I had wanted to see John Carter. I was planning on seeing it with Goyo (an exchange student staying with us) who said he wanted to. Later though, Goyo said that he would prefer to watch The Hunger Games because he said that John Carter “is the same as Avatar.” Maybe, but by that logic Avatar is the same as Dances with Wolves. Also, isn’t the story for John Carter a century old?
Fiction generally has always stolen or borrowed things. Science Fiction especially. In part that’s because audiences to relate to things on other worlds if they resemble something familiar. Also, stealing is good if it works and is convenient for what you’re trying to do. What better way to show off all the odd alien costumes you can come up with than by putting all of them in an old western saloon? To make it less obvious, replace the piano player with an alien Benny Goodman knockoff band, and then you have one of the most famous scenes in movies period.
But I didn’t really care that much, so I figured I could see the Hunger Games. I hadn’t read the book, but I could say the same for John Carter.
We got there early, but because of the crowds we had to sit near the front, which may have been a mistake. Yes, people complain about the shaky cam thing, but I felt like making the audience dizzy was exactly what the movie was going for, so it worked.
Much of the movie was off-putting in one way or another, but again, that was the movie’s intention. I had heard that it took place in the future. Given that we’re in the 2010s, I figured that Earth people in the future would dress like earth people do now (as in the 90s-2000s films Avatar, AI, Minority Report, or to a lesser extent V for Vendetta). But not here. Here they took their cues from my own home region, some time between the 1860s and the 1960s, right down to the home-stitched dresses.
Then we get to the Capitol. In the Capitol, most people seem to dress as if they though Jacobim Mutagu (the villain from Zoolander) had taken over (I would not put it past him). It’s not just fashion. Even the names are foreign sounding. It’s through the lens of a foreign world that the movie throws us into issues of power and spectacle.
Why am I talking so much about these aspects of setting? It’s because I just now finished watching the 2000 Japanese film Battle Royale, which is also an adaptation of a novel. In it, a group of teens fall asleep while they think they are riding home from their boarding school on a bus only to wake up and find that the Japanese government randomly selected them to fight to the death on a deserted but guarded island and they are all wearing tracking collars. Oh, and only one of them can survive. They all start out from a central location, each with a bag that contains a weapon.
I’m not going to go any further into summarizing Battle Royale because I want people to see it. The odd plot turns and random chance encounters are part of what make it a good movie, and I don’t want to ruin it for anyone.
For obvious reasons though, even without some of the plot points I didn’t go into (most of which go in totally different directions) some people accuse The Hunger Games of plagiarizing Battle Royale. Suzanne Collins author of The Hunger Games, claims she’d never heard of it. I’m with her on this one. She may well have heard of it, but my impression, just from comparing film adaptations, is that it wasn’t her initial inspiration. Even if it was, she took it in a totally different direction. The two are far more different than Avatar is from Dances with Wolves.
The Hunger Games is a single protagonist’s story set in a far-future world different from ours. Battle Royale switches between perspectives and plot lines and in Battle Royale it’s our world, slightly in the future after a wave of youth violence and a bizzare adult reaction to it. Not only that, but BRi is just a small section of the world, one particular class of kids who already know each other, while in HG they’re from all over the country, and few of them know each other. In Hunger Games the Game is an accepted fact of life. In Battle Royale the Game is a bizarre thing thrown on the teenagers, and one of the kids laughs at the idea before getting stabbed.
Again, though, just based on the adaptations, if I had to choose one, I’d say that Battle Royale is the better movie. The different plots pay off when one set of people collides with the other and you don’t know when they will collide. Anything could happen. Although it’s set in Japan, the world of the story is so similar to the present-day world that the murders has a more jarring, “These could be people you went to school with”-type feel. That the island has empty houses on it adds to that mood. The government’s motivation is more confusing, but the motivation of the man running the operation, a former teacher, could not be clearer. Again though, this is a matter of comparing movies with very different focuses and themes, and I’m glad that both movies exist. If it wasn’t for the Hunger Games, I would not have heard of Battle Royale.