There has been a lot of comparison between the 2000 film Battle Royale and the hit new book/film series The Hunger Games, two books-turned-movies that deal with societies where young kids are forced to fight to the death until one victor remains. And after a rewatch of BR I can see why the two have been compared beyond just a surface plot analysis. It’s hard to believe the claim that Suzanne Collins, writer of THG series, had never seen or heard of BR before. It’s also a shame that the film adaption didn’t take a few pointers from it before filming.
I did something last week that I don’t normally find myself doing: succumbing to an internet deal and purchasing a Blu Ray online. I don’t really buy DVDs/Blu Rays often at all actually, mainly because I feel like there are so many films I’d like to own that I wouldn’t know where to start. With that shitty logic, and the fact that I almost always regret not buying media while it’s on sale, I made the leap and bought Battle Royale off Amazon for what I decided was a good deal.
Then just yesterday I did something else I don’t normally find myself doing: I opened up my package and immediately watched the film. Honestly, I’ve had a real issue going on lately. Working on this site, seeing screenings every week and podcastsing has put me in this weird state of film watching. I am almost always watching something in theaters, something I’ve seen before or something I know I don’t really care about. I guess it’s because I feel like watching something I care about will require my attention and most of the time I just want to veg out. I miss that real art though. I miss seeing amazing indies and foreign, and running through my favorite horror directors works or even some other director’s filmography that I am not familiar with. That’s really where my obsession with film started and why this blog is even here. So to make a long story short (too late) watching Battle Royale again reminded me of all that. All those films I was seriously missing in my life. That and the fact that I don’t really like The Hunger Games.
The Hunger Games wasn’t just a movie, it was an adaptation of a tremendously popular book series that carried with it a huge fan base, one that seemed to grow larger every day. My entire life I have always seemed to be one day behind on whatever the latest trend is, like in 5th grade when literally ten kids had Yo-Yo’s at the same time like all of a sudden. “Did you guys get these at some event or something you all went to together?” I was always baffled why some fads caught on so quickly. Normally I stick to what I like and not what’s cool but I was intrigued enough by THG craze to listen to the first book on tape, hoping to catch the fever as well. Jess liked it, my boyfriend/Wunderclaus liked it. There must be something going on. But while I enjoied the story enough to make it to the end of the book, I kept stewing on a few issues I just couldn’t make sense of. The fact that it had become such a hit across all age groups made me question these issues even more, scrutinizing every problem on a big scale. Then came the film, which I like even a little less but again was comparing it heavily to the material in the novel. I mulled it over time and time again until I finally discussed it with someone that was as wishy washy about it as I was and I determined then that I just wasn’t down with it. It wasn’t bad but it didn’t spark enough fire in me to like it as much as the other fan kids did. The film/story’s cultural presence created more of a talking point for me than the actual content did. Over and done with it.
But then I rewatched Battle Royale. Remember? I just said it at the beginning of this post. Seriously people, keep up. Anyway the film has always been one I’ve admired. As a Tarantino fan, It’s hard not to love a film that has had such an impact on his work. But after the movie was over and I had got over all those good feelings I normally get after watching it, I started to think about all the painfully close similarities it shares with THG. Without getting too spoilery with either film, some of the actions of the characters and overall feel of the environment is very close in spirit. The biggest difference in these two seem to be more of a thematic difference than anything else. While both films deal with issues of society, power, and survival, BR is more concerned with relating broader scale adolescent vs. adult issues while THG is more concentrated on personal identity within one character.
So what does The Hunger Games do wrong? Why can’t I connect with it as well? The cop out internet message board awnser would be to say the BR is a way cooler and totally did it first version of THG. And I mean hell yea, Battle Royale is way cooler in title alone but I really think it’s because Games didn’t take away anything from Battle. It’s a weird thing to say/think out of the gate. Especially considering Collins was adamant she hadn’t seen the movie/read the book before hand. But upon learning of it’s existence, the filmmakers really should have watched it and payed attention. I’ll concede that THG does answers a few things better than BR, mainly in regard to how the ‘playing field’ operates, but it’s victories stop there. If both films come from a teenage perspective, why does one seem to completely miss the point? I guess Hunger Games is after all a young adult novel, but why display adolescence as having a giant dose of optimism? At the end of both films, there are similar outcomes for similar characters and even though there are ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ messages in both, THG seems too preoccupied with making us feel ok about everything. The bad people are bad and the good people will make it through. But this story and subject matter shouldn’t give us the warm fuzzies. With so many opportunities to create something fresh, THG never does anything with it. I guess they had to make sure that whole ‘love’ thing made enough screen time.
With the success of the American THG film, there will never be a remake of Battle Royale. At a glance that’s something to be thankful for but the reason it wouldnt find an update here in the U.S. isn’t because it’s a classic (even though it is) it’s because it will only be named a cheap Hunger Games knock off. But it wasTHG that took the story from BR and watered it down. It stole all the potential for improvment away from other adaptations. If you had asked me a few years ago, I wouldn’t be against something along the same story line as BR, I mean the concept of young adults offing each other by the government’s hand is a scandalous and juicy concept ripe for elaboration. But now, THG has ruined that thought, by toning down all that could be and replacing the tempting possibilities with mid grade, family friendly entertainment.