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The Borrowing Games

Next month, the movie version of the Hunger Games hits the big screen. I am very excited about this film, but I want to be clear about one thing. I am not a fan of the book itself. Out of the trilogy, I only enjoyed the second one, and the third one wasn’t terrible. So why would I be excited about the movie? Well I’ve already seen Hunger Games as a movie, it was called Battle Royale, and I loved it. Hunger Games was just a retelling of Hunger Games set in post-America, with a few difference, that, while key, did not do much to really differentiate it. Unfortunately Battle Royale 2 was like watching a bag of nightmares that have been eaten by a serpent and excreted to form concentrated nightmare offal. It’s that bad. However, in disparaging something as beloved by popular culture I am sure to have rabid fans frothing at the mouth to take a bite at me with their rabies laden maws. Look, I WANT to see this as a successful movie. I think it will be a much better movie than a book, something I find myself saying a lot recently. I just happen to think that the source material is not original in the least little bit. This type of theft often results in some fantastic movies, The Magnificent Seven, Ran, and numerous versions of The Office are just a few of the examples from which I could pull. Of course, there are many people that would defend this book to the death and say it’s not the same thing as Battle Royale at all. So, to that end, I felt I should comprise a basic list of the key points of both novels.

Battle Royale
Setting: Set in Japan in the near future after society began to fall apart. After rebellion, in which the government won, they decided to force one seventh grade class each year to compete in a deadly competition where there could be only one winner. This was so that the nation would remember the past rebellions and not try again, knowing the government was in complete control.
Game Rules: Only one survivor. Each Battle Royale is staged in a different location so that it changes from year to year. There are “Death Zones” that change randomly, forcing players to move closer together and always be alert. Players receive bags containing things from machine guns, to knives, to GPS trackers, to megaphones. Some items are exceptionally useful, others are less readily apparent in their use. Each of the students has unique skills that the items are meant to enhance (computer skills, electrical engineering, etc).
Deaths: Deaths are announced via island-wide PA each day to have a “roll call” of the dead.
Love story: Shuya, the main character, does everything he can to protect Noriko, whom he has been in love with for as long as he can remember. He does this knowing that there can be only one survivor.
Result: Both Shuya and Noriko survive, and become a rallying point for future rebellions.

Hunger Games
Setting: Set in Panem, the dystopian America of the future. It is broken into thirteen districts and a Capitol. After open rebellion, in which District 13 was supposedly eliminated, the other twelve districts were put under totalitarian rule, and are now forced to send two children each year to participate in the Hunger Games, a televised competition to the death. This is done so that the districts remember the power and might of the Capitol and do not attempt rebellion again.
Game Rules: Only one survivor. Each Hunger Game is entirely different than the last. The arena ranges from deserts to icy frontiers to wooded forests. The Game Master designs the each Hunger Game, and it is laden with deadly traps meant to ensnare. In addition to this, it has obstacles controlled by the Game Staff that can be triggered to force players to move around or spice things up when it is dull. These are different each time, but it forces the participants out of a given, deadly area. Players must fight for their supplies at the beginning of the match in an area called the Cornucopia. These items range from things like sleeping bags, to socks, to nightvision glasses, to spears and other weapons. These things are intended to match up to the special skills of each player, as determined by the Game Staff during their preparation time.
Deaths: Deaths are announced each evening when the National Anthem plays.
Love story: Peeta, one of the two central characters, does everything he can to protect Katniss, whom he has been in love with for as long as he can remember. He does this knowing there can be only one survivor.
Result: Both Peeta and Katniss survive, and Katniss becomes a rallying point for future rebellions.

These are some striking similarities. Suzanne Collins claims that she had never even heard of Battle Royale before turning in her draft of Hunger Games, which might be true. It is certainly possible to arrive at a similar point through divergent means. There are many differences, but the core as outlined above remains the same. Collins’ work is certainly more character driven, and told from the perspective of a female protagonist. It spends more time on the interactions of the society and the political messages than it does with the characters in the arena. It also exerts great effort in playing on the phenomenon of reality tv and competitions, whereas Battle Royale doesn’t do that at all. Still, it’s hard for me to look at Hunger Games with anything other than “Yup, this is Battle Royale, alright”. As a novel, the Young Adult way in which it is written, the hamfisted love story, and an entirely unlikable main character, it made me intensely dislike the book itself. However, I think Young Adult novels lend themselves to some excellent opportunities when it comes to the big screen and I couldn’t help but see the visual possibilities in this work. There is a lot of time spent in Hunger Games that amounts to “starving in the woods”, and frankly that’s something that will come across as much more engaging on the screen. The same with the plight of the Districts. These are visually impacting things that have the opportunity to make an emotional impact on the screen and truly begin to separate the work from Battle Royale.

To me, that’s what is going to define this series. The visual distinctions between this work and Battle Royale. The almost playwright way in which the book is written doesn’t quite do enough of this, and the possibilities that exist, until it’s seen, are endless. Even though I didn’t care for the book, I can’t wait for the film.

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