“They just want a good show.” The Hunger Games: Book vs. Film

The Hunger Games (2012): 4/5

(Ed. note: I have attempted to avoid spoilers, but may  have slipped a few times. I’m sure you’ve already read the series, though, so read on!)

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen (via inc.com)

The most anticipated film of the year and one of the most anticipated book-to-film adaptations in recent memory, The Hunger Games, was finally released in theaters on March 23.

The action, which follows the same path as Suzanne Collins’ novel of the same name, takes place in the post-apocalyptic society of Panem, formerly known as North America. After a slew of natural disasters and other unpleasant things, North America as we know it in the present was shattered. The survivors created Panem as a new society, consisting of a wealthy capitol surrounded by 13 goods-producing districts.

But things in this new society did not go as planned. After a revolt and resulting war between the districts and the capitol, Panem’s president made the decision to demolish the 13th district and put the ritual of the Hunger Games in place. Each year, each district must send two tributes – one boy, and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 – to fight to the death in an arena of the capitol’s creation. Only one tribute will emerge with his or her life.

Katniss and Peeta train for the Games (via Yahoo!)

The year of the 74th Hunger Games, tough girl Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and the baker’s son Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) will represent district 12 – the district of coal mining – in the Games.

Collins’ novel follows Katniss and Peeta, relying on Katniss’s narration to tell the story of the Games and all of the terror that comes with them.

As a result of a first-person story being translated into film, some perspective is lost in the process. However, the film more than makes up for it by giving the viewer perspectives that are impossible to see in the book.

We get a “behind the scenes” look at what goes into orchestrating the Hunger Games – something Katniss herself doesn’t witness as a participant stuck in the arena, and therefore something that the reader doesn’t get from the book. We also get to see what’s going on in District 12 as the games progress.

The main focus is still obviously on Katniss and Peeta as they struggle to stay alive, but the additional viewpoints give a more full understanding of the Games and those who control them.

Other than what is left out through the lack of vocal narration from Katniss, not much is lost in translation between the film and the book. Of course, some detail had to be cut for time (the film runs at nearly 2.5 hours as it is), but the result is no less wonderful than it would have been with those few extra scenes.

This is largely due to the phenomenal performance given by Jennifer Lawrence, who previously wowed audiences in her quiet but powerful role in 2010’s Winter’s Bone.

The Hunger Games makes it clear that Lawrence really has the talent to back up her reputation as an emerging actress and young Oscar nominee. In this film, she is powerful but understated, and again quiet while managing to say everything that she needs to through her actions and expressions. In short, she is the perfect Katniss.

In fact, nearly the entire cast is perfect. In terms of the supporting cast, I’m a total supporter of Stanley Tucci in all of his roles, so of course he was a favorite of mine as the flamboyant Caesar Flickerman.

Lenny Kravitz also wowed as Katniss’s stylist, Cinna. Having only appeared in 2009’s Precious prior to his turn as Cinna, Kravitz is a pleasant surprise and is perfectly suited for the gold eyeliner embellished role.

I was pleasantly surprised by Liam Hemsworth as Katniss’s hometown hunting pal Gale. Prior to this, I’d only seen him in The Last Song, which I found to be a pretty lackluster film despite his skill at faking an American accent. To be quite frank, I was distracted by the poor script and dialogue of that film; Hemsworth is able to show off his chops here, in a film that doesn’t have those distractions. His role in this first installment is quite small, but Gale’s prominence in the story grows throughout the story. It will be interesting to see how he holds up with more screen time if the sequels are produced, which is a great possibility considering the opening weekend’s financial success.

(via collider.com)

Suzanne Collins has a talent for world-building, and the movie generally stays true to the world that she has constructed in her trilogy, which is yet another positive. The capitol and some of the costumes aren’t quite as flashy as the reader’s imagination allows, but the districts and arena are spot-on.

While violence is a trademark of the Hunger Games, don’t expect too much gore. I’m a bit of a lightweight when it comes to blood and guts, and while a few of Katniss and Peeta’s injuries had me covering my eyes, the fight scenes showed just enough to have a heavy impact on viewers without making them queasy. Any more and they would have been gratuitous; any less and they would have been a bit dull.

The saddest scenes, such as Rue’s death, are carried off perfectly as well, though I do wish there had been enough time to have more Rue on screen. Still, for those who think of her fondly from the books, this scene is heart wrenching. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the theater as Katniss sang to Rue and covered her in flowers. Emotions were high, both for the long-time fans of the books and casual theater-goers.

All in all, The Hunger Games is a very good fantasy film based on an even more fantastic book series. Nothing can top the grand trilogy in print form, but the film is well done. I would certainly recommend reading the books before viewing, so you have all of the details that had to be cut for the film fresh in your mind.

Have you seen The Hunger Games yet, or read the books? Which is your favorite book? How do you feel about the cast? Feel free to share all of your thoughts in the comments below!

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4 thoughts on ““They just want a good show.” The Hunger Games: Book vs. Film

  1. Take away the hullabaloo surrounding the film adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ best-selling young adult book and what you have is an absorbing film with a dire premise that stands pretty much on its own. Lawrence is also the stand-out here as Katniss and makes her seem like a real person rather than just another book character brought to life on film. Good review Lindsey.

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    1. Couldn’t agree more about Jen Lawrence. There are so many ways that Katniss could have gone wrong and become, as you said, just another book character poorly adapted to the screen. Casting Jennifer was a great decision, and I don’t think any of the other actresses that were in consideration could have brought the character to life like she did.
      Thanks for reading!

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