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K-State Today

March 14, 2012

Battle on the big screen: The odds for a winning movie may be in 'The Hunger Games' favor

Submitted by Communications and Marketing

The opening of "The Hunger Games" movie is fast approaching and several Kansas State University English professors agree: The film adaptation appears to have the right ingredients to satisfy fans' appetites.

"The Hunger Games" movie, based on the first book in Suzanne Collins' best-selling young adult trilogy, debuts March 23. The story follows teenager Katniss Everdeen, who lives in a futuristic and dystopian North America, called Panem. Katniss participates in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death between 24 children.

"I have been impressed with what we have seen in the trailers and photos, in part because of the tonal colors of the film as well as the roughness of Katniss' world," said Karin Westman, associate professor and head of the department of English. "It makes me think that this film is going to try and capture the pain and difficulty of her life, as well as the potential for change that she represents."

"The Hunger Games" was selected as the inaugural book for the Kansas State Book Network, or KSBN, in 2010. It received positive feedback throughout the university community for the way it engaged readers in conversation about political, social and cultural changes. Now the book's fans in the Kansas State University community eagerly await the release of the film.

Although "The Hunger Games" is considered a young adult genre, it still appeals to readers of all ages, said Westman, who will be teaching the book in her Women in Literature course this semester.

"'The Hunger Games' deals with many adult issues -- how to survive, how to feed your family and how to maintain your integrity when others ask you to compromise it," Westman said. "The same sorts of concerns that occur throughout your life as an adult are present in these novels. We are just watching a young character deal with them for perhaps the first time."

The novel is written in first-person and told through Katniss' eyes. Katniss is very critical of the public spectacle of the Hunger Games and how they are portrayed on television in Panem. It will be interesting to see how the filmmakers use camera angle techniques and perspectives to take on Katniss' first-person critical view of film and television, Westman said.

Similarly, if filmmakers alter Katniss' point of view, it risks making her a less powerful character and it separates the audience from her motivations as well as the qualities that make her a likable person, said Anne Phillips, associate professor and associate head of the department of English.

"The excitement and suspense of the competition really need to be conveyed in the film," said Phillips, who teaches "The Hunger Games" in her Literature for Adolescents course. "One of the things I most admired about the novel, however, is that when Katniss was involved in other characters' deaths, there was always some mitigating circumstance. It's essential to retain those circumstances, and to avoid making events in the arena seem real but not overly bloody."

Collins herself was a television writer and it shows in many aspects of "The Hunger Games" book series. From the costumes to the action-packed finale, Collins adds pieces that make the book series a good fit for the big screen, said Tanya Gonzalez, associate professor of English who teaches Fiction into Film classes.

"Collins really gives you the backdrop, particularly when Katniss goes into the Hunger Games experience," Gonzalez said. "In the description of the set, Collins is so attuned to the fact that this is a show. She is able to suggest that this world is really constructed for them to battle it out. I think because she has that ability and experience creating scripts she knows how to account for those kinds of details."

"The novel creates such specific visual images that it may be difficult for the film to satisfy readers," Phillips added. "In particular, scenes such as the parade of tributes, in which Katniss seems to be 'on fire,' because of Cinna's magnificent costume, sets a high visual standard."

It is these visual elements that do create some drawbacks, particularly because "The Hunger Games" has such a strong fan base. It can be difficult for fans to understand and appreciate filmmakers' interpretation of Collins' text. But Gonzalez said it is important to remember that a film adaptation gives fans a chance to relive the story in a slightly different way.

"I've learned to put aside some of my expectations about how a novel will turn into the film and try to approach it as something that is familiar, but not exactly the same," Gonzalez said. "If you have read the books, it is kind of rewarding to have that knowledge of the story and to be able to leave a theater with a critique. It can still be a fun experience."

In conjunction with the movie's release, the Kansas State Book Network has partnered with the Union Program Council to offer a special viewing of "The Hunger Games" for students at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 27, at Carmike Seth Childs 12 Cinema in Manhattan. Students can purchase tickets in advance at the Union Program Council office on the third floor of the K-State Student Union.