Tuesday, 20 March 2012

The Hunger Games: Book vs Film

The first in the hotly-anticipated Hunger Games films hits screens this weekend and the fans of the books - written by Suzanne Collins - are hoping for greatness with the hype suggesting that Director Gary Ross may have actually done it really well. So has it worked...?

The Hunger Games is the story of Katniss Everdeen, a 16 year old citizen of district 12 - the poorest district in Panem. Each year, a boy and girl between the ages of 12 and 18 are selected at the reaping ceremony for the 'honour' of representing their district in a fight to the death which is televised to the entire population of Panem. Katniss has been surviving for years and providing for her mother and sister so when her little sister Prim's name is called at the reaping, she volunteers to go in her place. Whisked away to the Capitol where luxury and excess is the norm, Katniss has a few days amongst the glitz and glamour of the Capitol to prepare before she is thrown into the games.

The book of The Hunger Games packed an emotional punch thanks largely to the central focus of Katniss and all her struggles to survive, her flaws and her drive. The film manages to keep this focus with Jennifer Lawrence in the lead role. Katniss is a massively complex character who many actresses would have struggled to play. However, Lawrence has surpassed expectations with a quietly restrained but massively heart-wrenching performance. She is both  strong and vulnerable, emotional and cold, affectionate and distant. Lawrence manages to achieve it all with apparent ease and in the few moments where she lets her emotions take over, all you want to do is reach into the screen and give her a hug - a feeling no doubt many fans of the book did when they read it.

Her support in the film comes in the shape of Josh Hutcherson as Peeta, Liam Hemsworth as Gale, Woody Harrelson as Haymitch, Elizabeth Banks as Effie and Donald Sutherland as President Snow. But the acting talent does not stop with this impressive core. The supporting cast each bring something to their respective roles.

Courtesy of Lionsgate/Murray Close

The Hunger Games is not just about the characters though. The Panem Collins created in her books was so imaginative that it drew readers into another world. Escapism at its finest, the stories were so much more than just the drama. The detail in outfits, hair and make-up as well as nuances of each district are part of the reason The Hunger Games trilogy stood out to readers. In the film, this care and attention to detail has been upheld brilliantly. 

There are changes though, as many expected. Smaller parts are ignored entirely. The Avox cast are kept in the background with only a fleeting reference to the Capitol removing your tongue if you disobey them. William Faulkner said you have to "kill your darlings" and if someone had to go, personally I'm glad it was the Avox who didn't make the cut. There are also additions - but only if you have only read the first book. What Ross has cleverly done in the adaptation is start the build-up to Catching Fire with a few teasers along the way. In the books, Collins liked to start each book with a sort of recap of what had been missed between books - things Katniss couldn't possibly know but guessed were true. One death that is assumed at the start of Catching Fire happens at the end of The Hunger Games.

Squeamish fans be warned, the rating may be a 12a but the violence is not. There may be nine seconds less of blood spatter but there is a shot of one tribute breaking the neck of another in one swift movement which still makes me shudder to think of it. Those who fear the violence is a bad thing, let me assure you that both book and film far from glorify it. It is an essential part of the story, illustrating the horrors the citizens are forced to endure at the hands of their government. What is written around so eloquently by Collins in the book is horrific to watch on the big screen though. There is no way to detach from it like there was in the book, as in the arena there are no wigs, no make-up - just 24 children vying for each other's blood in order to protect their own.

The major difference between the book and film is that, though still led by Katniss, the film explores a world beyond her own. The audience gets to see inside Seneca Crane's control room and President Snow's rose garden. As the games begin, we see Gale alone in the forest - thinking of Katniss - and families watching their TV sets. Far from weakening the story though, this only serves to enhance it. We see the effect Katniss and the games are having on the citizens of Panem. Instead of following along with the pawns in the games, the audience gets a glimpse at what it's like to pull the strings behind the scenes. The manipulation is constant and felt, it seems, to be necessary for the 'greater good' of Panem.

What Ross has done in this adaptation is spectacular. He hasn't been wholly concerned with the book fans and forgotten that people will just want to see the film. He caters to both markets. This is not a page by page adaptation to the big screen but it is a perfect example of what great adaptations should do - take the original text and adapt it lovingly to a new medium.

This is one of the finest adaptations I have ever seen. The fundamentals of the story are upheld, the very best actors are there to breathe life into Collins's creations and the imagination and emotion that resonates off ever page of the book is there in every scene in the film. For a film that could so easy have become an overly sentimental tearjerker, favouring either action or plot, it remains poignant, subtle, heart-wrenching and above all, the perfect balance of action and violence with emotion and character-driven plot.

Book - 4.5/5 FOBLES
Film - 5/5 FOBLES

1 comment:

  1. This is @kimberlymochi

    Nice blog! I enjoyed reading it!
    There is a sense on it and I got your views.
    It is very true that a movie obtained from a book is not literally a page by page adaptation to the big screen.
    I was really expecting that the movie would be a lot different from what I read, but still, I enjoyed the movie cause it brought everything I imagine to life.
    You've got to appreciate no matter how imperfect something is when you truly love that something wholeheartedly. :)