The odds were my favor last night, as I snagged a primo seat for The Hunger Games on opening night. I paid the extra few bucks to see it in IMAX with the hopes that it would feel like the Tracker Jackers were actually flying at me. (That wasn’t the case, but it did make every shot within the Capitol rather epic.)
My reaction to this big screen adaptation of a beloved book was different than any other I’ve seen. So often our gut reactions as readers is to call out that the book is better than the movie. That wasn’t exactly the case with The Hunger Games. Instead this film worked on multiple levels. Those who hadn’t read the novel by Suzanne Collins would have been floored by the emotional blast and gut-wrenching story of the film version. It was brilliant. Coming to the movie as a reader, though, it’s just a very good movie. And that’s because you know what’s missing.
When books get produced into movies you have to lose something. If the content was acted out verbatim, it would be hours and hours and rather dull. You have to cut for film to keep the action and tension. In the case of The Hunger Games that meant losing the connections with the other tributes (we only hear the name “Foxface” once and it’s Peeta who calls her that). This means a death scene that brought me to tears in the book, didn’t make me cry at the movies. I just didn’t have the same emotional tie to that tribute.
Is that a bad thing? Is distilling a movie to the core of a novel’s story something we should be disappointed in? I don’t think so. Katniss and Peeta are the core of The Hunger Games. While we get more by experiencing the book, we can’t fault a film for giving us the brutality, the fear and the remarkable strength of their journey. If we needed to lose the closeness with others in Panem to get there, it was worth it.
What other adaptations do you think work? Can you separate yourself enough from a beloved book to enjoy the movie, if it’s done well?