The book is always better than the movie, right? Usually there’s no contest, or else the movie is different enough that they can’t be compared. (See Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient, which was a sweepingly romantic movie and a very literary, non-linear book. See also: Philip K. Dick.) But once in a while they’re close enough that you can look at them both side by side. The Harry Potter series is one. The Hunger Games is another. (Edit: For another take on the book vs. the movie, see the YouTube video by Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency (found via The Mary Sue).)
Let me start by saying that the movie version of The Hunger Games is a very good adaptation of Suzanne Collins’s book. If you’re a fan of the book, chances are you’ll like the movie. If you discovered the movie first, the book will give you added depth without making you wonder how the story managed to change so much between the two media. Most of the major plot points from the book are still there in the movie; most of the character portrayals matched what I imagined from the book, as does the visual style.
Having said that, here are some pros and cons to each version of the story. Spoilers ahoy!
1. Katniss’s state of mind. Of course, books always have the edge on this one. But there are a couple of reasons why it’s particularly important to see inside the main character’s head here. For one thing, the book version of Katniss is so oblivious to Peeta’s infatuation that it makes the reader wonder whether he’s just playing to the camera. Onscreen, it’s much less ambiguous, and that’s a loss for the story. Winner: the book.
2. The cameras. Katniss in the book is always aware of the cameras and calculating what she’ll let them see, which means we get nice little glimpses behind her controlled exterior. The movie gets around not being in her head by showing us the people who control the cameras and the chilling choices they make — starting fires, felling trees, and so on. Winner: the movie.
3. The viewers. The movie doesn’t have a tight first-person point of view like the book does. That means it can’t show us Katniss’s mind (as in #1). But it is able to show us not only the control room but also the citizens of Panem who are watching — both at home in the districts and in the Capitol. We get a better sense of the world as a whole. However, by emphasizing the gaze of the viewer, we’re put in the position of the willing and bloodthirsty Capitol audience — an uncomfortable feeling. Winner: the movie.
4. The pacing. The book lags in spots. For example, I was surprised at how much build-up there was before the actual games. Then we get into the games and it’s exciting for a while, only to slow way down during the bonding scenes with Rue and with Peeta. Don’t get me wrong, I like those relationships a lot, but the sense of urgency gets lost. The movie sticks very close to this pacing, and I think this is one area where it should have departed more from the book. On the other hand, the sequence with Rue happens very suddenly in the movie — one minute Rue is pointing out the tracker-jacker nest, the next minute she’s nursing Katniss back to health and sharing dinner. In the book there’s a bit more of a dance before they decide to trust each other. Winner: it’s a tie.
5. The hunger. In the book, there’s a constant focus on survival at all levels. The danger comes not just from the other Tributes, but from starvation, cold, fire, injury, and so on. Katniss spends a good portion of the Games trying to ward off one or another of these — she’s always on the defensive rather than being able to go after her competitors. The movie focuses on the interpersonal clashes — a necessary loss to avoid a very long movie, but a loss all the same. Winner: the book.
Luckily for me, this is not the Hunger Games, so I don’t have to pick a winner. I read the book first, and books usually have the edge for me, but the movie was such a good adaptation of the source material that I can’t choose. So I’m turning to you.
Which version of The Hunger Games did you like better? What pros and cons did you notice with each? Do you agree with mine?
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