I consider myself something of a trendspotter. I like to keep my ear to the ground, find out what the Kids Are Into These Days. So let me give you a little exclusive, the lowdown, the skinny, about what I’m tipping to be the next Harry Potter or Twilight. It’s a little series called The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, it tells the story of a rather special young lady named Katniss Everdeen, who…
Oh look, I can’t keep this up. It’s already earned $250 million at the box office, and, remarkably for such a massive blockbuster, has had excellent reviews, scoring 85% on Rotten Tomatoes. You’ve probably already seen the trailer, if not the film itself. But if you haven’t heard about it, just read the Wikipedia entry or one of the 27,700,000 articles that come up when you Google “hunger games suzanne collins”. To be honest, I’m just trying to compensate for the fact that I hadn’t even heard of it until a month ago. Although if I had, the oft-cited comparison with Twilight would have put me off.
Honestly, I promise that it isn’t like Stephenie Meyer’s book, even though there are teenagers and a love triangle. For one thing, Katniss kicks far more ass than either of the doting dudes. For another, there are a grand total of zero vomit-inducing descriptions of Edward’s nobility and handsomeness.
And while it’s been pointed out that Collins’ series has a lot in common with other works like the Japanese film Battle Royale and Stephen King’s The Long Walk, it’s no more derivative than Harry Potter or Star Wars or Twilight or any of the other cultural properties that reprocess myths for a modern audience. If anything, the Hunger Games owes most of all to Ancient Rome, a debt the novel freely acknowledges, and I think that the Roman Empire has lost its copyright by now.
Besides, it’s not the premise that makes a story compelling – Harry Potter was hardly the first book about boarding schools or wizards. It’s in the characters and narrative –the execution. And – spoiler alert –there certainly are executions in the novel, one of which had me on the brink of tears. Yes, I’m not afraid to feel, even in a fictional dystopia that’s been sneakily manipulated to induce precisely that response.
But despite coming incredibly late to the Hunger Games party, I still have one reason for attempting to assert cultural superiority. And that is because even though it’s already been made into a movie, and even though the movie is supposedly really good, I read the book. That’s right. I did it old skool.
And I’m so glad I did, because it allowed me to imagine the world of Panem for myself. I have my own mental Katniss, who looks nothing like Jennifer Lawrence, and my President Snow is a great deal more hideous than Donald Sutherland. Whereas when I watched the first Harry Potter movie, it simply replaced my imagined version of JK Rowling’s world with the film’s one. And my version was better, because it didn’t contain Daniel Radcliffe.
Unfortunately, when I read the subsequent Potter books, I saw the film’s Hogwarts instead of my own. Now, when I think of Hagrid, I see Robbie Coltrane. My mental version of Dumbledore has even changed from Richard Harris to Michael Gambon, as the film’s did. And since whenever I thought about Harry himself, I saw Radcliffe woodenly trying to convey anger, it’s a miracle I remained a fan. It’s not as simple as waving a wand and shouting “Accio acting”, you know.
What’s more, a movie of a book can only be a tiny sketch compared to the fully realised canvas of the original novel. Even with two films, many of the details of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows were lost in translation, infuriating a number of over-involved bloggers. By reading The Hunger Games, I know far more about Panem than anyone who’s seen the movie, and have had a considerably richer experience. I’m sure the cinematic visuals were spectacular, and the action sequences thrilling, but then again, they were in my mind, too.
I don’t think books are inherently better than movies. I wouldn’t bother read a novelisation of a movie, either, where a novelist has added their own inconsequential details and I already know the ending. But the simple fact is that an enormous amount of the experience of a novel gets lost in the transfer to the screen, especially when a novel is first-person. The Hunger Games is written from Katniss’ perspective, and the bleak, sardonic tone of her narration will inevitably evaporate on the screen.
The joy of first-person fiction is that it allows you unfettered access to a narrator’s mind. It simulates the portal from Being John Malkovich, only without dumping anybody beside the New Jersey Turnpike. Whereas a movie can’t allow you access to a narrator’s thoughts, at least not without a great deal of clunky voiceover. This is why The Catcher In The Rye has often been described as unfilmable. It’d just be a dude wandering around New York, failing to connect with anybody.
So, I’ve decided not to watch the Hunger Games movie, at least for the time being. I’ll wait until the vivid images of the book that currently fill my imagination have faded, and it doesn’t seem quite so destructive to overwrite my mental version of Katniss’ world with somebody else’s. And if you’ve yet to experience either version, then I pass on the excellent advice a friend gave me, and suggest you start with the book. Not only is it a substantially better experience, but best of all, it will allow you to patronise those who’ve only seen the movie.