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How “The Hunger Games” succeeds as an adaptation where “Twilight” and “Harry Potter” failed

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Photo: Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson in "The Hunger Games," courtesy Lionsgate

There’s a lot riding on the March 23 release of “The Hunger Games.” Whether you like or loathe the film will be based on your personal preferences, but it can be universally agreed upon that “The Hunger Games” not only is a good movie, but that it succeeds as a fully fleshed out adaptation where most before it have failed.

This is coming from a die-hard “Harry Potter” fan. And while I wouldn’t consider myself a Twi-Hard, I am well versed in both the films and the books. So it’s not entirely objective when I say that both series’ onscreen adaptations are not that great, but it is an honest statement.

“The Hunger Games,” on the other hand, stands on its own as a movie. It deviates from the source material in a way that is honest to Suzanne Collins’ book, and also often strengthens the story. Much like HBO’s adaptation of “Game of Thrones,” every additional scene in the movie adds something that should have been there to begin with.

That’s not to say that “The Hunger Games” is without its flaws. Every movie has them. But that’s the key word right there. “The Hunger Games” is a movie in its own right whereas both “Twilight” and “Harry Potter” were chained at the hips to their source material.

This isn’t an editorial with the intention of bashing “Harry Potter” or “Twilight.” Both of those franchises are successful for a reason, and are good in their own right. “Harry Potter” tells the story of a boy wizard with a big destiny, while “Twilight” tells the tale of the unrequited love between a human and a vampire. The problem with those films, though, is that they don’t add much to the screen that wasn’t already on the page.

By contrast, “The Hunger Games” isn’t constrained by the book’s story. Collins’ novels offer hints that a larger saga is taking place, and the film shows us that. And its strength lies in that component of the movie.

The argument can be made that “The Hunger Games” was always going to be best served as a movie. The action-packed and dramatic story was constantly constricted by Katniss’s first-person perspective while it was always obvious that the tale being told was much bigger than just her. Without that restraint, the film was able to set the stage for the future “Hunger Games” films while also allowing the world of Panem to be fully developed.

There is one character in particular that gets a much larger role in the film than he does in the books. His presence as a counterpoint for Katniss really works. By amping up his role in the movie (someone else will have to spoil who he is for you), the character helps highlight the brutality of the Capitol in a way just telling Katniss’s side of the story never would.

That’s not to say that “Twilight” and “Harry Potter” never stepped outside of the confines of the novels that they were based on, but those extra or changed scenes never quite worked the way they should have. Showing James, Laurent and Victoria killing innocent civilians didn’t have the same impact as hearing about the mysterious murders occurring in “Twilight” and wondering what was going on. And that scene in “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” where Bellatrix Lestrange burned down the Burrow felt out of place and also makes little sense in the continuity of the story.

In those film franchises, there was always the sense that viewers who hadn’t read the books were missing out on something important in the story that wasn’t being portrayed on the big screen. That’s not how it felt walking out of the theater following “The Hunger Games.” The heart of the story was in that film, and it did just as good a job telling Katniss’s tale as the book did.

It’s yet to be seen if “The Hunger Games” will do as well in theaters as the “Twilight” and “Potter” films, but my gut says that it will. Even if it doesn’t end up breaking the same records that the precious two franchises set, one thing is certain: it’s a much better movie than either of those were. And this is coming from a girl who vehemently thought “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2″ deserved a Best Picture Oscar nod this year.

Do you agree or disagree with our sentiments on “Twilight” and “Harry Potter”? Are you just pissed that I’ve taken those franchises names in vain? Tell us in the comments section below or on Facebook and Twitter.

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