Cheerful Summer Films

I know I’m a little late to the party, but I want to talk a bit about The Hunger Games. A couple of my fellow writers have already discussed this topic in depth, but as it’s taken me four months to see this movie, I have some thoughts.

Since it was actually 100 degrees in New York today, I figured it would be a good time to retreat to the darkness of a movie theatre and finally see the movie that I’ve wanted to see since Spring Break. And overall, I would say my $7 (10:40 am movies are the best) was not wasted. I’m a fan of the books in general, and the first one in particular, and it was exciting to see the story I enjoyed reading actually come to life before my eyes.

Of course, it wasn’t, and never could be, perfect. While the overarching story translated pretty well from book to screen, there were some small lapses in continuity that would have puzzled me if I hadn’t read the book. And there is only so long a movie can run, so I understand why many days/scenes during the Games themselves had to be cut out, but because of that, I felt there was something to be desired in the development of character relationships. Specifically Rue’s death scene and Katniss and Peeta in the cave were moving and well acted, but I didn’t think the foundation had quite been laid enough in the movie to express the importance of those relationships.

It’s possible that I’m being overly critical/nitpicky because of my recent discovery of the novel/film Battle Royale. Published in Japan in 1999, Koushun Takami’s novel is in a nutshell an earlier, bloodier, and longer version of The Hunger Games. While there has been some heated Internet discussion about whether Suzanne Collins ripped off Takami, there seem to be enough differences in structure and plot for me to say that this is not true.

I came across the book in Barnes and Noble about a month ago, and started reading on a whim. This book was so addicting, I flew through its six hundred pages in about a week. Right now I can’t say for sure if I liked it better than The Hunger Games, but I’m pretty sure I did. Battle Royale is slightly different in plot and premise: every year in the dystopian Republic of Greater East Asia (aka Japan) a certain number of third year junior high school classes must fight to the death in “the Program,” which keeps the population from revolting against the totalitarian government. This is not just killing strangers to stay alive, but killing your classmates, your friends, the people you’ve grown up with.

In this way, Battle Royale expands more upon themes seen in The Hunger Games and really explores the structure of relationships within groups, and how those individuals react when under such pressure. Of course its length naturally gives the novel more room to work with these ideas and develop characters than in The Hunger Games, but there was something so incredibly authentic in the way Battle Royale was written that made me identify with its characters and plot much more.

There is a movie version as well, and it was actually just released in the U.S. this year, although it’s been shown in Japan since 2000. I was lucky enough to stumble across one of the few theatres showing it (the IFC on W 4th Street) a couple of weeks ago, and I have to recommend anyone who’s read the book to see it (I’m pretty sure it’s actually on Netflix). My words really don’t give it justice. Just a warning though: they do NOT hold back on the blood, so be prepared.