Tag Archives: Hunger Games

First Impressions

“The book was better than the movie.”

“You have to watch it in the original language. The english dub is painful.”

“The original version is by far the best.”

My wife and I saw The Hunger Games yesterday after she plowed through the book the day before. While we disagreed on some of the finer points, we generally agreed that the movie fell short of the book, that key moments, details and events were left out. While movies are oftened accused of not being as good as their source material, watching this particular movie brought up two points that I thought were worth sharing.

1) You’ll always think the first thing you saw/read/heard is the best version

For me this comes up all the time in Anime. While generally speaking I try to watch all anime shows in their original language, there are a number that for one reason or another I saw in English first. For me Hellsing sounds terrible in Japanese, as do Akira, Steamboy (I mean who’s better than Patrick Stewrat) and Metropolis. Conversely, the english adaptions of Neon Genesis Evangelion, Bleach and Trigun are painful to listen to (particularly Trigun). I think one of the main reasons for this is that moment when we form our impression of the character, what they look like and how they sound.

In The Hunger Games I listened to the audio book rather than reading which gave me some very set preceptions of how names were pronounced and how certain characters sounded. In particularly Effie (played by Elizabeth Banks in the movie) has a much more exaggerated affectation in the audiobook, and I found Banks to be too subdued (though kudos to her for sitting through makeup that would make Mrs. Slocomb faint).

A kind of exception to this rule for me was Watchmen. Though I find the graphic novel to have a much richer amount of background material, due to the way it was published, I liked the movie ending better, despite having read the graphic novel months before. The movie ending pins the destruction of the world on one the main characters and not on some manufactured evil brought in from seemingly nowhere. The graphic novel is like a mystery where the murderer is introduced only in the last few pages, rather than in the first 20% of the book. In the movie we meet our murderer up front, have time to suspect them and others.

But I digress.

I formed a lot of my impressions of The Hunger Games from the audiobook, a form of reading that is often more practical for me since I can listen to audiobooks at work. Reading in this fashion does have some downsides however which may have colored my perception of some characters.

2) Audiobooks choose what points to emphasize rather than letting you decide where to place emphasis

More than just the affectations of Effie, the audiobook shaped my impressions of some of the main characters particularly Peeta and Katniss. I didn’t really like either of these characters at first. I found Katniss to be cold, to suspicious of people around her, and at times very flightly and indecisive. I found Peeta’s love from afar to be far from believeable, and found Katniss’ references to him as “the boy with bread” to be distracting. (I don’t want to give people the impression I didn’t like the book because I actually did overall).

Audiobooks are a performance like any other and I didn’t realize until I saw that the movie how much of my feelings about these characters was colored by that performance. Seeing the movie, even with its faults, made me much more sympathetic of Katniss and much more believing in Peeta’s love and overall charming and noble nature. Even before the movie however, I was softening on both of these characters as I read (this time on the Kindle) the second book. While we may have a preference for the first way we encounter something, this does not mean we can’t learn or change our views by seeing other versions.

I still stand by my standard axiom, read/see/hear whatever came first then see what came next, but I think it’s important to recognize how we bias our opinions of what’s to come.

What do you guys think? Is there always a “best” way to see something, or is it subjective?


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I Know Your Secret

SPOILER ALERT: I will be discussing a specific scene in the second book of The Hunger Games Trilogy, Catching Fire. You have been warned.

It’s one of our favorite moments in any story, the moment when a secret is revealed. It doesn’t matter who is revealing the secret, whether it’s a lover who reveals he’s known his girlfriend has been cheating all along, or a villain revealing something our hero thought had been long forgotten about their past. This scene is a turning point, the cards are laid out on the table and what follows will have significant impact on the rest of the story.

As a writer it’s a moment you want to get right, and often it can be going pretty well until one of your characters utters a line like this:

“Oh by the way, I know about the kiss.”

A little context, the speaker of this line is President Snow, leader of the country of Panem, the fictional nation in the Hunger Games trilogy. He’s just revealed to our heroine, Katniss, that he knows her romance with fellow Hunger Games contestant, Peeta, is a sham. He’s been spending a number of pages outlining how this knowledge if it became widespread in the Districts could lead to rebellion, and is outlining what Katniss must do to protect herself, and the stability of a nation. The scene is told from Katniss’ perspective, and at some point we find out that she has shared a kiss with her hunting partner, Gale, and is worried that the President knows.

Well, it turns out he does.

There’s a couple of problems with this starting with “Oh by the way…”. I’m sure if an actor is reading this line there would be a beat between the two halves of the sentence, but on the printed page it all runs together. President Snow has been outlining the complex geopolitical consequences of Katniss’ actions, and is impressing upon her the need for her to convince the nation she’s in love with someone she’s not. It’s sophisticated, complex, and interesting. And then all of sudden it reads like something out of a soap opera.

Secondly, President Snow doesn’t seem to have a reason to lay this additional card out on the table. He’s already insinuated he knew something about her true relationship with Gale earlier in the scene. To emphasize specific knowledge serves no purpose but to tip his entire hand. He’s already convinced her with threats, personal and societal. This is just rubbing it in. Now I’m not saying a character wouldn’t do this, but I don’t believe this character would.

It’s hard not to overwrite a scene. I have a number of conflict dialogues that I’m revising and it’s tough. You have to read it out loud to see if it works, while also considering how the reader sees it. You want memorable lines, catch-phrases, something that everyone who reads the book will remember. You want to hearken back to something that happened earlier and bring it into sharp relief. Or you want to surprise your reader. When I draft a conflict I write quickly, and often have to cut out about half the lines to not make my characters seem like comic book villains.

We all write bad dialog, and then we cut it, stuff it in a drawer or in our recycle bin, and hope no one ever reads it. Collins is good, and I’m holding off reviewing any individual book until I’ve read the whole trilogy. I have other problems with the story she’s telling, but I want to wait till I see where she’s going. She’s writing for a YA audience, and so maybe you need to be a little obvious at moments, but I think at any age certain lines are just hokey.

Oh by the way, I know about the pink flamingo. Shame on you!


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