In adapting the book into a motion picture, it was inevitable that changes would be made: characters would be removed, dialogue would be edited out and certain scenes would be deleted. Fortunately, Collins – who has publicly praised the film – wrote the screenplay alongside director Gary Ross and writer Billy Ray (State of Play). With that in mind, The Hunger Games film captures much of the main story – but there are still numerous differences between the book and the movie, and we’ve come up with a list of 10 big differences between the two.
If we’re missing any major differences, please let us know in the comments section, and as always, “may the odds be ever in your favor.”
WARNING – THIS LIST CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS ABOUT THE FILM.
In the book, Gale Hawthorne is Katniss Everdeen’s best friend in District 12, the coal mining district on the outskirts of the country. The two hunt together and divide up the game that they catch. Although there’s no overt romance in the relationship, Katniss continually evaluates her feelings for him. But when she is sent to compete in the games – where she faces off against 23 intense competitors – Gale is left behind. While Katniss thinks about him during the games, the story never shows him after the games begin.
In the film, however, the first-person narrative is changed to a third-person narrative so viewers will see what Gale (Liam Hemsworth) is doing as his friend competes in the games. We watch as he desperately longs for Katniss and notices that she’s developing an onscreen relationship with fellow tribute, Peeta Mellark….
As the story progresses, many youngsters inevitably die in the Hunger Games. In the book, some of these deaths are prolonged, showing the perseverance some of these characters have in their final moments. For instance, in an early scene, Katniss makes camp near a young woman who starts a campfire. After the young woman is discovered, she is attacked and nearly killed by some of her fellow tributes. But when they discover that she’s alive after the attack, Peeta is sent to finish the job. In the conclusion of the book, Cato – facing off against a group of mutant mutts – survives for several hours before Katniss puts him out of his misery.
In the movie, however, these deaths are done quickly. It’s possible that the deaths are abbreviated in order for the film to earn its PG-13 rating. But regardless, the film finds the bonfire girl dying quickly after she’s attacked and Cato only suffering a few moments before Katniss ends his life.
Before she is sent to the Capitol to fight in the games, Katniss is visited by several of her loved ones. Gale, her mother and her younger sister come say good-bye to her. But, surprisingly, Peeta’s father comes to visit as well and offers Katniss cookies. Although the local baker doesn’t know Katniss well, he has always been kind to both her and her younger sibling, and this visit helps establish the connection between Peeta’s family and Katniss. Later on – in a spout of possible paranoia – Katniss throws away the cookies.
The film doesn’t include these scenes at all. Most readers might not care about this exclusion but it stood out to me because these short sequences show a connection between Peeta’s family and Katniss. Although the two don’t know each other well, Peeta’s father supported both Katniss and her younger sister by buying fresh meat and food from them. Plus, Peeta’s parents have spoken to Peeta about Katniss – as Peeta notes in the story – even though Peeta and Katniss were never close.
Rue is the youngest person in the hunger games. As a tribute from District 11, she is forced to compete with older teenagers that are much stronger than her. During the training sessions, she developes an appreciation for Katniss and the two form an unlikely alliance in the games themselves.
Katniss is particularly interested in protecting Rue because the young competitor reminds her of her younger sister. When Katniss’ sister Primrose was chosen to compete, Katniss stood up to take her place, but no one volunteered to take Rue’s place – so Katniss feels a certain solidarity with her. In the movie, the connection between Rue and Katniss’ sister is largely glossed over. The two still form an alliance, of course, but Katniss’ empathy for her is never fully discussed in the film.
Because the book is told in first-person and the movie is a third-person narrative, readers didn’t get to meet some of the characters featured more prominently in the movie. For instance, the game maker – who plays a very limited role in the book – gets a lot of screen time. Wes Bentley (American Beauty) plays Seneca Crane as an overconfident genius who takes pleasure in setting up the games themselves.
His game, however, falls apart in both the book and the movie, leading to a conclusion that has two tributes emerging from the battlefield, not one. Very little is made of this in the (first) book, but in the film, the game maker faces a great punishment for his failures. It isn’t until the sequel book, Catching Fire, that the fate of the game maker is revealed – but in the movie, he is left in a room with only poison berries to eat. In the same way that he set death traps for others to fall into, he himself is sent into his own trap and forced to die for his failures.
In what was presumably an effort to keep the film within the PG-13 rating range, a lot of The Hunger Games’ horror (gruesome deaths, etc) either occurs off-screen or in a whirlwind of blurry camera work. However, one of the biggest differences between film and book is the finale – which featured mutated versions of deceased tributes “reborn” as monstrous and blood-thirsty dog-like animals.
In the book, Katniss recognizes that the Capitol has spliced parts of the former tributes into mutant beasts; however, in the film version, the “dogs” are presented as nothing more than over-sized (and vicious) wild beasts chosen by Seneca Crane to galvanize the remaining contestants into a final altercation. No mention is made of where the creatures come from, or what exactly they are, leaving non-fans out of the loop in regards to one of the most horrific aspects of The Hunger Games.
This gene-splicing mutant makeover also becomes important in the sequel books, so it’ll be interesting to see how the sequel films handle it…
In the book, we read as Katniss fights her way through the Hunger Games. We watch as she volunteers for the games themselves and as she prepares for them, with the help of Haymitch and her stylist Cinna (Lenny Kravitz). Once she is in the games, however, the focus is on her survival.
But in the movie, many of the backstage machinations are revealed. Viewers watch as the producers of the game invent ways to keep the tributes close to each other. In this regard, President Snow (Donald Sutherland) plays a much bigger role in the film, where he appears in several scenes discussing the games with Seneca. The film shows in some detail how much work is involved backstage in getting the games to play out in an entertaining and engaging fashion.
If there is a villian in the actual games, it is Cato. The cocky muscular tribute is an unrelenting killer willing to snap the neck of an ally if a plan falls apart. Towards the end of the film, the stage is set for a showdown between him and the Katniss/Peeta alliance. As the numbers in the game narrow, a District 11 tribute named Thresh saves Katniss’ life when he realizes how much she did to protect Rue throughout the games.
After he saves Katniss, though, Thresh is ultimately murdered. In the book, the assumption is that Cato has killed him. But in the movie, the suggestion is that Thresh has died at the hands of a group of dogs that the game makers have called into battle to help kill some of the remaining tributes. This difference – which may seem small– is actually quite important because Cato’s murder of Thresh in the book helped set the stage for a more intense final showdown between the surviving tributes.
One of the most important differences between the book and the movie is the absence of a minor character, who has an important backstory with Katniss. My friend Kate Hicks, in discussing the film with me, actually had to point out this subtle but important difference. In the book, as Katniss is preparing for the games, she meets several individuals from the Capitol who serve her meals and drinks. One of those girls is an “Avox” (a mutilated servant) that Katniss remembers from earlier.
Katniss remembers the girl as someone who was trying to escape from the Capitol, but who was subsequently captured by the government. Labeled a traitor, her tongue was eventually removed. In the book, we learn the back story of this girl and how Katniss regrets not trying to save her when she had the chance. But in the movie, this relationship is never fully realized and Katniss’ connection to this girl is never revealed.
Hands down, the biggest change between the book and the movie is the reaction to Rue’s death. In the book, Katniss only know that she receives a token of District 11’s appreciation for her kindness in the form of a gift dropped into the arena. In the movie, the complete reaction of District 11 is brought into greater focus.
After watching their young tribute die at the hands of a vicious killer, the people of District 11 begin to revolt against the Capitol officers who watch over them. They fight against the government that has taken one of their own and sent her into a battlefield to die for their viewing pleasure. In the books (and the movies) this fight against the Capitol is explored in greater depth during the sequels, where Rue becomes something of an iconic figure.
Of course, there are many other differences between “The Hunger Games” book and the film. Although it didn’t make my top 10 list, another difference between the film and the book concerns the mockingjay pin that Katniss wears throughout the games. In the book, a minor character from District 12 (the mayor’s daughter) gives Katniss the pin, but in the movie, Katniss acquires it through different means. This may be significant going forward, but this minor change didn’t seem important in and of itself.
However as the list shows, there are some major changes between the book and the film. Many readers will likely be pleased by this adaptation because it follows the story rather closely, but others might be disappointed that the filmmakers made these and other changes to a story that they have so much affection for.
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