When a Movie is Better than a Book: My Take on Hunger Games

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As an English major, saying a movie is better than its literary counterpart is almost blasphemous, but I am going to say it nonetheless.

Movies and books are for some reason assumed to be similar by some. I have friends who complain nonstop about the issues in some movie that was an adaption of a book. And while it is true that many movies utterly ruin the story (The Lightening Thief is an example in my opinion), others do a fairly good job considering what they have to work with.

The formats are so vastly different that it is impossible to have a movie that directly replicates a book. The closest I can think of are Masterpiece Theater versions of books that have 5 or 6 hours to run because they are on television rather than on DVD. The issues with transferring aren’t hard to see. Here are a few.

1. Narration. While a first person narrated book is a wonderful thing to read, a constantly narrated movie gets boring after a while. The viewer can see most things and therefore does not need a constant voice explaining what is happening. However, for explaining some important details or giving thoughts or feelings, this transfer can cause an issue. While a character might already know something and explain it to the reader in his or her brain in a book, a movie must use a different means.

2. Time. A book is something we spend a good deal of time over. Most people will read a book for several days (I confess I am a book addict and tend to devour in a matter of hours, but many enjoy savoring). A movie is limited in its time. A viewer cannot simply walk out of the theater because they are tired, or have dinner to get to, or need to do something else, and expect to come back to the exact same spot in the movie. Nor can an audience be expected to sit through 6-8 hours worth of film. The transfer of book time to movie time is tricky and involves cutting some elements.

3. Action. Hollywood often needs more action in the movies than the author might have provided. Slower dialogue scenes are acceptable in books, but in movies they tend to be a little long. Therefore, it is sometimes necessary to add some elements of action. Readers are disappointed, though, when scenes are cut for time and others are added to keep viewers interested. A good example is in The Chronicles of Narnia when battle scenes were added. The books were fun, but when put on screen they needed a little extra pizzazz (feel free to debate this issue with me, I can see both sides).

4. Emotional depth. It’s interesting to see how emotion transfers onto a screen. Sometimes a movie seems less emotional than a book. Othertimes it’s the opposite. I think that just depends. Seeing a picture of the story before you can be very meaningful, but hearing a characters thoughts can also be very powerful. This can cause some problems between book and movie depending (partly going back to narration).

5. Characters. Picking an actor is rarely easy. While well known names boost the movie’s potential, sometimes known actors just don’t quite fit the part. It’s hard to match a character perfectly: in physical appearance, personality, age, etc. One of my Harry Potter obsessed roommates has complained that Alan Rickman is too old to be play Snape by the books standards (he would be 31 in the first movie, but Rickman was 55 when the first film came out). It is hard to fit everything a writer was looking for when they were first creating their marvelous protagonists, antagonists, and extras.

These are merely a few of the issues going on in conversion from text to theater. I admire those who do this work, because I know the transfer takes a good deal of vision and perseverance to put the whole thing together. I cannot imagine making a book into a movie, even if I have complained I could do a better job.

I bring this all up because I (as I so blasphemously declared earlier) have found some books that I simply think make better movies. My best example of this is The Hunger Games.

I didn’t read the books until last year, the same week that the first movie came out. While I did enjoy the books for their story, I struggled with writing that I found to be less than satisfactory. I’ve never been a fan of writing in present tense, and that, along with Collin’s less skilled writing made it hard for me to follow in written form.

On screen, however, I didn’t have to deal with bad writing. I could enjoy the story (the best part of the suspense filled books) and see a picture of the marvelous Panem world. I also appreciated being able to see more than just Katniss’s perspective, getting to see some of Gale and Prim. The films seemed well done to me and I appreciated the interesting, fast-paced story.

I may have readers who strongly disagree with me. I look forward to hearing your opinions. With Catching Fire coming out this fall, it’s going to be interesting to see how the writers and director handle this next challenge. I am excited and looking forward to seeing it, hopefully at the midnight release.

Do you have movies you prefer over books? What was your least favorite adaption of book to movie? What was your favorite?

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6 Comments

Filed under Movies, Reading

6 responses to “When a Movie is Better than a Book: My Take on Hunger Games

  1. I think the first Hunger Games film was pretty good – while I prefer the book, it’s not by a huge margin. Personally I prefer the LOTR movies to the books (the books just dragged a bit), and although I’ve never seen it from start to finish, I’ve seen enough of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin to know that is a terrible film, despite the book of the same name it is based on being one of my favourite ever books!

    • Great examples! I feel the books of LOTR and movies are different enough that I can’t really compare them. I like the slow format in a book, but I appreciated Peter Jackson making the movies much more engaging and fast-paced (had he included everything of Tolkien the movies would have been twice as long as they are now). I think they’re both good but can definitely see how the movies might be considered better. Great thoughts, thanks!

  2. I prefer the movie too. I can’t wait for them to make the third book, which in my opinion, is the weakest and very badly written. Hope the movie surpasses the book and more!

    I prefer LOTR in film as well.

  3. Sometimes the movie makes me want to read the book; other times the book makes me want to see the movie. It just depends upon what happens first. In this case, I saw The Hunger Games as a movie and it sparked my interest in reading all 3 books in the trilogy.

    Favorite adaptation: oh, boy, hard to pick. Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South with Richard Armitage, Persuasion with Cieran Hinds and Jane Eyre with Timothy Dalton.

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