I’ve seen a lot of bad adaptations in my day. I’ve also seen several good ones. One of the most important things that make good film adaptations is their ability in being able to accurately translate the source material to the film medium. In other words, I should watch the movie and like the story without having to know and/or be a fan of the source material.
I read the Hunger Games books and watched the films in their entirety, and I’ll give the movies a solid B+, an 87, maximum. That could be harsh for some and too much for others, but I don’t really care because this is my blog and I’m going to have whatever opinions I feel like.
Overall, the films did the basis of their job, which is translate the book into a movie without butchering it. Within the constraints of run time, what they were able to get across is commendable.
The extra 13 to 15 points missing from that possible 100 is that the movies couldn’t fully capture certain elements of the story, subtleties that made the books really enjoyable–and I’m a huge fan of subtleties. The characterization wasn’t as thorough as it could have been, taking depth from characters that needed it to be better understood. Some characters were even left out in the movies, and although minor, those excluded characters gave the plot a more unique texture.
It’s not entirely fair to make critiques on the special effects and visual layout of the Panem’s scenery not being my cup of tea because budget and technology are much more limited than the vast expanses of my imagination. With that being said, I’ll just elaborate on characterization and plot.
1. Plot interpretation.
A definitive moment.
The book is written in a first person point of view. We as readers experience Panem and all of its players through Katniss’s eyes. We inherit, in some ways, her bias, and we understand her motives. On the other hand, the movies are in third person point of view. You get to see other characters’ motives, such as that of President Snow, and you get to see how the games really work. This provides more insight and scope into Panem and Katniss’s place in it, along with the rest of the characters.
Although it can take out some of the story’s original color, it rather replaces it than just removes it. An omniscient point of view in this context allows viewers to separate themselves from Panem to understand that what’s happening in this world is not normal, and it’s not supposed to be. This is an interesting perspective that we might not be able to grasp as quickly in the first person because to Katniss, for the majority of the story, her world is normal. It’s what she and everyone else in Panem have experienced their entire lives. However, since we lack that personal experience through the film, we are able to critique their society and way of life from a more objective point of view, shifting the discussion of the story into a new light.
The strength of a good story lies not only within the plot, but within its ability to construct and develop lovable and/or relatable characters. This holds especially with book characters because we can neither hear nor see them in a tangible sense. It’s all in our imagination, but again, the imagination is a very powerful adversary against our concrete reality.
What I imagined most of the Hunger Games characters and their interactions to be like were not interpreted the same way on screen, so I was a bit disappointed with some of the characters who lacked the general subtleties, in addition to the subtleties in their individual depth and growth, that made me appreciate them in the books. For example, Peeta has a lot more wit and charm, shown in the books, among other strengths that make him quite valuable to Katniss and entities like the Rebellion or the Capital. However, Peeta, more often than not in the movies, comes off whiny and incapable rather than just not as good as people like Katniss and Gale, both of whom are significantly above average with regards to combat and survival capabilities.
They’re just crazy good.
I was also disappointed when some minor characters from the books were entirely left out, like Madge Undersee. Madge was the daughter of District 12′s mayor from the first book, before the new mayor and peacekeepers were ushered in by Snow in Catching Fire. Madge was good friends with Katniss before Katniss volunteered for the Hunger Games, and the girl who actually gave Katniss the mockingjay pin instead of Greasy Sae, the old lady who ran the Hob. Madge was not the only character omitted from the films who contributed to some of the more subtle, more textured plot aspects.
You could attribute the lack of more thorough character development primarily to the limits on run time. Studios set run time for films based on various criteria, and after that time limit is given, there isn’t a lot of wiggle room once all of that film gets to the editing suite. As a result, sometimes things that are subtle or require more depth get sacrificed for a wider scope.
If anything, The Hunger Games is a good example of how adaptations can still be done well in spite of things getting lost in translation. Regardless, it’s a good, emotive story that’s obviously made changes to the entertainment industry in unforeseen ways. Like most people say, the books were better, but that doesn’t mean I won’t sit and watch the movies from time to time.
You have a tendency to get attached.