'Catching Fire': 12 big changes from page to screen (and why almost all of them work)

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Image Credit: Murray Close

Let the Grumbling Games begin! Er… actually, maybe not.

While The Hunger Games: Catching Fire clocks in at an expansive 146 minutes, it necessarily can’t include every beat from Suzanne Collins’s 400-page novel. And because the sequel, like The Hunger Games movie — and unlike Collins’s series – isn’t limited to showing only Katniss’s perspective, the film also contains several scenes that have no basis in Collins’s narrative.

But here’s the thing — most of the adaptive choices made by director Francis Lawrence and screenwriters Simon Beaufoy and Michael Arndt are totally defensible, clearly meant to keep the story moving at a quicker pace and expand the world of Panem beyond Katniss’s immediate vicinity. In fact, I’d be hard-pressed to name a change that should anger fans — or even really one that feels unnecessary. (Though fine, Finnick’s less revealing Opening Ceremony outfit does seem like a missed opportunity. Have you seen Sam Claflin?)

Agree? Disagree? Let’s go over some of the most notable ways the movie diverges from the book, then discuss. (And you know there will be spoilers here, right?)

1. Gale’s whipping
Beyond a few missing supporting characters — more on them later — this is probably the biggest change from page to screen. In the book, Gale is brutally whipped by new District 12 head Peacekeeper Romulus Thread after Thread catches him with a poached wild turkey. In the movie, Thread’s introduction to District 12 is much bigger and splashier; as soon as he arrives, Thread and his cronies immediately begin to terrorize the district’s citizens by burning down their black market (the Hob). When Gale sees Thread attacking a Hobber, he pounces on Thread; Thread then drags Gale to the public square and whips him there. It’s easy to see why the filmmakers chose to alter this sequence — the movie’s way is much more visually dramatic.

2. No Bonnie, Twill, or Darius
We knew this was coming — Francis Lawrence and producer Nina Jacobson told EW in August that District 8 refugees Bonnie and Twill (who tell Katniss about both revolutionary acts in other districts and the existence of District 13) and young peacekeeper Darius (who tries to help Gale during the whipping scene and ends up becoming a tongueless Avox servant) didn’t make the cut for Catching Fire‘s script. Again, not a huge deal; it’s easy to see how these omissions helped the film’s story stay more focused.

3. More missing scenes
Including Katniss’s wedding gown photoshoot, Katniss and Peeta bonding on the roof before the Quarter Quell, and the entire sequence of Katniss discovering that the fence around District 12 is now electrified, getting past it by climbing a tree and breaking her foot, then recuperating with Peeta’s help. Due to this last omission, Katniss also doesn’t have an opportunity to learn that the Capitol has been showing stock footage of District 13 on TV — but since Mockingjay is being divided into two separate movies, we’ll ultimately get plenty of District 13 stuff.

4. Peeta can swim
Also, he doesn’t have a prosthetic leg, though that’s really a change from the ending of The Hunger Games. These alterations combined make Peeta seem a little more capable in the movies than he is in the books (an attempt to make up for that goofy camouflage scene?), though the missing leg was a nice detail that proved how the Games scar victors both literally and figuratively.

5. President Snow and Plutarch’s plotting
Like the first movie’s Snow/Seneca Crane scenes, these are additions dreamed up by the screenwriters; in the book Catching Fire, readers see nothing that Katniss doesn’t see herself. They do triple duty by ratcheting up tension, fleshing out the story’s ostensible villains — and giving heavy hitters Donald Sutherland and Phillip Seymour Hoffman extra screen time.

6. President Snow’s granddaughter
On a similar note — in Mockingjay, we learn that President Snow has a granddaughter who would be of age to compete in the Hunger Games were she a resident of the Districts rather than the Capitol. In the film version of Catching Fire, we meet the girl herself (though we don’t learn her name). Her scenes emphasize the differences between Panem’s haves and have-nots, and also help Snow realize just how thoroughly Katniss has captured the hearts of Capitol-dwellers and District citizens alike. (His granddaughter has taken to wearing her hair in a simple, single braid, because everyone at school’s been doing the same thing. Katniss Everdeen: Trendsetter!)

7. Effie’s big goodbye
In the book, Peeta and Katniss see their Capitol escort for the last time before their pre-Games interviews with Caesar Flickerman. In the movie, Effie gets a chance to say farewell to her tributes right before the Games begin — and to tell them, in a voice quivering with emotion, that they both deserve better than to be thrust into the arena again. The change emphasizes Effie’s humanity, making her movie self more sympathetic than Collins’s cartoonish character.

8. The mockingjay watch
Katniss first begins to question Plutarch Heavensbee’s loyalties when, during a party at President Snow’s mansion, he flashes her a watch with a disappearing mockingjay on its face. Later, she realizes that Plutarch’s given her a clue about the arena for that year’s Games, which is designed to resemble a clock. Although Plutarch and Katniss do meet at President Snow’s party in the film, the whole watch incident has been totally excised — perhaps because actually being able to see the arena makes its clever design more obvious.

9. The bread code
Katniss’s arena allies Finnick, Johanna, and Beetee know when to expect a rescue from District 13 thanks to a code involving bread gifted from their sponsors: “The district where the bread originated indicated the day,” Katniss explains once she learns the truth. “The number of rolls the hour.” That detail, plus the bread itself, is elided in the film, likely to keep from clogging the narrative with exposition.

10. Katniss’s final stand
After she believes she’s been betrayed by Finnick and Johanna, book Katniss raises her bow, intending to kill the District 2 tribute Enobaria — before she remembers what Haymitch told her before entering the arena: “You just remember who the enemy is.” In the film, Finnick takes the place of Enobaria, and he’s the one who reminds Katniss to aim her ire at the Capitol rather than her fellow tributes. Replacing Enobaria with Finnick raises the scene’s stakes, since viewers have gotten to know him fairly well over the course of the film (and Enobaria’s more of a generic bad guy).

11. Katniss’s “pregnancy”
The topic comes up frequently once Katniss hits the arena in the book. In the film, though, everyone seems to forget that the mockingjay is supposed to be pregnant immediately after Peeta drops the fake bombshell on live TV — which does seem to be a pretty weird oversight.

12. Snow and the champagne
See the way the President’s champagne flute fills with blood after he takes a sip at that lavish party? That’s a detail invented for the movie — though it echoes book Katniss’s observation that Snow’s breath smells like blood, and foreshadows the man’s eventual fate in Mockingjay. It’s a small moment, but one that indicates big things to come — and it really works.

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