Hunger Games: Catching Fire – Adaptation Choices

Posted Pete Bauer Novel, Podcast, Review, Screenplay, story telling, Writing

“I have an image of Prim in a white room, strapped to a table, while masked, robed figures elicit those sounds from her.  Somewhere they are torturing her, or did torture her, to get those sounds.”

In my last podcast I talked about the process of adapting a screenplay to a novel.  The opposite path can be taken when adapting a novel into the screenplay, but instead of looking for ways to fill your story, you look for ways to streamline the novel into an effective screenplay.

catchingfire2A lot of tough choices have to be made during such a process.  Locations may be trimmed, characters combined into one, etc.  Then, that script, that blueprint, is given to a director to be turned into a series of visual images.

The first Hunger Games film, directed by Gary Ross, was one of the best film adaptations of a novel I had seen.  It captured the life and essence of the book perfectly and the additions and changes to the screenplay aligned to a T with the novels original feel and mood.

When I read the second Hunger Games book, Catching Fire, the story was more vast and the action, much bigger.  I was concerned if Ross, who nailed an intimate feel in the first film, with a lot of handheld camera work, would be able to pull off the larger action sequences in the second book.

Ross, not believing he had enough prep time to direct the second film, stepped down and Francis Lawrence was hired to direct both the second film, Catching Fire, and the third and fourth films based on the last novel, Mockingjay.

In Catching Fire, both in the book and the movie, during the games Katniss finds herself stuck listening to jabberjays scream in Prim’s voice.  It is a horrendous sound that wreaks havoc on Katniss’ fragile psyche.

The quote from the Catching Fire book that started this blog entry shows what Katniss is fearing, that in order for the jabberjays to mimic a tortured Prim, Prim, herself, would have had to be tortured.


In the movie, Katniss is stuck in the jungle, forced to hear these screams for an hour.  The film director chooses to show Katniss covering her ears and screaming, trying to block out the sound.

This adaptation choice was an exceptionally weak one.

Author Suzanne Collins explained perfectly what Katniss was imaging had caused these horrendous sounds.  Lawrence, the film director, should have shown us that in the film as well.

Film is a visual medium.  If the director would have chosen to inject flashes of the images ricocheting through Katniss’ mind, we would have be thrust into her psychological shoes, and we would have become an active participant in a very disturbing moment, like we were in the book.

However, by the director only showing Katniss’ reaction to the sound, we are passive, like Peeta, sitting on the other side of the force field, watching her in agony.

A very, very poor choice.

Both novels and films have one primary goal, to emotionally engage the audience.  They do this by putting us in the protagonists point-of-view as much as possible.  In novels, you do this by hearing what they think, what they fear and what they dream.  In film, it has to be done visually, otherwise we’re a passive observer eating popcorn in an air conditioned theater instead of in the mind of the hero stuck in a jungle facing her greatest fear.

That adaptation choice, either by the screenwriters or the director, was the wrong one and wasted one of the most emotionally powerful moments in the story.  Instead of jarring us into Katniss’ world, it just became another hurdle the contestants had to overcome in a long series of challenges.

I hope in the next two films, when given the opportunity, they make more powerful and effective choices when adapting the novel into a film.

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