Why ‘Catching Fire’ is the best movie adaptation of a YA novel

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2:00 pm EDT, November 28, 2013

Pull up a desk chair, because we need to have an honest chat. Young adult fantasy/dystopia movies aren’t for everyone and they’re not marketed that way.

Whoa, whoa! Calm down. I hear what you’re saying. I get it. You’re a fifty year old man with a large collection of Katniss dolls (which is not, not crazy).

Unfortunately, the YA genre is often derided for its love triangles and simple stories, and it tends to be marketed that way. J.K. Rowling’s story changed that perception for many people, but it’s not everyone’s pint of beer (or for those under 21, glass of milk). That’s what makes blockbuster movies so important for the fantasy/dystopia genre; if you can draw people in with strong character development and complex stories, you can expose a whole new audience to the novels we love. We need strong adaptations, especially if we want to see our movies start to win some awards. Here’s why I think Catching Fire might have done that and why it’s the best adaptation for YA novels.

As you know when you watch an adaption with a non-reader, you get bombarded with questions about the characters or the plot. The problem is that many adaptations struggle to walk the line between keeping avid fans happy while explaining the story to newcomers (which I think is the biggest reason they’re not nominated for awards). I feel some sympathy for non-readers; however, when my husband looks like he’s going to ask a question, I cut him off with three little words: “Read the book.” I’ve been married for 13 years and per our marriage vows, it isn’t just in sickness and in health, but in my fantasy movies and in your non-fiction movies, until death do us part. I watch Gettysburg a few times a year and he takes me to Harry Potter, Hunger Games, etc. It’s about compromise.

In the first Hunger Games movie, I said my three words a dozen times. (I should just have it tattooed on my arm). When he finally took me to see the new movie, I prepared for his confusion.

It took less than half an hour to realize how great this movie was. He didn’t ask me a single question. He understood the story from the beginning. When the movie ended, he just sat there, stunned. The older couple behind us didn’t believe the movie was over. The gentleman leaned to his wife and said, “I want to know what happens!” My own husband nodded his head in agreement. Two older men, who had no heart in the game, loved the movie.

While all of that made it a great movie, it didn’t make it the best. What happened on the way home does. In the car I asked him if he wanted me to tell him how the series ended. He was quiet for a minute and then said, “No, I think I’m going to read the next book.” Yep, hell froze over on Saturday night. That right there is the difference between a great movie and the best movie, an award winning movie. A great movie speaks to everyone, while a fantastic movie drives you to the primary source because you can’t stop thinking about it. It lives on past the credits.

An adaptation is really a glimpse of a book. Catching Fire’s glimpses left people wanting to purge on the buffet the books have to offer. The movie was smart, cohesive and full of heart. It flew out of its marketing box and drew in a new audience. Sales for books always go up when a movie is being released, but I would like to see how many of those readers are new to the genre.

If my snobbish husband is drawn to the book because of the movie, I can see several award judges feeling the same way. It gives me hope, but more importantly for me, next year I won’t be watching Mockingjay with a non-reader.

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