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Feature: ‘The Hunger Games’

Can A PG-13 Movie Be Faithful To Collins’ Book?

Above: Jennifer Lawrence stars in the film adaptation of Suzanne Collins' "The Hunger Games."

Audio

Aired 3/23/12

KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando asks San Diegans to compare "The Hunger Games" book and movie.

Transcript

Fans have been eagerly awaiting the screen adaptation of "The Hunger Games" books. But can a PG-13 film be true to the books?

Hollywood has long looked to literature for source material. But often the material is transformed along the way. Dark fairy tales became cheery Disney cartoons. But now TV shows like "Grimm" and "Once Upon a Time" return fairy tales to their scary origin. Novelist Suzanne Collins saw something horrific in the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur, in which the people of Athens sacrificed seven boys and seven girls to the beastly Minotaur. That story was one of the inspirations for her book "The Hunger Games," in which 12 boys and 12 girls engage in fatal combat until a sole survivor stand victorious in an annual televised game.

San Diego young adult librarian Vanessa Goodman says the sacrifices made in "The Hunger Games" can also be read as rebellion.

"You see it in fairy tales, you see it in mythology," she says, "It 's tried and true that there's bravery, courage, sacrifice. The hero, somebody who comes through and encourages others to make a change for better. When Katniss sacrifices herself to take her sister's part in the hunger games, that's bravery, that's courage that's what a young adult is saying -- my god, if she can do it then possibly I have that within myself to do that."

Author Collins likes to compare her heroine Katniss to Spartacus as she goes from slave to rebel fighter.

"I know a lot of people have been saying that this is such a violent novel," says Marina Claudio-Perez, youth services coordinator at the San Diego Central Library, "True it's graphic and we can't dispute the fact that there are graphic scenes there and because the author was successful enough in providing us descriptive language but bottom line is it's not all about violence, the book has a lot about relationships."

And about coming of age, something that's of prime interest to the 12 to 18 year old core audience of young adult literature. Coming of age can be a painful and even scary time and Collins' book gives them a heroine who is living in a terrifying post-apocalyptic world where teen readers can confront their fears but at a safe distance. Teens see a level of realism in this futuristic world devastated by war, global warming, and a repressive government.

Donald Sutherland represents governmental authority in the film adaptation of "The Hunger Games."

Lionsgate

Above: Donald Sutherland represents governmental authority in the film adaptation of "The Hunger Games."

"So in 'The Hunger Games' you have a world created by adults but what can these young adults do to change that?," says Vanessa Goodman, "What can they have in their power to change what's going on? And, if nothing else, how powerful is that? What a message to say that yes, you do have the power to change something that was in the past and create something better out of it. I think that is real draw about it."

The library acknowledges that draw. Usually, libraries keep only a few copies of a book in circulation but the San Diego Public Library has 361 copies of Collins' books. That's surpassed only by "Harry Potter" and on par with "Twilight."

But Chula Vista teacher Erika Hughes says that the film, which is rated PG-13, softens much of the grittiness of the book.

"It's a post apocalyptic, dystopian society," she says, "And while I felt they got some of that feel, it still feels a lot more like 'Winter's Bone' [which jus happened to star Jennifer Lawrence] which is like a film that we watch that is just in a more disadvantaged area than it really feels like people intentionally being starved and subjugated, and basically just mined for whatever the area they lived in is worth. So I think the author had the intent of sharing the gritty truth of being under the foot of a more totalitarian government and you kind of lose a lot because they just want to tell the story an they are not taking in the more global implications that you feel in the book.

Miguel Rodriguez agrees. He runs the San Diego horror film festival Horrible Imaginings and has been a guest blogger for Cinema Junkie.

"I do think that the message or the themes could get kind of lost if we are to believe that society has regressed to the point that they could sit idly by while their children are taken by the government and put in a game where they essentially kill themselves and each other," he says, "We need to see just how stricken they are just how far they have fallen, and the devastation needs to be a little more clear. The hardships that that the characters are said to have felt in the novel didn't necessarily come across in the film, and that makes the games lose their impact, which affects the theme."

Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson, and Jennifer Lawrence in "The Hunger Games."

Lionsgate

Above: Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson, and Jennifer Lawrence in "The Hunger Games."

Erika Hughes says she understands that the filmmakers couldn't make the violence as graphic in the movie as in the book. After all they needed to attract a tween audience without provoking outrage from concerned parents.

"I think that's just their way of taking out some of the emotional and psychological scarring that is going to come from all of these things that I think are a little bit easier to swallow in a book. than in a movie," states Hughes, "So part of it is just that you can sneak more things under the radar in a book, than in a movie."

But Hughes feel that if you've read the books then you can fill in the blanks.

What the film version of "The Hunger Games" presents is a glossed over version of what's a dark and disturbing tale. That's the same thing the fictional government does in "The Hunger Games" with it's annual sanctioned slaughter of 23 children. So there may be some interesting and unintended messages that this film adaptation raises. But at its heart, the film still provides audiences with a coming of age story that speaks to teens who are struggling with complex emotions and a desire to rebel.

Companion viewing: "Battle Royale," "Logan's Run," "Lord of the Flies"

Audio

Aired 3/23/12

Librarians Vanessa Goodman and Marina Caludio-Perez discuss young adult books.

Transcript

Companion reading list (suggested by Vanessa Goodman and Marina Claudio-Perez, you can listen to their discussion for more details): "The Forest of Hands and Teeth," "Pretty Little Liars," "The Princess In Waiting Series," "The Chaos Walking Series," "The Rot and Ruin and Dust and Decay," "The Miseducation of Cameron Post"

And for older but still popular titles: "The Giver," "The Outsiders," "The Hobbit," "The Lord of the Rings," "Harry Potter," "Twilight"

Comments

Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | March 23, 2012 at 12:40 p.m. ― 2 years, 4 months ago

And no one bothers to mention the more-than-coincidental similarities with Koushun Takami's novel, BATTLE ROYALE--not even the Asian pop culture fans out there?

Funny how the Wiki bloggerseven omit mention of BATTLE ROYALE altogether in the subheading of "Inspriation." I hope it plummets in week # 2.

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Avatar for user 'Miguel Rodriguez'

Miguel Rodriguez | March 23, 2012 at 1:30 p.m. ― 2 years, 4 months ago

I mentioned the similarities to Battle Royale in my review of the books for Cinema Junkie back in June. Frankly, that comparison has been made countless times on countless other blogs and it is now tired. Their similarities are quite glaring, that is true, but they are also very different.

I actually do believe Suzanne Collins's claims that she had never heard of Battle Royale when she wrote her story. It is still obscure to people who don't actively seek out non-mainstream films.

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Avatar for user 'Beth Accomando'

Beth Accomando, KPBS Staff | March 23, 2012 at 2:03 p.m. ― 2 years, 4 months ago

Missionaccomplished- obviously you don't follow CInema Junkie on Facebook or else you would have been aware of the screening of Battle Royale to prepare for Hunger Games opening. A large group of people were more than aware of the similarities and we watched Hunger Games' video press kit as a lead in.

Comparing it to Battle Royale had no place in the context of this feature because it is focused on adapting Collins' book to the screen. But if you had read all the way through to the end you would have noticed that I listed Battle Royale as companion viewing. And I honestly don't think Collins was hip to Asian cult cinema when she was writing her book.

Thanks for the comments. Miguel's review -- from the point of view of someone who did read the books -- will be up shortly. I'll have my review -- from the point of view of someone not having read the books -- will be up tomorrow.

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Avatar for user 'GimmeABreak'

GimmeABreak | March 23, 2012 at 3:16 p.m. ― 2 years, 4 months ago

The comparison of THE HUNGER GAMES to BATTLE ROYALE is "tired"? Are you effing serious?

Hmmm, let's see. Major film adaptation comes out today of best-selling book that was blatantly "influenced" by a hugely successful foreign film that has been over the internet for the past decade. Author feigns surprise at its existence, yet willingly reaps the rewards of her "original work." Of course, to the average PBS viewer/reader, this is all new information.

Wannabe horror guy/blogger blows off commenter by declaring that comparison is "tired" and defends rich author for her ignorance/inability to use the internet/etc.

Like I said earlier, are you effing serious?

Condescension does not become you, Mr. Rodriguez.

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Avatar for user 'Beth Accomando'

Beth Accomando, KPBS Staff | March 23, 2012 at 7:09 p.m. ― 2 years, 4 months ago

GimmeAbreak- I just want to clarify a couple points about Battle Royale.

First, the film was never released in the US. It only played a few film festivals. Second, it only came out on DVD/Bluray in the US this month. When the film came out, the only way to see it was as a bootleg DVD bought at a convention or online. It was also difficult to find in the US because it was released in japan near the time of Columbine and US distributors did not want to be associated with a film about kids killing kids. Third, it was not really a "hugely successful foreign film." It was popular in Japan, where the book spawned the film then a manga and anime, and then a sequel.But it received little distribution outside Asia. So I would agree with Miguel that Collins, who is from Connecticut and was a writer of children's TV shows, probably didn't know about Battle Royale. Plus why should she lie since she already admitted that her idea was far from original since she took it from Greek mythology. Plus she compares Katniss to Spartacus, which is again admitting that she is not coming up with anything new.

I think people would benefit from seeing both films for two reasons: one Battle Royale is the far superior film, and two, they would see that the two films have very different thematic points. Battle Royale was in reaction to growing youth violence and the fight to the death was a punishment to what were seen as unruly teens. Hunger Games taps much more into the themes of Greek mythology with its notions of heroes and sacrifice.

Thanks for the comments.

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Avatar for user 'adamlee'

adamlee | March 23, 2012 at 9:15 p.m. ― 2 years, 4 months ago

Wow. So in your world, Art Buchwald loses his lawsuit against Eddie Murphy, who along with John Landis, ripped off Mr. Buchwald's original idea for COMING TO AMERICA?!

And by the way, BATTLE ROYALE has played on American cable TV in the past. I saw it on a channel that would feature Japanese anime and horror flicks.

So, let me get this straight? Having been involved in children's TELEVISION somehow ABSOLVES Ms. Collins? Again, wow.

And if she had seen BATTLE ROYALE, you truly believe she would admit to it as a reference after all the book sales and monies invested in the movie?

One last time, wow.

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Avatar for user 'GimmeABreak'

GimmeABreak | March 24, 2012 at 8:02 a.m. ― 2 years, 4 months ago

@Beth: Interesting that you have to step in to defend Mr. Rodriguez. Of course, you missed my very obvious point, that comparisons of THE HUNGER GAMES to the BATTLE ROYALE are, according to Mr. Rodriguez, "tired."

As I clearly stated earlier, this issue is far from "tired" and should be explored even further and on a much grander scale.

As for your misinformation about BATTLE ROYALE, first of all, my wife, who is a kindergarten teacher and cares not one iota about my love of horror, Asian cinema, etc., very easily purchased a legal special edition Korean DVD of BATTLE ROYALE from Amazon several years ago. Here's the link to the 2003 release that was sold on Amazon.

http://www.amazon.com/Battle-Royale-I-Special-Edition/dp/B000A2WDEO/ref=sr_1_11?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1332600689&sr=1-11

In addition, several other versions of the film have been available since before THE HUNGER GAMES appeared on bookshelves, as did several variations of the BATTLE ROYALE books.

And if you think employees at Ms. Collins' publishing house were unaware of the BATTLE ROYALE series, then you are more naive than Ms. Collins is full of bologna.

Furthermore, despite your contention, BATTLE ROYALE actually WAS a "hugely successful foreign film" in several countries including Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Germany, United Kingdom, and many more.

In addition, this is the age of the internet. Has been for nearly twenty years now. BATTLE ROYALE has been readily available via online distribution and/or illegal torrents and information about it has appeared on numerous websites and magazines dedicated to the genre -- see Fangoria, Rue Morgue, Horror Hound, Bloody Disgusting, Asian Cinema, Video Watchdog, etc., etc., etc., almost since the release of the first film.

For an author to feign ignorance in this day and age about a book and film that caused an international stir is ludicrous. And to stand up for someone who claims such ignorance makes me question your true motives.

Ridiculous.

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