Why Did They Change It?

THIS is the last post in Guest Postapalooza. FOR REALS, GUISE!

The official Guest Postapalooza Poll will go up tomorrow and winners will be announced Saturday, during our site anniversary extravaganza!

In the meantime, check out this entry from TimeTravellingBunny on book-to-film transitions!
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“Anyway, films adaptations of novels are sometimes prone to failure not because they are too faithless but too faithful: why spend all that effort producing an audiobook with pictures?

This quote comes from David Mitchell and his foreword to his novel Cloud Atlas, which was last year adapted into a film. Like my fellow Hunger Games fan and blogger Satsuma, Mitchell understands that certain changes always have to be made in order to translate a story from one medium to another. This opinion is not always shared by many fans of popular books who are disappointed when certain things get cut, changed or added in the adaptation, making the actual film different from the pictures they had in their heads while reading the book.

Oh, the travesty!

Oh, the travesty!

Yes, there are adaptations that stray so much from the source material that they fail to preserve the characterization, themes and messages of the book. There is a good reason why the saying “Don’t judge a book by its movie” exists. Even with famous literary works, it’s not uncommon for film adaptations to whitewash the main characters (every film version of Wuthering Heights does that to Heathcliff in one or the other sense of the word, most of them in both), cut entire storylines and push important characters into the background in favor of characters and storylines that are deemed more exciting to the wider audience (most adaptations of Wuthering Heights and Anna Karenina) or even slap a happy ending on a tragic tale (notorious reworkings of Shakespeare’s tragedies by Nahum Tate which were popular in England between the 17th and 19th century, or, in our times, the atrocious 1995 movie The Scarlet Letter starring Demi Moore). But these are not the kind of changes I’m talking about here. Even in the most faithful adaptations, and The Hunger Games movie was one of them, certain changes have to be made in order to make a good and exciting film from a good and exciting book, and I’m not talking just about squeezing a 400 pages book into two hours of screentime. There’s also a good reason why Best Adapted Screenplay is an equally respected award category as Best Original Screenplay.

One of the biggest problems that every screenwriter adapting a novel has to face is the issue of exposition. Novels are, by their nature, wordy – even when their protagonists are quiet by nature. Things get explained at length by a first person or a third person narrator: the background, the complicated histories, the relationships, the feelings. Films can use voice over narration, text on screen Star Wars-style, or characters delivering “exposition dumps” in dialogue, but these storytelling devices can only be used in very small doses since they tend to be clunky, awkward and boring. The first rule of film is: Show, don’t tell.

Hey, that's not Madge!

Hey, that’s not Madge!

One of the changes in The Hunger Games movie that has caused the most outrage among the book fans is the decision to cut the character of Madge from the movies and change the origins of the mockingjay pin. Some fans are still holding out the hope that Madge will make an appearance, others are bringing her up all the time as a proof that almost any character, other than the major ones, could be cut from the movies. (They cut out Madge, so why not Annie?) Others are claiming that the mockingjay pin has lost all meaning

Let’s think this over. Madge is not just a minor character whose absence won’t particularly affect the story – she simply had to be cut. Madge appears early on in the first book, gives Katniss the mockingjay pin and then only reappears halfway through Catching Fire to bring morphling for Gale, and is never seen again. The entire importance of her character lies in the complicated backstory of her family that we learn halfway through the story. In the third book, we learn that she died in the firebombing of District 12 with her entire family.

In a movie franchise, this couldn’t work. Films are not made just for people who are already fans of the book and just want to see their favorite characters on screen. What the film viewers would see in the first movie is a random person, apparently a friend or acquaintance of Katniss, who gives her the pin and then disappears from the film. She would then randomly appear in the second movie, by which time the majority of the audience wouldn’t even remember who she was or that she was in the movie they had seen a year and a half earlier, and the backstory of the pin would require a lot of screentime and exposition dump that would take valuable screentime.

Will the mockingjay pin lose its meaning without Madge? Not really. The mockingjay pin is important for the people of Panem for two reasons: because of what a mockingjay represents, as a creature that came to be despite the wishes of Capitol and as a result of the Capitol getting outsmarted by the rebels, and because Katniss wore the pin in the Games. The additional poignancy of the pin having been worn by a girl who died in the Games is a bonus that is not essential for the story. Besides, this backstory could be easily done in the movies without Madge. Maybe the pin was once worn by a daughter or sister of the sad-looking lady (credited as “Hob vendor”) who gave Katniss the pin ?

What is HE doing there?

What is HE doing there?

Thanks to the interviews and teaser trailer, we already know about some of the minor changes made in Catching Fire. Certain minor characters have been cut: Bonnie and Twill, the two refugees that Katniss meets in the woods, won’t be in the movie. This is hardly a surprise: although these two characters were likeable, their purpose in the book was to deliver exposition so Katniss and the reader would know what happened during the rebellion in District 8, and to raise the possibility that District 13 may still exist. The former is not needed in a film, which isn’t limited to Katniss’ POV and can simply show those events instead of having people talk about them, while the latter can be done in many other ways, and a whole bunch of other characters could easily come to the same conclusion about District 13 that those two did. Even Suzanne Collins didn’t care to tell us what exactly happened with them.

On the other hand, sometimes adaptations add certain scenes or lines. We know that Gale will have at least two scenes he doesn’t have in the book: he has a goodbye scene with Katniss before she goes to the Arena, mentioned by Francis Lawrence, and the teaser trailer shows him and Katniss witnessing the burning of the Hob, despite the fact that the book had Katniss and Peeta in a similar scene. This has caused a big controversy in the fandom, with complaints and suspicions that Lionsgate wants to enlarge Gale’s role at Peeta’s expense, or even make him the primary love interest for Katniss.

I could start explaining why I think this is really unlikely, but I’ll leave it for some other time. Suffice to say, I don’t think Gale’s role will be enlarged and I certainly don’t think he will become a more prominent character than Peeta (which would be really hard to achieve anyway due to the fact that Gale is absent from the whole second part of Catching Fire, while Peeta has a prominent role throughout the book and lots of scenes with Katniss); and Liam Hemsworth himself has pointed out in an interview that his character does get more to do in Catching Fire, but that most of his stuff is really in Mockingjay.

However, the additional scenes and dialogue are necessary in order to flesh out Gale’s character and explain his relationship with Katniss. The first movie showed that Gale and Katniss were close, but didn’t get across the fact that they have been best friends and hunting partners for years – and even left some viewers thinking that Gale was Katniss’ boyfriend, and some others believing he was her brother. Gale’s role in Catching Fire is not major, but he is a part of the love triangle which, while it’s not as prominent as the media would have you think, does exist in this particular book, where Katniss is still torn between him and Peeta. More than that, Gale essentially represents Katniss’ past life and one side of her personality. The story would be severely unbalanced if the viewer does not understand their connection. And while Gale gets a lot more to do in Mockingjay, that book shows their friendship falling apart.

In the books, we find out a lot about Katniss’ relationship with Gale and their history through internal monologue – something that’s missing in the movie. True, Katniss does not get to tell Gale goodbye in the book, because she’s whisked away and never gets the chance. However, she’s thinking about things she would tell him: how important he has been to her all these years, and that she loved him even though she doesn’t seem able to give him the romantic love he wants. Film viewers would have no idea about any of this since they couldn’t hear her thoughts, and Katniss just being dragged out to the Capitol train without saying anything to Gale would have no emotional resonance.

Similarly, a film viewer who saw Katniss and Peeta watching the burning Hob would not know that Katniss is thinking of the Hob as something that Peeta had little to do with, unlike her and Gale, who had been trading at the Hob for years. The viewer may know that Gale and Katniss are both hunters, but they didn’t see the scenes with Katniss and Gale both trading at the Hob, they probably won’t see flashbacks showing their history together or hear Katniss talk at length about her friendship with Gale. Gale and Katniss watching the burning Hob is a perfect opportunity to mention their history and get across their connection to this place.

Peeta, on the other hand, has many other scenes in Catching Fire that are far more important for fleshing out his character and his relationship with Katniss. I’m willing to bet that Peeta will get scenes in Mockingjay part 1 that he does not have in the book, since he spends most of the first part of it imprisoned and tortured in Capitol. I expect the films to feature some scenes from the Capitol, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he makes an appearance in a dream scene or two or even a brief flashback, to remind the viewers of what he was like before the hijacking and explain Katniss’ feelings for him for those who don’t remember what happened in the film they saw a year or two earlier.

Adapting a book into a film is a bit like translating from one language into another. If you translate everything word by word, you will lose the meaning and end up with something clumsy and confusing. You need to think about how it will all sound in the other language. Or, in this case, how it will look on the screen.

TimeTravellingBunny

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14 comments

  1. Excellent post! Your argument is very compelling, especially re: changes in film with Gale, although I admit that I still have my fingers crossed for certain scenes or lines of dialogue.

  2. Again, REALLY good post. I am so not about to get my panties in a bunch because Gale has a couple extra scenes. Like you said, most of what we know about him and his relationship with Katniss only comes from her thoughts and memories, and in Catching Fire, there is still PLENTY of Peeta to go around.

  3. Exactly! I like some of the changes the seenin the trailer: example, Prim has more personality. In the books you see her mostly as an innocent young girl, less often not as the strong, courageous girl she grows to be (this is because we see everything from katniss’s protective POV0. But in the movie when she says “You gave me a chance.” “Yes, to live!” “No to do something!” You really see her full character come out. i don’t know. Just something to think about.

  4. TimeTravellingBunny, first off, this is a wonderful post and I immensely enjoyed reading it.

    My favorite part, hands down, is your conclusion where you mention a “book to movie adaption” is a like translating from one language to another. I do have to add that it is not just about the language but also the culture it is associated with. Oftentimes, the culture a language is associated with plays a very important part. Simplest of examples: what’s considered bread in one culture might not be considered the very same in another (just think of all the different types of bread in Panem). I think the language of movies and books could be considered similar. However, the cultural background of “movie goers” (or movie fans or however else one might titled this group) and “book readers” is the exact opposite. I could probably type up a lengthy reply now with lots of examples why this is the case, but I will stop.
    I will conclude with completely agreeing to everything you’ve said in this post.

    Oh, and I’d like to add that I, personally, consider a movie an addition to the books rather than a “bad copy” of it. If you’re lucky enough, you get to watch scenes of characters that haven’t gotten enough spotlight in the book because of the narrative perspective and thus you gain another/deeper understanding of them.

  5. I really have no issue of them taking scenes or characters out or adding new scenes that weren’t in the book. I actually hope they add new scenes or cut some out because it will just be a mess if they cram everything in the movie and would only be enjoyed by the fans. And I really hope they make a lot of changes to the mockingjay movie, it just doesn’t seem like it can be translated well into film without adding or subtracting some scenes that would please the audience AND the fans.

  6. Yes, I do agree that movies cannot be page by page translation into screen, that won’t ever work. I personally didn’t mind Madge’s absence in the first or future films, same with Bonnie and Twill (and I think Darius is cut also), since as pointed out, their storylines can be expressed different ways in the film.

    But what I’m curious with the cutting off Bonnie and Twill’s scene is how they will introduce or compensate for the events that happen afterwards in the book, where she hurt herself and Peeta took care of her and they started working on the plant book together. I just feel that part is an important development in the relationship of Katniss and Peeta, which was also called back at the end of Mockingjay with the memory book.

    I didn’t even paid attention to that part of the teaser where burning of the Hob happened with Gale, not Peeta, until it was pointed out here. Watching the trailer again, it seems like they put the scenes where Katniss talked to Gale about running away, him kissing her, the Hob burning, and him getting whipped all together in one sequence, to which I don’t any take issue with since those are canon. With the hob scene, however, Peeta insisting that he goes with her to the Hob showed that he doesn’t care for the merchant and seam divide and that he is not scared of going there with her. It also makes me wonder how they are putting in her asking Peeta to run away with her. I’m sure that will still happen, but I’m not sure how based on the trailer. I also see the Hob scene as being a fast-paced scene to allow any opportunity to showcase Gale and Katniss’s history, but I could be wrong.

    I still don’t agree with having the additional goodbye scene, coz I still think it unnecessarily hypes the love triangle and Katniss not being able to say goodbye to her family and friends was a poignant part coz it further shows Snow’s cruelty. However, that goodbye scene is fine if it explains better why Katniss, even though initially choosing Gale when she chose the rebellion, was finally able to let go of him and why she finally let herself to be more open about her affections for Peeta from that point onwards.

    Of course, Peeta has many other scenes to allow for character development, and even with Gale’s additional scenes, Peeta will definitely get more screen time. However, and this is the major concern of fans of Peeta, myself included, while he might be getting more screen time, the character development could still be lacking, like in the first movie or even in the teaser trailer. His “i do not want to be a piece in their games” scene in the first movie was perfect, but his character development in the arena was watered down that for the non-reader of the book, he probably just looked like a sentimental sap and his earlier monologue kinda lost its meaning. In the trailer, he was practically a wallflower.

    I guess I just don’t want to see Peeta come across as someone that’s just obsessed with Katniss and does not care about anything else. Some readers of the book do think that of him already, I can’t imagine what it’s like for the mere viewers. Peeta is such a phenomenal character and it would be a shame to not show what he really symbolizes in the book if he is just going to be reduced to a lovesick bloke in the movie. But again, it’s my premature speculations, we have only scene a teaser trailer afterall to jump to conclusions about the movie.

    1. I am sorry, but this whole Gale/Peeta issue… This isn’t a competition. End of story. Why is there such a need to hate on Gale only because he gets an additional scene? Why do people believe it will take away from Peeta when it happens? We all need to relax about this because, first off, we haven’t seen the movie and second, we can’t change anything about. So why stress out about something you can’t change anyway?

    2. “With the hob scene, however, Peeta insisting that he goes with her to the Hob showed that he doesn’t care for the merchant and seam divide and that he is not scared of going there with her. It also makes me wonder how they are putting in her asking Peeta to run away with her. ”

      But the first movie didn’t even establish that there was such a thing as the merchant/Seam divide. It was one of the things they didn’t have enough time to focus on. I don’t know if they will in Catching Fire and to what extent, but they will have to work to establish it first, before showing that Peeta doesn’t care about it. And I’m not sure that this scene is even necessary for the viewer to understand that, considering Peeta’s relationship with Katniss in general.

      The scene with Katniss asking Peeta is a different one that happens much before the burning of the Hob – it happens right after the Katniss/Gale scene in which she asks Gale to run away with her and they argue, and right before Gale’s whipping. Katniss and Peeta are just in the middle of that conversation in the book when they see Gale being whipped by Thread. Nobody knew at the time about the change of Head Peacekeeper, which is why Gale got arrested while trying to sell the game to Cray. The Hob is burned much later, after Thread has already been Head Peacekeeper for some time and enforced the crackdown in District 12. I don’t see why the change in the Hob burning scene would in any way affect that earlier scene between Katniss and Peeta.

      “I still don’t agree with having the additional goodbye scene, coz I still think it unnecessarily hypes the love triangle and Katniss not being able to say goodbye to her family and friends was a poignant part coz it further shows Snow’s cruelty. ”

      I think that Catching Fire will feature more than enough examples of Snow’s cruelty, most of them much stronger than that one.

    3. Also, I don’t think that establishing/developing the relationship between Katniss and Gale (which is an important one in the books) is the same as hyping up the love triangle. Gale’s role in the books goes far beyond that of a (potential) love interest (and I would argue that being a love interest isn’t even his primary role, especially not in Mockingjay).

      If *could* turn out to be a case of unnecessarily hyping up the love triangle, but only if they choose to write it that way and portray Katniss’ feelings for Gale at that point as more unambiguously romantic than they are in the book. But they could also simply use that as a chance to voice the same feelings and thoughts that Katniss has in her internal monologue.

      If they were just to give Katniss the lines she speaks in the books, the viewers would only see her kissing Gale while he’s unconscious, acting like nothing has happened when she talks to him later, and avoiding the answer when he tries to get her to tell him something clear about her feelings for him (“And where would we be?” – “Hunting, like every Sunday”). And for someone who’s not privy to Katniss’ internal thoughts as the book readers are, that would be… confusing.

  7. Well, I WANT to see new scenes and stuff, because the book was only Katniss’ POV and the movies are not. So yeah, I appreciate the changes from book to film, when done right.

    And yes, the process of adapting a book to a film will always involve changing stuff, because they are just a different medium, with different ways on how to do stuff.

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