The Hunger Royale

A look at the films in ‘The Hunger Games’ franchise directed by Gary Ross and Francis Lawrence and then stacking them up against ‘Battle Royal’ directed by Kinji Fukasaku.

It has been said that there are no original stories any more. If you were to take anything in your DVD collection and boil it down to it’s most basic elements, the basic premise and plot will look remarkably familiar.

Mid-nineties hit ‘Independence Day’ was hailed as mega box-office hit. Really, it’s a silly, family action film that could be argues as a remake of the classic ‘The War of the Worlds’; aliens come to Earth and attack us with mind-blowing technology until we manage to defeat them with a virus.

In a film studies course I did a number of years ago, I argued – successfully I might add – that ‘Bruce Almighty’ is a retelling of the story of Midas. Don’t believe me? look it up, you might be surprised.

The point I’m trying to make is that when we have no choice but to tell the same stories in slightly different ways, we shouldn’t be surprised when there’s a couple of things that bear a bit of a resemblance.

Much has been said about how the successful franchise ‘The Hunger Games’ is a cheap American rip-off of the Japanese ‘Battle Royale’. While the films are based on books, I’ve not read them and my exposure has only been the films. With cinema having a greater reach than the bookshelf, it makes sense to go to this version of them as this will be how the majority of the ‘Hunger’ audience will have experienced the stories and it will tie nicely with the ‘Royale’ film.

You can sympathise to a degree with the haters. Hollywood lost it’s reputation for serious quality a long time ago. I don’t wish to tar everything with the same brush as there have been some very good big-budget studio films that have had quality to match, but as a rule, much of it is mass-produced, generic, formulaic and, if it were possible, would come flat packed for our convenience.

‘The Ring’ is an example of this. popular opinion is that when the Americans remade this Japanese classic, they ruined it and made it into mainstream rubbish. I’m one of three people in the world who thought that the Americans actually improved on the original. Yes it’s a bit silly. Yes it’s a bit cliche. But the original version was absurd beyond belief and some of that was tamed down a little and made more digestible by the remake.

There are other examples and the trend is generally that the original Japanese version is superior. So when I learned that ‘Hunger’ was a being shot down as a rip-off of ‘Royale’, I had to go and get my own thoughts and opinions on the matter. Having now seen ‘Battle Royale’, I can say the following.

They are not the same thing. Like the examples above, there are similarities – striking similarities in fact – but they are different entities that ultimately serve different purposes.

‘Games’ is all about capitalist greed, political corruption and fighting against authority. The third (and final) chapter where the war to overthrow the government takes place couldn’t have been without the games in the second chapter where the capital fixed the games to quash the upcoming rebellion. And that rebellion would not have happened had it not been for the first games that thrust the main character into a fight-or-die scenario against her will.

Thus, the games, while being the titular element of the franchise, are not the be-all and end-all of the ‘Hunger Games’ films. Rather they are a catalyst for the main story which takes it’s sweet time to build up because its creator understands that longer stories with multiple installations make more money than their one-off counterparts.

‘Battle Royale’ is a one-off. It is also a poor effort of a film. I have seen student films that are better than this. The acting is pathetic, the direction sloppy, the writing and concept hollow and baseless. There is no point, no development, no redemption, no ultimate message. There is no reason for any of it.

If you’re looking for an American film to compare to ‘Royale’, a more likely candidate would be ‘Hostel’; a flimsy concept that serves only to give some screentime to the needless slaughter of a bunch of characters you couldn’t care less about.

‘Games’ may be better suited to an adolescent audience with a poor attention span who need to be reminded at the start of each film the name of Jennifer Lawrence’s character by having the actress mutter it to herself like a deranged halfwit, but at least it’s worthy of the electricity you have to burn to watch it.

As with any series where you know it is a multi-parter, you get no real sense of peril for your main character(s) for you know they have to stick around to see the story through to the end.

So yeah, ‘Games’ isn’t perfect. It’s a little juvenile at times, it’s a little hokey in places and can be painfully predictable when it really ought not to be. But you know what? It’s made with care and attention with some sense about what audiences want to see. Scenes are beautifully framed, locations sensibly used, action choreographed and with decent performances from actors with characters who you can feel something for if you give yourself even half a chance.

Add a fantastic soundtrack from James Newton Howard and you have a package that is audience-friendly and inoffensive… Two-things I can’t say about ‘Royale’ which used an brilliantly inappropriate selection of classical music to make the score feel like an afterthought. Even if film soundtracks aren’t your bag, the song ‘Hanging Tree’ from the third film is a terrific piece of composition, and while it has proven to be as divisive as a US presidential race, Lawrence’s low-key vocals, the soaring orchestral section and the mixed voice choir that join in offer a fantastic depth that has become something of a cult in itself, spawning multiple cover versions by amateur and professional musicians around the world.

I’m not saying you have to like ‘The Hunger Games’, just quit banging on about it being a ‘Battle Royale’ rip-off. If you were to carry on down that route, you might as well say that ‘Senna’ is a rip-off remake of ‘Falling Down’; a flawed protagonist who is up against adversity and dies at the end.

A bit of a stretch? Damn straight it is. But so is the other comparison. Just leave them be.

A reason why you should watch ‘Games’: Because you’re an anti-establishment communist who likes films about uprising against political corruption.

A reason why you shouldn’t watch ‘Games’: Subtitles make you feel more sophisticated.

A reason why you should watch ‘Royale’: Research.

A reason why you shouldn’t watch ‘Royale’: ‘Ace Ventura’ had a greater basis in reality.

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