“a filmmaker is an independent artist, not a translator for an established author, but a new author in his own right.”
- George Bluestone
Filmmakers as Independent Artists
The largest change that I noticed was in the level of violence. In the book, Collins describes very violent and harsh behaviors perpetrated by the children selected, or reaped, for the annual Hunger Games hosted by the Capital. The film, on the other hand, implies violence, but actually shows very little. One instance where this was especially noticeable was during the time spent in the cave by Katniss and Peeta. While retrieving the medicine needed to save Peeta, Katniss sustains a massive cut to her forehead culminating in her losing consciousness. In the book, this event is very tense, leaving the reader wondering whether or not Katniss could survive such an injury. In the film, however, this injury is presented as a laughable scratch, one barely warranting a band-aid. Another instance is in how Peeta’s leg injuries were handled. In the book, Peeta loses his leg after sustaining multiply injuries and eventually requiring a tourniquet, something not even hinted at in the film. These choices were undoubtedly made to preserve a rating that would allow young adults, the target age group for the book, to see the film.
Another difference is the physical appearance of the Hunger Games contestants in the film. Jennifer Lawrence, while she does a fantastic job in her portrayal of Katniss, does not fit the physical description of someone who is starving, or as in the end of the book, near death. In fact, she looks like a picture of ideal health, quite robust in her appearance. The same can be said for almost all of the other children cast in the role of tributes. Obviously the filmmakers were not going to starve an actor or actress in order to match Collins’ descriptions, so Ross chose to omit the reason for the Hunger Games being named what they are (that is, a game in which contestants frequently starve to death) likely to avoid this issue in the film. By doing this, Ross focused more on the action of the games and the emotions of the characters than some of the backstory provided in Collins’ book.
One of Ross’s biggest successes was in his use of music. By making smart musical choices, Ross was able to elicit many of the emotions of the book, while maintaining a fast pace for the film. An event that took Collins several pages to explain could take literally seconds to take place on film. Much of the book focuses on Katniss’s inner struggles and internal dialogues, so short of including a narrator, these thoughts would be hard to translate to film. Ross cleverly turned some of these thoughts into actual dialogue for Katniss while other times he established the emotions felt by Katniss through wise musical choices. In addition to providing the emotional connections, the music also added to the setting of the film. Much of the music harkens to folk music found in the Appalachians, the region of the country where the book and film are set. I felt like this musical choice helped to deepen Ross’s interpretation of the book while not taking extra time away from the action.
Another success of the film was the quality of the acting. Ross made very smart choices in his casting. Although many of the actors and actresses were in their teens or early twenties, they were able to provide top quality performances. Jennifer Lawrence, who has been honored by the Academy Awards, did an especially good job as Katniss, instilling a lot of the emotion felt by readers of the book. Another superb job was done by Amandla Stenberg, the young girl chosen to play Katniss’s ally, Rue. Stenberg was able to portray the heartbreaking role with class and talent. Rue’s defining moment in the story is in her death. Many times in films, especially with children, death scenes can seem very hokey and overacted, but Stenberg did a fabulous job, likely due to direction given by Ross.
As I mentioned earlier, Ross was successful in harnessing the emotion found in the original text. While many directors, given the story he was presented with, would have run wild with the amount of violence. Rather than glorifying the violence in the way most modern Hollywood movies do, Ross chose to go a different route. By downplaying this violence, Ross was able to spend more time focused on the story line and he also removed the distraction of violence. In fact, by minimizing the exposure to violent images, Ross was paying tribute to Collins’ message warning of the dangers of violence as a means of entertainment.
Overall, Ross made smart choices in his interpretation of Collins’ book. Instead of making a literal interpretation to the story in tune with the model set forth by the makers of the Harry Potter films, Ross made his own interpretation of the story. He wisely infused the main elements of the book that readers fell in love with and stuck true to the emotion of the book, while making the changes he saw fit, thus creating a successful and enjoyable film independent from the book. He obviously recognized the importance of the original text, but also realized that he was creating a film, not a book. In this type of transition, storylines must be streamlined, backstories shortened (or eliminated if not pertinent), and parts well cast, all while keeping a level of respect for the readers and the original story. As a book lover, I was happy with the choices he made, and as a film goer, I was also pleased; a rare occurrence! As an independent artist, Ross was able to stick true to the main plotline and the emotions embedded in the text, but in the end he created a film that could be read independent of the book, establishing it as a piece of art on its own rather than another “accessory” or piece of merchandising in a franchise.
Changes in Perspective
Fidelity to the Original
One interesting departure from the original text is the shift in perspective. In the book, we are presented with only Katniss’s view of the events surrounding her. We are presented with her feelings, her confusion, her opinions. In the film, however, Ross shows a variety of perspectives showing different sides of what is happening in Panem. The most interesting is the increased focus on President Snow. In the book, we form a hatred for the character based on Katniss’s opinions of him. Without the ability to be inside Katniss’s head in the film, Ross had to find a way for viewers to form this opinion without this luxury. By creating scenes with Snow independent of what Katniss would have known in the book, Ross was able to achieve the same goal set forth by Collins but in a method more fit for film. In making this choice, I think Ross established the film as a separate entity from the original text while not only honoring the book, but possibly adding to it with the addition of these different viewpoints.
In the case of The Hunger Games, the book has been very popular and was published very close to the release of the film, making this situation different from that of The Wizard of Oz where there was a 39 year gap. While the Oz film overshadowed the book version, I would say that the book and film for The Hunger Games are probably close in terms of popularity. In the long term, however, it is hard to say whether one will overshadow the other. The film is very well made, so like The Wizard of Oz, I could see the film becoming more popular. On the other hand though, the book is extremely well written, so I can also see how that would continue to be popular as well.
Politics of Reinterpretation
The Hunger Games is a very political book and film. The story focuses on the problems that arise when governments become too powerful and take power away from the people. The power of the Capital is shown throughout the book, but the games themselves are the biggest display of this power. As mentioned outright in the book and film, the games are a way to remind the people of the power of the Capital and that any attempts at revolting would be useless. Katniss, sometimes unknowingly, challenges this power, thus inspiring others in the districts to have the strength to rise up. This is seen in her handling of Rue’s death when she decorates the body with flowers, showing the viewers in the districts that this was not just another body, but an actual human, a little girl, that has been killed. The most controversial challenge to power, however, is when Katniss brings out the deadlock berries. In the book, Katniss is portrayed as naïve and also a survivalist, doing whatever is necessary to survive. In the case of the berries, I believe that Katniss saw this as the only way for her and Peeta to survive the games, not as a way to stick it to the Capital, although this is how it was interpreted by many in the districts, and especially by Snow.
One of my favorite realizations was the gender role reversal of the book and film. Typically, the female character is in distress, waiting to be rescued by the male hero. In this case, however, the roles have been reversed to some extent. Typically, the female in a story is more emotional while the male is the more logical one. In this case, Peeta is the obvious romantic of the two, while Katniss is more focused on the logistics of survival. Also, Katniss, on many occasions, comes to Peeta’s rescue, repeatedly saving his life. It would have been easy for Collins to make Peeta useless, dependent on Katniss for everything, but she chose not to do this. Instead, she made the two very complimentary to one another in terms of their strengths and weaknesses. This was very refreshing as normally authors and film makers feel the need to have relationships that are dominated by one gender or the other. I did not feel this was the case with The Hunger Games.
Teaching the Book and Film
Teaching as a Form of Interpretation
In Literature and Film
While it is vital for teachers to help students in reading a film or book, there is also a reason for caution. When guiding children through a text, it can be very easy to instill our own feelings and opinions into the text, but this should be avoided. Students should be encouraged to come to their own conclusions about a film or book, so taking care to choose the correct questions to ask and ideas to develop is key to allowing for self-discovery and true internalization of the ideas being presented. For example, in our study of The Little Mermaid, we were encouraged to come to our own conclusions before reading the critique of another reader. Had we been presented with the Trites’ article beforehand, it is likely that many of us, myself included, would have more critical in our descriptions of the story and film.
Goal Setting as a Teacher
Applying Interpretation to All Subjects
As teachers, we are more similar to a filmmaker than a writer, especially in terms of time constraints. Like filmmakers, teachers have a limited amount of time to teach a world of material. This is where the art of interpretation comes in. As a teacher, I need to decide which concepts need more time and which others can be touched on more briefly, or possibly even be combined with another topic. For example, I may see a need for extra work on ending punctuation and less on capitalization, even though the curriculum may dictate the same amount of time for each. As a teacher, it is my job to identify the needs of my students, set goals for their instruction, and make decisions about how to achieve that goal in the most efficient and effective way possible.
Everett, S. (n.d.). A Conversation: Questions & Answers. Retrieved from http://www.scholastic.com/thehungergames/media/suzanne_collins_q_and_a.pdf
This is a great paper about The Hunger Games, Edie. I'm so glad to read your perspective on both the book and film. It's clear that you're thinking about these "interpretations" in engaged and complicated ways. Great job tracing your developing thinking across the course: from ideas about fidelity to the original, to cultural appropriation and popularity, to political considerations. I wish you would get a chance to teach this (but not to third graders!!)--your ideas are very thoughtful in considering historic parallels and notions of power and social class. The best part, though, is your section on teachers as independent artists. Lovely.
Great work in the class, Edie. It's been such a pleasure. Thank you.