Fascinating games

The Hunger Games deserved a better adaptation

It seems impossible that Suzanne Collins’ latest book hunger games The trilogy was released only twelve years ago. The series, now a cultural touchstone, seemed at the time to come out of nowhere: the first book had only debuted four years prior, but by the time the trilogy ended in 2010, it had already established its legacy as a pop culture staple. .

Fans caught up in the growing frenzy would only have to wait two more years to see their reluctant heroine’s struggle come true on the big screen, in an A-list adaptation that would easily turn cultural mania into box-office success. office. The resulting films are, on the whole, worthy adaptations. Yet the first film stands out for its failure to capture the momentum and essence that turned the books into a phenomenon.


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The hunger Games follows Katniss Everdeen, a teenager in the humble coal-producing district of a dystopian remnant of the United States known as Panem. Each year, each of Panem’s twelve districts must send two tributes – a girl and a boy, chosen at random – into the arena, where their battle to the death will be televised for the entertainment of the aristocratic Capitol that rules Panem.


When Katniss’ sister, Prim, is chosen to be District Twelve’s female tribute, Katniss volunteers to take Prim’s place. Competing alongside ‘the bread boy’, Peeta, who once saved her from starvation, Katniss would eventually become a symbol of the burgeoning resistance to Panem, a figurehead of total revolution in Mockingjay.

To understand the fundamental flaws of the first film, it’s important to understand Katniss’ progression through the trilogy. The first book, The hunger Gamesis mostly about survival, as Katniss must survive the twenty-two other Tributes who are also trying to kill her (and the Arena, which is trying to kill them all).

The small act of rebellion with which Katniss concludes the Games will fuel an already brewing rebellion of the districts against the Capitol, but Katniss’ spark of defiance is hasty and short-sighted. At the very end of the book, his greatest enemy is revealed: President Snow, who will become the antagonist of Catch fire. Katniss spends much of the second book fighting to appease him, not defeat him.

Again, it’s only at the end that she sees a bigger picture, leading to a second act of rebellion – a strike against the class system that rules Panem and imprisons its people, who will become the antagonist of Mockingjay. In all three books, Katniss is rarely more than a pawn in the manipulations of the establishment and revolutionaries, whose agendas often conflict with Katniss’ constant personal prerogative: to feed her family, protect her friends.

If the lack of agency makes Katniss somewhat of a controversial heroine, she is nonetheless compelling. Much of what makes her story interesting — and the books eminently readable — is Collins’ stylistic choices. The hunger Games the books are written entirely in the first person, from Katniss’ point of view, and in the notoriously tricky present tense.

hunger games skins

This allows the reader to experience the world of Panem in tandem with the character of Katniss herself, as the exposition is usually delivered through recollection rather than detached description. Additionally, events in the present are conveyed as they occur, so the reader can react alongside the protagonist. This immediacy lends an intimacy to the reader, for whom there is no story without Katniss, regardless of her role in Panem’s larger story.

Unfortunately, this framing also disadvantages any adaptation. First-person narration isn’t unheard of in movies, but it’s not common either – and certainly not in gritty dystopian dramas. Writer/director Gary Ross, however, seems to have approached this problem by completely ignoring it: instead of finding creative ways to turn the camera lens into Katniss’ lens, he focused on the larger narrative. , inventing entire scenes to portray the powerful actors of the Capitol, who are only distant characters in the first book.

This two-sided approach does more than reduce Katniss’ screen time, it undermines the narrative tension of the overall plot. Snow’s first encounter with Katniss, after the Games and at the end of the film, is meant to be a subtle (thought rushed) cliffhanger: Katniss has prevailed at the Games, but her battle has only just begun. Instead, it’s just another scene in an ongoing battle between Capitol and Katniss.

Despite the fact that verbal tense has no analogue in the language of cinema, there is still an argument to be made that this aspect of the book could have been better translated to the screen. It’s unusual for an entire book (let alone a series) to be written in the present tense, but the effect of this choice on a reading audience is undeniable: it heightens the tension and makes the action more palpable. The hunger Gamesonce opened, is hard to let go and reads in just a few hours.

Jennifer Lawrence aims a bow and arrow in The Hunger Games

Ross’ adaptation is also a few hours long, but it lacks something like the book’s flow – bloated and stilted, with a runtime better suited to a Christopher Nolan think piece than a story-stuffed YA adaptation. ‘action. There are too many dreamlike establishment shots, too many Capitol plot scenes…too many scenes without Katniss. Much has been added to expand on the world of Panem and the conflicts of the trilogy as a whole, but none of that is filtered through the girl whose story is actually told.

Without Katniss’ internal storytelling – without insight into her private thoughts – there were other elements, like dialogue and imagery, that could have been used to show who Katniss is and how she interacts with other characters. . But much of the dialogue is instead devoted to providing exposition, explaining the world without regard to the characters’ experience of it. This reduces narrative logic – like when Peeta chooses to train alone – but it also leaves even less room for character development and conflict.

When Haymitch points out that Katniss needs to be more likable, his ridicule seems gratuitous, as the film didn’t use his dialogue to establish why others wouldn’t like him. More broadly, this contraction of the characters weakens the relationships that will evolve in the next episodes. Viewers who later dismissed Peeta as a resolution to Katniss’ love affair can be forgiven their skepticism, considering that meaningful interactions are too rare to provide a basis for a lasting ship.

As for the imagery’s characterization of Katniss, Ross actually omitted a central scene establishing her eventual role in the groundbreaking plot: the gifted origin of the mockingjay pin, which Katniss delivers without understanding its meaning. The pin is an early signal of Katniss’ lack of agency – a symbol attributed to her, just as her personal symbolism is attributed by others. In the film, she intentionally adopts the mockingjay, an alteration that suggests an entirely different direction for her character.

Similarly, the movie Katniss initiates the three-finger salute which would also become a revolutionary symbol, while the book Katniss is thus saluted by the other members of her district when she volunteers as a tribute. In fact, the film’s overall visual language is tasteless and cliched, from the use of a shaky (poorly edited) camera to mimic chaos, to the exaggeration of the gritty setting with a tint so blue that the opulent blue interior of the tribute train looks almost cartoonish (not to mention what the color does to Katniss’ hair, flattening it into an unnatural black mass).

Of course, all of this would be a problem if The hunger Games was a film about Katniss Everdeen, a girl whose desperation is manipulated for entertainment – who is extraordinary for the very fact that she is so ordinary. But it’s not about her. Gary Ross was unable to return for Catch fire; he said The Hollywood Reporter that the studio had not given him enough time “to write and prepare the film [he] wanted to do. »

Viewers might reasonably wonder what that movie was – whether that movie would have cast Katniss in the role of revolutionary leader, further stripping away the moral complexity and dramatic tension that catapulted Collins’ series to literary superstardom in the space of four years. Yet there is one thing that the same viewers could reasonably deduce: this film would not have been Catch fireno more than this movie is The hunger Games.

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