Obligatory Battle Royale / Hunger Games Post

I’ve been waiting to post something about Battle Royale, and low and behold, not only are we finally graced with an American release of not one, but both movies in America, it also oh-so-conveniently happens to be on the same week that The Hunger Games is released in theaters. How about that.

The Source Material

In terms of the books that inspired the movie counterparts, Battle Royale has something of a complicated back-story. The book itself has a simple enough backstory, written by a retired journalist as an entry for the ’97 Japan Grand Prix Horror Novel competition, but was ultimately pulled due to its controversial content. Not the first time that would happen to the series. Regardless of this, the book apparently did well enough to not only get a movie adaptation, but a manga one as well, with both getting a sequel, though with no source material to base it off of this time around.

As for the book itself, it’s lived up to its controversial-ness, telling the story of a class of kids unfortunate enough to have been chosen to be part of something called The Program, in which they’re all relocated to a deserted island and forced to kill each other. In the case that no one dies within 24 hours, the collars forced onto them will detonate and everyone dies, so time is of the essence. The book reads simply enough, with each chapter standing well on its own as it tells the story of one or a group of kids and how they’re dealing with their current situation, whether it be by actually participating in the killing or thinking of a way to cheat the system and escaping. You learn very little about each student—just enough to care for them and get put in a bad mood when they eventually die—and there’s a feeling of helplessness present throughout. The only reason I haven’t finished it yet is that even when reading the latest translation, I still feel like the prose reads like a direct translation without any regard to having it flow, which really kills the reading experience.

Compare this to The Hunger Games which is quite the page-turner, but doesn’t provide too much in terms of a message to write home about.

Battle Royale takes the tough-love approach, stranding its cast on an island with nothing but a duffle bag full of the minimum essentials and a random weapon ranging from a cross-bow to a gun. Hunger Games, on the other hand, seems to care too much for its characters, mainly due to its main defining point that sets it apart from BR—the fact that all actions are filmed to be shown worldwide. Interestingly enough, the American translation of the BR manga takes some poetic license (read: mistranslations and lies), resulting in the fights also being filmed and televised. While The Hunger Games starts off similarly enough with a dystopian society forcing randomly selected kids to fight until the death, the fact that the fights will be televised for all to see is enough to distinguish itself from the crowd.

You’re introduced to Katniss—a 16 year old that volunteers for the games to take the place of her younger sister who would have been chosen otherwise to enter herself. Her, along with one male from her district are joined alongside 11 other male/female teams from the remaining districts of the world to fight in the Hunger Games. Prior to being sent off to fight, competitors (referred to as “tributes”) are sent off to train, learning to fight as well as survive with little to nothing to go on. Once the games start, tributes also have the option to either immediately run into the forest or head in the opposite direction and fight over supplies with other tributes. On top of it all, since the games are televised, tributes must keep in mind their self-image, so as to better the odds of sponsors sending them tools/weapons/medicine/etc for survival.

This is where things get a bit weird.

The other thing that separates it from Battle Royale, but thus ends up bringing people to swoop in on the Twilight comparisons, is the (apparent) love triangle between Katniss, her fellow district tribute Peeta, and old-time friend Gale. For the sake of sponsors and crowd appeal, Katniss and Peeta play up the idea of them being in love, yet being forced to compete to the death in the Hunger Games. Every kiss and longing gaze they give is all for the sake of survival and for the audience to get behind something. That said, a majority of the actual audiences reading the book sincerely get invested in the love triangle, thus proving what I think author Collins is getting at. People are entertained by cheesy stuff like this, so to have it present in the book and almost mocked only to have it taken so seriously by fans missing the point entirely just rubs me the wrong way.

A similar point will be mentioned in terms of Battle Royale’s movie adaptation.

The Movies

Both Battle Royale movies had themes present that couldn’t have come at a worse time in America’s history. The first film, notorious for having kids killing their own classmates was out around the time of the Columbine shootings, making release in the states near improbable. Its follow-up movie focused on the survivors of the first film as something of a terrorist organization. This was around the time of 9/11, making for an equally improbable sequel release in the states. Regardless, both movies do a decent job of going over-the-top in their violence to prove that such violence is wrong.

Now for the meat of the entry with my take on The Hunger Games movie.

The movie adaptation is a high “meh” at best, taking the main story of the book and watering them down to bullet point essentials. Sure, each separate scene stands well on its own, but when meshed together to form the movie, I just feel like I’m being told one plot point followed by the next, and so on. There’s little to no down time where the characters are allowed a breather, since each scene they’re either fighting someone, or your being told some sort of vital plot point or being spoon-fed some verbage like what a sponsor is, or what a reaping is, etc.

Another thing I hate about movies in general is finding something to complain about that I normally wouldn’t even care to talk about if it wasn’t so painfully distracting. In the case of The Hunger Games, it would be the camera. I have no idea when the Blair Witch shaky-cam style of camera direction became used in every single movie to date, but I hate it. When used sparingly, it’s able to give some kind of sense of urgency, but when it’s used in every scene, it becomes a literal pain to look at. The same goes for the out of genre crooked camera angles. They worked in Harry Potter 2 since the monster was the giant snake, and similarly the cheesy close-ups worked in Spider-Man 2 whenever Dock Ock entered a scene, but there was no real “monster” to speak of to warrant using that angle. Like, at all.

Follow this up with Josh Hutcherson’s cheeseball acting as Peeta. For the most part, he’s tolerable, but whenever he’s in some kind of dire situation (which is less than you’d expect), he amps up his acting to ham-level. Checking his IMDB, it looks like he’s been acting since he was young, which is the only explanation for all the hamminess. The point of scoring older roles is to better your acting, Hutcherson; not stay at Polar Express levels of acting forever.

Flashbacks are the only things handled with some level of care. They served their purpose of giving more backstory to the characters and making us as the viewers feel more for them and their situation without spending too much time on them. They served as the only good breaks between all the exposition and action scenes and they transitioned into and out of them in a tasteful manner.

Maybe my general “meh” stance on the movie came from having read the book shortly before. While I wasn’t the biggest fan of the book, it was a fun read overall and the story did stay fresh enough in my mind to realize the differences they made in the movie adaptation—especially in terms of the portrayal of its themes. My problem with both the book and movie wasn’t that it focused on killing for the sake of entertainment, but exactly how the portrayed that message. The book version did an alright job of it, but always seemed to make sure that the villains were the only ones doing the killing for the sake of wanton violence in comparison to the heroes, who only killed in the most black and white case of self defense ever, fully justifying why they had to kill whichever character. Meanwhile, the movie takes an even more obnoxious take on it all by setting up a “full-circle” style of story-telling, where you’re preached about being a cog in the system not just once, but twice: in the beginning and at the end. Both times, the preaching is said by a character you wouldn’t think would say it which just makes things that much more eye-roll worthy.

I mean, at least Battle Royale doesn’t take any kind of blatant stance and just plays things like it is.


About daemoncorps
Gabe (daemoncorps) has been writing about anime and the like since 2005, but has been babysat by it for much longer. He primarily spends his days distracting himself on twitter or writing for Fandom Post until he realizes he has a weekly webcomic (tapastic.com/series/scramblebouquet) to work on. He also just finished writing his first full-length graphic novel about unemployment (https://tapastic.com/episode/293804).

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