The Hunger Games: book vs. film

Category: Reading

We reviewed The Hunger Games on the Book Talk podcast, and in the review we made passing reference to the blockbusting film adaptation, but didn't dwell on it. So we asked Scottish Book Trust's Children's Events Co-ordinator Beth Bottery to give some consideration to how the film version turned out. Be warned, if you haven't yet read The Hunger Games there are a couple of spoilers in what follows.

The Hunger Games is one of the best teenage books I’ve read in a long time: I practically inhaled it when I read it for the first time. But when they announced they were going to make a film I had mixed feelings. I am always slightly wary of film adaptations of books I have enjoyed. So often the act of transposing a novel onto the big screen destroys the subtlety of the book, diminishes it slightly. Inevitably the characters are never as you imagine and doubtless any plot cuts include your favourite moment in the book. I was nervous therefore as I sat in the cinema waiting for the film to begin: I really wanted it to be great.

My first impressions were good. The starkness of District 12 was perfect - though not how I imagined - and I loved the raw awkwardness of the reaping. Effie was an unexpected delight and her interplay with Haymitch was brilliant as well. In the Capitol the surrealism of the whole situation was really well executed: in this respect the film was able to augment the impact of the book and managed to underline the absurdity of the situation. So far so good.

What let the film down in my opinion was how they softened the character of Katniss. What I loved so much about the book was her ruthlessness, her determination which bordered on the side of obsessive. She is not a wholly sympathetic character but she feels real and is definitely a product of her environment and her mother’s depression.  The film, however, exposed and exploited a soft underbelly that she keeps tightly reined in throughout the novel.

I understand why they did this to some extent: a film has different demands on its heroine and to some extent she must be likeable, but part of me was disappointed. I found the Katniss of the film to be a much more fragile entity than the written Katniss, and she definitely cried a lot more than strictly necessary! Where was the stoicism? Where was the hardened exterior? I do not remember my Katniss weeping in a tree because she got a little bit burnt!

Perhaps I’m oversimplifying. The book gives the reader a lot more insight into the inner workings of Katniss’s mind. We know, in the book, how much pain she’s in both physically and mentally and how hard she tries to conceal it for the purposes of The Games. That is a perspective that the filmmakers could not easily replicate (without trespassing into clichéd voiceover); they had to show her pain, she couldn’t internalise as much.

By stepping out of Katniss’s head though, the film makers did gain a wider perspective than the one afforded to the readers of the books. In this respect I think the film came into its own. I loved the way you could see the impact of Katniss’s actions in the districts as it happened. The riots in District 11 for example - which actually take place in Catching Fire, the second book - fitted perfectly after Rue’s death and really gave a sense of the growing unrest and the danger Katniss was in as the perceived instigator. I also enjoyed the invented interchanges between Haymitch and the various gamemakers.

After all this then, did I enjoy the film? I think, on balance, I did. The style of the film was good, most of the performances were excellent (including Jennifer Lawrence) and I think they’ve set up the rest of the trilogy really well. I will definitely be watching the rest. I suppose my main reservation was a personal one: I was disappointed in how they felt the need to soften an unusual character and by doing so made her a lot more ordinary.