It’s not something you’ll often hear readers say, and it’s not something you’ll often hear me say, but with the Hunger Games we find one of those rare cases where the film adaptation of a book is actually an improvement.
The Hunger Games is just short enough, and the plot just simple enough, that nothing — in terms of content, anyway — is lost in the translation to film. Yes, there were changes to the plot (the origin of the iconic golden pin being just one of them) that people have griped about, but these made little or no difference overall. But other changes — changes to the way the story was told — made all the difference, and actually made the story better.
There are two main problems with the way Suzanne Collins decided to write The Hunger Games: her over reliance on deus ex machina to shape the plot, and her tendency to tell rather than show when it comes to the emotions of her characters (that’s right, welcome to your freshman year creative writing workshop) .
Reading the book it seems that any time Katniss has a problem, the rules of the game are changed; when those rules become inconvenient to the plot, they’re changed again. Any time Katniss needs something — medicine or food for example — it comes floating down to her in a tiny silver parachute. You can argue that these things are all part of the game and therefore don’t break the story logic, per se, but that’s cheating; it’s still deus ex machina, even if you say up front that the gods will come down from on high to save your hero whenever he needs a hand.
When Katniss isn’t physically in trouble, she’s consumed with thoughts of Peeta or Gale or the machinations of the game makers who control her fate. The problem is, we don’t infer how she’s feeling or what suspicions she may have — we’re whacked over the head with them, repeatedly. Both of these problems take the suspense and excitement out of what should be an inherently suspenseful and exciting situation.
The movie fixes both problems by showing us what goes on behind the scenes at the Hunger Games — scenes that didn’t exist in the book. In the scenes featuring Donald Sutherland’s President, we see what leads to the decision to change the rules and what leads to the decision to change them back; we see Haymitch as he struggles to find sponsors and sends help to Katniss in the arena; we see Katniss’ thoughts and feelings in her face, rather than hearing her explain, aloud, what she suspects is happening behind the scenes. It feels much less contrived and, hence, better.
Don’t get me wrong: I realize we’re just talking about a movie here, and it’s not exactly Schindler’s List or Apocalypse Now or, you know, Ghost Busters , but craft is craft, right? The fact that the Hunger Games movie is better than the book, and the fact that this is such a rare statement, says there’s something wrong with Collins’ craft that wasn’t a problem with Rowling, or Tolkein, or Lewis.
Agree? Disagree? Sound off below!