyable with only a few minor changes.

My best advice: Read the book. See the movie. Enjoy them both.

Alexis's take

This over-word-count fangirl moment brought to you by five pages of notes taken during my second viewing in four days.

Yep. That's right. This movie was so good I saw it twice on opening weekend. And I'll tell you this, even my husband {a... *gasp* ...non-reader} has read the book and not only seen the movie, but actually matched my own eagerness leading up to its release. In fact, he was so eager to see the movie, that he only shook his head lovingly when I went to stand in line at 7:15 for our 8:50 showtime.

I read The Hunger Games {and Catching Fire} about three years ago, at M's recommendation, and I fell instantly in love. No one else that I knew had read it, and I wasted no time telling them all it was a must-read. Sadly, most of my non-writer friends are also non-readers, and until the previews for the movie surfaced, only the handful of readers I knew had taken my advice {and also fell in love with the series}. But it was something of an experience itself, watching the bandwagon roll into town and pick up nearly all of my coworkers, who, despite not listening to me for three years, gave me the credit for getting them to read the books. I took it, proudly. Every day, one or three or five of them would run up to me and say "Oh, I just read this part! Holy crap!" ...or something similar. I hadn't read the books since Michelle and I's infamous lack-of-sleep-sleepover on the release day of Mockingjay {in which we'd reverted to nerdy thirteen-year-old-girls and stayed up all night reading it aloud to one another}. Because of the sudden rush of new readers, I got to experience the entire story over and over again. And honestly, it really added to my own excitement for the movie. Which is what I'm supposed to be talking about...

So, having seen it twice -- with a couple days between to discuss it with anyone and everyone who'd listen -- I was able to see a couple of the "issues" I'd had during my first viewing with fresh eyes and a more open perspective. And I'm very glad I did. Because for the most part, my opinion changed. When it didn't, I was at least able to pinpoint exactly what was bothering me about the particular scene.

If you haven't read the book yet... {and seriously, where have you been all this time?} then you might wanna read it before this review. If you haven't seen the movie, but are an avid fan, you might gain some insight and keep yourself from that all-too-familiar book-fan-wants-movie-to-be-identical-to-book disappointment. I will be thorough.


First, I want to say that Jennifer Lawrence was incredible. I had my doubts about some of the casting, initially, but not her. Aside from her, I hadn't pictured many of these characters like the actors chosen to play them. Like many readers, I tend to bend descriptions to fit the images in my head. {My favorite was President Snow. I pictured him as a short, lean, snakey, middle-aged Asian man. It took me a long time to rearrange the image to fit that of Donald Sutherland  -- who is decidedly not short, lean, snakey, or Asian}. Others I was confused/concerned about leading up to the movie included: Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, and Lenny Kravitz. {I have my reasons. All of them as weird as the one for President Snow}.
But, damn. Did they make a fan out of me. Not a single actor cast in this movie felt like they hadn't been those characters all their lives. Now I don't know how I ever pictured anyone else.

Second, I have to say how impressed I am with the music choices in this movie. Leading up to it, I mislead myself to believe that the companion soundtrack {which was amazing, save for one song} was the music used in the actual film. Instead, there were only instrumentals that pulled you in the exact directions of emotion needed for each moment. A particularly genius and quite daring move was the, in many cases, lack of music. I say daring because there are bound to be critics who latch onto this. I say genius because it is mentioned many times in the book how absent music is in Katniss's life, and it therefore echoes the tone of the book. In fact, in the lining-up-for-the-reaping scene, the lack of music was downright haunting. All I can say is, the sound guys paid attention to detail, stayed true to the tone of the story, and I have literally ZERO complaints. 

Third, the filming of this movie was both smart and stunning. The Hunger Games is written in first person, which means we are in Katniss's head the entire time. It means we feel close to Katniss, and that her experiences are very personal. And while we get to see so many other point of view moments in this film {all great additions to the fleshing out of the story, which are otherwise lost without Katniss's inner-dialogue} the entire thing retains the close, personal feel of the novel. I will dive into my favorite examples of this in the highlights, but overall, it was truly well done.

HIGHLIGHTS {the good (+) and the bad (-)}  
Unless I want to explain in a way the notes do not, I'm simply going to write exactly what I wrote in my notes as I watched the film. These will be in pink.

(•)I'm glad I knew ahead of time that Madge and the Avox backstory were going to be cut, because it didn't bother me in the slightest when I saw the movie, because I was prepared for it.

(+)The title sequence is a simple, no frills explanation of the state of the world, and the reason for the games. Brilliantly, "The Hunger Games" simply lingers, white type on a black background, while the explanation fades. It's powerful, straightforward, and seems to say: "This is what I am. Take it or leave it." Much like Katniss's personality.

(+)The movie opens with Caesar Flickerman discussing the games with Seneca Crane {Tucci and Bently were absolutely fantastic in their roles}. They are in this glittering world of television and glamor, and after Flickerman asks Crane what his signature style is for the games, in a dead-on answer, the scene cuts to the poverty-stricken backwoods of District 12 and the hauntingly powerful scream of a young child {Prim} waking from a nightmare about the games.

(+)Buttercup... glad you made it into the film.

(-)A few times throughout the movie, my friends' husbands would have to ask questions to parts that, while explained enough for those of us who've read the books, were not fleshed out enough for non-readers to understand. It is mentioned in passing that Gale's name is in the reaping ball 42 times, but not how or why {until later, when we aren't paying attention to that vague detail} his name got in more than others.

(+)Gale. Aside from being maybe a little too gorgeous for the part, Liam Hemsworth played it well. I had no trouble believing him as Gale for a moment. His part in these books is tricky, as he doesn't have much actual screen time. But what little he's given he's able to bring across the fiery spirit behind his calm facade. It was very well done.

(+)The Reaping. Initially, I was displeased with how long Katniss's stunned silence lasted. However, on the second pass, sitting in the theater next to my sister {whom I'd always equated to Prim, being an older sister myself} the timing was perfect. The way Katniss tells Prim "I'm sorry," made me ache. The way she told her mother "Don't cry," said everything her character had thought in that moment in the book. And man, every time Willow Shields cried out, it broke your heart.

(+)Love the addition of the "movie" at the Reaping. A nod to the ones Katniss talks about watching in school, in the book. 

(+)Peeta. Josh Hutcherson was never the right actor for this part, for me, until I saw his face at the Reaping. That boy is an incredible actor. The stunned look on his face when Effie called his name was... well... it shut up any doubts I had about him playing Peeta. Sure, I pictured his build differently, his face maybe not so young... but the emotion that boy put into even just a wiggle of an eyelid... incredible. I felt everything he felt. Joy, fear, shock, regret... everything.

(+)Effie. Awesome. Elizabeth Banks was a definite surprise. I didn't know that much about her, as I hadn't seen much of her work. But she struck a perfect balance between humor and seriousness, absurdity and reality. She felt real, even in all the costuming, makeup, and wigs. I'm certainly a fan of her now.

(+)Haymitch. Opening scene... that collar. lol

(+) Haymitch. Oh. My. Lord. Woody Harrelson was SO good. He made that character so real for me. Just like in the book, I laughed at him, I wanted to punch him, I grew to like him. He was so believable. His motives so clear. He told us everything about Haymitch's backstory and his character with, oftentimes, a simple look or gesture. And getting to see him in action "behind the scenes" during the games was a great bonus to the story.

(+)Katniss knifes the table between Haymitch's fingers... Effie, scandalized: "That is Mahogany!" great moment.

(+)Cinna. Lenny Kravitz took perhaps my favorite character in the series and made me love him all over again. He was truly perfect. All my doubts erased the moment he spoke to Katniss about being brave.

(-)The Tribute Parade. In the first viewing, I got hung up on the special effects of the flames. While I loved the makeup, hair, and costumes, I thought the flames looked too obviously CGI. However, in the second viewing I found I had no issues whatsoever with the flames. In fact, what I'd mistakenly found "cheesy" became the best part. The crowd reactions, when the film cut to closeups of their faces, felt like extras in a movie who were trying too hard. Their faces were plastered with excitement and happiness, but their eyes didn't sell me. So they all looked like clowns. To aggravate me further, Peeta and Katniss don't simply hold hands in defiance, they lift them up and smile excitedly, as though they've already won, playing into that cheesiness I was feeling toward the crowd. I wanted them to be more subtle. I think it would have made the disparity between them and the crowd even greater, and made that moment feel more real to me.

(+)Training. Seeing the Tributes' characters flesh out here was really nicely done. I immediately felt fond of Rue when she stole a Career's knife. Thresh was exactly the character I hoped he'd be. He was strong, intimidating, and yet, as he joins in Katniss, Peeta, and Rue's silent laughter at the Careers fighting over the missing knife, he's immediately likeable.

(+)Peeta shows his painting skills. Awesome.

(+)The Individual Evaluation. Aside from Katniss going before Peeta, and the gamemakers laughing at her first missed shot, this scene was so spot on to the book. The music, the camera work, Katniss's reaction... all of it was exactly what I wanted to see. And it was easily one of my favorites.

(+)Haymitch in the scores scene. Funny!

(-)Wish they'd have explained what those scores meant the way Katniss did in the book. Too happy about hers. 

(+)The addition of scenes with President Snow talking to Seneca Crane. These were a great insight into Snow and a really great way to flesh out these characters.

(+)Caesar Flickerman intro -- OMG. The faces in the background. HAHAHA!

(+)The crowd reaction being this roaring hum when Katniss comes onstage really plays into the movie feeling so close to her and so personal. Like when the music drowns out Effie in the car after the Reaping to show that Katniss and Peeta have tuned her out. 

(-)Though I wish the dress had been jeweled like in the book, I didn't mind the way they did the flames. I guess I understand why they did it this way, but I miss the jewels.

(+)Peeta's interview. Perfect.

(+)Katniss shaking during the last few moments before the games begin, with Cinna doing his best to keep her calm, was an incredible moment. I felt her fear.

(+)Transition to the light the way Katniss would see it as she enters the arena. 

(+)Seeing the Gamemaker's Control Room.

(+)Cut to Gale in silence during the countdown was fantastic.

(+)Music in bloodbath. Haunting. Bloodbath itself was done perfectly.

(+)Katniss mouthing the count of first fallen. Well done.

(+)Seeing the camera in the tree knot.

(+)The sci-fi "mechanics" of the Gamemakers was really neat.

(+)The camera work and smoke during the fire -- kept it personal feeling.

(+)Katniss treed by the Careers was well done.

(+)When she cuts down the hive I was so anxious for her, even more than I was in the book, because I could actually see how far along she'd sawed into the branch.

(-)I wish they'd have explained how the Tracker Jackers track whoever they think disturbed their nests. They say everything else, but it was important to why they mostly went after Glimmer and why they don't sting Katniss more when she drops from the tree. This was lost on the non-readers with our group.

(+)The Hallucination scene was my absolute favorite of the entire movie. It was so well done. From the jitter of the camera movements, to Caesar Flickerman talking about the Tracker Jackers while walking in the woods {hahaha} to the beautiful filling-in of backstory about Katniss's father and how her mother tuned out. The way Katniss begs her mother to snap out of it and say something was full of real emotion. Beautifully done.

(+)I absolutely love that Rue's 4-note trill they talk about in the book is used as the "main theme" of the Hunger Games in the same way that "Hedwig's Theme" is the iconic music associated with Harry Potter.

(+)Watching Cato flip out and snap that boy's neck after Katniss explodes the supplies. Whoa. Intense and scary.

(+)Seeing what Rue sees as Katniss sings her to "sleep." Beautiful.

(+)The face Rue makes when she asks Katniss to sing... so sad. But Perfect.

(+)At this point int he movie, I had let a few tears fall at the Reaping and the Rue scene... but when they cut to District 11 and the riots {a great setup for book 2, I thought} I completely lost it. I had tears just streaming down my face. I still don't know exactly why this particular scene was so powerful for me... maybe it was seeing what had to be Rue's dad make the first move. Or seeing the whole district return the salute Katniss gives them, but it was powerful. Fantastic. Another favorite scene.

(-)I wish she'd have said Peeta's name after the announcement like she does in the book.

(+)Love how she tracks Peeta like game and how well he hides.

(+)Nice pan to Gale in kissing scenes. Homage to the book and how Katniss's mind strayed to him in those moments. 

(+) Battle with Clove. Majorly intense.

(+)Berries scene: Katniss calling for Peeta really makes up for what I missed when she didn't call his name earlier. Her emotion here is exactly what it needed to be and it struck a cord. Very well done. Best show of emotion for her so far with Peeta.

(-)Wish Thresh had died a different way.

(+)That dog was supposed to be Cato! Scared the sh*t outta me.

(-)I miss the bloody X. It was by far Peeta's most badass moment in the book. It was good here but... it wasn't a bloody X.

(-)I wish they'd have drawn out the last scene and had the characters struggle a bit more internally with what they were about to face, having Katniss come to the decision to eat the berries just a bit slower. It felt rushed.

(+)Seneca. That room. That bowl. All I'm saying.

(-)Wish the crowd's reaction {ooh ahh awww} was more pronounced.

(-)Split the crowns, dammit!

(+)Snow's amazingly ominous ending.

In short, GO SEE THE MOVIE. The book is amazing and the movie brings it to life. No, it's not a duplicate of the book. But the movies never are. Details change. But overall, you will not be disappointed.

Due to zombie plague infection M's review is postponed. {But Alexis picked up the slack} Check back for her take later in the week along with news of her first "public appearance" as an "author".  *raises eyebrow*

Next week, we have that flash fiction we promised a couple weeks ago planned. But... you all know how our plans go. *grin*

Peas Out.


  1. Nice reviews, J & A!! I have listened to all three audio books and seen the movie (only once). I thought the movie was a very good representation of the book. The only nuance that I thought was missing was Katniss' kissing Peeta for ratings not for love. This was much clearer in the book than the movie. Jennifer was great as was Josh as Peeta. To me, he looked just like Peeta. Cinna looked completely different but Lenny won me over. I really appreciated Alexis' detailed notes!! The book isn't that clear in my mind (it has been over a year since I heard it). And while I liked both the book and the movie, I am not in love with it like many are. I am not sure what chord it strikes in people. I mostly just get mad at the crazy government that would let kids kill kids for entertainment/punishment and the people that accept it instead of rebelling earlier. But it is fun and thought provoking. Thanks as always for the brilliant post!! Love the Peas!!

  2. Aw thanks Skitty! For me, part of my love of these books is as a writer. The idea is so stunningly horrible and yet it really feels like, if we aren't careful, something like this could happen. I am amazed by Suzanne Collins' ability to craft such a thought-provoking story. As a reader, it struck the cord of older sister who would do this exact same thing for my own sister, because I feel the same protectiveness as Katniss does over Prim. I connected with her. And I love that she's not some empty-shell of a heroine. She's strong. She doesn't let love run her life, and is sortof an anti-romantic, which is honestly a really nice change and something I have tried (even before reading these books) to do with my own female main characters. Thanks for reading and commenting! :) (I get angry at that crazy government too)

  3. Great review, A! I only have one issue with it: In the movie, Katniss *does* say Peeta's name after the announcement. She whispers it so it's easily missed. However, in the book, she did have a much bigger reaction. (M and I had a discussion on the same point after we saw it. lol)

  4. Really? Holy crap I missed it twice! Hm. Guess I'll just have to see it again... lol

  5. *moans with zombie plague*
    Can't wait to get in on this discussion.
    *cough* *hack* *sigh*