The Hunger Games: Book vs Movie

Rachel Kent

Blogger: Rachel Kent

SPOILER ALERT!!! If you haven’t read the book or seen the movie and would like to, do not read this post!!!

I went to The Hunger Games movie last Friday, and the grade I’d give it is a B-. I’ve seen so many people commenting on Twitter that they loved the film and that it was so accurate, but I just can’t agree. In my humble opinion, it was a good film adaptation, but it wasn’t great. (I didn’t love the book either, so keep that in mind as you read my post. I’d give the book a B+.) It’s another lesson in how hard it is to successfully depict a book on the screen.

Here are the major problems I had with the film:

Problem #1) Casting: The first character to appear who wasn’t at all like the book described was Buttercup the cat.In the movie, Buttercup is a black and white tuxedo cat. Buttercup plays a pretty significant role in the book trilogy, and you’d think that it would be pretty easy to get an ugly, yellowish cat for the movie. Here’s how Buttercup is described in the book: “Mashed-in nose, half of one ear missing, eyes the color of rotting squash. Prim named him Buttercup, insisting that his muddy yellow coat matched the bright flower (Chapter 1).”  With that description wouldn’t you cast this guy?

The second character who looks nothing like he’s described in the book is Haymitch Abernathy. He is described as “a paunchy, middle-aged man” who is always drunk (Chapter 1). With that description is this the actor you would cast?

I also wasn’t quite sure how I felt about Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss. She looks like her to me, but spent most of the movie standing around with her mouth open. I’ve seen articles online suggesting she deserves an Oscar for this movie, but I don’t get it. You can see how she looked for most of the movie in the picture to the left with Haymitch–mouth open, blank look on her face.

Now, I know I sound really critical, but remember I did give the movie a B-, so I definitely didn’t hate it. :)

Now on to problem #2) Lack of the romance plot. During the Hunger Games and prep time before the tributes are put in the arena, the movie removed most of the romantic elements between Peeta and Katniss. I know it’s hard to show subtle looks from Peeta since in the book it said he was often watching her, but the romance plan to help with survival wasn’t defined much.  Cinna still could have been the one to have them hold hands on the chariot, and Haymitch could have told them to always be together when they’re seen in public.

Peeta’s plan to protect and save Katniss could have been more defined.  In a movie, we could have even seen him plotting with Haymitch when he requested to train separately. That way the movie audience would have really understood that Cinna and Haymitch knew that a romance could help save one of them and that Peeta really did love Katniss and wanted her to return to the district and to her family.

Then, during the actual Games, it wasn’t clear what was going on between Peeta and Katniss, and Haymitch hardly played a role. What happened to all of the little encouraging sponsor gifts from Haymitch that Katniss understood to mean that she had to keep up the pretense of romance with Peeta? There was the soup in the movie, but not much more. If I hadn’t read the book, I would have thought that both Peeta and Katniss kind of liked each other, but Katniss was afraid of liking someone she might have to kill. I wouldn’t have understood the depth of the romantic plot and the big part it played in saving both of them during the Games.

 Problem #3) The important tributes were never really introduced. I read the book over Christmas break, but during the movie I was scrambling to match faces to the few names I remembered from the book. They flashed through some of the names with pictures a couple of times in the movie, but it looked like they cut those scenes because of time constraints. If they could have taken a moment to let us see each one of the twelve more significant tributes with district and name, it would have really helped me.

Those are my complaints. I have to say I was really impressed with the world-building that the movie did. The districts, capitol, and arena were all really well done. The camera work was also impressive to me.

I’d love to hear your opinions. I’m sure many of you disagree with me, and that’s totally fine.

What grade would you give the movie?

What grade would you give the book?

What was your favorite part of the movie?

What do you think could have been improved?

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35 Comments

  • Sarah K says:

    I agree that the romance angle of the movie needed to be played up quite a bit more. I really liked the Peeta they cast (actually, I liked all of the casting choices) and thought he would’ve made a good romantic foil to Katniss.
    Other than that – I think most of the things from the book that I missed were things that you can’t really translate well into film. Hearing Katniss’ internal monologue, the depth and richness of character. (I give the books A++s, so that’s a bit different from where you’re starting). The things I would list that I missed in the movie was backstory and internal tension that I was filling in as I watched from my reading of the books (which are on their fourth time around for me…)
    Overall, I think the movie just convinced me that the book is always better. :-)
    I’d give the movie an A-

  • I’d probably give it a B+. I noticed the cat thing as well and was bummed that the romance was pretty much zilch until the cave.

    I will say when Katniss went into the tube and was shaking with fear, the actress did a great job with that. Books are always better. :)

  • We’re going to see the movie this weekend, so I can’t comment on everything, but I have read the book with my daughters. The first thing they said when they saw the trailer is, “That guy doesn’t look like Haymitch.” Woody Harrelson was hand-picked for the role, but I don’t understand it. Alec Baldwin, maybe, or Brendan Fraser with a few extra pounds, but not Harrelson.

    My son said the movie was violent, but he hasn’t read the books, and honestly, how can the movie not be violent considering the material. I though the book was okay, and am now reading the second one in the series, but it’s because my girls are interested in them. Dystopian fiction isn’t my favorite genre and I find the whole concept disturbing–young children being forced to fight to the death. It goes back to what I was saying in my post yesterday that so much for young readers is about dysfunction.

  • I really liked the book, so that’s where I’m starting from. The movie was not as good as the book, but then again, they rarely are. Still, I agree with several of your points. I thought the biggest issue was the Peeta/Katniss relationship. I mean, the scene at the end of the book on the train, where Peeta finds out that Katniss was playing a game and might not actually have feelings for him…well, that would not have taken that much time to show and would have left the audience pondering why she did what she did (although one kiss is not really doing a whole lot…in the book there’s lots of kissing and lots of pretending). I think adding that scene would have changed at least some of the dynamic to match the book, but then again, it’s Hollywood, right? They want that lingering romance, I guess.

    I thought the actress for Katniss did a good job; I just think there were too many instances of her seeming nice. If I recall, the only person she’s really nice to is Prim, and then Cinna. She isn’t really very friendly with Peeta outside the arena before the games.

    I haven’t read the books in awhile, but those are the things that bugged me most.

    Still, as a movie itself, it was good. My husband liked it and he hasn’t read the books. So I guess I’d give the movie an A or A-.

    Whew, that was long. :)

    • Rachel Kent Rachel Kent says:

      I’m glad your husband liked it! I was wondering how people would feel about the movie without having read the book.

      My husband went with one of his friends. Neither had read the book and my husband hated it but his friend really liked it. I’m now forcing (in a gentle way!) my husband to read the book because I was upset that he was judging the story so harshly without having read the book. :)

  • I took my 15 year old son and a few buddies to see Hunger Games on Sunday and, SHOCKER; they let me sit with them. Our reactions were mixed. True to form, the boys – budding hunt and gatherers – loved the action/violence, but I was disappointed in how the romance played out. Overall, I give it a B, but the day gets an A in Mom Land.

  • Michelle Higdon says:

    Hmm…can’t say I agree with this point though, as the first commenter said, I’m coming from giving the books an A times a thousand.

    I thought the casting was superb. Yes, they didn’t have a yellow cat for Buttercup but that didn’t bother me too much since the cat isn’t really all the important (in my opinion.) But all the rest of the cast, Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, and the supporting cast such as Elizabeth Banks, Wes Bentley, Woody Harrelson, and I could go on and on, were phenomenal. They nailed their characters to a T and brought the whole story to life. Jennifer’s portrayal of Katniss’ inner monologue.

    I will agree with you on the romance plot though I thought they did a good job with what they had to work with. The timing for the entire second half of the movie was rushed due to too much plot in too little time (fingers crossed for an extended edition DVD) but I thought they could have spent more time on such events as the cave scene.

    My biggest gripe with the movie was the fact that Peeta and Katniss came out of the arena hardly even dirty.

    I’m curious though, was there a blog post on your opinion of the book? I’d love to see a literary agent’s take on the Hunger Games book! And thanks for a great blog post – I enjoy hearing other peoples’ reactions to the movie!

  • I started the book and put it down (don’t like books where children suffer; ditto for the Shack). A personal thing.

    James Scott Bell is exactly right when he says that hitting it big as an author is… “a lottery.” (in The Art of War for Writers).

    • Rachel Kent Rachel Kent says:

      I don’t like children suffering either. I do like that the book is somewhat of a satire and is a reflection on our society.

      • You’re right, Rachel. I still can’t help but hold onto the idea, however, that books for younger readers shouldn’t focus so much on the bad stuff. We don’t seem to take time to celebrate the good. While Katniss, is the one who bucks the system, who changes the rules of the Games, even she is aloof toward others before being sent to the arena. There is no compassion. No real kindness.

        I keep hoping at some point readers desire to go back to something that isn’t all about the evil system that one person or group must fight against. I’m probably delusional, but I remember things like Lord of the Flies, and The Chocolate War, and I keep wondering if it’s okay for this group to read just for the sake of entertainment without having to get a deep message from every book.

      • jane g meyer says:

        I just saw the movie, and read all three books last year. Personally, I believe children’s literature should seek to inspire young ones toward beauty and good, since they’re developing their hearts and minds, and images and stories have such a strong affect of them… Children suffering is a part of this broken world, but highlighting their courage (The Diary of Anne Frank, etc..) can inspire generations.

        I had high hopes for these books when I read them–there was plenty of opportunity to show sacrificial love and living, but I have to admit, the third book undid me. It went completely dark and I left the series feeling more confused than anything. Though this first movie was bland compared to the book, I enjoyed seeing the world come to life, but I’m most nervous for movie three. Perhaps Hollywood will take its typical liberties, and in this instance, twist the plot for the better. :)

  • I totally agree on the romance thing with Peeta and Katniss. The movie didn’t do nearly enough to show that it was a pretend romance on the part of Katniss and its purpose to encourage sponsors/gifts. But I still loved the movie and the book both, especially because it was something I could experience and share with my kids!

  • Jill Kemerer says:

    I have not read the books or watched the movie (I plan on both…someday!), but I’m already cringing. The wrong cat AND…minimal romance?? *gasp*

    Since I adore cats, the wrong casting of Buttercup would offend me greatly. And since I adore romance, I expect the movie makers not to skimp.

    Now I want to read the book and watch the movie just to get my judgmental on! Is that wrong? :)

  • Sarah Grimm says:

    I haven’t seen the movie yet, it’s on this weekend’s date agenda. :)

    I have read the book, however. All three of them. The first one was my favorite. I have to say, I wouldn’t have read it if it weren’t for four friends telling me I just HAD to! And three reminding me to read it in the same day! It looked too sad for my taste. It was. But I still liked it.

    I read the whole series in 5 sleep-deprived nights. And the day after I finished reading the story I was so sad, for the whole day! So, the books really did affect me me emotionally. Also, the character of Peeta, I just LOVED him. He was my favorite thing about the books hands down. Even though the book wasn’t written in his POV, I was able to connect with him emotionally more than any of the other characters.

    So, my rating, B+ I think.

    I’ll probably like the movies if they stay true to the characters.

  • I loved the book and the movie…but I agree with some of the points. Woody Harrelson as Haymitch instantly threw me because of his age more than anything. By the end, I thought he did a fantastic job with the role, but I still think he was not the best choice, visually.

    I think they could have done more with the inner plotting of Peeta and Haymitch and Haymitch’s part in conniving behind the scenes to help them, but overall, I want to see it again!

  • Didn’t see the movie. Loved the book. Liked the second book, too. After book three, I was so over The Hunger Games I had no desire to see the movie.

    I think it’s interesting the world-building was good in the movie, because in the book it was so shallow. Which was fine. The books weren’t about world-building, they were about action.

    The cat? How in the world could they get that wrong?

    Thanks for the review. I’m feeling better about missing the movie, now. :)

  • Ann Bracken says:

    I agree with you completely about the cat. When I saw the one they used I asked my husband if maybe there weren’t any orange cats left in Hollywood, making a couple next to me snicker. I also agree with you about how they created the worlds. The dichotomy between the poverty of District 12 (loved the 1930s costuming!) and the Capital was striking.

    While Harrelson doesn’t fit the description, I thought he did act the part of Haymitch fairly well. He had just the right amount of disdain whenever he called Katniss ‘sweetheart.’

    I agree that the best acting on Jennifer’s part was her shaking right before she got into the tube. The romance fell flat for me, as did the tension with President Snow, both vital to the plot. The girl who played Rue did the best portrayal, in my opinion.

    What I disliked the most was the way they shot it and the way it was edited. The hand-held camera effect was disorienting and made my husband physically ill. My husband edits movies for a living, and he scoffed at every quick cut. In his words, “If they added another 180 seconds to that movie then the transitions would be so much smoother.” We both understand they did it for effect, but we didn’t like it.

    Overall, I’d give the movie a B. For the record, I gave the books an A.

  • What an awesome breakdown! Thank you, Rachel.

    I read the series when it first came out so not sure how much I will remember but I can’t wait to see it! All your points sound valid. You analyzed this one perfecto. Thanks for sharing! I could never understand why they choose actors who don’t live up to their descriptions.

  • Rachel Kent, you genius, genius, you. I actually liked the movie–enough anyway. But I think I liked it because I knew what was going on (or supposed to be going on) in Katniss’ head because I’d read the book. My husband isn’t a reader. He didn’t read these books. He liked the movie okay, but when I explained to him how much he’d missed by not reading the books–how much of the romance and details about the other tributes, as you mentioned above that he’d missed– he decided to read it. And that NEVER happens. So I’m celebrating a victory on that one. The books are always better than the movies. The Buttercup thing had me stumped, too. And as for casting, why did Cato look like a frat boy?

  • Peter DeHaan says:

    Until recently I’ve not read much fiction, but thoroughly enjoyed The Hunger Games; I’d give it an A.

    I’m greatly anticipating the movie and am waiting to see it this weekend with my daughter. However, I am already put off with the casting and the elements there were skipped or simplified in the movie. Still I’m hoping to not be disappointed.

  • Haven’t read the books or seen the film, but a miss on casting the cat would be a grave disappointment for a cat books author—MOI! Strange selection of pictured cat. Like you said, Rachel, how hard is that? With one in four households in America hosting at least one cat, cat-loving viewers who read the books would likely join me with some major letdown over the poorly cast kitty.

  • Nikole Hahn says:

    So I was standing in the check out line yesterday of my grocery store and I looked over to see a glossy photo of the woman who plays katniss, and I had to laugh.

    I kept hearing your critique of her mouth being always open with the same expression in every scene. There she was–mouth open in yet another scene on the cover of the magazine.

  • Cathy West says:

    Actually, the casting of Haymitch was perfect for me. That’s exactly how I pictured him in my mind, especially once his backstory unfolds in the next books. I think he added a bit of levity to the darkness of the whole thing. I was disappointed that the relationship between Katniss and Gale and Peeta wasn’t explored hardly at all. If you hadn’t read the books you really wouldn’t understand what all that was about or what her relationship with Gale was. That was kind of annoying to me. As well, they really didn’t show the relationship between her and her mother enough for anyone who hadn’t read the story to know that there was all sorts of history and tension between them. I realize nobody wants to sit through a four hour movie, but still… That said, I enjoyed the movie even though the whole premise still galls me and I’m sorry to see children as young as eight or nine reading that stuff and watching this movie, but lately I feel I’m in the minority with this way of thinking. :(

  • V.V. Denman says:

    Every time I watch a movie after reading its book, I find myself thinking: “If I hadn’t read the book, how would I know what’s really happening?” But it’s curious, because if I haven’t read the book, my brain fills in the gaps…one way or the other.

    Everyone in our house read The Hunger Games before seeing the movie, except my 17 year old son, yet he didn’t seem confused about the plot. So I wonder if I would’ve enjoyed the movie more if I hadn’t read the book.

    I’ll have to keep wondering, though. I have no intention of testing my theory with other books. Not deliberately anyway. :)

  • sandra lynn says:

    I saw the movie last week without having read the book, and I really didn’t understand the relationship between Katniss and Peeta, though I could tell there must have been much more to it in the book. I felt the same way about the relationship between Katniss and Rue, as well as her mother. So, I borrowed my son’s kindle (age 13) and read books 1 and 2 this weekend and really loved them (bought book 3 tonight). The movie tried to tell a very compelling story but failed to translate it to the big screen in my opinion. The theme is not likeable (kids killing kids for the entertainment of adults??) but is very compelling, and I will add that this is the first book my son has read voluntarily for the pleasure of reading, so I am all for that!

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