And now that the DVD is out, I finally gave in and watched the film version of The Hunger Games (and that in turn means that you get stuck with a series of post on the subject, regarding both the books and the film). Over all I have to say that the film was a pretty big disappointment, though in a way it was also an interesting example of some of the difficulties inherent to the film portrayal of what is a first person narrative. Simply put, film is, almost by definition, a third person medium. In the book we see the world through Katniss’s eyes, in the film we actually see her and her interactions with that world, and that is a significant difference that is not easy to overcome. But let’s go over some of the differences between both versions, and what those differences mean for the story itself.
Two of the most obvious differences that are a byproduct of the change in perspective are the way in which in the film we have the characters of Claudius Templesmith and Caesar Flickerman filling in some background info that must still be communicated somehow –such as the details about the tracker jackers– and the way in which Haymitch included explicit notes with the gifts from the sponsors, whereas in the book we have Katniss working out their respective meanings on her own. Of course, in this second instance this has an unfortunate side effect in that it diminishes the character of Katniss to a certain extent.
Those were necessary changes, but in addition to those there were also some more deliberate ones I am not too sure how I feel about, and how I see their implications for the story as a whole. Two of these that left me feeling more than a little ambivalent are first the decision to portray the handholding in the opening ceremony as being Peeta’s rather than Cinna’s idea, the second is the decision not to cast a couple of kids for the flashback scene between Katniss and Peeta.
About the handholding scene I have to admit that, as far as the story goes, the film version actually makes more sense. Peeta is in love with Katniss from the get-go and the truth is that Cinna has no way of knowing about his feelings at that point. On the other hand there is the fact that, small as it may seem, this change effectively reduces Cinna’s role to that of a very minor character, especially because some of his other scenes, and the relevance of his designs as a whole, were also significantly downplayed. Now, as far as this movie goes that doesn’t really make much of a difference, but the fact is that this movie had to be made with the sequels in mind, and Cinna is the architect of Katniss’s transformation into the Mockingjay, so I can’t help but to wonder how the way in which he was systematically undercut in this one, the way in which the groundwork for his future role wasn’t laid is going to affect those.
And finally for the one decision that truly left me scratching my head: the one about not casting a couple of kids for the flashback scene between Katniss and Peeta. Yes, the scene has been reduced to a shadow of its former self, and it has a dreamlike quality to it anyway, so at first glance that too comes across as an almost irrelevant shift, but the way I see it that is the one scene that would make no sense whatsoever to someone watching the movie who is not familiar with the book, and the movie itself is supposed to stand alone. Why did that scene bother me so much? I’m not sure, but I suspect it had to do with the fact that, seeing how self-reliant adult –or at least teenaged– Katniss is supposed to be, that scene comes across as being pretty confusing in the film. It is only if you’ve read the book and know that the characters are supposed to be something like eleven years old at the time that it actually makes sense.
Of course, these are not the only differences between the movie and the book that are likely to affect the sequel. There are others that have to do with some subplots and minor characters that were completely eliminated in what I suspect was an effort to keep the movie’s duration from crossing the 150 min. mark (as it stands, it lasts 142). Among the casualties here we encounter both Madge and the Avox girl. The problem is that those incidents and characters added a certain depth to the story as a whole that is missing from the film. In fact another related issue that bothered me is that both the description and the criticism of the Capitol come across as being somewhat muted, and we are left with nothing but glimpses of the cartoon-like characters that populate it and the mindless violence of the games (a violence that was itself then significantly toned down in what I suspect was a necessary compromise to avoid an R rating).
Okay, so this is not the most coherent of posts ever, but I wanted to get my thoughts on the subject off my chest anyway, even if it is a little late for that.