As I’m writing this, I just came back from a session of exasperated eye-rolling at one of Valletta’s coffee-shops. The reason? The girl sitting at the table next to mine just couldn’t stop waxing lyrical about a particular movie that’s really raking in the cash right now: The Hunger Games.
I realise that I’m totally going against the current here, but someone needs to say it: the incredible success that this movie is enjoying just goes to show how easily satisfied we have become. If you’re a committed fan you can stop reading this right now, because you certainly are not going to enjoy my “review” here.
So, let’s start with the very basics: how many of those of you who are raving about protagonists Katniss and Peeta have actually bothered to read the books on which the story is based? Hmm, thought so. Not that this post is going to take my typical stance that “the books are so much better and the movie totally massacres the plot”. I wouldn’t know, because I haven’t seen the movie.
I have, however, read the books – hence the eye-rolling. I read the trilogy pretty much as soon as it was released about four years ago because I was curious about all the hype that already surrounded it. Author Suzanne Collins is in fact more well-known for her television scripts than her books and at a pinch I’d say that even when writing the books it was the movies that she really had in mind.
Not to say that this is necessarily a bad thing. After all, if an author dreams up a plot that is likely to rake in the money at the box-office, well good luck to her. Far be it from me to pour cold water on anyone’s original work just because it’s over-hyped. Except that Suzanne Collins’s work is far from original. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that it’s a total rip-off of Japanese cult classic Battle Royale, penned by Koushun Takami. This, too, was turned into a movie by celebrated director Kinji Fukasaku in 2000 and no, the movie didn’t ruin anything. It is, in fact, considered a masterpiece and has been nominated for myriad awards, winning three.
The plot basics of The Hunger Games and Battle Royale all square off: a group of children are dropped on an island/isolated arena where they are forced to fight each other to death, with only one winner surviving. Both stories chronicle the disintegrating moral squeamishness of the participants – in particular the two protagonists and the determination to rebel against the dystopian dictatorship. The two stories mirror each other perfectly.
Except that Battle Royale is more gutsy, more intense and more believable. Not to mention less sanitised and totally unaffected by the Hollywood make-over that is sweeping over all commercial works aimed at young adults. You know what I’m talking about; the couple is always cute and innocent, the plot is always rife with clichéd moral dilemmas, the love-story is always semi-doomed… and creativity and artistic integrity be damned.
Battle Royale is none of these things. Like The Hunger Games, it promises viewers a cold and broken world where the ordinary mores that we are accustomed to no longer apply. And boy, does it deliver. Unlike The Hunger Games, it doesn’t sugar-coat.
Collins claims that the inspiration to write The Hunger Games hit her while channel surfing on television, seeing the juxtaposition of a reality show against war footage. A sweet story to sell to those who aren’t well-versed in pop culture, but the rest of us aren’t buying it. The only question I have is why on earth she didn’t just call a spade a spade by calling the trilogy a re-make of a Japanese cult classic. Books 2 and 3 of the trilogy are completely unrelated to Battle Royale; in fact the plot is weak, with pacing that is completely different from the first volume.
To conclude, all those of you who are thinking of going to watch The Hunger Games, do yourselves a favour and read/watch Battle Royale first. At least your opinion will be an informed one.
PS – To those who, in turn, argue that Battle Royale is a rip off of The Most Dangerous Game, I’d say that the comparisons between human nature are there but the plot-lines are too different from each other. Not to mention the fact that one is a short story while the other is a full-length novel.
An edited version of this post was published on The TV Guide (The Times of Malta).