thinking big: feminism, media, and pop culture

GLG Responds to the Hunger Games: Some Hunger Games Savvy

In adaptation, Hunger Games on March 28, 2012 at 5:46 am

Like many of you out there, the GLG folks could not wait to see The Hunger Games on the big screen. And this last weekend, we did! Given our serious fandom of The Hunger Games more generally, and Katniss specifically, we thought we would do a little HG response fun. So we asked the GLG folks to pick a particular topic from the film and respond to it. This week, read on for thoughts on HG and violence, terrifying technology, Hunger Games fashion, and much more! And if you have a topic you want to discuss, post away in the comments or send us a question at girlslikegiants@gmail.com.

First up: Sarah S. on Savvy

I opted to comment on changes from book to film that I’m calling additions of savvy. (It seemed better than spending my time ranting about Lenny Kravitz’s awful Cinna). The film remains quite faithful to the book, but they added some noteworthy twists to either foreshadow the next two movies or to slightly alter the characters.

First, President Snow (Donald Sutherland) plays a much larger role in this film than the book, and his primary purpose is to foresee Katniss’s potency as a figure who could spark a revolt. The film adds scenes of Snow warning game-maker Seneca Crane (Wes Bentley) to avoid making her into a symbol to rally around, either as a martyr or a winner. It also shows the stirrings of said revolt, beginning in District 11 as a response to Katniss’s humane behavior after the death of their young tribute, Rue (Amandla Stenberg).

President Snow & Seneca Crane

On one hand, this depiction of Snow’s savvy enhanced the film plot. But on the other hand, it undermined a key attribute of the Capitol: arrogance. In the book, the real reason Katniss can get through the Games as she does is because the Capitol, from Snow on down, is so immured in its own propaganda and immutability it can’t see her (and Peeta) coming. Indeed, immediately after the games (in book 2, Catching Fire) only Snow recognizes the danger she poses. Relatedly, there’s a thread in the first book (particularly) of Katniss and Peeta struggling against being pawns in the Capitol’s game. But in order for that theme to work, the Capitol has to view them as mere pawns. Yet in the film, we get the cliché movie twist of making the protagonist always already extraordinary. For my part, I would have preferred to retain the set-up of the novels, where Katniss works as a character because of her flawed humanity.

The second switch in savvy works better. Because of the collapsed time of the movie, we get much less development of Peeta as a character, particularly his back-story. This allowed the filmmakers to tweak his character a bit, which they did by highlighting Peeta’s intelligence and ability to read people and downplaying his poetic tendency to wallow in emotions. This tweak came out prominently at the film’s conclusion. At the end of the book, Peeta is devastated to discover that Katniss was performing her love for him to help them both survive. At the end of the movie, however, when Peeta asks, “What now?” he plays it cool when Katniss responds, “Try to forget, I guess.” Josh Hutcherson as Peeta nicely shows his surprise and hurt, but quickly resumes the mask of one unwilling to judge or reveal himself too fully. In the film, then, Peeta seems something of a more complicated character, acquiring a needed, useful amount of savvy that makes him an intriguing counterpart to Katniss. I’m looking forward to spending more time with this Peeta in the sequels. It also makes me want to re-evaluate my impressions of him from the book, since the film shadows rather than alters his character — which says good things about the thinkers behind the film.

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  1. I hope it ends up big too!

  2. Thought you GLGers might be interested in this short response to the way trauma and violence are figured in the film (versus the novel), particularly whoever it is that will be writing on this topic. I haven’t seen the film yet, but I wondered how they could possibly deal with violence in the film the way Collins presents it in the novel and maintain a PG-13 rating. Froula relates the changed relationship with violence to the way we see the effects of trauma on Haymitch and Katniss.

    http://mediacommons.futureofthebook.org/imr/2012/03/27/adapting-trauma-novel-screen

  3. Thanks, Katie, very interesting. My only counter to Froula’s concern (which is only to lend some nuance not to disagree) is that the trauma of all the characters, including Haymitch, is much more muted in the first book then in the other two. Haymitch is written for laughs and Katniss only becomes sympathetic to his alcoholism when she copes with her own trauma induced nightmares and insomnia; Collins depicts the traumatic event(s) and their ongoing resonance throughout the series. But I completely agree with her when it comes to Cato although I felt that scene fit in with the whole film’s collapsing of details and character development to make a standard running time. For the record, I felt that the filmmakers did a very good job adapting the book but that the book is unequivocally better because of its depth on multiple fronts.

    • That is an important nuance, Sarah. I have to say: I read all three books without so much as a shower in between, so they exist as one novel in my memory. I wonder if this is the same for Froula?

      I just have to see the movie before I can pretend to be a part of these conversations, BUT: I really cringed when Froula described the theatre applauding Clove’s death. It makes me really concerned that something so important as the horrible, horrible, horribleness of even the unsympathetic characters’ deaths could be missed by the audience. Although I’m sure it comes through that the Games are bad overall, it ought to be clear that they’re not just bad because of the good kids who are murdered, but that anyone is murdered (and made to murder) at all. It is one thing to smooth over some nuances, but that description makes me concerned that something really central is lost. Okay, I’ll stop speaking while uninformed now. Can’t wait to re-read your post and read the others once I’ve seen the movie. I’m clearly not getting any work done right now, so maybe I’ll ship myself off to a showing this evening.

  4. […] has already been written on GLG about The Hunger Games movie. (For example: here, here, here, here, and here. Also, here.) But re-watching The Hunger Games, I began thinking about how the film […]

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