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By: Jeff Ford
By: Jeff Ford

A comparison of The Hunger Games and Battle Royale, and what's New in Theaters

This upcoming weekend, two classic local titans of college basketball will be clashing in a bid to reach the NCAA title game.  While my heart will always belong to my Wildcats, I have to give credit where it is due.  At many times this season, Louisville looked dead in the water.  They failed to look like the top 10 team they were predicted to be during the preseason, and even had some losses that were quite head-scratching.  Thanks to a great run in the Big East, they were able to get a very favorable 4 seed and have worked that into a Final Four run.  Their run will end this Saturday (I hope) but the turnaround orchestrated by Pitino is commendable.

Behind UK and Louisville are two very passionate fan bases.  The loser will no doubt be feeling the wrath and vindication of a large mass of people for years to come.  If Kentucky wins, it will just be affirmation that Louisville is just “little brother”.  Louisville fans will get their pats on their backs and a good show from most (volatile diatribe from many others).  If Louisville prevails…, I shudder to think of the years of ammunition the Louisville fans will fire at us.  After years of UK fans talking down to them, they will relish the opportunities they’ll find to remind us how Kentucky had far and away the better team, and it was they who destroyed our chances to hang banner number 8.

When it comes to the recent cinematic equivalent of slightly irrational fan bases, one only has to look at the message board of the recent The Hunger Games.  There is a large and vocal minority who never misses a second to remind the fans of the movie of its similarities to an obscure (in America at least) Japanese property, even going so far as to accuse Suzanne Collins, the author of The Hunger Games of outright plagiarism.

Battle Royale concerns the plight of 42 15-year-old classmates who are forced by a corrupt military government to participate in the “program”, an experiment where the teens are left on an island and must battle to the death until one remains.  The concepts between the two novels and films are similar.  Both concern a death game where teens are forced to kill each other by the government, but, outside of some minor consistencies, that is where the similarities end. 

The Hunger Games is told from a mostly first person perspective.  Rarely in the film and never in the novel does the narrative depart from Katniss’s point of view.  This is mildly to its benefit but mostly its detriment.  While it allows a greater connection to Katniss, it also ends up diminishing the other “tributes” to only the most basic of generalizations.  These tributes are not teenagers but cannon fodder.   Battle Royale, on the other hand, is told from a third person perspective.  This allows the narrative to change, better developing the 42 classmates into real people where we feel their hopes, their fears, and their strategies for surviving.  The unfortunate implication in this approach is the foreshadowing that occurs.  When the narrative drops away from the core group of teens, usually the character that is the focus of the chapter will not live to see the next page or scene change.

Where The Hunger Games excels in the depiction of the society and the culture of its people.  Battle Royale’s concern is on the students, the friends turned enemies dynamic that is thrust upon them.  The society that would allow this is mostly glossed over in order to get to more of the bloodbath.  Meanwhile, the first half of The Hunger Games is all about the capitol.  The extravagant lifestyle its people lavish themselves with versus the extreme harshness that the people of the Districts must endure.   With the dichotomy of the two societies at such complete opposites ends, it allows us as the audience to question how a group of people can be so out of it that they actively cheer the deaths of so many young people.  The main concerns of the citizens of the capitol are the fashions of the day while the districts are mostly concerned with when and what their next meal will be.  It’s a fascinating look into the society and represents the best part of The Hunger Games.

In the films, the games represent the biggest split of the two.  Both concepts are very violent affairs, but while Battle Royale is able to embrace it, showcasing the extremes of the games, The Hunger Games depiction does its best to dilute it.  The Hunger Games is an R-rated concept forcibly trapped inside its PG-13 shell.  In order to appeal to the masses and bring its core audience, the games become a mostly bloodless affair, switching to a shaky camera and silencing the soundtrack to obscure what’s going on.  It ends up diminishing the reality of the situation, not helped by the fact the other tributes are mostly nameless faces.  They look young but are no more developed than one of Jason’s (from the Friday the 13th series) victims.  The question no longer becomes why?  Instead, the viewer is left numb by the situation.  Battle Royale, on the other hand, embraces its R.  Instead of the numbness, it is actively trying to shock the viewer.  How can these characters, which are shown in much happier times throughout the director’s cut at least, end up resorting to the most extremes of violence?  It is not a pleasant film to sit through, and that is the point.  By allowing its characters to exist, the viewer becomes more concerned with the outcome and the reality they are facing.  The Hunger Games fails in this regard.

In the end, I feel that Battle Royale is the stronger property of the two.  That doesn’t mean that I don’t like The Hunger Games.  The truth is far from that.  For a property that has been built on the backs of the Twilight franchise, the fact that The Hunger Games is able to separate itself from the moody vampire saga to stand toe to toe with some of the better films in recent years is a testament to all of the creative forces involved.  They could have taken the easy way out and just put the bare minimum effort needed and called it a day.  They didn’t.  The cast was pitch perfect, the vision was fantastic, and the direction was, for the most part, flawless.  However, as a supposed copy of Battle Royale, it falls short.

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With that out of the way, we can concentrate on the main purpose of this column.  Two new films are making their way to headline the marquee of the local Cineplex.  Can they withstand the might of the recent young adult epic?  No.  Here they are anyways.  First up is…

WRATH OF THE TITANS

Zeus (Liam Neeson, “The Huanting”) has been captured by his son, Ares (Édgar Ramírez, “A Dot and a Line”) and his brother, Hades (Ralph Fiennes, “The Baby of Mâcon”).  The man who defeated the Kraken, Perseus (Sam Worthington, “Life in a Volkswagon”) must travel to the underworld to rescue him as the Titans, released by the dastardly duo, wreck havoc on the world.

This sequel to a remake to a, admittedly, not great film is something I’m not looking forward to.  The remake of Clash of the Titans was another in a long line of bland, uninteresting and unoriginal spectacles that have littered the cinematic landscape these past few years.  Sam Worthington’s Perseus failed to live up to low bar that Harry Hamlin set in the 1981 original.  The remake is also known as an example of what NOT to do when converting to 3D.  It was a last second conversion whose characters and sets looked more like a popup book instead of the immersion that the best of 3D can offer.  While I will be seeing this opening night, I may need a tanker or three from the Movie Tavern to get through it.  I’m giving this 2 Houston Oilers out of 5.  Wrath of the Titans is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of fantasy violence and action.

MIRROR MIRROR

This is a retelling of Snow White.  Everybody should know the plot synopsis of this.  If you don’t, just know that it involves seven dwarfs and an evil Queen.

The first of two films based on the Snow White story being released this year, Mirror Mirror is the lighter hearted version, while Snow White and the Huntsman looks to be the more action oriented of the two.  This is also the one with the least amount of hype.  While the Hunstman has Kirsten Stewart of Twilight fame, Chris Hemsworth from Thor and Charlize Theron as a Queen who absolutely looks frightening, the main claim to fame for Mirror Mirror is Julia Roberts, whose Queen fails to make much of an impression, at least from the clips I’ve seen.  The movie is directed by Tarsem Singh, whose last year’s Immortals was visually enticing but is viewed as more of a 300 clone with not much lurking beneath the surface.  I have a feeling that this film may be the same.  I looked into my magic mirror and all I can see is 2 Rotten Apples out of 5.  Mirror Mirror is rated PG for some fantasy action and mild rude humor.

That’s all for this week.  Tune in next time when we eat pie on a sinking cruiser.  Until then, watch out for the girl with the scythe.  She is more devious than she lets on.

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