The Economy of Movie Scripts: 5 Scene Comparisons between Books and Movies
June 2, 2016 \ Movies \ 0 Comments
Books and movie scripts are different things. While they share similar constructs (both require conflicts, characters with wants and needs, antagonists, etc.) they ultimately have different canvas types and sizes, cater to different audiences, and have different demands.
Nevertheless, when you get movies or TV shows based on books you hear people comment about how the movie skipped a lot stuff that the books covered in more detail. This makes sense. Movies have a finite amount of time to work with and have audiences with shorter attention spans; I don’t think audiences could handle the amount of dialogue some books indulge in, for example. So where do script writers make cuts and why? How do they decide what to add and alter while still staying loyal to the book? Let’s take a look at five side-by-side comparisions of scenes in movies and TV to find out.
Please note, a lot of the book sequences I had to whittle down heavily from the original source. I did my best to indicate with ellipses when text was skipped.
1. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Although not a particularly exciting scene, one of the early scenes in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince in which Snape makes the Unbreakable Vow is a good place to start for looking at how scripts economically alter elements from the book. In this scene, two of Voldemort’s supporters, Narcissa and Bellatrix, are coming to see Snape (a supposed double agent for Voldemort) for help. Narcissa’s son, Draco, has been ordered by Voldemort to kill Dumbledore and Narcissa worries the mission might be too much for Draco.
Here is the scene from the book:
“So, what can I do for you?” Snape asked, settling himself in the armchair opposite the two sisters.
“We … we are alone, aren’t we?” Narcissa asked quietly.
“Yes, of course. Well, Wormtail’s here, but we’re not counting vermin, are we?”
He pointed his wand at the wall of books behind him and with a bang, a hidden door flew open, revealing a narrow staircase upon which a small man stood frozen.
“As you have clearly realized, Wormtail, we have guests,” said Snape lazily.
The man crept, hunchbacked, down the last few steps and moved into the room. He had small, watery eyes, a pointed nose, and wore an unpleasant simper. His left hand was caressing his right, which looked as though it was encased in a bright silver glove.
“Narcissa!” he said, in a squeaky voice. “And Bellatrix! How charming —”
“Wormtail will get us drinks, if you’d like them,” said Snape. “And then he will return to his bedroom.”
Wormtail winced as though Snape had thrown something at him.
“I am not your servant!” he squeaked, avoiding Snape’s eye.
“Really? I was under the impression that the Dark Lord placed you here to assist me.”
“To assist, yes — but not to make you drinks and — and clean your house!”
“Severus, I know I ought not to be here, I have been told to say nothing to anyone, but —”
“Then you ought to hold your tongue!” snarled Bellatrix. “Particularly in present company!”
‘”Present company’?” repeated Snape sardonically. “And what am I to understand by that, Bellatrix?”
“That I don’t trust you, Snape, as you very well know!”
Narcissa let out a noise that might have been a dry sob and covered her face with her hands. Snape set his glass down upon the table and sat back again, his hands upon the arms of his chair, smiling into Bellatrix’s glowering face.
“Narcissa, I think we ought to hear what Bellatrix is bursting to say; it will save tedious interruptions. Well, continue, Bellatrix,” said Snape. “Why is it that you do not trust me?”
“A hundred reasons!” she said loudly, striding out from behind the sofa to slam her glass upon the table. “Where to start! Where were you when the Dark Lord fell? Why did you never make any attempt to find him when he vanished? What have you been doing all these years that you’ve lived in Dumbledore’s pocket? Why did you stop the Dark Lord procuring the Sorcerer’s Stone? Why did you not return at once when the Dark Lord was reborn? Where were you a few weeks ago when we battled to retrieve the prophecy for the Dark Lord? And why, Snape, is Harry Potter still alive, when you have had him at your mercy for five years?”
“I thought you must know about it!” said Narcissa, breathing more freely. “He trusts you so, Severus …”
“You know about the plan?” said Bellatrix, her fleeting expression of satisfaction replaced by a look of outrage. “You know?”
“Certainly,” said Snape. “But what help do you require, Narcissa? If you are imagining I can persuade the Dark Lord to change his mind, I am afraid there is no hope, none at all.”
“Severus,” she whispered, tears sliding down her pale cheeks. “My son … my only son …”
“Draco should be proud,” said Bellatrix indifferently. “The Dark Lord is granting him a great honor. And I will say this for Draco: I can see he isn’t shrinking away from his duty, he seems glad of a chance to prove himself, excited at the prospect —”
Narcissa began to cry in earnest, gazing beseechingly all the while at Snape.
“That’s because he is sixteen and has no idea what lies in store! Why, Severus? Why my son? It is too dangerous! This is vengeance for Lucius’s mistake, I know it!”
Snape said nothing. He looked away from the sight of her tears as though they were indecent, but he could not pretend not to hear her.
“That’s why he’s chosen Draco, isn’t it?” she persisted. “To punish Lucius?”
“If Draco succeeds,” said Snape, still looking away from her, “he will be honored above all others.”
“But he won’t succeed!” sobbed Narcissa. “How can he, when the Dark Lord himself —?”
“Severus — oh, Severus — you would help him? Would you look after him, see he comes to no harm?”
“I can try.”
She flung away her glass; it skidded across the table as she slid off the sofa into a kneeling position at Snape’s feet, seized his hand in both of hers, and pressed her lips to it.
“If you are there to protect him … Severus, will you swear it? Will you make the Unbreakable Vow?”
“The Unbreakable Vow?”
Snape’s expression was blank, unreadable. Bellatrix, however, let out a cackle of triumphant laughter.
“Aren’t you listening, Narcissa? Oh, he’ll try, I’m sure… The usual empty words, the usual slithering out of action… oh, on the Dark Lord’s orders, of course!”
Snape did not look at Bellatrix. His black eyes were fixed upon Narcissa’s tear-filled blue ones as she continued to clutch his hand.
“Certainly, Narcissa, I shall make the Unbreakable Vow,” he said quietly. “Perhaps your sister will consent to be our Bonder.”
Bellatrix’s mouth fell open. Snape lowered himself so that he was kneeling opposite Narcissa. Beneath Bellatrix’s astonished gaze, they grasped right hands.
“You will need your wand, Bellatrix,” said Snape coldly.
She drew it, still looking astonished.
“And you will need to move a little closer,” he said.
She stepped forward so that she stood over them, and placed the tip of her wand on their linked hands.
“Will you, Severus, watch over my son, Draco, as he attempts to fulfill the Dark Lord’s wishes?”
“I will,” said Snape.
A thin tongue of brilliant flame issued from the wand and wound its way around their hands like a red-hot wire.
“And will you, to the best of your ability, protect him from harm?”
“I will,” said Snape.
A second tongue of flame shot from the wand and interlinked with the first, making a fine, glowing chain.
“And, should it prove necessary … if it seems Draco will fail …” whispered Narcissa (Snape’s hand twitched within hers, but he did not draw away), “will you carry out the deed that the Dark Lord has ordered Draco to perform?”
There was a moment’s silence. Bellatrix watched, her wand upon their clasped hands, her eyes wide.
“I will,” said Snape.
There’s a sequence in the text where Bellatrix asks Snape a series of questions regarding his loyalty. I’ve edited it out, but Snape responds to each and every question in full detail. In this sense, the books allow the reader to have all their own questions answered. Novels are a world we are permitted to fully explore. Movies have to be much more economical:
Notice there is no longer a discussion on Snape’s loyalty. The entirety of the idea is left to a line of dialogue spoken by Bellatrix outside Snape’s home.
The other notable thing the movie script does differently is how it condenses ideas and adds comedy to them. In the movie Wormtail doesn’t even speak, he is simply ushered away with a flick of Snape’s wand. The movie has also largely narrows the animosity between Bellatrix and Snape down to Snape’s condescending request that Bellatrix put down his stuff. All this saves a lot of time. Audiences would not have the patience to sit through Wormtail’s squabbling, and Snape’s long-winded reasons for being trustworthy. The essence of the scene is simple; by making the Unbreakable Vow (which will kill either party if they break the terms) Severus shows Narcissa and Bellatrix he is loyal.
The words of the vow are largely the same as well as the function and reason for the scene, but for everything else presented in the book the movie is brilliantly economical.
2. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
The scene of Boromir’s death occurs at different times in the two mediums. In the book, the scene is at the beginning of The Two Towers, in the movie, it is at the end of The Fellowship of the Ring. In both cases, Boromir is mortally wounded after attempting to save Merry and Pippin from the Uruk-hai and has a final exchange with Aragorn before he dies.
Here is the scene from the beginning of The Two Towers book:
‘The horn of Boromir!’ he cried. ‘He is in need!’ He sprang down the steps and away, leaping down the path. ‘Alas! An ill fate is on me this day, and all that I do goes amiss. Where is Sam?
As he ran the cries came louder, but fainter now and desperately the horn was blowing. Fierce and shrill rose the yells of the Orcs, and suddenly the horn-calls ceased. Aragorn raced down the last slope, but before he could reach the hill’s foot, the sounds died away; and as he turned to the left and ran towards them they retreated, until at last he could hear them no more. Drawing his bright sword and crying Elendil! Elendil! he crashed through the trees.
A mile, maybe, from Parth Galen in a little glade not far from the lake he found Boromir. He was sitting with his back to a great tree, as if he was resting. But Aragorn saw that he was pierced with many black-feathered arrows; his sword was still in his hand, but it was broken near the hilt; his horn cloven in two was at his side. Many Orcs lay slain, piled all about him and at his feet.
Aragorn knelt beside him. Boromir opened his eyes and strove to speak. At last slow words came. ‘I tried to take the Ring from Frodo,’ he said. ‘I am sorry. I have paid.’ His glance strayed to his fallen enemies; twenty at least lay there. ‘They have gone: the Halflings: the Orcs have taken them. I think they are not dead. Orcs bound them.’ He paused and his eyes closed wearily. After a moment he spoke again.
‘Farewell, Aragorn! Go to Minas Tirith and save my people! I have failed.
‘No!’ said Aragorn, taking his hand and kissing his brow. ‘You have conquered. Few have gained such a victory. Be at peace! Minas Tirith shall not fall!
‘Which way did they go? Was Frodo there?’ said Aragorn.
But Boromir did not speak again.
And here is the scene from the end of The Fellowship:
The two scenes function similarly in that Boromir and Aragorn say goodbye to each other and Aragorn promises that Minas Tirith won’t fall, but the execution is different. There’s a stronger emotional resonance in the movie script. Boromir admits to a personal failing in both scenes, but in the film he paints a picture of his worst fears.
“The world of men will fall. And all will come to darkness. And my city to ruin.”
As Boromir says this he grabs onto Aragorns shoulder, as if he is clinging to him for help. This encourages Aragorn to re-assure Boromir that won’t happen (which also happens in the books), but with an added resonance and brotherhood. “Our people,” they both say, echoing each other.
The placing of the scene also matters. By placing the scene at the beginning of the second book, Boromir’s death is a connecting piece that we use to move from one book to another and on forward, whereas in the film it serves more as the fellowship’s final sacrifice as well as the beginning of Aragorn’s character arc where we will eventually become king. Aragorn’s character arc in the movie is better established by the line,
“I would have followed you my Brother, my Captain — my King.”
There’s also a line that was shifted around from the books and altered slightly into the movie scene. A little later in the book Aragorn says:
“They will look for him from the White Tower,” he said, “but he will not return from mountain or from sea.”
This kind of restructuring is clever of the script writers because it stays true to the books while placing similar words in a more poignant place.
3. Game of Thrones
In the scene where Ser Gregor Clegane (The Mountain) fights Prince Oberyn I was suprised how similar the scenes were, with a few notable differences.
Here is the text:
When the two men were ten yards apart, the Red Viper stopped and called out, “Have they told you who I am?”
Ser Gregor grunted through his breaths. “Some dead man.” He came on, inexorable.
The Dornishman slid sideways. “I am Oberyn Martell, a prince of Dorne,” he said, as the Mountain turned to keep him in sight. “Princess Elia was my sister.”
“Who?” asked Gregor Clegane.
Oberyn’s long spear jabbed, but Ser Gregor took the point on his shield, shoved it aside, and bulled back at the prince, his great sword flashing. The Dornishman spun away untouched. The spear darted forward. Clegane slashed at it, Martell snapped it back, then thrust bright scratch on the steel beneath. “Elia Martell, Princess of Dorne,” the Red Viper hissed. “You raped her. You murdered her. You killed her children.”
Ser Gregor grunted. He made a ponderous charge to hack at the Dornishman’s head. Prince Oberyn avoided him easily. “You raped her. You murdered her. You killed her children.”
“Did you come to talk or to fight?”
“I came to hear you confess.” The Red Viper landed a quick thrust on the Mountain’s belly, to no effect.
Not Oberyn Martell. “You raped her,” he called, feinting. “You murdered her,” he said, dodging a looping cut from Gregor’s greatsword. “You killed her children,” he shouted, slamming the spearpoint into the giant’s throat, only to have it glance off the thick steel gorget with a screech.
“Oberyn is toying with him,” said Ellaria Sand.
That is fool’s play, thought Tyrion. “The Mountain is too bloody big to be any man’s toy.”
All around the yard, the throng of spectators was creeping in toward the two combatants, edging forward inch by inch to get a better view. The Kingsguard tried to keep them back, shoving at the gawkers forcefully with their big white shields, but there were hundreds of gawkers and only six of the men in white armor.
“You raped her.” Prince Oberyn parried a savage cut with his spearhead. “You murdered her.” He sent the spearpoint at Clegane’s eyes, so fast the huge man flinched back. “You killed her children.” The spear flickered sideways and down, scraping against the Mountain’s breastplate. “You raped her. You murdered her. You killed her children.” The spear was two feet longer than Ser Gregor’s sword, more than enough to keep him at an awkward distance. He hacked at the shaft whenever Oberyn lunged at him, trying to lop off the spearhead, but he might as well have been trying to hack the wings off a fly. “You raped her. You murdered her. You killed her children.” Gregor tried to bull rush, but Oberyn skipped aside and circled round his back. “You raped her. You murdered her. You killed her children.”
“Be quiet.” Ser Gregor seemed to be moving a little slower, and his greatsword no longer rose quite so high as it had when the contest began. “Shut your bloody mouth.”
“You raped her,” the prince said, moving to the right.
“Enough!” Ser Gregor took two long strides and brought his sword down at Oberyn’s head, but the Dornishman backstepped once more. “You murdered her,” he said.
“SHUT UP!” Gregor charged headlong, right at the point of the spear, which slammed into his right breast then slid aside with a hideous steel shriek.
But the Red Viper of Dorne was back on his feet, his long spear in hand. “Elia,” he called at Ser Gregor. “You raped her. You murdered her. You killed her children. Now say her name.”
The Mountain whirled. Helm, shield, sword, surcoat; he was spattered with gore from head to heels. “You talk too much,” he grumbled. “You make my head hurt.”
“I will hear you say it. She was Elia of Dorne.”
“Elia. Say it! Elia of Dorne!” He was circling, spear poised for another thrust. “Say it!”
Oberyn whirled cat-quick, and ran at his fallen foe. “EEEEELLLLLLIIIIIAAAAA!” he screamed, as he drove the spear down with the whole weight of his body behind it.
Prince Oberyn moved closer. “Say the name!” He put a foot on the Mountain’s chest and raised the greatsword with both hands. Whether he intended to hack off Gregor’s head or shove the point through his eyeslit was something Tyrion would never know.
Tyrion saw with horror that the Mountain had wrapped one huge arm around the prince, drawing him tight against his chest, like a lover
“Elia of Dorne,” they all heard Ser Gregor say, when they were close enough to kiss. His deep voice boomed within the helm. “I killed her screaming whelp.” He thrust his free hand into Oberyn’s unprotected face, pushing steel fingers into his eyes. “Then I raped her.” Clegane slammed his fist into the Dornishman’s mouth, making splinters of his teeth. “Then I smashed her fucking head in. Like this.”
And here is the scene from the show (click the below picture to play in new window):
One difference is how in the text Oberyn (Pedro Pascal) uses the “raped her, mudered her” line nine times, but in the TV show’s script it was only used six times. Not only that, but because the TV show has a performance aspect to it, we are able to see how Pedro Pascal’s performance brings a different dimension to the words each time the line is spoken. One time he says the line it is plainspoken. In another, the line is more intimate as Oberyn toys with The Mountain, finishing the line as he pushes Clegane’s sword down making him temporarily defenseless. Then, Pascal says the line with increasing intensity. Finally, Oberyn’s rage bubbles over and culminates in his screaming the line with a lunging strike.
There’s also a lot less back and forth between Oberyn and The Mountain in the TV show. The book notes how Clegane fights in “sullen silence.” However, the book has Clegane retorting more, telling Oberyn to shut up and that Oberyn’s talking makes his head hurt. I think this is a wise, but simple choice by the script writers to have The Mountain talk less; his sullen silence makes the moment when he speaks at the end of the scene more menacing.
4. Twilight Breaking Dawn Part 2
It’s probably not popular to look at Twilight as something of value, but if you compare the scenes from the books to the movies it’s pretty clear the script writers did some great adaptions with the given material.
Here is a scene from Breaking Dawn, the fourth book in The Twilight Saga. In this scene, Bella has just been turned into a vampire and is about to meet her half-human, half-vampire daughter, Renesmee, for the first time. Because vampires (and particularly newborns) thirst for human blood, Bella’s companions Jacob (a werewolf), Edward (her vampire lover), and Edward’s vampire family (Jasper, Carlisle, Esme, Alice, Jasper, Emmett, and Rosalie) are concerned that Bella might attack her daughter out of instinct. To better understand the scene, you should also probably know that werewovles “imprint,” which essentially means they choose a mate for life (weird stuff, I know).
I was totally diverted. My daughter was just on the other side of that thin wall of glass. I couldn’t see her – the light bounced off the reflective windows like a mirror. I could only see myself, looking very strange – so white and still – compared to Jacob. Or, compared to Edward, looking exactly right.
“Renesmee,” I whispered. Stress made me a statue again. Renesmee wasn’t going to smell like an animal. Would I put her in danger?
“Come and see,” Edward murmured. “I know you can handle this.”
“You’ll help me?” I whispered through motionless lips.
“Of course I will.”
“And Emmett and Jasper – just in case?”
“We’ll take care of you, Bella. Don’t worry, we’ll be ready. None of us would risk Renesmee. I think you’ll be surprised at how entirely she’s already wrapped us all around her little fingers. She’ll be perfectly safe, no matter what.”
My yearning to see her, to understand the worship in his voice, broke my frozen pose. I took a step forward.
And then Jacob was in my way, his face a mask of worry.
“Are you sure, bloodsucker?” he demanded of Edward, his voice almost pleading. I’d never heard him speak to Edward that way. “I don’t like this. Maybe she should wait – ”
“You had your test, Jacob.”
It was Jacob’s test?
“But – ,” Jacob began.
“But nothing,” Edward said, suddenly exasperated. “Bella needs to see our daughter. Get out of her way.”
Jacob shot me an odd, frantic look and then turned and nearly sprinted into the house ahead of us.
I couldn’t make sense of their confrontation, and I couldn’t concentrate on it, either. I could only think about the blurred child in my memory and struggle against the haziness, trying to remember her face exactly.
“Shall we?” Edward said, his voice gentle again.
I nodded nervously.
“Jazz, Em, let us through. Bella’s got this.”
“Edward, the risk – ,” Jasper said.
“Minimal. Listen, Jasper – on the hunt she caught the scent of some hikers who were in the wrong place at the wrong time___”
I heard Carlisle suck in a shocked breath.
“Edward!” Carlisle chastened. “How could you be so irresponsible?”
“I know, Carlisle, I know. I was just plain stupid. I should have taken the time to make sure we were in a safe zone before I set her loose.”
Renesmee’s hand dropped from my cheek. She smiled wider, dimpling again.
It was totally silent in the room but for the heartbeats. No one but Jacob and Renesmee was so much as breathing. The silence stretched on; it seemed like they were waiting for me to say something.
“What … was … that?” I managed to choke out.
“What did you see?” Rosalie asked curiously, leaning around Jacob, who seemed very much in the way and out of place at the moment. “What did she show you?”
“She showed me that?” I whispered.
“I told you it was hard to explain,” Edward murmured in my ear. “But effective as means of communications go.”
“What was it?” Jacob asked.
I blinked quickly several times. “Um. Me. I think. But I looked terrible.”
“It was the only memory she had of you,” Edward explained. It was obvious he’d seen what she was showing me as she thought of it. He was still cringing, his voice rough from reliving the memory. “She’s letting you know that she’s made the connection, that she knows who you are.”
Jacob took a step farther back, managing to look sheepish. “Well,” he mumbled, “that name you came up with is kind of a mouthful and – ”
“You nicknamed my daughter after the Loch Ness Monster?” I screeched.
And then I lunged for his throat.
There’s a sequence I skipped at the beginning where Edward and Jacob take Bella aside to test out how Bella reacts to Jacob (who is closer to the being human than a vampire) before they expose Bella to her daughter.
The book spends a lot of time dealing with how worried everyone is about Bella being exposed to Renesmee, almost like it’s a debate. Everyone is involved in the discussion and is concerned in some way. Edward even brings up an example of Bella’s self-control where, in a previous scene, Bella prevented herself from attacking a hiker (which is supposedly unheard of for a newborn vampire).
Now let’s take a look at the scene in the movie.
Notice how in the movie the only person concerned about Bella’s contact with Renesmee is Jacob. This way the concern and conflict is retained, but it’s focused between Jacob and Bella; it’s simpler that way and more comprehensive as it draws on the already established conflict between vampires and werewolves. Also, since nicknames like “Nessie” are a little silly and the whole imprinting thing is a little weird, keeping the conflict between protective new Mother Bella and Jacob also adds a bit more comedy to the scene.
The movie also shortens some of the back and forth exposition between the characters. Like when Bella is trying to figure out the vision she received from Renesmee, she’s not figuring it out through dialogue with multiple characters, they simply give the lines to Edward and have him tell the audience what happened. The movie even goes as far to remind the audience that some vampires have special powers in case they forgot or are newcomers to the franchise.
At the end of the sequence in the books, the chapter ends by Bella lunging for Jacob. However, in the movie, Bella attacks Seth. This is a clever way to quickly turn the tone of the scene to Bella becoming reasonable so Jacob can explain himself to the audience.
5. The Hunger Games
This is the scene where Rue dies. Despite the fact that both Rue and Katniss are participating in the Hunger Games and must kill each other, Katniss befriends Rue and tries to come to her defense when Rue is in trouble. After Rue dies Katniss has angry feelings towards the Capitol, which is the tyrannical government that set up the Hunger Games in the first place.
Here is the scene from the book:
“Rue!” I shout back, so she knows I’m near. So, they know I’m near, and hopefully the girl who has attacked them with tracker jackers and gotten an eleven they still can’t explain will be enough to pull their attention away from her. “Rue! I’m coming!”
When I break into the clearing, she’s on the ground, hopelessly entangled in a net. She just has time to reach her hand through the mesh and say my name before the spear enters her body.
“You blew up the food?” she whispers.
“Every last bit,” I say.
“You have to win,” she says.
“I’m going to. Going to win for both of us now,” I promise. I hear a cannon and look up. It must be for the boy from District 1.
“Don’t go.” Rue tightens her grip on my hand.
“Course not. Staying right here,” I say. I move in closer to her, pulling her head onto my lap. I gently brush the dark, thick hair back behind her ear.
“Sing,” she says, but I barely catch the word.
Sing? I think. Sing what? I do know a few songs. Believe it or not, there was once music in my house, too. Music I helped make. My father pulled me in with that remarkable voice – but I haven’t sung much since he died. Except when Prim is very sick. Then I sing her the same songs she liked as a baby.
I give a small cough, swallow hard, and begin:
Deep in the meadow, under the willow
A bed of grass, a soft green pillow
Lay down your head, and close your sleepy eyes
Rue’s eyes have fluttered shut. Her chest moves but only slightly. My throat releases the tears and they slide down my cheeks. But I have to finish the song for her.
Deep in the meadow, hidden far away
A cloak of leaves, a moonbeam ray
I want to do something, right here, right now, to shame them, to make them accountable, to show the Capitol that whatever they do or force us to do there is a part of every tribute they can’t own. That Rue was more than a piece in their Games. And so am I.
A few steps into the woods grows a bank of wildflowers. Perhaps they are really weeds of some sort, but they have blossoms in beautiful shades of violet and yellow and white. I gather up an armful and come back to Rue’s side. Slowly, one stem at a time, I decorate her body in the flowers. Covering the ugly wound. Wreathing her face. Weaving her hair with bright colors.
They’ll have to show it. Or, even if they choose to turn the cameras elsewhere at this moment, they’ll have to bring them back when they collect the bodies and everyone will see her then and know I did it. I step back and take a last look at Rue. She could really be asleep in that meadow after all.
“Bye, Rue,” I whisper. I press the three middle fingers of my left hand against my lips and hold them out in her direction. Then I walk away without looking back.
Here is the first part of the scene from the movie (sorry I had to break it up into two parts and there is some overlap):
The first thing I notice is that Katniss lies. She lies the way we all instinctively lie to children to reassure them and tells Rue that she is going to be all right.
She also doesn’t answer Rue when Rue tells Katniss that she has to win the Hunger Games. The movie doesn’t have the benefit of first person narration so we can’t hear Katniss deliberate on how she feels about Rue’s death, or the boy that killed her, or the games and the Capitol; we have to see it. After Rue tells Katniss she must win, Katniss’s look over to the boy she killed and the slow, pensive turn she makes back to Rue’s face suggests that Katniss isn’t sure she can do what is necessary to win.
Here is the rest of the scene:
There’s also a silenced outburst of rage from Katniss here that was not in the books. The Katniss the movie presents seems more unsure of herself (at least according to my interpretation of Jennifer Lawrence’s performance). Like she’s still searching for how to act or what to do. This may have the effect of encouraging the audience to consider these things along with her and increase our empathy toward her character.
The other notable difference is Katniss’s three-finger gesture. In the books, it is private. In the movies it is clear that it was meant for the cameras and the people watching the Hunger Games. This is clever for two reasons: It heightens the meaning and emotion of Rue’s death by making it an experience that multiple people feel instead of just Katniss, and it also incites a riot which begins the storyline of Katniss being a symbol of the rebellion to come.
As you can see, movies scenes are far more economical; they have to be. It’s like the script writers simply look for the heart of what of what a narrative needs and structures the entire scene to serve that, whether that involves shifting, adding, removing, or tweaking dialogue from the book to emphasize emotion, whittling down the conflicts from several characters to a single character, or combining scenes with additional ideas to broaden character and story arcs.
Books are little more free with their space. Ideally they are still concerned with only mentioning things that are important to the story, but the breadth they allow themselves to describe or explore their ideas is larger than what film allows.
Script writers who have to adapt books not only have to find the hearts of these scenes from the books, but also make sure that economical approach still honours the original work. It’s a delicate craft that, after going through these examples, I’m sure we can all appreciate a little more.