Change: The Mockingjay Pin's Origin Story
What: In the book, Katniss receives her iconic mockingjay pin from schoolmate Madge Undersee. (The pin originally belonged to Madge’s aunt, who died in an earlier Hunger Games.) In the movie, Madge is nowhere to be seen, and Katniss receives the pin from one of the black marketeers in the Hob.
Why it works: Madge was always a random character, so trimming her makes sense. Unfortunately, the filmmakers also removed the intriguing mockingjay backstory: They were the accidental result of experiments by the Capitol, a story rife with meaning in the context of The Hunger Games‘ portrayal of totalitarianism.
Change: More Caesar Flickerman
What: The Capitol’s talk show host is a much more frequent presence in the film adaptation: The first scene is Flickerman interviewing Seneca Crane, and the film regularly cuts away from the action in the Arena to show Flickerman alongside announcer Claudius Templesmith.
Why it works: Besides the fact that Stanley Tucci is incredible? Because the film removes Katniss’ interior monologue, Flickerman’s expanded role helpfully (if somewhat awkwardly) serves as an endearingly caddish exposition-delivery mechanism.
Change: More Seneca Crane
What: The Head Gamemaker of the 74th Hunger Games also has his role expanded considerably in the film adaptation, although that expansion basically comes down to two types of scenes: Crane talking to President Snow, and Crane walking through the Games’ Control center doing his best Ed Harris-in-Truman-Show impression.
Why it doesn’t work: Bentley is genially vile and has incredible facial hair, but the attempt to turn Crane into the movie’s villain generally falls flat. Also, by constantly cutting away from Katniss’ time in the Arena, the film sacrifices much of the book’s tension. You’re no longer surprised by the muttations, because Crane basically yells ”release the muttations!”
Change: Less Prep Crew
What: The film reduces Katniss’ beautification into a quick skin-waxing montage, which means we don’t get any time with her candy-colored prep team. Farewell, Flavius! Au revoir, Octavia! Just leave already, Venia!
Why it works: Losing the prep team blunts some of Collins’ hilarious city-life satire, but better to give the filmmakers credit for judiciously cutting out ancillary characters. (Besides, there’ll be plenty of time for the prep team in Mockingjay: Part 2; Part 1.)
Change: Haymitch is more lovable/sober
What: Book-Haymitch is a dissolute wreck — in his first scene, he punches Peeta — and he remains a wreck even as he slowly warms up to his tributes. The movie removes the punch, speeds up Haymitch’s shift from unhelpfully-cynical to helpfully-cynical, and adds in a few key scenes that show him heroically campaigning for his tributes.
Why it doesn’t work: The sanding down of Haymitch’s rough edges was probably inevitable — I can’t imagine that punch ever making it past the MPAA — and Harrelson has a ridiculously charming screen presence. But softening Haymitch removes the character’s emotional core — let’s face it, he’s basically a PTSD victim — and turns him into an endearing Mr. Miyagi figure.
Change: The Death of Clove
What: Cato’s brutal lieutenant has an appropriately brutal death in the book. Preparing to kill a wounded Katniss, she’s surprise-attacked by Thresh, who hits her in the head with a rock. ”It’s not bleeding,” says Katniss, ”but I can see the dent in her skull, and I know that she’s a goner. There’s still life in her now though, in the rapid rise and fall of her chest, the low moan escaping her lips.” In the movie, Thresh throws her really hard against a wall. Oh, PG-13!
Why it doesn’t work: Even more so than the kid-killing montage at the cornucopia, Clove’s sanitized death brings up the basic ethical question of whether a movie about kids killing each other should ever be rated anything less than R.
Change: The District 11 riot
What: The film dramatizes a sequence that’s left to Katniss’ imagination in the books. After Rue’s death, a riot breaks out in her home of District 11. (There’s a popular fan theory that the man who starts the riot is Rue’s father.) The stormtroopers respond by bringing out the firehoses.
Why it works: The cathartic destructiveness of the sequence makes for arguably the most openly political scene of the movie — equally recalling the Civil Rights movement, Tiananmen Square, and Occupy Wall Street. It’s also an intriguing tease for the revolutionary fervor in the Games sequels.
Change: The Muttations
What: In the book’s climax, the Gamemakers unleash horrific dog-creatures made from the DNA of the dead Tributes, including the adorable Rue: ”The smallest mutt, with dark glossy fur, huge brown eyes and a collar that reads 11 in woven straw.” The movie keeps the demon-dogs but removes the whole dead-tribute-DNA thing.
Why it doesn’t work: Listen, the muttations are sort of ridiculous. But if there’s one thing about them that does work, it’s the central terror of reviving the fallen tributes as gruesome bloodthirsty zombie-things. Without that, they’re just digital attack dogs.
Change: Katniss and Rue
What: Katniss and Rue aren’t together for very long in the book — their ”alliance” lasts just about 30 pages — but Collins adds some intriguing shading to their relationship. That’s especially true when they talk about their respective districts — something which practically qualifies as a crime in the restrictive nation of Panem. (”I wonder if the Gamemakers are blocking out our conversation,” thinks Katniss, ”because even though the information seems harmless, they don’t want people in different districts to know about one another.”) In the film, their friendship is sketched out much more quickly.
Why it doesn’t work: For the scenes in the Arena, director Gary Ross adopts an unshowy shaky-cam style that recalls the Bourne movies — a kinetic style that doesn’t leave much room for extended conversation. It has the overall effect of quickening the pace of the Games. Unfortunately, in this instance, speeding through Katniss and Rue’s ”getting to know you” phase makes the whole Rue subplot feel more like a tangential episode than an emotional turning point.
Change: Mournful Cato
What: The sneering leader of the Cobra Kai Career gang, Cato’s last words in the book are appropriately demonic: ”Shoot me, and he goes down with me.” The film grants Cato a little bit more emotion. Realizing that he’s about to die, the District 2 tribute says, ”I’ve always been dead, haven’t I? I didn’t realize it until now.”
Why it works: Giving Cato a brief moment of self-realization has the potent effect of underscoring for you just how morally terrifying the whole Hunger Games really is — and serves to remind the audience that Cato is just as much a victim of the Capitol as Katniss and Peeta.
Change: More President Snow
What: The dictatorial leader of Panem is a faraway presence in the first book. At the book’s conclusion, Katniss offers a hint of the villainy that becomes more clear in Catching Fire and Mockingjay when she describes his eyes ”as unforgiving as a snake’s.” Anticipating sequels, the movie pumps up Snow’s role considerably. Part of that is just presentation: Sutherland’s magisterial baritone charisma is far more colorful than Book-Snow, who’s described as ”a small, thin man with paper white hair.” But the movie also features several scenes that make Snow’s concern about Katniss explicit.
Why it works/Why it doesn’t work: This is a tough one. Donald Sutherland makes for a fantastic Big Bad. He has a funny way of seeming sly, seductive, and all-encompassingly evil, all at once. And with an eye towards Saga-Building, it makes sense for the filmmakers to build up Snow’s role. But the problem is, the filmmakers don’t really give Snow anything to do. Almost all of his added scenes feature him spouting vague bargain-Confucianisms while pruning the plants in his evil garden. (By comparison, imagine if there were a few scenes in the first Star Wars that showed the Emperor sitting in his throne room firing blue electricity at puppies.)
Change: Peeta's Happy Ending
What: Book 1 doesn’t end very happily for good ol’ Peeta Mellark, Panem’s answer to Charlie Brown. For one thing, his leg gets amputated — Katniss is horrified to see ”the metal-and-plastic device that has replaced his flesh.” For another thing, he discovers that his romance with Katniss was all a strategy worked out by Katniss and Haymitch. The book ends with him somewhat cynically offering his hand to Katniss: ”One more time? For the audience?” The film eliminates their final interaction and features no amputation.
Why it doesn’t work: The book’s original ending was rife with tension and emotionally complexity. By removing the revelation that Katniss was at least partially playing up the ”romance” thing, the film brutally oversimplifies their relationship. It also removes some of the wounded core of Peeta’s character.