Happy Hunger Games, and may the odds be ever in your favour.
‘The Hunger Games’ Book – 4 Stars; ‘Catching Fire’ Book – 3.75 Stars (Rounded to 4); ‘Mockingjay’ Book – 2 Stars
‘The Hunger Games’ Film – 8/10; ‘Catching Fire’ Film – 8.5/10; ‘Mockingjay Part 1’ Film – 9/10
I love ‘The Hunger Games’. I am a big fan of the world and the characters, and I have been ever since I discovered it. However, my biggest book confession is this; it is not the books that I am in love with, but the films.
There. I’ve said it. This is the first time ever that I have admitted to preferring a film adaptation to its original book. I am one of those people who is incredibly guilty of biting the heads off anyone who utters the sentences “why read the book when I have seen the movie?” or “I’m sure the films are better”; in my eyes, books are always far superior to their big-screen counterparts. On this occasion though, I can openly admit that I think the ‘Hunger Games’ movie franchise unlocked a whole world of potential that the books never acted on for me.
I was late to the ‘Hunger Games’ bandwagon. The first time I ever heard of it was when I watched the first film at a sleepover with my best friend for Guy Fawkes Night in November 2012, 8 months after its cinematic release. I was vaguely aware there was a new blockbuster film on the block, but I am not a fan of movies in general, so while it entered my subconscious, I was never completely aware of the details of the film, let alone the books. I may have been living under a rock, but I seriously did not know that the trilogy existed. I watched the film with my best friend, who had read all three books, and realised that it was actually pretty damn good. I didn’t quite get every aspect, whether due to the fact that I was incredibly tired and not paying 100% attention or that I hadn’t read the books, I am not sure. Anyway, I rushed to do some research into Suzanne Collins, then received the books and the DVD for Christmas. It was then that I really began to immerse myself in the phenomenon that is ‘The Hunger Games’.
My first thoughts upon reading the first and second instalments were favourable: I enjoyed the story and it seemed very unique to me. The second one rated slightly lower as it seemed a little bit too much like its predecessor for my liking, but it was still a good book. Saying that, they were not memorable. They were the kind of books that I read once, appreciate whilst it lasts, then shelf for evermore, swiftly forgetting all of the features to. I liked them, but they were not stand-out books by any means. That is when we breach the topic of ‘Mockingjay’. I have to say that I think this book was the worst ending to any series I have ever read; I have never been as disappointed at the end of a series as I was for this book. I felt that the story went absolutely nowhere, the character development was absolutely shocking, most of the events were put in purely for dramatic effect and the conclusion felt very forced and unsatisfying. In short, I detested it. As a series, I thought that ‘The Hunger Games’ was a good idea that fell short on most of the execution aspects, and ultimately was not anything special to me.
So what changed my view on the series as a whole? The films. Admittedly, the fact that I did see the first film before reading the book may skew my opinion of the world towards that in the film, but when I went to see ‘Catching Fire’ in cinemas, I still thought that it was 100 times more enjoyable than the book was, even though I had read the book and found it okay. I initially thought it was down to the fact that the ideas would translate better to screen than to page, but when ‘Mockingjay Part 1’ came out and became my favourite film of the year (despite the fact that its book counterpart is one of my least favourite books of all time), it became evident that the films were doing something special that made me fall in love with the concept in a way that the books never allowed me to do.
In order to reach the bottom of why I have the feelings that I do, I am going to break the series down into smaller points, such as plot and character, as well as a brief overview on each of the three instalments, in order to fully analyse the franchise as a whole.
*Warning – There may be minor spoilers dotted around this article. I will post more immediate spoiler warnings for the particularly important spoilers, but be warned if you have not read the books or are up to date with the films that there may be some information for ‘Mockingjay’ which you do not know yet*
‘The Hunger Games’ (Book/Film One)
As I have said, the fact that I saw this movie before reading the book means that I cannot fully assess whether my opinions would be the same had I read the book first, as I missed out on the chance to visualise the world and characters as I would have done had I not seen them already transcribed to the screen. I think that ‘The Hunger Games’ is the closest the film and book have been to each other in terms of my general enjoyment, with the book being the highest-rated of the trilogy for me, and the film the lowest rated of the three films that are out. The ideas are all very new in both instances, as it is not like anything I personally have come across in literature or cinema before. The main aspect in which I think the film did better is a personal opinion that could not have been avoided; I think that the whole games situation is better suited to a mimetic storytelling approach rather than a diegetic one. Seeing the ideas rather than reading about them just suited me better, given the action approach we get during the games scenes.
‘Catching Fire’ (Book/Film Two)
‘Catching Fire’, whist still an enjoyable book, was the beginning of the decline for me. There was an incredibly long and dragging period at the beginning, before the Quarter Quell, which was where it actually got interesting for me. The film also took a long time to get into the Quarter Quell, however the film made the Victory Tour worth watching, with good cinematography, a less monotonous feel that the book and a hilarious bit of improv from Elizabeth Banks in the party scene. In the book, the entirety of the Victory Tour seemed a bit dull to me, and it took too much of Katniss’s whining to get to a point where I was interested.
‘Mockingjay’ (Book/Film Three)
The entirety of this book was awful in my eyes; the lack of plot detail, the almost non-existent character development for anyone but Peeta (and I can’t say I liked that one!), a sense of distance from the actual effects of the war on the districts… there were many things that I disagreed with. ‘Mockingjay Part 1’ felt to me like they had kept close to the original plot, but added details, characterisation and scenes that were sorely missed in the book (they also replaced Fulvia with Effie, which was a fantastic move, as people actually like Effie, and Fulvia was a pointless addition anyway). Even though the plot was the same as the one I was not fond of in the book, the film as a whole felt like it delved more into the world and the war, rather than just focusing on Katniss and her mucked-up love life as if she were the only thing that mattered.
The base story of ‘Hunger Games’ tends to be good throughout the first two books (it does to pot in ‘Mockingjay’ but I don’t even think that’s worth mentioning). The issues I was constantly finding were not with the core plot, but with the lack of smaller details to flesh out the plot. When reading, there were so many unresolved questions. I wanted to know more about the war before the games began. I wanted to know more about the lives of characters that were not Katniss. I wanted a sense of closure for said other characters at the end of the book. Was any of that detail in there? No. It is a small thing to add; none of the features I wanted would take up too much extra space, and all could fit in seamlessly throughout the series. I genuinely cannot fathom how we know barely anything about the world surrounding Katniss. I know that she is the protagonist, but it feels like we are trapped within a bubble focused solely on her, and nothing else around her is relevant. As a reader who often feels more sympathetic to the secondary characters and who likes a well-crafted world with history behind it, this left me ripping my hair out. The film, in my opinion, added as many extra details as it could to pacify people like me who craved an extra layer of detail. We hear extra character information (which I will touch on in the character section below), we spend longer focusing on the acts of the rebellion and we have some lovely scenes with Snow, showing his plans unfold, which was sorely missed in the books. We even have the scenes with Snow and his granddaughter, which I feel are incredibly powerful, especially the one in ‘Mockingjay’ where she undoes her braid. It really hits home the point about war affecting everyone *MOCKINGJAY BOOK SPOILERS* and knowing the suggestion to make Snow’s granddaughter play in a Capitol version of the games, it actually really moves me to see her in scenes.
*Slight ‘Mockingjay’ book and film spoilers*
In my eyes, the plot in the book focuses primarily on Katniss’s romance dilemmas. Even during the war in ‘Mockingjay’, when Peeta is in the Capitol and Gale is acting like a lovesick puppy, we see barely any work ethic and determination from Katniss, who refuses to see the larger picture of the war, instead choosing to spend long monologues weighing up the pros and cons of each of her love interests. In fact, the entire series can seem like a teenage angsty diary at times, when more pressing issues than Katniss’s love life are being overlooked because ‘Gale and Peeta are both really hot’. In the films, there is a perfect balance of action and character-based story; there is enough of both elements to support the story, but we do not spend an eternity following Katniss’s romance problems, instead having a similar amount of focus on the actual war as on Katniss. The romance takes a back-seat when appropriate to the story, which is what I feel had to happen given the nature of the story.
Character is probably the area where I have the most gripes.
I suppose that given the fact that I saw the first film before reading the series, I could be forgiven for picturing Katniss, Peeta, Haymitch and the likes as they appeared in the film. I definitely do picture them as their film counterparts, simply as I think that all of the actors suited their roles, and their appearance was naturally the first thing I noticed when they made their first appearance in the film. Reading the book afterwards, there are some elements of certain characters that I noticed were different to their portrayal in the film (for example, book Haymitch has dark hair, and in the film it is dirty blonde). However, the descriptions of characters were never in-depth enough for me to be able to create an image of them in my head that was completely distanced from their film appearance; I just feel that if the characters had stronger descriptions in the book, then maybe I would create my own image of them in my head, but there simply isn’t enough substance for me to work from. As I had read all of the books by the time I saw ‘Catching Fire’, I had a vague mental image of the newer characters. However, this was not particularly strong, as I had very limited information to work from on the description front, so as soon as I saw the actors portraying their characters, I felt that the representation seen on screen was a lot more distinguished than anything I had been able to piece together from the books, and so the film versions of the characters became the characters as I reread the book. I have never experienced this issue for any other book that was made into a film or TV series; there has always been a handful of characters that I had such a strong image of in my head that their screen counterpart had little to no effect on my interpretation.
The films also managed to make me like characters who I feel were portrayed very poorly in the book. The best examples of this are Johanna and Finnick. Upon reading the books, I developed a severe dislike for both characters. Their morals were sketchy, they were overly boisterous and flirty and they seemed too emotionally detached to impact me. Both of these characters grew on me in the films, and I soon loved them. Once I have an opinion on a character, it very rarely changes, so it says something that this happened for two characters. The main reason in my opinion is that Suzanne Collins did not do a good job in portraying a certain type of character; Johanna and Finnick (and Haymitch for that matter) all fall under the umbrella of emotionally scarred people who use arrogance, confidence and occasionally rudeness to cover up many layers of pain and hurt. In the books, I think that Collins puts so much emphasis on the characters’ façades that the oh-so-important layers get lost under a truly dislikeable character, and when we eventually see Finnick break down and Johanna’s mask slip, I am so aggravated by them that I don’t care enough to pity them. The actors who play the three of the characters mentioned above in the films manage to showcase the torment that their attitude hides right from the beginning, and the screenplays are a lot more favourable to their plights too. These little details mean that I could see from the beginning that Johanna and Finnick were more than just cocky annoyances, and so I actually gave them a little more time.
My biggest gripe of all is character development. In the books, it is non-existent. Asides from Katniss and Peeta, we see no gradual change in the actions of any character, and any change we do see is very stilted, and does not seem to affect the character’s personality in the long run. One character who had the potential to change immensely was Gale; we could have seen a gradual understanding of Katniss’s feelings for Peeta, leading to him becoming less of an obsessed and relentless pest, yet when we do see his understanding of her feelings, we see either one of two reactions: anger or passiveness. There is no spectrum as to his reactions, he just jumps from A to B then back again in record time, with no change to his behaviour in the long run. I think that the character who has the most potential for development in the books is Effie. As a Capitol citizen, I would have loved to see her progress from denial of the Capitol’s faults to a gradual acceptance, and maybe even a resentment of how she had gone along with the games for years. I think that this change would have illustrated how not all Capitol citizens were guilty, and many were just behaving in a way they had been brought up to believe was right. Instead, book Effie just totters through every scene with the same jolly aura as before, never really sparing a thought to the situation. And just when she is given the perfect opportunity to see through the Capitol’s cover at the end of ‘Catching Fire’ and the beginning of ‘Mockingjay’, she disappears off of the face of the Earth, to be seen again all of once, where she is described as ‘not her former self’. As is said before, it is a jump from A to B, with no steady progression. In the films, we see Effie in ‘Catching Fire’ incredibly moved at the prospect of the Quarter Quell, and it just seems to me like she had actually bonded with the tributes to an extent where she was questioning the Capitol, something that should’ve been in the book. I feel like that character development arc will be sorted now, having placed Effie in 13 in the movies, but I just feel let down that no secondary characters get any development in the books.
Something that I said to my friend upon finishing ‘Mockingjay’, and that has stuck with me this whole time, is that for a book which ultimately preaches equality and fairness for all, it refers to people by their districts an awful lot. This could highlight how society sees them as part of a district and not an individual, but as the book follows Katniss’s thoughts, and she is protesting for equality, I just think that we should lose all of the focus on districts when referring to characters. In the films, the districts are only mentioned when necessary, which I feel fits the themes better. In the books, a lot of elements work under the assumption that we remember the roles of each of the districts. With each one having a different function, I would get muddled between them, and when faced with a district-based concept, I would get very mixed up between them. As the film does not focus as much on which district people are from, this becomes less of an issue.
For the amount of description in the books, it is very tricky to picture the world. It is completely different to what we are used to, and so should be described in depth so that we know exactly where our story is taking place. As I mentioned with character appearance, I think that Collins is very lax with actually describing things to an extent where they can be pictured; we grasp that the Capitol is futuristic and the districts are poverty, but I cannot build a mental image from two contrasting words. I think that it took until the films to actually be able to envisage some of the scenes from ‘Catching Fire’ and especially ‘Mockingjay’ (I’m thinking mainly of District 13).
One of my very major grudges with the book is the first person narrative, following solely Katniss. I do not have a problem with first person narrative, however when there is an important event happening away from the main character – President Snow’s and the Gamesmakers’ actions, the rebelling in the districts and the small features and clues that Katniss does not notice – it would be quite nice to see it once in a while. In the books, we never see anything but Katniss’s thoughts, which not only miss out elements that I would love to see, but are very monotonous, close-minded and irritating. The narrative style wound me up very swiftly. In the films, we see some of the scenes that I really wanted to see, and this break away from Katniss provides a welcome break from our annoying heroine. Obviously it was never going to have a constant narration of her thoughts due to the nature of film, which is an immediate improvement, but I think that the way that the films handle the switch between points of view, such as seeing Crane and Plutarch dictate how to run the games or witnessing the rebels in the districts, gives us a deeper edge to the story than the lines used in the book to briefly mention the rebel situation. In the case of Snow and the Gamesmakers, we see nothing of them beyond what Katniss sees, which I feel isn’t enough information to make that element of the story strong.
What Can ‘Mockingjay Part Two’ do Better?
*MAJOR MOCKINGJAY BOOK SPOILERS*
The first thing that I have to mention is character deaths. Collins’s death scenes are poor at best; we spend way more time listening to Katniss whine over Prim’s death than we do actually focusing on it. The amount of time dedicated to Finnick’s demise is shameful. I think that it will be essential that the film makes up for their pitiful book send offs with a scene that the characters deserve.
At the end of the book, the pace picks up dramatically after Coin’s death. This leaves the ending feeling very, very rushed; there is no proper closure to anything as it feels like Collins was trying to cram everything into a certain amount of pages, or hurrying as the end was in sight. The film needs to slow things down, give us time to absorb what has happened, and then close all loose ends and bring the story to a natural conclusion, rather than forcing a slightly dodgy last chapter and epilogue in.
Finally, there is one aspect which I would like the film to remove completely (even though I know they won’t); the proposed games for Capitol children. After preaching about equality and human rights, I cannot believe that this scene was even in ‘Mockingjay’. In fact, I think that it is disgusting. I would love to see the film eradicate all traces of this scene, even though they cannot really take it out.
So there we have it. My reasons as to why I think that the ‘Hunger Games’ films are far better than the books. I’m not afraid to cite this as the first time I have truly preferred a film adaptation to the book series, and I hope that I have given you a reason as to why.
Thanks for reading,