Tuesday, 19 February 2013

The Hunger Games vs. Battle Royale

When The Hunger Games came out last year, the world was divided into four groups of people:

1) The tweenage girls excited about their "new Twilight" (these people should remove themselves from sight)
2) The Battle Royale fans who instantly called rip-off on THG.
3) People who had never even heard of BR and thought this was a great movie concept.
4) Folk who generally couldn't give a toss about one or the other.

You could, of course, find yourself in category numero five - you've seen BR and you like it. But you also saw THG and liked that too. Because they're different, you see. They're not the same bloody movie! Yes, THG clearly takes the idea from its 2000 predecessor - a bunch of kids, grabbed by the government and thrown into a free-for-all fight, with one victor.

But this "stealing" isn't exactly an abomination - Halloween (1978) almost single-handedly defined the slasher genre and its supernatural-esque rules (killers appearing and disappearing at will etc), which was used by every slasher movie since. Likewise, The Rite (2011) and The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005) are perfectly good movies, despite owing a lot to that film of 1973.

Ideas are not the be all and end all - they're far from the most important aspect of a film. Kill Bill (2003) is very simply about one person killing a bunch of folk - nothing but revenge. Django Unchained (2013) is the same. (500) Days of Summer (2009) has no peripheral story, it's merely one man and one woman. But while these ideas are as simple as they can be, it's the way in which they're told that makes them great - Kill Bill's mystery, Django's refusal to shy away from the issue, (500)'s intricate structure and POV realism.

Yes, THG and BR have the same idea. But they're about completely different things. BR is about anarchy - kids are taken, quickly briefed on the sitch, then thrown out into no-man's land until only one remains. We're shown/told very little about the origins of this or exactly why it's being done. Because that's not important - it's the anarchy of the situation that matters, the pure luck of which backpack you get that determines your survival.

THG, on the other hand, is all about the institution - great attention is given to what goes on behind-the-scenes and what it all means. It's BR's anarchy vs. THG's structural control. So while the ideas are the same, the execution isn't. Same idea, different stories.

In short, it's time to accept that two films can be similar in premise but are actually very different. I like both, as it happens. I'll watch THG more (because it's easier and more palatable), but I love BR's unrelenting brutality from the off (it's a great film if only for this scene!)

PS: The Hunger Games gets a rating of 7.2 on IMDb, vs. Battle Royale's 7.8. There's not much in it......

Read more of Neil's film/TV articles.

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