compare and contrast

What Changed in the Catching Fire Movie, and How Much It Mattered

ID_D20_08568.dng Photo: Murray Close/Lionsgate

Not that the critically and commercially adored Catching Fire needs any more gold stars, but let us add one more: It is a remarkably faithful adaptation of the book. Whole scenes and chunks of dialogue are left unchanged; our heroine is not softened or made to love some boy she does not love. (If anything, the movie skimps a little on the love triangle, as if Katniss herself had written the script.) Still, as with any adaptation, there are definite changes, and so please now join Vulture for an obsessive analysis of how these tweaks affected the movie. Feel free to add anything we have missed.

The Runaways and District 13
District 13 was wiped out in the rebellion that inspired the Hunger Games — or so Book Katniss thinks, until she meets a couple of runaways from District 8 who encourage her to look closer at the District 13 footage. Katniss never gets confirmation of District 13’s existence in the book, but the idea is planted in her (and the reader’s) mind. We never meet these fugitives in the movie, and we don’t learn about District 13 until Katniss is removed from the arena.
How much it matters: Katniss never acts on her District 13 knowledge, so it really just serves as a hint to the reader about the revolution to come. The movie presents that information in other ways — with actual footage of uprisings in the districts, and with concerned updates from President Snow. We still get a good sense that something is afoot (as much as Katniss does, anyway, thanks to the Victor’s Tour), so the District 13 news is just a good, “oh shit!” movie surprise. It makes you want to see the third movie immediately. That is the point, right?

Plutarch Heavensbee
Since the movie is not told from Katniss’s perspective, we get to watch Plutarch Heavensbee run a long-con on President Snow: multiple meetings and assurances of loyalty, multiple chances for Philip Seymour Hoffman to look schlubby in Capitol gear. As in the book, Plutarch attempts to tell Katniss of his alliance with the rebels — but instead of showing her his mockingjay watch, he just uses a skeptical tone and raises his eyebrows a lot. It is not clear that this method is any more effective.
How much it matters: If you already know or can pick up on very obvious hints, it’s fun to watch the revolution coming together. If not, it doesn’t matter — Katniss doesn’t figure it out, either.

The Seneca Crane Dummy
Book Katniss doesn’t know about Peeta’s tribute to Rue when she decides to get feisty with the Gamemakers — hanging a dummy and painting the former Head Gamemaker’s name on it. In the movie, Katniss is inspired by Peeta’s small act of defiance, and so she decides to make a bigger one.
How much it matters: It’s a small distinction, but it makes Katniss a little less reckless. She’s part of a larger movement, instead of an angry teen going HAM on her own.

The Peacekeeper Standoff in District 12
In the book, Gale is arrested after attempting to sell a turkey on the black market. In the movie, Gale tackles the new, super-evil Head Peacekeeper to save an old woman in the midst of a full-blown Capitol raid.
How much it matters: It makes Gale seem heroic. Dumb, but hot and heroic. The raid, meanwhile, is an example of what the movie can do so well; we get a real sense of the Capitol’s brutality, and we see it applied to many people, not just Katniss.

The Make-Outs
Speaking of Gale being all hot and heroic: Katniss definitely kisses him a second time in the movie, for no reason other than … he’s Gale. Meanwhile, she only gets one non-forced make-out with Peeta, and without the narration about the “warm feeling” spreading through her body, it’s more of a melancholy experience.
How much it matters: It doesn’t, really; the movie definitely has a casting problem when it comes to the male leads, but it also doesn’t seem particularly interested in the love triangle. This is just as well; Katniss isn’t, either.

The Haymitch flashbacks
As preparation for their second trip into the arena, Book Katniss and Peeta watch footage of old Quarter Quells, including the one featuring their mentor, Haymitch Abernathy. No such footage in the movie.
How much it matters: Haymitch was noticeably absent from the first movie, and the trend continues here — which is a shame, because Woody Harrelson is actually very good at being drunk and sarcastic. But we get enough arena action from the actual Games, so this is probably a solid cut.

Drunk Katniss
Katniss is not as good at being drunk, according to the book. Unfortunately, the pre–Quarter Quell rampage does not make it into the movie, so you will not get to see Jennifer Lawrence barfing all over Josh Hutcherson. (In this movie, anyway.)
How much it matters: It doesn’t. The movie isn’t about “comic relief,” and the Second Reaping is sobering enough that we get a sense of Katniss’s anguish.

President Snow’s Granddaughter
She appears out of nowhere in the movie, and she really looks a lot like Prim. She also braids her hair like Katniss.
How much it matters: Does a granddaughter soften Snow? Does it point out his hypocrisy? Or is she just another way of proving that everyone but Snow loooves Katniss (and her hair)? It is sort of a wash once the bombs start dropping, but we are not sure what the movie intended here (unless there is a major new plot twist in movie No. 4).

Still doesn’t exist in the movie.
How much it matters: It would obviously be weird to introduce a character that you wrote out in the first movie, but Madge does have one important job in the book: She makes Katniss jealous. (By being a little too friendly with Gale.) Again, the love triangle is almost entirely forgotten in this movie, so it doesn’t feel like a mistake. As Team Gale loyalists, we feel an obligation to point out this oversight.

The Final Revolution Reveal
Surprise! Plutarch Heavensbee, Haymitch, Finnick, Johanna, Beetee, and a handful of other tributes were all working together in order to save Katniss and recruit her for the revolution. The movie makes this clear at the very end, but only gives us a glimpse of Katniss’s reaction (rage, obviously). We don’t watch her spend days in a medicated haze, as we do in the book. We don’t watch her mourn with Finnick; we don’t watch them discuss how their loved ones are better off dead. The movie skips straight to Gale’s announcement that District 12 is no more, and Katniss takes about 30 seconds to go from grief to furious determination.
How much it matters: The most common complaint about the generally excellent Hunger Games movies is that they tend to neutralize the book’s horror. Catching Fire improves on the first movie in this respect, and many of its scenes — the District 11 stop, the Capitol raid, Gale’s whipping — are genuinely gutting to watch. This final scene, though, is an example of the movie fast-forwarding through despair and onto something more exciting. Katniss’s final “Game on” face is a masterful teaser for Mockingjay Part 1, but it is not how the book ends. The book ends with heartbreak.

Comparing the Catching Fire Movie to the Book