‘The Hunger Games’: Translating a Post-Apocolyptic World from Page to Screen (Part One)

My previous posts looking at costume design from page to screen focused on an ‘adult novel’ and a ‘children’s book’ so now I’ve got the ‘young adult novel’ The Hunger Games (2008) by Suzanne Collins. That wasn’t really my reason for using it. It’s more because the hype for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013) is building and Lydia’s HCGI post didn’t help!

I read the trilogy of books just before The Hunger Games (2012) came out last year but I don’t think I particularly paid attention to costume descriptions beyond those of the opening ceremony costumes and Katniss’s interview dress. I don’t know if this was because film footage had already been released or I just don’t pay that much attention to clothing descriptions (odd I know). Both are likely.

When I went through the book again to compare descriptions to their film counterparts I was surprised by the fidelity to the text. Sections of the book were not filmed (so that the majority of the film is focused on the Games themselves) so those descriptions become irrelevant – particularly when describing Katniss’s Madge. The costume designer for the film (directed by Gary Ross) was Judianna Makovsky and she understands the difficulty of designing a film based on a set of books with a strong fanbase – this is the woman who designed Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001). (This was the only Harry Potter film she designed and she is also not designing Catching Fire… make of that what you will, she still set up the film franchise looks.)

Things change when you do a film, but you try the best — I try the best I can to be respectful of the material and the characters. I mean, it’s mostly about the characters, and even if you can’t do every detail that’s in a book, you want to get the essence of that character across.

I’ve counted eight “faithful” costume recreations (some may not be 100% but I’m not going to be that picky about it). This number is about the same as the number of costumes different from their descriptions, but there are also around five examples where costumes have only been moderately changed. Also, many of these descriptions relate to Katniss’s own clothes due to her role as the narrator.

Katniss' Hunting Gear

First costume for Katniss and the first outfit described in the book is her hunting gear. In The Hunger Games Katniss describes how she ‘slide into my hunting boots… I pull on trousers, a shirt, tuck my long dark braid up into a cap’ (p.  4). In the film she wears a jacket and, although I couldn’t find a reference to it in the book there is a definite reference to the hunting jacket in either Catching Fire (2009) or Mockingjay (2010) as it being her father’s. Makovsky commented on this to Entertainment Weekly:

In the book, the jacket is her father’s jacket and it’s oversized. When we did [it that way], it was like, ‘Oh, well, she can’t move in it. She can’t shoot in it and it doesn’t look very good on film, so just make a nice jacket.’

I’m including the description in the faithful category because, besides the jacket, it is. There are times to be picky and this isn’t it. Makovsky addressed the practical impracticalities of being that faithful to the book so it shows how much thought was put into that costume fidelity anyway.

Prim's Reaping Costume

Next, there is Prim’s reaping dress ‘a skirt and ruffled blouse’ (p. 17). A very brief decription but if you look at the image it is adhered to perfectly. Obviously the skirt and blouse combination is needed for the ‘little duck’ comments – highlighting Prim’s youth and the way Katniss “protects” her – but the ruffles down the shirt are not a requirement. They definitely add a youthful factor and I would suggest that the detail there was to mark Prim out more than keep faithful to the novel.

Katniss's Reaping Dress Katniss's Reaping Dress2

‘My mother has laid out one of her own lovely dresses for me. A soft blue thing with matching shoes.’ (p. 17). Katniss’s reaping dress is not really described when you think about it. The key details are soft and blue. And that it used to belong to her mother. This final point tends to be overlooked because, in the film, there is no mass exposition about her mother’s background in the “wealthier” section of District 12. As Makovsky said “We wanted to make a very serious impact, and color was very important—to keep it mostly gray or blue”. The overall colour scheme of District 12 was the vital element and also the style: ”It has a very sort of mid-century, 1930s to ’50s feel — Americana,” Katniss’s dress definitely has a 30s/40s vibe to it (a beautiful cut and fit for Lawrence). It’s a classic dress but also timeless. It’s important for Katniss to fit in to the District 12 world so that when she stands next to Effie the difference is even more stark. The dress also has the effect of making her look much younger – as the gingham dress did for Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz (1939).

Capitol Inhabitants

Then we have descriptions of people in the Capitol. Most of the descriptions relate to their make-up or plastic surgery hey have had but the first time they are seen by Katniss she mentions ‘the oddly dressed people… All the colours seem artificial, the pinks too deep, the greens too bright, the yellows painful to the eyes’ (p. 72). The risk with designing these clothes was to have them looking too outrageous. The people are not a joke, but on camera if there were numerous people who had whiskers or green coloured skin then the world would be too removed from reality. The seriousness of children being forced to fight to the death for other people’s enjoyment would be lost in the absurdity. I’ve seen comments that people were disappointed that the costumes for the Capitol were too “safe” but I think that this is wise for the story. Makovsky mentioned taking inspiration from Schiaparelli and other sculptural fashion designers, such as Alexander McQueen and John Galliano. The silhouettes have clear 30s influences but taken to the extreme with brighter colours (as described). Their silhouettes then still just about fit in with the Americana world in District 12 – but in the couture world of the extremely wealthy. Just as in the 30s. The colours being that much brighter also reflects history – the time when dyes were so expensive that you showed your wealth by wearing brighter and brighter coloured clothing. The Games were clearly inspired by the Romans so clearly Panem looks to the past for the future.

The Hunger Games: Tribute Guide Peeta Interview Suit

‘Peeta looks striking in a black suit with flame accents.’ (p. 148). Moving away from Katniss’s clothing we have a description of Peeta’s interview suit that perfectly matched the film costume. Granted the description is a little limited and you could judge that the real reason for costume fidelity here was to play up to Katniss’s ‘Girl on Fire’ dress (which I’ll discuss later). But if we take from the description ‘striking’ then it is obvious that Peeta needs something dark to contrast his blonde hair. A black suit with red accents perfectly fits the bill.

Katniss and Peeta's Final Interview

The final faithful costume I’m going to discuss is Katniss’s ‘unassuming yellow dress… The sheer fabric softly glows.’ (p. 430). ‘The sleeveless dress is gathered at my ribs, not my waist… The hem falls just to my knees… I look, very simply, like a girl.’ (p. 431). Ok, technically it might not be exactly as described but it is yellow, it does glow, and she looks youthful in it. The bodice fabric isn’t sheer although it could be said that the tulle skirt is sheer as tulle is extra fine net. The “gathering” is just a fitted bodice at her waist and the hem is longer than knee length… I’m arguing my way against faithful costume but I do believe that it is. The important facts have been met.

So that’s part one done. I’ll get onto part two…

S x

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