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Feature: ‘The Hunger Games’

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

Jennifer Lawrence stars in the film adaptation of Suzanne Collins'

Credit: Lionsgate

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


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


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.

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Lionsgate

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."

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Lionsgate

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"


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


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"

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