The Hunger Games: The Movie Was Better

I recently finished reading the first book of The Hunger Games trilogy, and then I saw the film version last night.  The trailers made the movie look amazing, and several people had recommended the book to me, so I decided to check it out.  I read the book first because typically the book is better, and–at least for me–seeing the movie first ruins the reading experience.  With this one, I wish I had just skipped the book altogether.

I can’t hate on The Hunger Games too much:  To be fair, it was a wonderful concept that suits the current trend of post-apocalyptic tales (Walking Dead, anybody?).  The story has strong conflict, interesting themes, and the books are short, so it’s a quick read.  However, I’m going to say it:  Sorry, Suzanne Collins fans, but I hate her writing.

Here are the things I don’t like about Suzanne Collins’ writing style inThe Hunger Games:

  • The first-person narration in present tense is distracting.  When I read a story written in first-person point of view, I picture that the person is either writing the story or telling the story after it has already happened.  With past tense, this makes sense.  However, the character Katniss tells the story in present tense, so I imagine that she’s telling me the story as it’s happening (i.e. while she’s sneaking around to hunt or hide from people who are trying to kill her, she’s also blabbing out her story).  If I had been Collins’ editor, I would have told her to keep the present tense for intensity of action, but have a third-person omniscient narrator who could go into Katniss’ head.
  • There was little or no foreshadowing.  Katniss would have a flashback that explained something about the world of Panem that Collins created, and immediately afterwards it would jump right back into the present tie-in.  A good example of this is the explanation that Katniss gave for the “tracker jackers” which were deadly mutant bees, or “muttations” [sic] as they were referred to in the story.  Instead of halting the action to explain it right then, Collins could have foreshadowed earlier by having Gale and Katniss take a wide path on their way to the lake to avoid a tracker jacker nest, providing explanation at a point when the building plot allowed for it.  It would essentially be Chekhov’s gun.
  • This one actually really pissed me off:  Collins used the names of brilliant historical Romans on throwaway characters.  I admire many great writers, thinkers, and poets from the Roman Empire, having studied much of their work in depth.  Her lack of research was a slap in the face when some effort could have added depth to the novel as a work of literature.  J.K. Rowling thought carefully about the names of many of her characters, so that each name had a profound significance.  I understand that Collins was trying to invoke the corruption of the Romans and their gladiatorial games in comparison to Capitol, but she should have matched villains’ names with infamous villains and fools’ names with notorious fools.  Rome had plenty of villains and fools whose names would have invoked a response from the educated.
  • Finally, the word choices were overly simple and devoid of poetry.  I did not have to pick up my dictionary once, nor did I pause to appreciate any clever word usages, which I found disappointing.  Although Hemingway wrote simply, he still wrote creatively, and the depth of his writing was often in what he left unwritten.  Unfortunately, in The Hunger Games it was all simplicity with none of the subtlety.

But enough about the book.  The movie was a completely different experience for me.  The acting was superb, the special effects were superb, and the action was superb.  What’s best is that the medium of film and the necessary cuts of screenwriting trimmed out most of the things I hated about the book, which left only what was effective from the book: the plot, the characters, and the setting.  Even the teen romance was toned down a bit, which I found refreshing.  Discrete cinematography implied violence without necessitating excessive gore.  Finally, the film’s withdrawal from Katniss’ point of view to to portray the gamemakers and politicians behind the scenes also smoothed out confusing parts of the story, demonstrating why the book should not have been written with a first person narrator.

For the movie, I was expecting a visually stimulating, action-packed film, and I was very pleased.  On the other hand, with the book, I was expecting high-quality contemporary literature, and I was bitterly disappointed.  I find it really disappointing that books like The Hunger Games andTwilight are where popular literature is headed nowadays.  I don’t want my kids to read that sh*t as an example of what a good book is!  But sadly, I’ve already heard of students being assigned to read both of those books in school.  I guess time will tell.

I don’t doubt I’ve ruffled some feathers with this one.  I didn’t really care for the books.  I’ll probably finish the series because I don’t want to wait two more years to see what happens next, and they’re pretty quick reads.  Feel free to leave me a comment about how much you liked the books and let me know that I can go f*ck myself.  (Or if you have a degree in literature, you might actually agree with me.  It’s not like a degree in literature is good for much else besides hating on lame books.)

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5 thoughts on “The Hunger Games: The Movie Was Better

  1. I haven’t seen the movie yet but I do plan to and after reading the first book, I doubt I’ll read the second or third. Although the story and character development kept me interested enough to finish the book in just a few hours I came away feeling very much like you do. It didn’t blow my mind or complicate the way I look at….anything, it was simply a good premise. It is written specifically for a “twilight” audience and that may explain the simplified writing style. Either way, the books leave something to be desired from me. Glad to hear the movie is good though! I was worried about the PG-13 rating taking away from the violence, there aren’t many movies that make it possible to see teenagers killing each other in creative and skillful ways.

  2. Tony,

    I was very happy to find your blog post about the Hunger Games book versus the movie. I had the exact same experience and I have been looking for someone that shares that point of view.

    I saw the movie first and read the book second. It is one of a handful of thought provoking movies I have seen in the last decade… and it is supposed to be for teenage girls. I am a 30 something guy and I was amazed how much I enjoyed it. The social issues, philosophy, and Lord Of the Flies type feel made me a fanatic overnight.

    I bought the trilogy of books three days after I saw the movie. I thought, “Holy crap… if the books are like the movie, then I will be blown away by the trilogy.” Then I found out in the first 30 pages of Hunger Games that the book is for teenage girls. It is almost like two people took a true life story… one wrote the autobiography book and one wrote a biography movie. I like the biography movie. The book has great details that filled in gaps that were left out of the movie, but that is the only value I am getting out of reading the book. The first person point of view is the wrong approach for this book.

    The movie does it exactly right. For example, showing President Snow talking with the gamemaker in the orchard about “Everyone likes underdogs. I don’t.” and “I like you… Be careful”. And at the end it shows President Snow in the gamemaker room and walking away slowly… foreshadowing the next book/movie (I think, I haven’t even finished reading the first book).

    I want to know what you recommend what my next move is. Should I wait until “Catching Fire” movie comes out in November 2013, watch the movie first, then read the book to fill in the details? Or should I read the books Catching Fire and Mockingjay before I see the movies? Do the other books get better? I just don’t know if I can stand the first person point of view throughout the whole book.

    Thanks for your post and look forward to your reply.

    JD

    1. Thanks for the comment, JD.

      I would suggest that if you are eager to find out what happens next, why not go ahead and read it? Even if you end up liking the movie better, you can enjoy both media separately. The thing I like about reading books before watching the movies is that I understand all the background and depth to the story that you can’t fit into a two-hour film. On the other hand, if you can’t stand the writing, then don’t feel like you have to waste your time. I recently read and enjoyed a terribly written book that had an interesting story with halfway decent characters that made it worthwhile for me to suffer through the crappy writing. If you can turn off your critic for a moment to just enjoy the guilty pleasure, then I would say to give it a shot.

      As far as my opinion goes, I didn’t really care for Catching Fire any more than I did for The Hunger Games, and I never got around to finishing Mockingjay. I’ve heard differing opinions on them, though. Catching Fire was similar to The Hunger Games as far as action and story go, but Mockingjay was altogether different with more politics and intrigue in the plot than survival. Of course, these are just my opinions, but I invite you to read them for yourself and form your own. And I’d be glad to know what you thought when you finish.

  3. I read all the books now. In less than 3 weeks… my fastest reading ever.

    I posted on your blog before I starting reading Catching Fire. I should have just starting reading Catching Fire and then my original post would have been different.

    I treat Hunger Games and Catching Fire as one set of books with one set of themes. I treat Mockingjay as a completely different tone, but based on the same characters. Mockingjay is very different, but still good… Maybe that is what you were saying??… but I needed to look at the books differently to enjoy them. The first person point of view makes perfect sense for Mockingjay… that is a perfect book for the first person POV.

    Let me just say, it will be interesting what Hollywood does with Mockingjay… they might butcher the story for a Hollywood ending… or else they need to make it an R movie and hit the REAL story head on… which the teens will not buy tickets to see…

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