Are books better than movies? Are movies better than books? Is it really possible to determine that one medium is superior?
Perhaps not. But there is one case in which we might dare to venture a conclusion.
Enter Catching Fire. The second novel in The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins is a book that addresses the use of celebrity to garner a particular reaction out of the public at large–people propaganda essentially. Katniss and Peeta, as the most recent victors of the games, are carted from district to district to spread complacency and complete their victory tour with a wild party in the capital. Collins leads us through an interesting paradox because her audience sees both the front characters put on for the capital propaganda show and the behind-the-scenes intimacy of what characters are really thinking… until it all gets muddied in the jungles of the arena.
After pouring over both the book and the movie, I would argue the film enhances the potency of the book and Collins’s message to her readers. Here’s why:
Personally, I’m a book forever sort of gal. Give me the choice between a movie and the same story in print and I’ll reach for the palpable pages. But, I must admit, some stories simply translate better onscreen. In Catching Fire for example, trying to visualize certain elements, like the giant arena-shaped clock and the force fields is a bit of an imagination workout for the reader. Exercising the mind is a worthy cause I recommend, but there remains a certain sweet justice to see Collins’s novel on the silver screen in all the splendor of a properly outrageously opulent Capital.
Have you ever sat down to think about the role of the audience watching Catching Fire? Don’t worry if you haven’t! That’s the reason you’ve got nerds like me who write blogs about strange movie musings. In the film Catching Fire, the audience first watches the filming and presentation of the “people propaganda” of Katniss and Peeta’s victor celebrity. The viewer then watches the audience watch this propaganda. The viewer then watches the propaganda audience’s reaction to this edited version of the truth and analyzes the citizen’s of Panem’s reaction.
Talk about meta!
It gets better! Once all of the victors are thrown into the arena the viewer is put into the position of the onscreen audience as we watch what is presented to the citizens of Panem. Essentially, Collins’s book may occasionally show us the position of Gale and the other Panem citizens watching the games unfold, but the film puts us (the viewer) in the exact same perspective of the Panem citizens!
The book provides Katniss’s first-person narrative throughout which is something the film chose to leave out. Jennifer Lawrence’s performance is strong enough that she does not need a thought interpreter. And the lack of narrator allows the viewer to experience the 75th games as it happens from the viewpoint of the onscreen audience. Different than the book, but wildly more impactful for the viewer.
Consuming escapist media to help us forget the problems (or distract us from) problems of the real world is a common strategy to deal with reality.
I’ve done it. You’ve done it. We’ve all done it.
Catching Fire–the film– suggests that escapist media may not be as innocent as it seems. The more meta elements place the viewer firmly into the role of the audience. And, as the audience, we cannot help but draw conclusions from watching rising Hollywood stars who advocate for things playing rising Panem stars who advocate for things. That is what makes this film compelling.
Elements such as Caesar
Fallon Flickerman’s talk show and questions like “Who is Katniss wearing?” provoke discussion about the power of celebrity and the potential danger of a government/Hollywood team-up. Seeing the talk show, seeing the fashion walk, seeing the need of these tributes to get people to like them as part of their job, creates a more striking comparison than reading about it, perhaps because as a viewer we are more accustomed to experiencing these things visually. The film encourages the challenging of escapist media–in all its forms. While I consume a tailored celebrity appearance or watch a football game… What else am I missing in the world?
This isn’t true all of the time, but maybe these combined elements in Catching Fire gave something more to the viewer than to the reader. The film enhances, provokes, and challenges the viewer to confront and digest the story in a way that is simply not present in the books.
And that’s saying a lot coming from a paper-happy, book-lovin’, library-haunting nerd.
What do you think? Are there other films that are better than the source material? Let us know!
All media is credited to Lionsgate Films.