Best. Theater. Decorations. Ever.
The book vs. the movie
I knew going in that there was no possible way for the movie to be an exact recreation of the book. For one thing, the movie is only 142 minutes long. Twice that would still not be enough to incorporate all the details on the written page. Also, the film has a rating of PG-13. While I'm happy with that rating, and am glad it was not rated R, there is no way to fully show every detail of the brutality and the sensuality that is the Hunger Games, and still keep a PG-13 rating.
The books also carry an intense internal dialogue by Katniss. The only way to truly convey that would be through the use of voice-overs, and the director(s) had made it clear that this was not happening. Therefore, many of the things we learn through Katniss would have to translated into subtle acting and spoken dialogue.
So, what changes would there be? Would the changes be significant enough to destroy the arcs and themes of the movie? Or would they properly convey the written words? After reading the book several times, and having now seen the movie three times, here are the changes that stood out to me (in no particular order), and why I believe they worked (or didn't):
*Please note: All book quotations come from The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, published by Scholastic.*
Madge Undersee, the mayor's daughter
Book - Madge is important in that she is the one that gives Katniss the mockingjay pin. The mockingjay is a vital part of the story, as it becomes the universal symbol for the rebellion that develops in the later books.
Movie - the character of Madge is left out, and Katniss receives the pin from Prim (after first obtaining it herself, and giving it to Prim).
In the grand scheme of things, this change matters little, unless you just desperately loved Madge. If anything, it will have a bigger affect in the film Catching Fire, as it's in this story that Katniss and Madge truly develop a friendship, and it's b/c of this friendship that Katniss is in the Mayor's house and first sees hints of the rebellion going on throughout the Districts. This character deletion did not change the meat of the story, and allowed more time to be spent on the more important characters. It remains to be seen how this change will affect Catching Fire, but I think the change will be handled well.
Book - one of the things that Katniss's internal speeches do is to explain to us how things have changed in the years between us in the here-and-now, and the way things exist in Panem. The mockingjay pin seems innocuous enough, but through Katniss, we learn that the genetic anomaly known as the mockingjay is, in reality, a slap in the face to the Capitol.
Movie - while the way in which Katniss receives the pin makes little matter, there was a glaring lack of explanation as to why this pin is so important.
In truth, this story arc can easily be incorporated into Catching Fire, and the import of the symbol can have the desired effect, even if a bit late. I don't believe this omission harms the movie in any major way, though the scene where Cinna shows Katniss where the pin is hidden in her arena costume, and then motions for her to keep it a secret, may be confusing to any viewers who have not read the books.
Book - one of the more maligned changes I've seen covered in various media outlets is the omission of the Avox. The book creates a great backstory as Katniss meets and recognizes this mutilated servant as someone she once saw in the woods of District 12, and neglected to help (which results in capture by, and mutilation by, the Capitol). It really is a great story, and helps to develop Katniss's character, but it is not integral to the overlying arc.
Movie - there is no mention whatsoever of the Avox, though there are several characters standing in the background of the apartment scenes that lead me to believe that the idea of the Avoxes were considered, even if they were never developed
The Avox girl really adds a lot to the book. But like many of the other changes, I don't believe this one will have a major overall effect. The series if rife with interesting characters and backstories, but only so many can be developed. I'd rather see more development of the story itself, even at the risk of a few more minor characters. Also, this character development could happen in the next movie (and is alluded to in the meadow scene with Katniss and Gale), and still work well.
District 12 fashion team
Book - one of the more humorous parts of the book revolve around the fashion team assigned to Katniss in her preparation leading up to the Games. They truly care about Katniss, but are clueless about life outside of the Capitol. These citizens are so innocently obnoxious that we can't help but laugh at them.
Movie - While the full cast list shows these characters are in the movie, they are never introduced. We see them more as background characters, with none of the dialogue that made us snicker as we read. This results in very little of the transformation and makeovers that happen at the Capitol being shown on the screen.
I really wish that Katniss's transformation to the girl on fire had been developed a bit more. The Games aren't just about brutality. They are also about pageantry and glamour, and it is these aspects that make them that much darker and scarier. I felt that some of the edginess was lost. Characterwise, the team has much more page time in the second book, and I've heard that they also have much more screen time in the second movie. I think the development of their characters in Catching Fire will work, and I'm more concerned that their importance in Mockingjay isn't glossed over.
Book - after Rue's death and Katniss's reaction to it, we are lead to believe that she has garnered attention and respect from District 11 by their sponsored gift of the bread that is specific to their district.
Movie - there is no gift from them; instead, we see a screen shot of the beginning of the rebellion in District 11.
While the change still shows the effect that Rue's death had on her home District, I think the change was a bad one. In the books, there is no overt proof of a rebellion until well into Catching Fire. Katniss begins to wonder about it in the first book, but we as the readers are left questioning. This lack of understanding and knowledge of the state of Panem sets up scenes that come in Catching Fire. The gift of bread is also reminiscent of the gift of bread from Peeta, and and sets up yet more internal conflict in Katniss's mind. The gift also has a big effect on how Katniss handles the Victory Tour and visit to District 11 in Catching Fire.
Book - when Peeta and Katniss hold hands, this is per last-minute instructions from Cinna, who understands the importance of playing to the crowd. The act of linking hands shows they are a team.
Movie - it's a last-minute suggestion from Peeta, and just doesn't have the impact needed.
Quite simply, I believe the scene would have been better served by sticking to the book. It would have taken 15-seconds of screen time to match it to the scene in the book.
District 12 Tribute interviews
Book - Katniss's mention of the lamb stew in her book interview is a direct link to a sponsor gift she receives in the Arena. It also provided a small spark of humor a very tense, uncomfortable scene.
Movie - this 30-second slip of dialogue is left out, instead jumping straight to the discussion of the Tribute parade costumes.
Book - the shower/roses discussion is funny because we've already discovered ostentatious Capitol extras (specifically, the shower) with Katniss. This humor is also a great lead in - we go from amusement to horror and heartbreak as next Peeta softly admits to heartfelt feelings for Katniss. One of the best lines in the book happens at the end of Peeta's interview. Caesar Flickerman asks him, "She didn't know?" Peeta's response: "Not until now."
Movie - we never see the showers with their various nozzles and sprays. In fact, aside from the costumes, we see very little of the differences between the Capital and District 12. And Peeta's sad, soft, "Not until now" is left out completely.
The lamb stew should never have been removed from the storyline. Not only was it humerous, and reminded us that Katniss is a young girl thrust into a spotlight she never wanted, it set the stage for the soup sent to her in the Arena. The specific gift of lamb stew showed that people were paying attention to her. They took notice, and showed it through their choice of gift. As for Peeta, the lack of explanation regarding the shower ("Tell me. Do I small like roses?") goes right back to the lack of screen time for the fashion team, and for the Tributes' makeovers, and the various things the endure to prepare for each day, attempting to impress the viewers. While the overall lack of scenes work, a few were really needed to add to the scenes that DID make it into the movie, if only for clarification purposes. As for Peeta bombshell regarding Katniss, that three-word line should have been considered indispensable.
While the line may be missing, Jennifer Lawrence perfectly displays the look of shock and embarrassment and confusion that I imagined on Katniss's face the first time I read the book.
Book - When Katniss finds Peeta by the river, after he's wounded by Cato, she begins the process of trying to clean and disinfect his leg. To do this, his clothes must be removed. She fights an inner battle, knowing his nakedness will make her uncomfortable, but also knowing that this is something that must be done.
Movie - Katniss merely cleans the wound through the rip in the pants.
Oh, come on, you KNOW you wanted to see a skyclad J-Hutch!!! Seriously, though, I knew going in that there would be no nudity. I expected it, even before the "people" involved made it known. But I also expected to see Katniss wrestling with the idea (and the act) of removing some of Peeta's clothes. I really thought that atleast some of the garments would come off, even if it wasn't explicitly shown in detail. I feel this scene would have been much better for matching the book a bit more closely. Hot-guy-naked aside, the scene in the book helped, once again, to establish Katniss as a young girl, not truly ready to tackle just any situation - she can kill, but she's uncomfortable with nudity, even asexually. Peeta says it perfectly: "You know, you're kind of squeamish for such a lethal person." He does have a way with words.
The cave scene
Yes, THE scene. The one scene (or group of scenes) that everyone - and I do mean EVERYONE - was looking forward to with bated breath and clenched fists.
Book - In the cave, the relationship between Katniss and Peeta comes to a head. Here, Katniss sees the truth of Peeta's feelings for her. And her feelings, which to this point have been strictly for show, begin to confuse her. At this point in the book, there is a very obvious progression in the relationship: an impulsive kiss, the arrival of some food, another kiss, followed by "coaxing, begging, threatening, and yes, kissing" to get Peeta to eat the food. After this comes the story of Prim's goat. The invitation to the feast. The next morning, Katniss kisses Peeta again, while he is asleep, before heading to the feast. Later, after returning to the cave and providing the medicine to Peeta, she briefly succumbs to her own injuries, wherein Peeta provides for her. It is shortly after she awakends that the REAL kiss takes place. As the book says, "This is the first kiss that we're both fully aware of. Neither of us hobbled by sickness or pain or simply unconscious. Our lips neither burning with fever or icy cold. This is the first kiss where I actually feel stirring inside my chest. Warm and curious. This is the first kiss that makes me want another."
Oh. Man. I think my heart stopped. I SOOO remember that feeling, that first time a kiss made me FEEL. The power. The vulnerability. The fear.
Back to the book. Here is another one of those oh-so-important lines. Katniss: "Peeta...you said at the interview you'd had a crush on me forever. When did forever start?" And it's here, in his answer, that she realizes for sure that Peeta was never playing a game for the crowds.
Movie - A kiss on the cheek, some broth, and one kiss after the announcement of the feast.
First of all, I feel like I need to start out by saying that the film's cave scene is incredible. It really is. But there is SO much missing from it! It could have been phenomenal! I don't mean that it had to match, kiss for kiss. But that progression is sorely missing! The use of kisses changing to the want of kisses - that is what made the scene in the book. It brought more tension into the relationship. It made later scenes more painful to read. This scene, in my opinion, is a true climactic point in the book. In a book of death and violence and brutality, the sudden depth of the relationship changed the entire dynamic of the story, and for the better. And again, it would have taken only a few minutes to add in a few additional scenes, with just a bit more of the development of the relationship. And all of that could've been done without making the romance the focal point of the movie. It shouldn't be the focal point, but it needed to be there, just a bit more.
Cato's death monologue
Book - The Games end in a confrontation with Cato at the top of the Cornucopia. Here, as expected, Cato is nothing but fierce and brutal (as are all the other Careers).
Movie - On the top of the Cornucopia, Cato is given a monologue that reminds us that, despite the brutality, despite the killing, these are just children! Yes, he is brutal, he is mean, he is fierce. He wants to survive, after all. But just like every other contestant in the Games, he is also still a young boy.
I found the Career tributes very interesting when I first read the books. I liked them. They played well opposite to the goodness in Katniss, Peeta and Rue. In the movie, when Cato suddenly realizes that the odds were, in fact, not in his favor, when he is reduced to tears, when the only thing he knows to do is take Peeta down with him, I fell in love with Cato. In turn, I found myself grieving for Glimmer, Clove and Marvel. I love the way the Games end in the book. But I think I love the movie ending even better.
These are not the only changes made. Some were subtle, others (the muttations) were more obvious. Whatever the case, they didn't affect me as much as those above.
Overall, I give the movie two thumbs (and two toes) up. I loved it! I am not an actor, a producer, or a director. If anything, I might call myself a writer. Most importantly, I'm a fan. Do I think some of the things I suggested would have made for a better movie? Sure, I do. At the very least, it would have given me another 30 minutes of sensory amazement and excitement. But the movie is not mine. It belongs to Gary Ross, to the cast and crew, and to Suzanne Collins, who was involved in the entire process. And I have to believe that, if Ms. Collins is happy with the result, who are we to judge? After all, it is HER story!
I'm more excited than ever for the production of Catching Fire.