Breaking the trend: Why Gary Ross' take on The Hunger Games trumps the novel
The longstanding belief that a book-based film simply can't live up to the original work is one that most moviegoers and avid readers share — and rightly so. How many movies can you think of that actually managed to live up to — never mind surpass — the original literary work? Having trouble coming up with some examples? Yeah, me too. Aside from The Lord of the Rings trilogy, there really aren't many glaring instances in which a novel-inspired film really does the original story justice. Let's face it, filmmakers have one heck of a challenge when they take on an already well-established franchise, as fans of the series already have their own expectations of what it should look like. The beauty of a written story lies in its ability to tap into one's creative mind and conjure up images that are virtually impossible to replicate on the silver screen. That is why I was left dumbfounded after watching Gary Ross' take on The Hunger Games, a film that not only stands toe-to-toe with Suzanne Collins' original work, but surpasses it in many respects.
Now I have to confess, I did not know much about the series going into the film, having not read or heard of the trilogy until recently. As such, I was able to watch the film completely unspoiled. Many of you may argue that because I saw the film before reading the first book this has somehow tainted my view of the novel, which is a fair concern. For those of you that feel this way, I pose to you the following question: does having read the Harry Potter series before watching the films make your complaints with the movie adaptations any less valid? I read the Harry Potter novels before watching the films and felt that J.K. Rowling's written work was much better than the collection of movies, and conversely, I watched The Hunger Games before reading the novel and found that the film provided a much more powerful take on the story.
Mind you, this is not a review. If you'd like a full rundown on whether or not you should check out the movie, head over here to read why GameZone's Dustin Steiner believes it's worth your time. That said, from this point on, I will be discussing points from both the movie and book, so if you don't want any of it spoiled, I suggest you come back and read this once you've gotten a chance to experience it for yourself.
In an effort to preemptively combat the onslaught of disagreement I'll undoubtedly receive from fans, I'll first address the content from the book that didn't make it into the film. In the first novel, Collins gives a lot more background on each of the twelve districts that make up Panem, as well as a more fleshed out look into the past of Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence), the protagonist of the series. While yes, more explanation could have been added to the film, I enjoyed the fact that the movie wasn't overly expository, something I believe the book often fell victim to. Additionally, the film only touches upon the death of Katniss' father through a handful of incredibly brief flashbacks, but once again, I liked the concise and artistic way in which it was portrayed. Instead of spoon-feeding the viewer — something the book tends to do at times — the audience is forced to slowly piece things together in a much more visceral way, creating a more engaging and rewarding experience.
One of the major reasons for the divergence in style between the two has to do with the fact that the novels are written in the first-person from the perspective of Katniss. And while yes, experiencing the torturous tale through the eyes of a sixteen year-old girl adds an additional layer of immersion, I found the slightly more omniscient view taken in the film to be a bit more effective. Perhaps that has something to do with the fact that I'm a 24 year-old male? Needless to say, I found connecting to Katniss and the rest of the cast much easier in the film, something that was a bit more difficult to do when reading the book.
Aside from the rather lackluster performance from Willow Shields playing the 12-year-old Primrose Everdeen, I loved every single member of the cast. From Elizabeth Banks as the obnoxious Effie Trinket, to Josh Hutcherson's role as Peeta Mellark, each character added something special and unique that made the film that much more enjoyable to watch. In fact, many of the characters — most notably Woody Harrelson's Haymitch Abernathy — were represented differently in the film, yielding a much more likable and relatable cast when compared to how they were portrayed in the book.
As far as atmosphere and tone, I found that the film really brought to life the horrifying world of Panem. In fact, I believe that the film manages to not only capture the foreboding mood presented in the book, but actually outdo it on occasion. The gorgeous shots of the Capitol and the expertly crafted interviews with Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) really drove home the point that the leaders of Panem are truly sick and twisted individuals obsessed with wealth and power. Additionally, the violence between the children was done incredibly well, exercising a level of taste and restraint that was absent from the novel. Ross' decision to leave some of the more grotesque scenes up to the imagination of the viewer was genius and well executed, delivering an emotional punch that surpasses the book's descriptions. Likewise, the director's use of "shaky cam" added that "rough" feel that gives the film much more of an indie vibe.
In the end, both the novel and the film of The Hunger Games provide the public with a gripping tale of a girl who sacrifices herself to save her sister. Even though I enjoyed both portrayals of the story, Gary Ross' movie struck an emotional chord within me that the book failed to do. From the expertly chosen cast to the fantastic camera work, the film adaptation elevates the original story to new heights. And while it's killing me to know what happens next, I'm going to force myself to hold off on reading the next book until Catching Fire hits theaters, because if the second film is anything like the first, it's going to be well worth the wait.
Alex Osborn is a freelance writer for GameZone. Follow him on Twitter @a_charlez to share with him your take on The Hunger Games as well as anything else movie or gaming related.