The Hunger Games
I guess I'll have to eat some crow here, as I had blogged previously about how I'd not seen The Hunger Games movie, and the premise of it didn't seem all that novel or fresh to me, and that I wasn't that excited to watch it (which that part is true). However, I saw it over the past weekend, and have to admit, I enjoyed it a great deal. There was somewhat a controversy at the time it came out as to whether or not the author, Suzanne Collins, had gotten the idea from the novel, Battle Royale, which was later turned into a manga, and then the live action movie. She claimed she'd never heard of it. Battle Royale has a very similar premise about young children being picked lottery style, to participate in a gladiator-type game to be shown to an post apocalypse audience. Personally, I couldn't say one way or the other, however, I do think the story plots are amazingly similar, and yet, I won't say it's not impossible either.
Short story: Back around '87 or so my brother and I was going on a trip to Austin. Personal home computing was just getting started and he'd given me one of his used computers. He was getting his computer science degree at the time, and home computers and all that stuff was in its infancy more or less. I remarked during our trip that wouldn't it be cool if they made something like an Etch A Sketch, and you could plug it into your home computer or had a chip like a digital camera, and you could upload books and stuff and read them on some sort of portable device. Think how it might change the industry/society. It would be great for people on the move, and all the books people have to use like in a lawyer office or where a personal library is needed. He said, wow, that's a great idea, and it died on the vine of my thinking because I know nil about computer science, electrical engineering, patents, and whatnot, but now we have the iPad, and other such reading devices.
So whether or not Collins knew about Battle Royale, who knows? The main thing is, it's not exactly an original concept, but the storytelling is where it gets its power. I remember reading Shirley Jackson's short story, The Lottery, back in high school. Other similarly themed movies have also come along, which have a game show theme, but vary with their plots. The ones that come to mind are: Death Race 2000, taken from the short story, The Racer by Ib Melchior, Roller Ball, taken from the short story, Roller Ball Murder, by William Harrison, The Running Man based on a Stephen King novel, and also Battle Royale. They all differ here and there, some don't deal with a lottery type system, but they have a similar vibe--to me anyway. Most of them are worth watching too if you haven't seen them before, and enjoy SF genre.
But Battle Royale and The Hunger Games are the two that share the most common similarities. It's been a while since I've seen Battle Royale, but if I recall correctly they both deal with totalitarian states that have this lottery, and if chosen from the lottery young school age children are stuck on an isolated world for a combat-style sport game where they are supposed to kill the other contestants or tributes. There's only suppose to be one victor. I didn't think either film brought out very well why these games were fought or how they kept the populace lulled into servitude. Perhaps if you read the books that would be more spelled out, but I think it's one of the plot devices or suspension of disbelief hurdles you just have to accept and move on to get involved with the story. Also between the two films, for me anyway, I preferred watching The Hunger Games. I thought there was more a back story to the characters and their lives, which helps the viewer to empathize more with their plight. Also there were smaller details to the story that kept me engaged like the SF elements of the space craft, the futuristic look of the gaming operation, which gave some insight on how the games were constructed and manipulated, the costuming and set designs, and some other details.
What I liked about The Hunger Games was the way Jennifer Lawrence portrayed Katniss Everdeen. She was a strong character, who sacrificed herself as a substitute for her sister. She willingly takes on the mantel for District 12's tribute (along with a male that is also picked from her region). I think the anguish portrayed by the male lead upon getting selected was done well. His facial expression is one of dismay and shock, knowing that this is more than likely a horrible and brutal death sentence. Katniss goes into the game not knowing what to expect other than trying to survive. At the same time, you feel she doesn't want to participate and hurt or kill someone, but how is she supposed to accomplish this and win?
When they are sent to the city aboard the bullet train, (I enjoyed the way the train looked). They meet their mentor, played by Woody Harrelson. At first Katniss is so opposed to her fate and repulsed the way society has gone she rebels, but slowly realizes she'll have to acquiesce just to survive. Once the train arrives we get to view a bit more of this totalitarian society and how it works. There are orders of hierarchy, we also get to see the game show host, and each contestant is prepped and interviewed, before the actual game begins.
I'll let you see the movie to see how the rest plays out. So what is the subtext to this book and movie? I'd guess Collins is saying something about the violent times we live in, how we are desensitized to violence in our daily lives with violent video games, music, and the evening news. Perhaps she is saying something about the nature of humans--why can't we just get along? Are we that much different from the Romans and their gladiator games? It offers up food for thought.
There is one violent scene when the game begins, but it is cut in a way so that it is not a full on gore fest, which I can appreciate and not needed. But at the same time you might want to consider this and whether or not it's age appropriate for your family and younger children. Although The Hunger Games comes from a Young Adult book, some of the scenes are fairly graphic, so you might want to consider that. I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. I watched it a couple of times while I had the DVD at home, and was curious how this was going to play out. I might just have to go to the cinema for the next chapter.