Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Showing and Telling Katniss Everdeen

The fourth and final installment in the Hunger Games saga arrived in theaters this past weekend, and made $100 million, which by any normal standard is sensational, but is regarded in many quarters as a disappointment. This is not just as a result of the simple-minded insistence of the Hollywood Suit that any and all movies be record-breakers (real as this is), but also the better performance of earlier installments, which seems to have reflected some dissatisfaction with the movies' course. (The third book was generally not considered the series' strongest--a judgment in which I have to concur--and that problem was amplified by the mostly money-grubbing decision to split the last movie in two, making viewers buy tickets twice to get the whole story.)

Perhaps more important than the numbers and the tactics, however, is the fact that, with the series now complete, the assessments of the whole have begun, with Rob Bricken offering his opinion at io9. In doing so he correctly notes, among other things, the loss of some of the protagonist's complexity in the translation from book to screen, which raises a matter that occurred to me while watching the first Hunger Games film.

Where the balance of "show" and "tell" is concerned, Collins' book tilted heavily toward telling. Of course, this goes against the conventional wisdom that good writing is "show, don't tell," but it was necessary to developing the character's interiority, and supplying a certain amount of necessary backstory and world-building that could not have readily been shown. Converting the books into movies diminished the prospects for telling to rare, relatively awkward expository passages (like Caesar Flickerman and Claudius Templesmith explaining what tracker jackers are to the audience), forcing it to rely that much more on showing, made the loss of a certain amount of nuance inevitable--and in the process, reminded us all of just how important an item in the writer's toolbox much-maligned "tell" happens to be.

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