The Hunger Games: We Loved the Book, What About the Movie?

hungergames In an unspecified future a totalitarian government rises to rule a nation known as Panem. Born from the ashes of a United States devastated by war and the after effects of global warming, Panem is made up of twelve districts surrounding the heart of the government, known as The Capital. In lethal vengeance for a failed rebellion, The Capital forces each district to send them 2 tributes each year to fight to the death in an elaborate arena. These are “The Hunger Games” – fought by children between the ages of twelve and eighteen – where 24 enter but only one can survive.

Starring Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen and Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mellark, this film follows the tributes of poverty-stricken District 12 on their journey into the arena. Our movie begins as TV Host Caeser Flickerman interviews Head Gamemaker Seneca Crane. They discuss the “excitement” of the coming games. Cut to District 12 where a young Primrose Everdeen awakens from a nightmare in which her name is chosen at the reaping, forcing her to participate in the games. Right away we get that juxtaposition between the wealthy and powerful people who view the games as entertainment and the horror they are met with by the districts from which the participants come. Enter older sister Katniss, who sings Prim back to sleep, then heads to the woods to do a little pre-reaping hunting. Then back home to get ready for the big event. And of course, Prim is chosen. And in an unprecedented move, Katniss volunteers to take her place. Peeta is also chosen – his name is met with silence, there are no volunteers to take his place – and the two are whisked aboard the train to The Capital. Let the Games begin!

Actually, they don’t get to begin quite that quickly. We spend roughly another forty-five minutes preparing for them. There is the pre-game beautification, the tribute parade and a whole host of other events that take place. The film does a fantastic job of capturing the difference between the abject poverty of the districts and the high tech lavish wealth of those surrounding the government. The easy life of these people is shown as a stark, appalling contrast to what the teens will face in the games. There is a scene where a young Capital child, roughly the age of some of the participants, is given a toy weapon to celebrate the lethal blood bath about to take place on television. It’s a bit heavy handed but that moment emphasizes the difference between the haves and have nots. One gets to play at battle, the other has to prepare to die in it.

For those who are squeamish, don’t fear. The director uses quick, opaque cuts to keep us from being exposed to too much of the violence. This is a blessing in that it makes the movie watchable for folks like me who cringe at anything more violent than say, The Lorax. It’s a curse in that it relieves us of the horror we should feel after watching the terrifying and terrible events. We should feel a bit traumatized by the end of it all. Instead, most leave the theater discussing favorite scenes and performances.

There are plenty of those by the way. Jennifer Lawrence is brilliant, richly portraying the prickly, tough warrior side of Katniss and the soft gooey center that enables her to love so deeply. Liam Hemsworth uses what little screen time he has to make Gale into a three dimensional, extremely likable and sympathetic character. That he managed that all in what had to be very limited screen time makes his performance especially noteworthy. Adorable Amandla Stenberg shone as precious little Rue. I wish Alexander Ludwig, who plays Cato, could have had a larger role, but he did a great job with the one he did have.

Elizabeth Banks, who portrays the ridiculous Effie Trinket, makes every scene she is in a joy to watch. My favorite scene is a vignette with Woody Harrelson’s Haymitch. Seeing him work the Capital folk was just pure magic. Lenny Kravitz blended so perfectly into his role as Cinna that I forgot he wasn’t the actual character. Oh, and the clothes! They were just as perfect as we could have hoped for.

For fans of the book, expect and accept that changes have been made. Several scenes I found key in the novel were missing in the film. I was annoyed by some of the additions made. But overall, the director seems almost married to his source material, afraid to stray too far away from it lest the fans turn into marauding hoards. In some ways that was very important to me – I was only interested in the film because of the book after all. In other ways, I think it did minor (very minor) damage to the pacing of the movie overall. Time – and therefore pacing – is an entirely different entity in a novel. A book has the advantage of crossing over major chunks of time in a paragraph; A film does not.

Some additions were made to provide information to those who hadn’t read the books (or just for those who hadn’t taken the time to memorize every little factoid like some of us have.) Most of these scenes are done by Caeser Flickerman (played by Stanley Tucci) in his role as game announcer. I found them entertaining and overall just really well done. They did a fantastic job of capturing how likable Caeser is in spite of the nastiness of his position.

Other additions, such as the time spent with Seneca Crane and President Snow as well as the game control room scenes, were far less to my taste. They added little to explain the on screen action, making them seem like big time wasters. I also felt they just didn’t quite capture the essence of the characters. President Snow is better for being an enigma – that which we don’t know or understand inspires fear. And Crane, despite his eye catching beard, is not significant to the tale. He is played by a straw dummy in book two. His role should not have been much bigger here.

In discussing the movie with several others who have seen it the one conclusion everyone seemed to agree on is that it failed to capture the relationships that were so beautifully expressed in the novel. I did not feel the love between our primaries. I didn’t quite understand why Haymitch cared. The first important partnership Katniss forms in the games lacks heart. The performances were still brilliant, but the actors just weren’t given sufficient material to close the deal. This didn’t impact me much as a viewer because my relationship with the characters had already been formed before I walked into the theater. I am not sure the result it will have on those without that advantage.

Those two minor quibbles aside I do recommend the film overall. It’s entertaining, thought provoking, exciting and mildly romantic. Lovers of the book won’t be disappointed. Newcomers to the series will find it a fun, enriching experience. I’d give it an overall grade of B.

What about you – have you seen the movie? What did you think? If not, do you plan to? How did it compare to the book for you?

May the odds be ever in your favor!

– Maggie Boyd

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17 Responses to “The Hunger Games: We Loved the Book, What About the Movie?”

  1. April Rogers says:

    In anticipation of seeing The Hunger Games last night, I reread the book Thursday night, so it was still fresh in my mind. As far as book adaptations go, I believe it has stayed as close to the book of any I have seen. The added scenes gave depth to the story as well as explanations to those who have not read the books. In the book, you are not told that they are actively trying to kill Katniss so that she cannoy win, therefore the scenes with President Snow, Seneca, and Haymitch were interesting and not against cannon because you find out most of this in the next book. Haymitch negotiating to keep Katniss alive are some of my favorite scenes.
    I was pleasantly surprised by all the actors. Like many, I was not feeling very confident when some of them were announced. Jennifer Lawerence did an amazing job, as did Josh Hutcherson. Liam Helmsworth actually made me care about his character in the little time he had and I really didn’t in the books. I wish there had been a little more Katniss and Rue time because Amandla Stenberg was too cute but Lenny Kravitz WAS Cinna. He was absolutely perfect and I was not expecting that.
    The two things that I had a slight twinge about were the mutts-They did not look like the dead tributes but I had read that before hand so I was prepared- and the final scene between Katniss and Peeta. Let me just say, she did not let him down that easy in the book.
    So I highly recommend the movie. I thought It was great. My husband, however, who has both his feet planted firmly in reality said “that movie makes no sense, but if she is really shooting those arrows , do you know how long she would have had to train?” So I told him. He was impressed by that anyway.

    • maggie b. says:

      April Rogers: My husband, however, who has both his feet planted firmly in reality said “that movie makes no sense, but if she is really shooting those arrows , do you know how long she would have had to train?” So I told him. He was impressed by that anyway.

      I’m so glad you posted this. I am very anxious to hear the responses of people who haven’t read the books. The friends I went with had all read them, so if necessary information was missing we simply wouldn’t have known. Or if we simply liked it because we liked the books, we wouldn’t be able to know either.

      I think that is an important test of a movie based on a book. Does it appeal beyond its source material? Does it make that transistion from interesting book to good film?

  2. Geri McCarthy says:

    I have not read the books.
    Saw the movie yesterday with my daughter and S-I-L. Only went because she wished to see the movie.
    I found the whole premiss distasteful and walked out just as “the games” were starting.
    Could not sit and watch those young people kill each other.
    I think it is a sad commentary on our society
    that this type of subject matter is considered
    entertaining.
    Perhaps if I had read the books I would have felt differently .

  3. maggie b. says:

    Geri,

    You seem to have gotten the point of the film without having to sit through the whole thing. :-) As you said “it is a sad commentary on our society that this type of subject matter is considered entertaining”. But the point of the books and film is that it is not entertaining.

    Here is what the director has to say:

    “Director Gary Ross takes the lesson one step further than Collins did in her novel by showing the control room and the adults who are manipulating the arena to make good television. It’s easy to imagine the producers of “The Bachelor” or “Survivor” sitting in a similar room maneuvering their contests — but not to a fatal degree — thus making it the perfect opportunity to discuss with children who may look up to the likes of Snooki and the Situation, how that exploitation is carefully disguised as entertainment.

    When you look at the emotional bloodshed that takes place on these shows and the vicarious enjoyment we take from that — one of Suzanne Collins’s points and I think it comes across very clearly in the movie — there is something demeaning that takes place when we feed off the emotions and the lives of the people we are watching,” Garrett said. “If I spend 10 minutes watching ‘Jersey Shore,’ I don’t only feel like a stupider person but a worse person.”

    I am very lucky. My oldest son went straight from Disney to super heroes and then to academy award winners. My youngest likes bright, bubbly entertainment. We don’t watch any reality TV in our house so the message of the books was extremely easy for me to swallow.

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  5. Kristie(J) says:

    I haven’t read the books or seen or plan to see the movie. This is just my own personal thoughts and no reflection on any other but I don’t read YA. I know it’s big and it’s popular and chances are I’m missing some good reading, but I just don’t have the desire. And when I heard the premise of the books/movie, children hunting and killing othe children for the benefit of entertainment for others, I just knew that, for me, it was something I would find fundamentally very upsetting.

    I am very glad though, that this series and others are bringing young people to find the joy in reading and I’m quite happy for them that they are turning these books into successful movies. Like Geri, I do hope they get the point of this movie. I remember watching the original Roller Ball and The Running Man and coming out very thoughtful at what society has the potential to become and in fact what it had once been with the Romans and their arenas.

  6. lauren says:

    I have not read the books and I will wait for video for the movie…yes I am frugal (some may say cheap) about how I spend my money.

  7. DabneyAAR says:

    I, and my teens and spouse, have all read the books and talked about the issues raised at them at length. We saw the movie this past weekend.

    I am now rereading the books–almost done with the third–and I think they are brilliant. Part of their power comes in the punch they pack about the horror of war–which is what I think Suzanne Collins really wanted readers to be forced to confront. But I also think they are about the nature of love and how many different types of love there are and they types we choose reflect on what we value. My teenage daughter thinks Katniss ended up with the wrong guy. I don’t. I think she picked peaceful love over something perhaps more passionate but not as able to build a life around.

    I’ve loved talking with my kids about these books. I think, if you read them critically, they are the sort of works that can influence the way we think and encourage us to act for the better.

  8. Maria D. says:

    I haven’t read the books yet but your review of the movie is very good…this is probably something I will wait to see when it hits Netflix

  9. amers says:

    I read the first book in the series, but it didn’t grip me enough to continue. As I read it, I kept thinking of a short story I read as a kid – The Lottery. My remembrances of that made THG, by comparison, seem glamorized. There’s something about someone constantly winning in “unwinnable” situations that is false. I might eventually get it through Netflix, but I’m in no hurry.

  10. Lynn M says:

    I read the book and thought the movie did a great job of capturing the essence of the story, of filling in with added scenes to help make some aspects more clear, and especially of casting the characters. One thing I thought the movie actually did better than the book was to demonstrate the “entertainment” factor of the Games. Since the book is told through Katniss’s viewpoint, it focused on the horror aspect (as it should), but didn’t quite demonstrate how much the Capitol people found entertainment in the spectacle.

    My problem with both books and movie is that I have a hard time buying the fundamental premise. I know this is some alternate future world and that it is fiction so I have to suspend disbelief, but I cannot get over the fact that I truly don’t believe any society – no matter how poor or oppressed – would allow their children to be taken this way, year after year. I suppose the scenes with the District 11 uprising are supposed to demonstrate what happens when the people to try to resist. Another review I read someplace made the suggestion that what was needed was a scene where the consequences of running away from the games was demonstrated so you got an idea that there were no other options but to go along with the Capitol’s evil. Maybe that would have helped.

  11. xina says:

    Last week, I was invited to go to this movie today. So…I picked up the book and read it in a day and a half. I put it off. The book moved along swiftly, and was easy to read and to get into, but I found it disturbing. At times I thought it was too disturbing for a YA selection, but on the other hand, it reminded of Lord Of The Flies in that the children were hunting each other. Loved the movie. I thought it followed the book in a way that was acceptable for the YA audience to watch. The killings (which are disturbing) are done in slow motion, choppy filming where the gore is not really shown. I love that Katniss is a strong female character acting as the protector..in the book and the movie. And while the reality show idea of the book..and film is a bit scary, the idea of a strong female protagonist is very appealing.
    Now…on to the next book, and the next film..when it is made.

  12. xina says:

    Just to add..I would have been completely lost, seeing the movie, if I hadn’t read the books. One of my friends said that her sister and husband saw the movie, and her husband hadn’t read the books. His problem was that he didn’t understand the importance of some of the characters. I can totally see that point of view. All of the characters are set up to be important in the books, where in the movie they are just there in a group of characters.
    Agree about the mutts too. I was waiting for those weird wolves that could stand on their hind legs and wave the group of killing wolves forward. Even so, the mutts were scary. I jumped when the one appeared out of the bush.

  13. Maggie AAR says:

    Xina,

    Thanks for mentioning Lord of the Flies. I don’t have the book before me but to paraphrase the afterward William Golding said something along the lines of WWII and the atrocities committed therein proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that mankind was capable of anything. He used kids in the book because he wanted to emphasize that that anything started when we were very young.

    Anyway, I think you make an excellent analogy there. The two books are not exactly alike but they both do a good job of show casing horror and violence among the YA set.

  14. xina says:

    Maggie, Lord of the Flies kept flashing in my mind as I was reading the fighting and killing scenes in The Hunger Games. I wondered, at that point, if Collins had that in mind while writing this book.

  15. Lada says:

    I caught the movie this weekend after doing a quick reread of the book since it had been so long since I had read it. I thought the acting and story of the movie followed the book well although of course, there was really no way to capture the emotional essence of the book. For example, the quick flashbacks of the history between Katniss and Peeta couldn’t really convey what I felt when reading about him taking a beating to sneaking her bread. The casting was fantastic though and I thought the secondary characters were standouts. The ending of the book was definitely stronger than the movie.

    I have to admit though that I basically hated the movie. I seem to be the only one but the constant jerky camera work gave me a headache and motion sickness. I would have been fine had that been confined to the action sequences (that type of camera work does perfectly hide the brutality) but the entire movie was shot as if by handheld with too much movement for me to enjoy. I also felt like I was missing amazing scenes that would have stuck with me had I been able to focus on them for more than moments. I’m a big Gary Ross fan but not this time around.

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