A couple weeks ago, I reviewed the Hunger Games in its incarnation as a book. I hadn’t seen the movie when I read the book and wrote the review, but I promised a follow up after having seen the movie. It’s generally accepted that books are always better than movies, but some stories are more well-translated to film than others. Sometimes this is because of the integrity of the story, sometimes it’s not. I must say, this was a well done translation to film.
Beforehand, I had been told that the movie “follows the book pretty closely,” and for the most part, it did. I could almost name the chapter of the book as I was watching. But it was actually the few departures from the book I found most telling of the film, because to move from a 348 page book to a 142-ish page script is quite a feat without sacrificing precious little pages on a change. So, the filmakers (which included author Suzanne Collins) must have had very good reason to do so.
Some of the more minor changes were for fixing problems that arose from the voice change in the adaptation. Here’s what I mean by that: The book was told in the first-person and movies often have no choice but to be in third-person, because it’s annoying to watch a movie with someone narrating the whole thing. So there were some tricks the director had to pull in order to maintain the story. For example, when Katniss finds herself trapped in a tree and, with Rue’s help, devises a plan to release the tracker jackers on her adversaries, the audience needed to know what tracker jackers are. After all, no normal wasps can kill a human that quickly, so it would warrant some explanation when they do. In the book, we are taken into Katniss’ head, where she explains to us the origin of the genetically engineered wasps, while in the movies we cut to a scene of the show’s commentators giving an explanation of the creatures. Another of these changes was focused on the dog-like creatures in the end. If you remember from my review of the book, this was my least favorite scene, because the beasts just seemed like an anti deus ex machina that came out of nowhere for the sole purpose of keeping the story interesting. In the movie, we are shown a scene of a game-maker working on a hologram of the dog and placing it in the arena. This unwittingly helped the story because it gave us some forewarning.
The biggest change, however, was the movie’s side-plot involving the Head Game-Maker and his meetings with President Snow. In the movie there were many cut scenes involving Snow’s discontent with the amount of hope Katniss was creating in the oppressed people of his country and the Game-Maker’s struggle to contain it, resulting in his eventual failure and execution. I have to say, this side-plot was a game changer for me. I loved it. Not only did it explain the dog-like creatures in a way the book didn’t, but it addressed one of the biggest problems I had with the book, and that was it’s hopelessness. While it was still Katniss struggling against an impossibly strong totalitarian government, the Game-Maker became a definite antagonist who Katniss eventually defeated, though she had not technically even meet him. This made the suggestion for us the audience that perhaps it was possible for good to triumph over evil.
There’s no way to get around it. The subject matter of the Hunger Games story is grizzly and brutal. It goes beyond the question of simple violence, because it isn’t just about enemies fighting for something they believe in. It’s about kids forced to become enemies over something they don’t believe in, or else be killed. This subject alone makes a case for questioning this film as a follower of Jesus, because this is not a subject that is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, or commendable. However in light of the full story, we do get some elements of good vs. evil, and the struggle not to succumb to the manipulation of evil men. I would say that if there is some line between what we should be for and against in the media, this is on or close to the line. I would certainly not want my children to see it if I was a parent. There is, of course, a concern raised over the portrayal of violence in film, as well as sexuality and I have to say, I was pleased that this movie was not as gruesome as it could have been, and there were even a few scenes depicting Katniss and Peeta kissing that I have concerns over. Not because they were inappropriate, but because Hollywood tends to over-sexualize things until they are inappropriate. I was pleasantly surprised to find that this was not the case in the Hunger Games. Still, consider yourself strongly cautioned for the violent and brutal nature of this movie’s theme. And please, leave the kids at home.