Compare and contrast the first book with the film.
I love The Hunger Games movie. I love seeing the world of Panem come alive – the contrast between the Capitol’s array of blinding, bizarre colors and the stark neutral tones of District 12 in poverty. But as always, there’s something missing in the transition of book to film. Hollywood’s glamorous fingerprints are all over the story that openly mocks our society with comical (but believable) hyperbole, and honestly, it’s the biggest disappointment of the movies.
Let’s start with the issue of race. In the book, Katniss and Gale are described as having “straight black hair, olive skin… the same gray eyes” (The Hunger Games page 8). This physical description is ambiguous – is she Native American, Hispanic, Indian? – but instead of taking the opportunity to offer the roles of Katniss and Gale to non-white actors, casting directors instead decided to give white actors Jennifer Lawnrence and Liam Hemsworth the roles. This commentary is a good read on the reason why casting directors should have given the role to a non-white actress, if you’re interested: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/01/hunger-games-movie_n_1314053.html
The movie itself is a much cleaner portrayal of the gruesome story – which makes sense, on the one hand. We don’t necessarily need characters to shed buckets of blood on-screen to get the sense that the Games are a brutal and unnecessary practice. But there are smaller details in the books that flesh out the struggles of the characters that do not exist in the movie. Peeta loses his leg after the battle with the mutts at the Cornucopia. Katniss loses the hearing in one ear after the explosion at the Careers’ camp. According to the books, both characters are technically disabled by the end of the Games. Although the Capitol does restore Katniss’s ability to hear, it is never mentioned in the movies – she walks away from the explosion unharmed, even though it’s unrealistic and untrue in the books. And Peeta’s leg is apparently perfectly fine even after an awful infection from a stab wound and an attack by mutts.
There are also some frightening details in the books that the movie failed to portray – the Gamemakers putting the Tributes’ eyes into the mutts, Rue being murdered as she struggles to escape from the net as opposed to her on-screen murder after Katniss has already freed her. These would have been nice to see in the movie as well.
An Entertainment Weekly writer sums up his issue with the movie in this quote: “Basically, The Hunger Games in movie form has become a superhero film” (Franich 2012). He’s right – in the movie, Katniss is portrayed as a hero rather than the emotionally unstable girl with sociopathic tendencies that she is in the book. Her character, like many others, is watered down in the movie to make it more Hollywood, easier to digest, more comfortable to think about. The Katniss that movie-goers know is not the Katniss who is vengeful and stubborn and often in the wrong – she is the pristine martyr, the underdog from Disctrict 12. The movie itself portrays her as the Capitol does to its audience in the books – what does that say about our society?
Franich describes the movie as “exactly the sort of simplified media narrative that Collins was originally criticizing,” and I can’t help but agree. Although the marketing before the film came out was really cool – the advertising from “the Capitol” for nail polish and other frivalous things – it also makes me think about whether our society is really so far off from the Capitol’s.