Warning: This review will contain spoilers for both the book and movie versions of The Hunger Games.
One of the greatest challenges of taking a story from book to screen is figuring out what to change. A movie’s narrative needs to stand on its own, working under the assumption that there will be people in the audience who have not read the source material.
In recent years, we’ve seen this done to varying degrees of success. Atonement is a great example of an adaption done right: the end of the movie is completely different than that of the book (for good reason), but the endings had the same thematic feel and impact. And early this March, our Pirate Canary told us about the successful plot-pruning and adaptation of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Safran Foer.
Of course, then there are the oft-maligned Harry Potter adaptations (past about movie four), in which one too many subplots were left on the editing room floor and the narrative started to get shaky for anyone who wasn’t familiar with the books.
And then we have The Hunger Games, undoubtedly the most-anticipated movie so far in 2012. Would it succeed in capturing the harrowing, break-neck pace of Suzanne Collins’ blockbuster books? Or would it fall victim to too much cut, too little left?
Canaries, I say this with confidence: The Hunger Games is the single best book adaptation I have ever seen.
Because the books are limited to Katniss’ point of view, there were certain things that made absolutely no sense within Collins’ original story—especially in the first book. Why do the Gamemakers suddenly decide that two people can win the games? And then, in the end, why do they suddenly change their minds again? And—what always bothered me to no end—why was Seneca Crane, head Gamemaker, killed because of what Katniss did in the arena?
These aren’t all that important in the novel. What is important is that they happened, not why they happened. But the lack of explanation always nagged at me. And never did I ever imagine that the movie would waltz on in and explain everything. The movie does this by bouncing back and forth between the Games in the arena and those working behind the scenes. The choice to open up the world beyond Katniss’ point of view is strikingly smart, and something that made me positively giddy as soon as I realized what the filmmakers were doing.
We see Haymitch brokering a deal with Seneca to change the rules and allow two tributes to win—under the guise of making ‘more interesting television,’ of course. And to my utter delight, we get to see President Snow’s hand in influencing things early, in his creepy, roundabout way. We know now why Seneca finds himself on the wrong side of an execution. And, I think most importantly, we see the first spark of rebellion from the people of Panem.
The movie is sheer perfection. All of my worries about casting—especially Lenny Kravitz as Cinna and Josh Hutcherson as Peeta—were blown away by how perfectly each character was played. And Jennifer Lawrence did the impossible and actually made me like Katniss. And, oh dear Lord, Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket pulled that character up from a banal sort of evil into something deliciously villainous, simply by how effortlessly she rocked the pink wig and Capital attitude.
If you are a Hunger Games fan who was too worried to see the movie, fear not. The film was utterly engrossing, and I think it actually rose above the source material, becoming its own, farther-reaching story. Enjoy every minute of the world of Panem brought to life. I just hope that Catching Fire is no more than a year away.