The Hunger Games is a rare example of a book to film translation done well
The Hunger Games. For me, this is the gold standard when it comes to books to film conversion. The films effectively bring to life the books upon which they are based. They miss bits and dilute the violence from within the arena, but to have a 12 rating, you understand why. Doing so does not alter the seriousness of the subject matter or misalign the core messages.
The characters in the film align closely with the vivid descriptions that Suzanne Collins provides in the books. This is a key means in which to draw the audience in and retain their attention. Reading a book creates images in your mind and when those images do not closely align with what is presented on the screen, you are disappointed.
Films are not books but anything that uses source material should be respectful. I would not translate the Jungle Book to the big screen and give Mowgli a machine gun. This would turn the audience off as it is against the spirit of the original. For me, the Hunger Games is a gold star pupil when it comes to merging perception with interpretation.
What makes the Hunger Games better than the rest?
This may be entirely personal but the translation of the characters from the book to the big screen is the best that I have seen. When I see Katniss on the screen it is like the character is talking to me through the book. In addition to this, I smile when I see parts of her speeches from the books included in the film dialogue, word for word.
This attention to detail and choosing the most relevant passages to quote helps the characters bridge the gap. It is a tough job to take a beloved character from a book and place them on the big screen. More often than not producers end up focusing on nostalgia or their own interpretation. The perfect hybrid and what works well with the Hunger Games is the mixture of artistic interpretation and nostalgia.
The film is much less violent than the books but this is never a problem. The perfect hybrid that I refer to helps the viewer gain the plot points that are required to understand the story. The reduction in violence doesn’t sugarcoat the deaths, it instead moves the emotion for this to Jennifer Lawrence. Her portrayal of Katniss emphasises the key emotional elements that could have been lost.
Did it need four films?
No. For all my praise on the translation work that the team undertook in taking the Hunger Games from book to screen, they did not need four films. The first two work well and cover the necessary plot lines, whereas the following two entries, that cover the final book seems a little stretched.
It seems to me that there was enough content for a film and a half, and greed took over. Studio heads made the decision to stretch what they had to cover an additional film when a longer third film would have been better. This is to say it would have been better from the creative point of view but from a monetary point of view, I can see why the decision was made.
The choice to make four films is not unique to the Hunger Games. The Hobbit did not need a third film and felt symptomatic of what the Hunger Games went through. Other examples can be seen with the Harry Potter franchise of films. It did not need to split the final film in two but money always talks.
A close second
The lord of the rings. This is a close second when it comes to great examples of books to films. The characters, much as those in the Hunger Games translation are close to their descriptions on the page. The plot development and sporadic choices of speeches projected on the screen are of similar value to those within the Hunger Games. There are many parallels between the two and so you might ask why The Lord of the Rings has been left behind.
The Lord of the Rings takes a few additional liberties that the Hunger Games does not. The biggest example of this is within The Two Towers. Within the book, the elves do not arrive at Helm’s Deep to assist the humans. It is 10,000 against 300 rather than 1,000. Odds that are still not in the people of Rohan’s favour but that is not the key consideration here. The gripe I have with the addition of more troops is that it is only done for screen and reduces the struggle. Rather than projecting a hopeless fight, it is an exercise in time delay. This fundamentally undermines key parts of the plot. It’s a struggle but not the extinction-level event that is portrayed in the books.
Other key changes such as the end, which was fabricated for screen mean that The Lord of the Rings ends with the silver medal. In the book, the Hobbits go home only to find that Saruman has taken up residence and enslaved their people. Frodo and the gang then need to rally the previously passive Hobbits together to fight their oppressors. This is the intended ending and for the screen, it was changed. The Hunger Games ending is near perfect when compared with the books.
Would it be better to focus on original concepts?
Yes. My personal view is that there is more than enough room for the book to film conversions but should we not be looking to focus on originality? This for me is key. When was the last time that you went to the cinema (pre-covid-19) to see a film that was original? The word original is used here to describe something that has not been translated from a book, a re-make of an original film or another sequel.
If you are honest in answering this question, then my bet would be that it’s been a while. A Quiet Place is the last film that I have been to see, that was also an original concept. Other than that, it would be Interstellar and that was released more than five years ago. Original films are out there but they seem to be left by the wayside in favour of safe bets. Stories that have proved themselves before or that have been successful in another medium.
If Covid-19 has taught the world anything it is that we are original. Just look at YouTube and you will find millions of original videos and more unique ideas than you’ll ever find on Disney+. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with a decent sequel but when it is the original film with more action, you turn off. In addition to this, when you see the average Marvel film following the same core plot structure, you get turned off. Originality is rare but when nurtured it will enlighten the viewer tenfold when compared to that of Captain America 5.
The Hunger Games ticks more boxes than those that have proceeded it in my mind. It stays true to the source material, does not take liberties and projects characters that meet your expectations. In a world littered with book to film conversions that feel as though the work experience student has patched them together, the Hunger Games is a breath of fresh air.
The argument can be made that we should be pushing for originality and that is true, but there is room for conversions. Converting books to films less frequently would endear the audience more to the practice. Something that is done for the sake of it never works. It simply fills a slot and with life being precious, do you want to waste it on another conversion of the same book?
The Hunger Games is a good example of how, if done well, then the practice works. I can sit back and relax, knowing that the perceptions presented match up to my expectations. Tying into all of this together is the nostalgic hits of when parts from the book are quoted. It is a great example of when thought is put into something then it works, even if it is not an original concept.