Hunger Games, movie and book review

Last week I watched the movie Hunger Games and last weekend I read the book by Suzanne Collins. I’m not usually a YA reader, although I’ve read more in last year than I usually do. My gf had bought the book on Kindle and so, when we were together last week, we watched the movie on PPV. I was impressed enough to ask for the book, and she was able to loan me the first one.
Now, having both watched the movie and read the book, I have to say that the movie was one of the best adaptations of a book into film that I have ever seen. Like Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings, the writers managed to capture the essence of the book and make a movie out of it that captures the story but makes it a movie, not a book. No mean feat.
Reading and watching movies are such completely different entertainment modes that it amazes me how often people expect movies to be “just like” the book and vice versa. They want the story the know from the book and are (almost universally) disappointed when the viewing experience doesn’t manage to capture the reading experience they had (I’m not even going to go into the whole participatory element of reading. But I could. You stand warned). Utilizing differences between those two types of experiences to tell the best story that the movie medium allows, while still retaining the impact of the book is impressive. Take Point of View for instance.
The book is told in first person point of view. For this story, it is the perfect choice. We get to experience Katniss’ reactions to the events in her world, learning just enough at just the right time to keep the world understandable for us (always a challenge in any SF/Fantasy or Historical fiction where the world building has to happen fast enough to allow us to follow the action but not so fast we lose track of the action in the details of the world). The first chapter of Hunger Games is the perfect first chapter. Plenty of action, smooth introduction of characters, just the right amount of world building. I think that most of this is a credit to the choice of first person as the POV.
In the Games section of the book, the close POV heightens the feeling of dread as she doesn’t know (so we don’t know) who of her enemies is where. We get her dread, her resilience, her pain, her motivations as she tries to stay alive in the game. I don’t think that even a close 3rd would have given the readers as much. At the end of the game, we get to follow her thoughts as she realizes that the double-suicide would mess with the gamemakers’ plans and to the extent that (she hopes!) the gamemakers will interrupt them before they’re both dead. Because we know her true motivation, that she know what would push the gamemakers and chose that action because of it, we then know at the end that she *did* rebel as far as they were concerned. The danger as it is shown at the end of the story is real. The same is true for the “romance” between her and Peeta: we see her motivation and so we know it is a ruse for her, even as it becomes gradually more than a stratagem. She doesn’t know, and so we don’t, just how much of it is a ruse for Peeta, and just how much is heartrendingly in earnest.
The movie, however, is a movie. First person isn’t really an option. And, for the film, it wouldn’t be a good idea. This is a visual medium and we want to be able to have the expansive scope available to us. The film makers can raise the stakes by showing us how close her opponents are, for example, showing us what she doesn’t know. Effective in the movie given the visual medium. Would not have been as effective in the book. Because it is 3rd person, we get to see the machinations of the president and the efforts of Haymitch and others on her behalf. This works in the movie to add tension. In the book, it might have worked as well, but the close identification with Katniss worked better.
But. It is a different story than the book. They are both good, they are both effective, they are both eerie and enraging as hell. In both cases, the writer(s) used the medium best to tell their story.

One quibble: the “meta” fact of the movie wasn’t played up as much as it should have been, in my opinion. The book, being a book, telling us about the televised Hunger Games, gives us a distance. We’re not watching the games, like those ghouls, those decadent assholes in the capitol. No, we’re with Katniss, in her story, not outside of it. Watching the movie, however, is the same psychic distance as watching the televised Games would be for those other decadent assholes. The movie could have made much more of this by using shots that showed the story as if we were seeing it on TV. More “hidden camera” shots, more documentary style filming. We should be uncomfortable watching the violence. We know it’s not real, but our society has very little compunction about watching simulated violence. Being made uncomfortable by that, wouldn’t have been a bad thing.

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