Comparing Dickens and The Hunger Games

Wow, it’s been a short 5 months, but I’m finally getting back to blogging again. I’ll write a separate post about what I’ve been up to, but today I’m talking about two things I’ve been rather saturated in this year: Charles Dickens and The Hunger Games.

Part 1: Dickens

This year's Dickens-themed Google doodle.

Because 2012 marks the 200th anniversary of Charles Dickens’ birth, the wonderful people at Masterpiece Theater on PBS have been releasing new (and re-releasing old) versions of his works. There have been a whole bunch, many free online, so I decided to go on a Dickens kick, with the following results:

1. Before this year, I’d read Great Expectations twice (more on this later), David Copperfield (yay!), Martin Chuzzlewit (boo!),  A Tale of Two Cities (yawn), and, of course, A Christmas Carol.

2. I read Oliver Twist this year, but haven’t seen a movie version yet (please leave suggestions for versions in the comments).

3. A few weeks ago I watched the Little Dorrit mini-series on PBS, which was excellent, although I still need to read the book.

4. I’m currently in the middle of reading The Old Curiosity Shop, but I couldn’t quite wait until the end to watch the PBS movie. It was decent, but not as good as Dorrit.

5. I have also watched the new PBS Great Expectations movie (not to be confused with the Helena Bonham Carter version coming out later this year). LOTS to say about this later.

6. I really really want to watch Bleak House at some point, but episode 1 is the

only free one offered on itunes, soooooo I might wait.

7. The Mystery of Edwin Drood is coming out on Masterpiece and I hadn’t even heard of the novel until I saw the trailer, so very curious to see if it’s any good.

Part 2: The Hunger Games

I was cautiously optimistic about The Hunger Games movie that came out a few weeks ago. If you want to read my thoughts on the book series, here’s a link to my previous post on the subject.

I was worried that if the movie stayed true to the book, it would mean portraying levels of violence that I wouldn’t be comfortable watching. Fortunately, the film was shot in a way that made the violence implied rather than graphic. I believe this is how it should be. After all, the point of the story is to stand against people who find violence entertaining to watch, so it would have been hypocritical for the camera to linger over the bloody deaths in the arena. On the other hand, it is important to capture the horror of the situation, and I personally found the director’s choice to leave most of the violence implied actually heightened the psychological impact on me. The one time I actually cringed was during the tracker jacker scene because, to me, seeing a swarm of bees attack a person is somehow more unnerving than seeing someone get shot with an arrow.

And can I just say that this movie stands as proof that filmmakers of books-into-movies can produce absolute gold when they work closely with the author?  The best part about The Hunger Games movie is that it works wonderfully as a companion to the book. It doesn’t try to get inside Katniss’ head like the book did. Instead, it adds to the story by showing viewers scenes from outside the arena that the first-person narrative was unable to do.

My main complaint: Why was Haymitch so clean cut and sober most of the time? His hair looked like it came out of a Pantene commercial and I think he wore a suit the entire movie! He was gruff, but hardly the hopeless, slovenly drunkard I’d pictured. Seriously, where is Hugh Laurie when you need him? Every other character seemed perfectly acted.

Part 3: The Similarities

Believe it or not, I’ve been seeing a lot of similarities between these two authors. Particularly in how they make you fall in love with their minor characters. Sometimes I like Dickens’ protagonists, though often they’re a bit bland, and in the case of Pip from Great Expectations, I actually avidly dislike. But there are always absolute gems of secondary characters in his novels. the effusive Edmund Sparkler from Little Dorrit, the lovable Peggotty from David Copperfield, and the chilling Daniel Quilp from The Old Curiosity Shop. Love ’em or hate ’em, they are memorable (Mr. Wemmick with the post office mouth and Aged Parent–from Expectations–are pictured on the left).

Likewise, my favorite thing about Suzanne Collins is how she brings humanity to her minor characters. To anyone who hasn’t read the books yet, I would urge them to not get too emotionally invested in Katniss, but really pay attention to people like Effie, Haymitch, and Finnick. They all appear at first glance to be flat characters, but once their complexities surface, they make the entire series shine.

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