B: From Book to Film, or: Why I Pray ‘The Hunger Games’ Does it Right

There is no shortage of movies based on successful books or series of books. Just look at some movies from 2011 that were based on books: The Girl with the Dragon TattooMoneyball, The Help, Winnie the PoohThe Descendants, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 2, Hugo, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Twilight: Breaking Dawn Pt. 1, and more.

Due out in 2012 are film adaptations of The Hobbit, Fahrenheit 451, The Great Gatsby, World War Z, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, The Wettest County, the second part of Twilight: Breaking Dawn, and really that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Most of the ones listed above don’t concern me: The Hobbit should be good due to the reputation of The Lord of the Rings; The Great Gatsby looks to be in good shape from what I’ve seen so far; and the rest I haven’t read, but the films are looking to be pretty good.

But the one that most concerns me most is one that I didn’t list, The Hunger Games, which is set to hit theaters on March 23, and part of the reason it concerns me is because of one of the adaptations I did list: Twilight.

Twilight, both the books and the movies, have a rabid fan base. There’s “Team Jacob” and “Team Edward”. There’s the whole vampire/werewolf thing going on. And there’s the supposedly great love story. Or is that stories? I don’t know, I haven’t read the books or seen the films, and for that I count myself as better off.

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in 'The Hunger Games'

What worries me about The Hunger Games is, first, the adaptation itself, and second, the movie’s marketing (which is where Twilight comes into the picture, for all you Twi-hards).

The series of The Hunger Games novels are near and dear to me; well, the first two are at least, as I have yet to read Mockingjay. But a couple summers ago, I read both The Hunger Games and Catching Fire within a matter of about a week. The story was enthralling, and the books are both very fast, easy reads. There is a great story of love, lots of action, and a great assortment of well-developed characters. All of which scares me about the film version of Suzanne Collins’s first Hunger Games novel: I don’t want it to be bad.

To be fair, no one wants it to be bad. I don’t. Suzanne Collins doesn’t. Lionsgate, the company heading the production and distribution of the film, clearly doesn’t. But that doesn’t mean it will necessarily be good.

The problem with a book-to-film adaptation is the dynamic of it all: to hit a standard movie runtime, a script is typically about 100 pages long. Think about that, then, when you consider why so much is trimmed when you go from a book to a film. One must take a sometimes 300-400 page book and turn it into a 100-125 page script, if you want to hit a runtime between 100 and 120 minutes, which would be a pretty typical movie runtime. Of course, there are longer adapted films: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was over 150 minutes long. However, Dragon Tattoo is also a 600-page book, so there was more to try to keep in the film version while also trimming so much. Director David Fincher stated that Steve Zaillian essentially cut 380 pages out of the book in order to bring The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to the big screen. And the film was still great. But there was also so much in Dragon Tattoo that could be cut out.

I don’t know that The Hunger Games is the same. There is a lot of essential story in that 384-page book, and I have a hard time seeing where exactly the fat will be trimmed to streamline the story to fit the screen. But it must happen somewhere.

'The Hunger Games': May the odds be ever in your favor.

Two of my favorite book-to-film adaptations are Fight Club (book by Chuck Palahniuk) and To Kill a Mockingbird (book by Harper Lee). Both of these adaptations have been endorsed by the books’ respective authors, with Palahniuk stating that Fincher’s movie actually improved upon his novel. But Fight Club and Mockingbird are two very different adaptations: Fight Club was a roughly 200-page book, so it wasn’t hard to turn it into a 130-minute movie, story-cutting wise. However, To Kill a Mockingbird was a 336-page book, and turning it into a harrowed 120-minute film was much more difficult. But where To Kill a Mockingbird is a straightforward story that is easier to adapt, Fight Club has a sprawling narrative that was more difficult to transfer to film.

It’s a combination of these that The Hunger Games must find: it must trim the story like To Kill a Mockingbird did, but it also must transfer a not-so-common story as flawlessly as Fight Club did. I can only hope that director Gary Ross and his screenwriters can do it. It helps, though, that Hunger Games author Suzanne Collins is part of the screenwriting team; hopefully that means that it earns her and our stamps of approval.

My other concern, much less biting than the first, rests in how Lionsgate plans to market The Hunger Games. I’m fearful that Lionsgate will try to market it like Summit Entertainment has with Twilight, which is to say that they will aim it at 13-year-old girls and try to start an annoying, seemingly cult following.

We don’t need “Team Peeta” and “Team Gale” here. Despite its reputation, The Hunger Games really is not a piece of teenage literature, and the film shouldn’t be treated as such. It’s a rather adult story, when you think about it: fighting to the death to bring fortune to your people. Luckily, the initial marketing for The Hunger Games looks to have avoided this de-maturation so far. It looks grimmer and more gritty, which is to say that it looks in line with the novel.

Dear Lionsgate, Don't screw this up. Sincerely, B.

The bulk of the marketing of the film should begin to kick into high-gear soon, with the release less than two months away, and I sincerely hope that Lionsgate doesn’t blow this one. The Hunger Games has the potential to be an astounding film if it is produced and marketed properly. Otherwise, we may be in for another Twilight. But I hope not.

Be sure to follow us at Hype the Movies to learn more about The Hunger Games and other anticipated movies as we get closer to their releases. The Hunger Games hits theaters March 23 of this year.

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