Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Hunger Games: One Subject, Two Mediums

Note: This review contains spoilers of The Hunger Games movie and book.

When you leave a theater after watching a movie adaptation of a bestselling book, you repeatedly hear audience members lamenting about the differences; how characters are incongruent from how they are described in the book, how key plot points are different or missing entirely, and that “that’s not how it happened in the book.” Audience members are correct in their observations. However, what they fail to remember is that although the same story is being told, the mediums in which they are told are quite different, and you will therefore have different reactions and thoughts about the same subject.

Most authors exercise the option of delving into one or more character’s minds. When reading, you are oftentimes privy to the thoughts of the main character(s), allowing the backstory, the intentions of the character, as well as the character’s emotions to develop through the thoughts of the character. In the book, the reader spent the majority of the time in Katniss’s mind. Through her thoughts, we understood her dilemma with Peeta, the pain and growth she experienced with her father’s death, and her true hatred for the Capital. Although some of the this information was presented in the movie, since we were no longer privy to Katniss’s thoughts, the impact and weight of it all fell through, lessening the pain and fear we felt for the protagonist.

A movie is 100% visual and auditory, whereas when reading a book, the reader only has his/her mind’s eye to draw from. If the author isn’t successful in fully describing a setting or character, the weight of a situation is diminished. When reading, if you didn't fully understand the skills of Peeta’s cake-decorating/camouflage skills, you weren't able to understand how he was able to hide in the bed of a river. In the movie, because it is all visual, you were able to see that his skills were invaluable. Although you might have understood how desolate District 12 looks while reading, the movie was able to bring the true destitution to life. A movie is more apt in describing and showing setting and the physical descriptions of a character than a book is able to.   

Books have the luxury of being any length. Movies, on the other hand, tend to be between 1 ½ and 2 hours long. A lot more information can be disclosed in a 384 pages book than in a 142 minute movie. Because of the time constraint, a director and screenwriter have to decide which story to tell. Unfortunately, the story they choose to tell isn’t necessarily the story the audience wants to hear. In the Hunger Games movie, the omniscient presence of the Capital was never fully realized. Although the audience was told why the games take place annually and that a person’s name was added to the drawing each time he/she received additional rations, the extent of the control of the government was not fully discussed. The moviegoer wasn't told that the rations given to the families is not enough to sustain a family, that they had no choice but to ask for additional rations, thereby raising the chance of their child’s name being picked for the games. The audience also wasn’t told that Katniss and Gale hunt illegally when going outside the electric fence, that they risk public punishment and execution by the Capital on a daily basis. Rue’s back story and the amount of peacekeeper control in her district were never mentioned in the movie either. Sometimes things have to be sacrificed when a book is adapted into a movie. I personally wish they hadn’t excluded the infinite threat and presence of the Capital.

As a movie, The Hunger Games was good. As a book, The Hunger Games was great. Unfortunately, a movie has many more constraints in which it has to work than a book does. However, by comparing the two, we are not comparing apples to apples. We have to see them as two separate pieces of art and appreciate each for its own abilities and weaknesses.
So now I’m curious as to what you think. Did you read the book or see the movie? Do you have any complaints or praise?


  1. I haven't read the book or seen the movie, but I agree with what you're saying. Different mediums have to be taken into account. You really can't judge one against the other, but rather how each medium does in telling the story.

  2. I completely agree with you, Christina. The movies are a different animal where you gain so much visually and you lose the closeness with the main character point of view. The internal thoughts are not readily available as it was in the book.

    Great post and wonderful reminder.

  3. I think the movie followed the book pretty well actually. there was one part of the movie that I wish was more like the book only because it was a pretty big part of the second book. Other than that the Movie was great. The Books of course are better just because you get so much more detail!

  4. Great post topic, it sounds much like the conversation my fiance and I had after leaving the theater! I've read the book, he hasn't. He was expecting to hate the movie (dismissed it as stupid teen stuff) but he ended up liking it so much he wants to read the book. I liked the movie a lot as well, but as they say, they book is always better. I think that is largely because it is a different medium as you stated, with more time and more ways to divulge important information. They are two different art forms and you are right that they really can't be compared fairly.

    I thought that overall the translation to film was done very well. Going in I had my doubts. Mostly I wondered how they would possibly get all of the information in Katniss's mind to the viewers of the movie. I think they did as well as a movie could hope to do in this regard. I agree that the movie in no way told her inner anguish about Peeta and Gale, but I somewhat expected that since in the book she doesn't really say much about her feelings she just thinks them. Hopefully Catching Fire as a movie will be able to expand on those dynamics.

    I thought it was very interesting how the movie used the tv broadcast throughout the hunger games to explain things without making it feel like they were explaining things. Well done.

  5. I think it's funny when people get so upset when a movie isn't exactly like the novel. Who cares as along as the movie is good. I didn't like the Hunger Games movie as the ending was disappointing and the concept of the movie grossed me out. I haven't read the books.

  6. Thanks everyone!

    Kelly and Diane: Have you read books and seen the film adaptations that were great? I would really like to see if film adaptations ever get it right!

    Keli: Which part did you feel was missing from the movie that bothered you?

    Jenny: I liked the tv broadcast as well. I am really looking forward to the second movie. I would like to see how they are able to set up the second film since all of the information vital to the second movie was lacking in the first.

    Rena: Have you seen any film adaptations where you enjoyed the book and the movie although they were very different? I think people are just bothered by the fact that what they fell in love with in the books doesn't translate well in the movie.

  7. I really agree with your review. The movie is good but miss the mark on the theme of the book too much. I talked about this in my review on my blog.

  8. One plot point bothered my wife and I (who have not read the book). Peeta was seen slavishly helping the Dist 1 & 2 alliance attempting to hunt down Katniss ("That was the snare she made, right there," he told them.")

    Now maybe he was doing this out of self-preservation, as a last-ditch argument to 1 & 2 to let him live a little longer, or maybe he naively believed he could "get in" with the 1 & 2 alliance and was actually willing or indifferent to finding and killing Katniss. It is unclear. He gives Katniss a long look when they have her cornered in the tree, and instigates a delay of direct attempts to get at her by suggesting they just surround the tree. Maybe he is trying to help her, but again it isn't clear.

    Our problem is: none of this is ever resolved! Katniss finds Peeta after her escape, and it is all lovey-dovey from then on. There is never a shred of looking back, never an apologetic explanation from Peeta, Katniss never asks him why he led the alliance to try to kill her. She just attaches herself to him despite all that. We were troubled by this, and wondered if it was handled more fully in the book. Or if more clear in the book that Peeta was not at any fault at the outset?

    Looking for more opinions on this.