The Hunger Games:
OK, by now every last person in the free world has probably heard of The Hunger Games trilogy of books by Suzanne Collins, either from the books, or more likely the movie, or even the teasers for the second movie that will be showing this winter in theaters around the globe. Like most people who actually enjoy reading, I don’t get nearly enough time to read books, and find myself more often than not seeing the movie before I read the book. This was no exception when it came to The Hunger Games.
Seeing movies in theaters has not been a real option for me since the birth of my son, and I imagine it won’t be for some time to come, so I don’t see many movies prior to their Blu-Ray release. I bought The Hunger Games on Blu-Ray when it came out and it sat unopened on a side table for a few weeks before my wife and I finally found a couple of hours of time when we were both home, both still awake enough to comprehend anything going on around us, and both caught up on our classwork. Neither one of us had ever read the books and we both agreed after watching that it was a good story, and that we would like to read the books some day. That was a nice thought, and it was gone nearly as quickly as it arrived without much thought until a few weeks ago.
Now it has been a very long time since either one of us has actually “read” through an entire book, finding audiobooks to be a much more manageable format for us. I used to work a job that had a 45 minutes drive one-way, and I spent my drives listening to books to help me pass the time. The Harry Potter series of books were the first books we listened to together, or mostly together anyway. We used to take long drives most of our Sunday’s together and just listen to books. If the weather was cooperating we would load up our DSLRs and just drive until we saw something that looked like fun to photograph, and we would jump out take pictures for a while then get back in and drive some more.These trips will always hold a special place with me, as will the experience of sharing these books together.
Last month we had a special trip planned, our first concert, (I know, i know, I’m almost 30, I should have been to tons of concerts by now) Imagine Dragons, who by the way were amazing, but that’s a story for a different day. The concert was a 4 hour drive from our house and that eerie thing that happens so often happened to me again while planning for our trip. I started looking into audiobooks at work one day, thinking it would be a good time to listen to a book together during 8 hours of drive time. When I got home that day the first thing my wife said to me was “We should find a book to listen to on the way down”, happens all the time, still creeps me out a little every time.
Anyway, having both recently seen a trailer for the upcoming Catching Fire movie we decided we wanted to read the book before seeing the movie this time, and of course before we could listen to Catching Fire, we had to listen to The Hunger Games. So I got the book and downloaded it to my iPod, IT guy or not I still rock out with a 2nd gen black 8gb iPod nano, the only Apple product I own I might add. I got the iPod connected to the stereo in the truck, and our journey into Panem began.
Less review, more compare
I’m not going to go into an in depth synopsis of the plot and review of the book here today. For either of those a quick Google search will likely yield you more results than you could read in a lifetime. Instead I am going to talk more about how the book compares to the movie, and yes I know there are probably more posts on this subject than I could even begin to count, but this is my take on it.
Firstly, please remember that I saw the movie first, so as I listened to the book in my mind Jennifer Lawrence was already Katniss in my mind, and most of the scenes from the book already had a previous vision in my mind’s eye. Secondly, I will almost always give the filmmakers the benefit of the doubt, knowing full well that if they were to try and fit every detail from a book on the screen the movie would 10 hours long and require odd mental monologues all the time. This benefit of the doubt troubles my wife quite often, particularly when I said that the whole running segment in Harry Potter about freeing the house elves that was a lengthy piece of book that never saw the screen was an obvious thing to cut out seeing that it added very little to the main story line and would take up valuable screen time that could be spent developing a more important part of the story.
That being said, I think the team that took The Hunger Games from book to screen did a fantastic job of getting the core story developed without spending too much time on the little pieces that don’t add much to the story, other than developing a deeper relationship with the characters. There are however several parts that I do feel would have been worth a couple of extra seconds, a few extra frames that could change the way you see a character.
One of these particular moments is during the flashbacks where Katniss remembers Peeta throwing her the bread that saved her from starving. In the book they highlight the fact that Peeta seemed to have gone out of his way, purposely burning the bread and taking a swift strike from his mother for it, to give her that piece of bread. The movie shows it as he just happened to see her as he was throwing out the bread and tossed it her way. While this may not seem that important, I feel that showing that little extra could have really shone Peeta in a different light to the movie viewing audience.
While it is a challenge to reflect the internal dialogue of a character, their memories and thoughts, I feel like the use of the “TV commentator” in the move did a remarkable job, especially in explaining things like the tracker jackers so we weren’t all left wondering why these large bees gave people hallucinations. I did feel like there was a bit of a disconnect on Katniss’s home relationship, with her mother and her sister, and even the other people of District 12. Again this may be something that they felt wasn’t important to the core story, but I think it is a big part of what defines Katniss.
The book gives us a proper explanation of the three finger kiss and salute that the is used by the people of District 12, which is missing from the movie. While the movie shows the salute, and even uses it correctly, in the correct places, without the book’s explanation you are left to assume, or guess at its meaning. I imagine most people were able to guess fairly accurately, but again I didn’t feel the full impact of that simple gesture until I listened to the book.
In the arena I took issue to the way Thresh let Katniss go at the cornucopia. In the movie he seems to inexplicably know what Katniss did for Rue without her telling him. The book makes this nice and clear when Katniss begs for her life and tells the whole story as Thresh waits to crush her skull with a rock.
Also in the arena the dog beasts at the climax of the games didn’t quite hit the mark in the movie. While their appearance and actions may have been impressive, they did not show the fact that the dogs were all of the deceased contestants. This may not add much to the core story line, but it does add a sense of how morally corrupt the government and game makers are. The fact that they would desecrate the fallen competitors by transforming them into mindless killing beasts and send them back out after the survivors adds a level of disgust and hatred that I’m sure will only build in the coming books.
The big miss for me in the movie is the love story between Katniss and Peeta. This story is a cornerstone of the story, both book and movie, yet the movie seems to widely gloss over it. The book gives a much more vivid picture of a boy who is deeply in love from the start and a girl who falls in love with him for real while she pretends to fall in love to put on a good show. This is huge, this love story is what sets up all the following action, how thing play out for the two of them, during and after the arena is so deeply connected to this love story, and the movie feels lacking. Having watched the movie first I must confess that I did not find it lacking when I watched the move, but after listening to the book I feel like the movie failed to deliver the proper impact to this young love.
One last comparison piece here is Peeta’s leg. The movie shows us that the magical serum from the capital healed it perfectly and he walked home without a scratch on it, while the books shows him losing his leg completely after it takes another attack and a tourniquet. This may not be a major detail if the story were to end here, but it doesn’t, there are two more volumes in this saga, and the previews for Catching Fire tell me that leg may be an important part of the coming story.
Hungry for more
Bottom line, book was fantastic, move was great, and very well adapted. I liked the book so much that with hours of finishing listening to it I had already began listening to Catching Fire. In fact I am already looking forward to mowing the lawn today and popping in some headphone to listen while I mow.
I hope I kept at least a few of you with me as I attempted my first “review” of sorts. Let me know if you liked, or didn’t like this so I can know if I want to do more reviews of this style in the future. I may do some more traditional synopsis and breakdown style reviews as well. Thank you all for reading and joining me as I start this blogging journey.