Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Hunger Games: Battle Royale for the whole family

Right now as I post this cinemas Australia over are about to play their first screenings of the latest novel-turned-big-film franchise to hit us: The Hunger Games. This film seemed to come out of nowhere for me. I’d never even heard of the books until the first film posters arrived at my work a few months back, but since then I’ve done a little research (though admittedly, really couldn’t be bothered reading the books) and gotten a little outraged (as I am prone to do). Now, if the phrase “it’s the new Twilight” hasn’t been enough to put you off yet, here’s some other reasons why you should not give The Hunger Games your monies.

  1. It’s Kinda a Rip-Off

I read an article on The Hunger Games a week or so ago that suggested the film had “a touch” of the Japanese classic novel/graphic novel/film Battle Royale about it. I had to read that sentence twice. If by “a touch” the journalist meant “the entire freaking plot was ripped off” I think he’d hit a little closer to the mark. If the two stories had nothing more in common than ‘people forced to kill each other’ I wouldn’t have such an issue, but once you include the young age of the contestants in the competition, the fictional dystopian and militarised future portrayed, the competition as punishment for rebellion against an all-powerful system, and the broadcast of the events, the worlds depicted start to seem alarmingly similar. What’s more, in both cases the protagonists desire to win is motivated both by developing romantic feelings for another contestant, and care of and sacrifice for a sibling after the loss of their father. I’m not a spoiler, but the endings too have far much more in common than they do different.

  1. It’s Battle Royale for Nannas
A lot of what I’ve read about The Hunger Games alludes to the films high level of violence compared with other tween fare such as Twilight. But the thing I find most concerning is how a film featuring such confronting and violent subject matter has only achieved an M rating (and even only a PG13 in the US). The extent to which The Hunger Games has been watered down and romanticized is its primary point of difference from Battle Royale. The deaths onscreen in The Hunger Games are all clean and neat, not to mention unrealistic for such a situation. While the set up of Battle Royale is every bit as extreme and unrealistic, commendably the film displays realistic character actions in such a scenario and doesn’t shy away from the situation’s necessary brutality. Teen sexuality too is far more interestingly examined in Battle Royale. While the manipulation of sexuality for gain is touched on in The Hunger Games, where Katniss stages feelings for Peeta to garner audience sympathy, in Battle Royale sex itself becomes both a weapon and a weakness for the contestants. This is all the more surprising when you consider the fact that Battle Royale intentionally used actors of the correct ages, limiting the amount of sexuality the film could include, while The Hunger Games uses 21yos. The use of older actors in The Hunger Games could once again be seen as an attempt by the filmmakers to limit the confronting nature of the story. Though I’m not exactly sure I want to advocate high violence movies for tweens, arguably romanticizing violence for a youth audience is far more dangerous than letting them see the explicit and realistic stuff up front.

  1. It’s Kinda Shallow
Aside from the realistic and confronting world portrayed, the main reason for my respect of Battle Royale, compared to something like The Hunger Games, is the extent to which the film is such a perfect allegory of the social climate in which it was produced. The book was written in Japan in 1999, in the aftermath of the bursting of the bubble economy. Though the book is set in a dystopian future, many of the social problems depicted were those facing Japanese youth at the time of the book’s release. High levels of unemployment impacted on depression and suicide rates, leaving Japanese teenagers with few adult role models and a negative outlook for their futures. Rising distrust in education led to teenage behavioural issues in schools, like those depicted in the film. School leavers found it almost impossible to gain employment, with the competition for jobs reflecting the competition for life in Battle Royale. Comparatively, The Hunger Games does not fare well for broader underlying themes. The most interesting point the books seem to make concerns contemporary society’s obsession with voyeurism and publicly humiliating competition. But this too is prevalent in Battle Royale, written almost a decade before The Hunger Games. It took the place of foreshadowed warning in the late ‘90s, but by 2012 such a metaphor seems both obvious and shallow. Beyond this, even from interviews with Suzanne Collins herself, the only other themes I can gather from the story are along the lines of “war is bad” and “poverty is bad”. Even the film’s intended audience of teens is surely a little beyond this.

  1. Complete Lack of Beat Takeshi
So your film has Stanley Tucci, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland and hell, even Lenny Kravitz? Still doesn’t have the cool power of this guy:
So Badass

Ok. So I’ve done a whole lotta ragging on The Hunger Games here, now its time to give a little back. I accept that this film is going to top the box office, and I’m glad because I genuinely would rather teenage girls watch this than Twilight. But chances are if you’re reading this blog you’re probably a little over the target age-range for this film. So if you’re over 18, please ditch the kid’s version of this story :)

1 comment:

  1. I heard that The Hunger Games was based on the story of Theseus and the Minotaur. Whether that's true, I'm not sure, but there are certainly similarities between the two. Seems to me like there's a whole lot of borrowing going on all the time (remember Harry Potter and Willy the Wizard?) - maybe people are just running out of ideas and feel the need to recycle.