On August 20, 2010 I experienced a life changing event. I was told to read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. "Better than Twilight, not as good as Harry Potter" was the way it was described to me. Being the fantasy book geek that I am, that's all I needed to know. As early as the last sentence of the first paragraph, "This is the day of the reaping" I was hooked.
I don't even think I was finished with the book before I started recommending it to everyone I knew. Now, few things give me greater pleasure than a successful book rec. (#dork). And to my delight the positive feedback came flooding in. Little did I know the trend that was beginning. I don't want to take full credit for the 36.5 million copies of the series in print, its three year tenure on the New York Times Bestseller list, or Suzanne Collins' rise to Kindle's all time best-selling author...but I'd like to think I had something to do with it.
It was probably the announcement that Lionsgate Studios would adapt The Hunger Games into a major motion picture that vaulted it from a good rec. among avid readers and "young adult" fantasy/sci buffs into an international phenomenon. Attaching 2011 Academy Award Best Actress Nominee Jennifer Lawrence to the lead role of Katniss gave the film credibility. For all of us who love books but worry how our favorites will be adapted to the big screen, this provided a sigh of relief. It meant that Lionsgate was taking the film seriously. With this up and coming young star along with a top billed supporting cast, the movie officially had the social media feeds buzzing.
Unfortunately, with this buzz came the unnecessary amplification of the love story that to me is merely a peripheral theme in the book. Much like "Twilight's" Team Edward vs. Team Jacob phenomenon, we immediately started seeing similar competition between Katniss' prospective love interests, Peeta and Gale. Websites and Facebook pages sprouted, urging fans to vote for who would most qualify as Katniss' suitor. But this need to quibble over "who's the best guy" really detracts from the themes of the story. We love this book because we are angered by the inequitable differences between life in District 12 and that of the Capitol. Katniss represents the masses, and her strength, courage, and most importantly humanity is something we all admire. To focus on the theme of love in this book is to diminish the grander ideas such as equality and survival.
The novel is told in first person, so we hear Katniss' every thought, and this is how we grow to love her. Her quick wit in dealing with some of the less desirable characters and difficult situations is portrayed well in the movie. However, because the film chose to forgo the first person narration, it struggles to depict how methodical Katniss is in her thinking, how much she truly despises the Capitol, or that paramount to everything else, Survival is most important. It is this last statement that is the central theme to the novel, not Peeta v. Gale as the movie studio or tween fan pages would lead you to believe.
I am not so cold-hearted as to think that Katniss does not have feelings for Peeta, however her will to survive is actually much stronger than those feelings. (**SPOILERS from here on out**) In fact, the highlight of this love story occurs in a cave where the two District 12 tributes are hiding, after the recent ruling that tributes from the same district may both be allowed to win if they are the last two alive. Katniss then goes to find Peeta, not because she is in love with him, but because she knows that on a team she is more likely to survive. In the cave, she kisses him, not because she has some undying urge to, but because she hopes it will lead to gifts from sponsors that will aid in her survival. "If I want to keep Peeta alive, I've got to give the audience something to care about," says Katniss. Nothing proves this point better than the climax of the story, when the Gamemakers announce that there may be only one winner, as opposed to their earlier revision to the rules, allowing tributes from the same district to join forces. In the book, upon hearing this, Peeta pulls his knife. Reacting instinctively, Katniss nocks an arrow and aims it at Peeta's heart! Here we see Katniss' survival instinct outweighing her feelings for Peeta. And yet, this part was left out of the movie. In the movie, upon hearing this momentous announcement, the two District 12 tributes, after just fighting for their lives for days on end; surviving burns, wasp stings, sword and knife wounds, starvation, dehydration...kind of just stand around wondering what to do. Seriously? Here's about five seconds that could have been added which would convey not only the severity of the situation, but would supply some real theatrical suspense. If anything the filmmakers should be playing up this angle. So why leave it out? "I can sell the star-crossed lovers from District 12..." Haymitch proclaims in the film. Lionsgate apparently was on the same page. But in attempting to pander to the coveted tween demographic, they totally miss the point. Those star-crossed lovers are supposed to fight to the death! This is part of what makes the story so compelling. Clearly the filmmakers were afraid that they would lose some of the tween audience because their beloved Peeta v. Gale saga would be replaced by the real theme of the story. Survival.
Omissions such as those and others could be the reason Director Gary Ross will not be returning for the sequel, Catching Fire, slated for release in late 2013. Ross decided not to sign on for "Catching Fire" stating, "As a writer and a director, I simply don't have the time I need to write and prep the movie I would have wanted to make because of the fixed and tight production schedule." Reading between the lines we can infer Ross experienced similar problems with "Hunger Games". Despite all my complaining, I still give the movie a B+. I'm not so naive as to think an adaptation is going to fit my exact specifications, and this one comes closer than many. I know I'll never stop being bothered by the Team Peeta v. Team Gale question, but upon being asked, I reply proudly and without hesitation "Team Katniss."