The Hunger Games book vs movie

Oh no! It’s another review of The Hunger Games – head for the hills! Oh wait, we’re in an arena where we have to kill everything and it’s coming from the hills!

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard of The Hunger Games – a book set in a post-apocalyptic world where most of North America has been destroyed, except the Capitol and its surrounding thirteen districts. Well, make that twelve districts. District 13 was destroyed as an example to the rest when they tried to rebel against the Capitol. To compound the lesson and entertain its populace, the Capitol created the Hunger Games – twenty four children known as ‘tributes’ (a boy and girl from each district) enter the arena and only one comes out alive.  

If you have only seen the movie, or only read the book of The Hunger Games (or haven’t done either), be aware that the following contains major spoilers. You have been warned!

I've generally found when I’m comparing the quality of a movie that’s based on a novel, the book almost always come out on top. This is especially true when the movie is so loosely based on the book that it’s hard to see the connection between the two (I’m sure Isaac Asimov is still spinning in his grave after I Robot was murdered by the film industry.) Luckily, The Hunger Games filmmakers have done a good job of bringing the book to life. 


Katniss, the female tribute from the coal-mining District 12 is our guide for this adventure.  Not only is she up against the highly trained children from other districts but she has to deal with Peeta, the male tribute from District 12 (who previously saved her from starvation). Because The Hunger Games novel is written in the first-person present tense, we only get Katniss's viewpoint on what is happening in the world of District 12 and the arena.

The movie is less restricted, so we can get a glimpse into the minds of the people in the Capitol that Katniss doesn’t have direct contact with.  For example, we see President Snow speaking to Gamesmaster Seneca Crane about the true meaning of the Hunger Games. He believes that purpose of the Games is to give people hope—but not too much. In the book, we don't really get to see this until later in the series. Having it spelled out is very useful because it gives us a direct insight into how President Snow thinks—and therefore how he runs the Capitol. 

The movie also lets us see what happens in the other Districts whilst Katniss is in the arena. An example of this is when Rue (another tribute) is killed. In defiance of the callous way in which bodies of the tributes are treated in the arena, Katniss decorates Rue’s body with flowers as a sign of respect. The novel doesn’t show what happens next, but in the movie the perspective shifts to District 11 where we get a glimpse of how Rue’s father reacts to her death. Because (in the book) we don't know what is happening in the Districts until the second novel in the series, the fact that the movie shows how people outside the Capitol respond to Katniss's rebellion is a nice touch.

I think that the actors were well chosen for the film. Woody Harrelson does a fantastic job of being Katniss’s drunken mentor Haymitch and is certainly one of the best cast members. The main actors are pretty good too; although I think that Katniss’s friend Gale could probably have been a bit less brooding. 

Wow, wow, wow. The filmmakers have created a fantastic representation of the places described in the book. I don't think they could have done a better job.

Obviously there are restrictions when you turn a novel into a movie, the main factor being time. The film is two hours long (although it does fly by), and the creators couldn't have fit everything in, but I think that there are some unnecessary deviations from the book that don’t make sense. I’m sure that you don’t want to read about everything I spotted, so I’ve only listed five of them here.

  1. Gale and the deer

    At the start of the film, Katniss goes out to hunt. She spies a deer and is about to shoot it when Gale scares it away. Considering the state of food deprivation in District 12, there is no way that Gale would have frightened away any sort of wildlife if Katniss had a chance of shooting it. Since Reaping Day (the day in which tributes are chosen to participate in the Games) makes Peacekeepers focus on the main area of town, Gale and Katniss could have cut the deer up and sneak it into the black market area fairly easily—or at least bring in a few bits of it. They’ve both been on the edge of starvation and wouldn’t pass up a viable source of food.  Having this scene makes the level of poverty in District 12 seem less than it actually is.

  1. Nightlock

    The book does a good job of focussing on the significance of nightlock berries. They’re the ones that Peeta inadvertently uses to kill the tribute Glimmer. However, although they give Peeta his first kill, and play such a large role at the end of the Games, the movie doesn’t give the nightlock much credit until the very end. In fact, when Katniss finds that Peeta has picked the berries, she just slaps them out of his hands, says ‘They’ll kill you in a second’ and hugs him.

    I think spending a bit more time on the berries (as in the book) would have been worth it. I do however like the part of the film where Seneca is forced to eat nightlock as his punishment for letting Katniss and Peeta live, especially since the books don’t tell us how he is killed.
  1. Cato, Katniss, Peeta and the tracker jackers

    In both the book and movie we see Peeta urging Katniss to run after she starts to hallucinate from the stings of tracker jacker wasps. What we don’t see in the movie is that the brutal Career tribute Cato is following closely behind Peeta. Considering that this is the point where Peeta shows his loyalty to Katniss over Cato, and is (presumably) wounded by the Career tribute, it seems to be a fairly important part of the storyline. I don't see why the filmmakers didn’t include Cato in the scene as it wouldn’t have made a difference to the final length of the movie.

  2. The mockingjay

    The symbol of the mockingjay plays a large part in the series. In the book we first see it as a pin that is given to Katniss by a friend, and in the movie she buys it for her sister Primrose who then returns it when Katniss volunteers as a tribute. I don’t mind that Katniss gets the mockingjay pin from Primrose because it’s a strong emotional moment in the movie.  However, if there is going to be a second movie (which is very likely) I think that the filmmakers needed to emphasise the fact that the mockingjay is a symbol of rebellion towards the Capitol and not just a present from Katniss's sister. 
  3. The mutts

    In the penultimate battle of the Games, Katniss, Peeta and Cato are chased by ‘mutts’ – strong, intelligent and vicious doglike animals. In the book, Katniss sees that the mutts have human eyes and recognises that they bear an uncanny resemblance to the dead tributes. I was really disappointed that they don’t do this in the movie since the mutts are another example of the Capitol’s cruelty. Not only do the people in the city enjoy watching children kill each other, but they desecrate the bodies of those who've lost the Games. It’s especially poignant considering how Katniss made sure to treat Rue’s body with respect. I don’t think it would have taken much effort to include something like that in the film.

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