From Page to Screen: The Hunger Games! (SPIOILERS!)

Posted February 25, 2020 by Amber in Bookish Things / 5 Comments

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Good morning everyone!

As far as my From Page to Screen series goes, this one is long overdue.  I’m a huge fan of The Hunger Games – both the book series and the films – and this is a ripe movie vs. book discussion because they’re both really good.

For those of you who haven’t popped into one of these posts before, the posts are typed live while watching the movie, so what you’re getting are my active thoughts and comparisons.  As such, these posts are long, but I try to highlight the most important aspects in bold.  I hope you find it interesting, and please let me know if you agree or disagree!

So immediately what strikes me is the solemnity of the beginning of the film – instead of starting with Katniss in District 12, we are briefly taken aside with a quiet, text opening explaining the Hunger Games.  After that, there’s a partial interview with Caesar and Seneca Crane.  From the filmmaker’s standpoint, this makes a lot of sense – they get to pull in a whole lot of world building in just a few frames.  The interview, too, makes sense, because we’re immediately given a contrast between the lush life at the Capitol and the poverty in District 12.

Let’s talk characters for a minute.  Gale’s first introduction is light and joking, if cynical.  Personally, I think Gale’s much more personable in the films than he ever was in the booksThe Hunger Games is one of those books with a love story people get passionate about.  Someday I’m going to write a whole post about this particular love triangle… but from the perspective of the book, I never really understood why people loved Gale so much?  I found him standoffish.  In the films, though, I see it.  Who doesn’t love a Hemsworth?

Very minor point, but a huge pet peeve for me… I dislike that they cut Madge from the films.  I always liked that feel that Katniss had more friends than she thought back home.  It gave more depth to her character than just the hard edge.  Having the Mockingjay pin come from Greasy Sae never felt quite as impactful for me.  Even though they used it for Prim to give back to Katniss later in an attempt to strengthen he emotional importance to Katniss… it wasn’t a choice I liked.

Then, of course, we can talk Prim.  I’ve never been a fan of Prim, either in the context of the books or the films.  I understand her importance to the story and of course she’s important to Katniss.  Willow Shields, the actress who portrays Prim in the films, never impressed me, either.  I had other motivations for rooting for Katniss, but protecting Prim was never one of them.

Effie, though.  Effie, I love.

In the books, Effie’s selfish and vapid.  And don’t get me wrong, she is that way in the films as well, but her character has been given layers.  And, of course, I adore Elizabeth Banks, so I’m sure that helps.  Effie feels like a much more important player in the films than in the books, and personally I am not complaining.

Back to the movie itself.

The reaping is very well done.  First of all, it’s in the details.  Things like Prim’s duck tail, for example… but it’s more than that.  This is where the less sung players really shine.  The costuming department did an excellent job creating this amazing contrast between the people of District 12 and Effie.  The white like blank slates, faces blending into one another is a very Capitol perspective, and I think it’s fantastic.  Additionally, there’s no music in the background from the time Prim and Katniss approach the reaping until the moment Peeta and Katniss must face one another on stage.  It’s well done, that tense silence.

The train ride into the Capitol is interesting, and filled with awkwardness.  The first interactions between Haymitch and the two tributes establishes all three characters very well within their new environment.  Peeta’s determination to succeed and absorb any information that may help, Katniss’ anger and self-reliance, and Haymitch’s alcohol-laden guilt and avoidance.  Again, this scene is different than the book, but it captures the same spirit of their relationships and the early scenes.

Even Effie hollering, “That is mahogany!” when Katniss expresses her disapproval of Haymitch.  All the characters are on point.  I remember seeing this in theatres opening weekend and by this point, within the first half hour, I knew the whole series was going to meet my expectations.  it wouldn’t be perfect and certainly there are changes in adaptations, but for the most part, I knew it would be an exciting ride.

I’m curious to hear from you all… what did you think about the newsclips woven into the movie?  On one hand, it’s all made for the film and from the book!purest perspective, it’s taking liberties… but I personally find it good way to give information to an audience who has never seen something like this on screen before .

Of course, we need to pause and nod to the production team for absolutely nailing the chariot scene.

I really could not have asked for more, here.  It’s an iconic moment from the books, and if they hadn’t done this perfect it would have cast a shadow over the whole trilogy of films.  Fortunately, they did an amazing job.

This is the point in the film where I just get so immersed that I barely notice the way it varies from the book.  I’ve read the book many times, seen the movie many times, and I’m happy with both.  We enter training – both in the training rooms and with Haymitch.  You can watch those training clips and know who the various tributes are from the books, but we don’t spend a lot of time getting to know the non-key tributes.

This is one of only a handful of times we really get to see all the various tributes.  Even those minor characters, the lesser important tributes, find their screen time lessened to only themes essential moments  It makes sense to trim some of the world building and side characters, because much of the world is right in front of you, and films need to be kept to a reasonable length.

In this way, the avoxes are cut from the films.  The avoxes are interesting and another twisted part of the world, but they don’t really do anything or keep the story moving forward, so from a film perspective, I can see why they were cut.  This is the type of thing where we need to forgive filmmakers a little… we may love every little detail, but their job is to highlight the most important ones.

Again, coming into Katniss’ performance for the game makers, I love the execution.  The music, the camera angles – everything feels so deliberate and well-done.  I’m not sure why they had Katniss go before Peeta (silly details that bug me, but ultimately affect nothing), but otherwise… the filmmakers nailed this aspect as well.

This is one of my favorite scenes in the entire series.  And they did it so well.  This scene, the followup scene when the numbers are being assigned.  Even though I know what is about to happen, I still feel my heart fluttering.  One of the things I feel the filmmakers did very well was that they make the viewer feel for the characters.  With Katniss in particular, this is challenging, because by design her character is cold and angry.  It’s difficult to make an audience love someone like that.  Suzanne Collins did it well in the books, and Jennifer Lawrence’s performance outlines Katniss’s hard exterior and questioning, struggling interior.

When Lawrence was first cast, there was a lot of outrage.  I remember most vividly that people were upset about her weight – Katniss is starved in the books and Lawrence was healthy.  One of the most ridiculous outrages I’ve ever witnessed in casting, honestly.  I like her performance and I’m happy she didn’t starve herself.

I appreciate the character and the actress alike.

She really did bomb her interview, though.  We don’t get to see Haymitch’s coaching in the film, but we don’t need to in order to see the difference between Katniss and Peeta’s interviews and how they executed them.  Moments like that have to make you appreciate Peeta.  If he hadn’t gone out there and said he was in love with Katniss, would she have lived?

This is the type of thing that needs to stay in the film.  The filmmakers played up the love story a lot, but it is integral to the central plot and added moments make sense.  These are acceptable changes, in my opinion.

One thing that always surprises me is how much of the first film we spend in prep.  It goes by easily and quickly, but the tributes don’t enter the arena until ~1:07:56, about halfway through the film.  After the cornucopia, it’s all action.

For film pacing, this makes a lot of sense.  Personally, I enjoy every moment of the books and wouldn’t cut a thing, but it makes sense, again, for film pacing that the scenes in the arena are fast and purposeful.  No hiding in trees and looking for water – on screen, that’s like having dead air.  We have to rely on the acting to give us character development.  I think they do it well.

For a character that is closed off, there’s a lot of emotion from Katniss.  A lot to keep the viewers hooked and help understand her.  As we readers know, The Hunger Games is written in first person from Katniss’ perspective and one of the major things we lose in translation is her internal monologue.  With that missing, her voice falls to Jennifer Lawrence, to the camera angles, and to the music (or lack thereof).

Can I just say though – she found water way too easily.  In fact, all of Katniss’ injuries and difficulties from the book are lessened.  Again this all lines up with the filmmakers wanting to move the story along and get her where she needed to go to keep things interesting to watch.  We needed to speed ahead to meet Rue, to fall in love with Peeta, and to win.  Much of the time in the arena, Katniss is alone.  Without her internal monologue, it’s not very interesting to watch those scenes.  I still miss them, and this is the place where I need to step out and separate my book knowledge from my film-viewing experience.

I do believe, personally, that the filmmakers fell back on scenes and events in the book whenever they could.  I did not feel anything truly major was changed, and the spirit of the book remained true the entire time.

In cutting bits from Katniss’ early experience in the arena, we’re given a little more time to see interactions between Seneca Crane and President Snow, Peeta and the careers, and even Haymitch’s efforts to help Katniss.  I don’t feel that any of these glimpses took away from the experience.  In fact, I really liked them.  I enjoy the minor characters in this series about as much as I like Katniss herself, so these moments were actually appreciated… even if they weren’t true to the book.

One aspect of the film I don’t particularly like are Katniss’ flashbacks that are inserted during the hallucination period under tracker jacker venom.  It felt a bit like a cheap attempt to throw in backstory  and please fans, but it was distracting.  Personally, I’d’ve preferred a clean cut there.  While Katniss’ history is interesting enough, I don’t feel as though it helps the storyline and… I dunno.  There are times when flashbacks helps, and times when they’re indulgent.  This was indulgent.

And Rue.

I love Rue.  I think Amandla Stenberg did a great job, but I think that Rue needed more screen time.  The filmmakers chose to rely on Rue’s age and innocence to pull on the viewer’s heartstrings.  While this is also effective, I felt like I missed out on scenes that would have built the power of her death later on.  Because let’s be honest – it’s Rue’s death that really gets Katniss on the path toward the rebellion.

So Rue’s death?  While still powerful, I thought this was lacking in some execution and a bit rushed through.  I sort of wonder if I would feel so impacted by this scene if I hadn’t already read the books and known Rue.  In this, I’m talking about Rue’s death herself.  I think that Katniss’ reaction was very good and that due time was spent honoring her.  I did not feel as though the scene was sped through – appropriate gravity was given.

If it had not been, it would have ruined the trilogy.  Rue is important.  I just wish we could have seen a bit more of her before she died.  And we know in the films something we didn’t know when reading the book – that District 11 rebelled.  Trouble started.  The filmmakers took this knowledge in hand because something that would have been backstory in Catching Fire instead made its way to The Hunger Games.  Important for the longform story, but here?  I wish we could have stayed in the arena instead of breaking out for a moment for greater problems.

But here?  Here enters the love story.

I have a great deal more patience for the love story in the books than I do in the movie.

From here, we’re on a downhill slope to the end.  I don’t have much to say about the love story except that Peeta’s sick and Katniss nurses him and everything goes by quickly because again, we’re plugging through towards the end because these moments, even ones important to the plot, break the action and viewers could get bored.  Peeta’s a lot more lucid than he should be.  The Feast at the Cornucopia feels far less imperative in the movie than the books because we haven’t spent a lot of time worrying about whether Peeta will live or die.

Honestly, it feels quite certain the whole time that Peeta will live.  When I read the first book, honestly? I thought he was going to die.  So there was a lot more on the table and the tension was thicker.

Oh!  Aside.

One thing I miss in the movies that doesn’t transfer over from the books is Katniss’ love affair with food.  There’s a nod early on when Haymitch suggests she chew her food, but otherwise, nope.  Her appetite makes sense considering her background, and the lamb stew feast in the cave could have been a growth opportunity between Katniss and Peeta (instead of wasting that magic salve! I die.) and also the calm before the storm.

The ending comes quick and hard.  I don’t really think there was another way to do this – the action with the Mutts is good.  My recollection from the books was that this was the only time in the book where Cato wasn’t trying to kill the District 12 tributes – I mean, he eventually got there, but the goal first and foremost was to get on top of that cornucopia and for a breath, everyone was on the same team.  It gave Cato a little humanity, but that wasn’t included.

The ending, of course, was perfect.  The berries – straight from the books and well done.  Not a happy ending, and there shouldn’t’ve been one.

As a whole, this film is an excellent representation of the books.  In many ways The Hunger Games changed the course the book world – dystopias and sensible love triangles, for one – but bringing it to the screen had particular challenges.  I really think that switching from a first person perspective with an internal monologue to third person with no monologues must have been particularly difficult.  I feel that the filmmakers rose to the occasion.

It’s not perfect.  No adaptation is ever perfect.

But this one is really good.

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Do you believe The Hunger Games was a successful adaptation?  As you can see, I loved it… particularly this first movie (I do get saltier later).  I’d love to hear about all the missing pieces that broke your heart – did anyone else miss Madge?  Or Katniss’ food love story?  Tell me all about it in the comments!

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5 responses to “From Page to Screen: The Hunger Games! (SPIOILERS!)

  1. I agree, I love The Hunger Games movie! Even though it’s not exactly like the book, the movie makers did a great job in capturing the spirit. I like how the books tell Katniss’ stoy, while the movies zoom out and show us a little more of the districts.

    • Amber

      Agreed! There’s really no way I can think of that the films could have used to portray more of Katniss’ inner world, except maybe a narrator voice over, which would have been cheesy. I think they chose well!

  2. Ok imma type my comment as I read this lovely long post, because I have thoughts xD

    Firstly I agree with your thoughts on Gale. In the books I remember not really liking him all that much but I saw the first film before I read the book when I was….11 maybe 12 I can’t remember it was before I became a teen. Anyhoo I remember watching the movie and I did love both Peeta and Gale but in the books…Gale is just a nope honestly.

    Prim yeah….I was just neutral on Prim both in the books and the films as far as her character goes. Also I totally forgot about Madge *sobs* Oh Effie and Haymitch. I loved those two, I also loved their character arcs throughout the series. Rue aaaaah I loved Rue and she totally deserved more screen time *sobs*

    I really loved the love story, mind I saw the film first then binge read the books after but I can happily rewatch these films because they’re such good adaptations. Also I love Jennifer Lawrence haha. Awesome post!

    Clo @ Cuppa Clo recently posted: Ways To Replenish Your Creative Energy
    • Amber

      Aaah yes this post was very long. Sorry! Thank you for reading the whole thing!

      Madge is my little crusade in the corner. I acknowledge that she did nothing for the story but aaaah in my rereads I just really like her and wish she was there.

      I think seeing the film before reading the books makes a huge difference in reception. People who see the movies first are generally a bit kinder to them overall, and I recommend that route for *any* book/movie. Controversial option, but there you have it. 🙂 I think you should definitely rewatch sometime soon ;).

  3. I definitely need to watch these films again!
    Agree with the sidelining of Madge – Katniss doesn’t think of the two of them as friends until the moment that Madge passes on the Mockingjay and it’s quite touching to see that she appreciates the gesture and relationship.
    Effie is one of my favourite characters in the films, she’s completely over the top but doesn’t feel as distant from the characters.
    It’s been a while since I’ve seen the films but I feel like Peeta is much more likable in the books. Like he’s charming and has a bit more of a sense of humour. Plus he’s supposed to be quite large which contrasts with his personality.
    I remember there being a lot of shaky cam action during the Hunger Games itself towards the end of the movie but overall it’s a really good adaptation and I’m never very angry about things that are missed out for the sake of being able to practically make a film!