From the beginning of time there have been wars. A few years later something more important came around; nerd battles. Star Wars vs. Star Trek, Ninjas vs. Pirates, Bears vs. Sharks; all important issues that have, nay needed to be addressed. With The Hunger Games coming out an old classic has come back, The Hunger Games vs. Battle Royale. For years people have debated whether Games’ author Suzanne Collins’ young adult series is a rip off or not. The blogosphere has absolutely lost their s**t and hit its peak over the past weekend. So of course I feel the need to weigh in because honestly, my opinion is more important than other nerds. At least I like to think so.
Now for my comparison I am judging solely on the movies. Partly because those are the versions most likely being seen. The other being I haven’t read the source material of either. Honestly I think this is for the best; mainly due to the fact that I don’t have to do the whole “But in the book….” that any movie adapted from a book. So without further ado, welcome to The Hunger Games vs. Battle Royale.
Obviously a big part of any movie is the presentation. You can have the greatest idea ever but if it looks bad nobody will want to see it. At best you’ll get a Rifftrax about your movie a year later. This category seems a bit unfair since Battle Royale has about 17% percent of the budget of The Hunger Games but it’s still important to look at. Now Battle Royale uses what little budget they have quite well. Most of it goes to a very good location and some good special effects. Unfortunately because of the budget there are some just awful effects. For example there is a copious use of the day for night filter throughout. Now for some people this may not be a big deal but I absolutely hate the effect. For a movie made in 2000 it just seems unacceptable.
On the other hand The Hunger Games not only had a bigger budget but it was also used quite well. There are a decent amount of CGI heavy shots in the film, especially after they leave District 12. Outside of an effect or two it looks pretty good too. In a movie that could rely solely on CGI it was nice to see practical effects used as well. There are scenes like a firestorm within the arena that look impressive. While it may not be a fair fight I find it hard to argue against The Hunger Games in this category. Outside of a poor effect here and there The Hunger Games dominates Battle Royale production-wise.
Winner- Hunger Games
Like presentation characterization is a big factor in a film’s success. You can have amazing special effects but if your characters are bland it can be all for naught. Unless you’re James Cameron in which case you create the biggest movie in history. Twice. Since Gary Ross (director of Hunger Games) and Fukasaku (Battle Royale) are not Mr. Cameron in disguise we can safely say that it’s an important thing to do. To me this is where Battle Royale shines in comparison to The Hunger Games. Despite having more characters to follow a good amount of them have personalities. I’m not saying they all are original because they aren’t. No matter how cliché they might be they did have clear motivations for what they did. Kiriyama volunteers the game because he’s sociopath; Mimura devises an escape plan/government sabotage because his uncle was a spy, etc. They all had distinct personalities and generally motivations for their actions. Thus making the actions and events more meaningful throughout the movie
This is lacking in The Hunger Games though. Don’t get me wrong, Katniss Everdeen is probably one of the better defined characters in teen movies today. That said everyone else is pretty bland. For me the biggest example is the villain of the movie, Cato. As opposed to being a threat he feels very hokey. He comes off like the bully in an 80’s movie as opposed to dangerous. If the role was for Johnny in The Karate Kid, cool. In a big event movie like The Hunger Games though, he just doesn’t cut it. Another case is the little girl Rue. From what I understand she plays a decent part in the books and her death is a powerful. In the movie she is little more than a minor supporting character. She is viewed once, has about 10 minutes with Katniss and dies unceremoniously. To me it felt like they were relying on you to read the book to care about her as opposed to make Rue a character worth caring about. This is a big problem with the characters throughout the movie. Most characters may be given a brief bit of personality but they rely on you to read the books instead of showing you why they matter. That just doesn’t cut it though.
Winner- Battle Royale
This is kind of tricky for me to judge. Mainly because American (and European) cinema was influenced by the realist movement in the 19th century. On the flipside Japanese cinema was influenced by Kabuki theater where the costumes and makeup were just as over-the-top as the performances.
While the differences are due to culture more than the actual filming process I do think they are important to note. I think that the acting in The Hunger Games is fine overall. While Jennifer Lawrence delivers a great performance as Katniss overall the acting is average throughout. The only exception being Lenny Kravitz doing a great job as Cinna and Stanley Tucci as the host. I also think the acting in Battle Royale is good; particularly the supporting characters of Kawada (actor Taro Yamamoto) and Mitsuko (Kou Shibasaki).
The deal breaker though comes in Japanese cinema’s tendency for overacting. Sure Rue’s death was melodramatic but it wasn’t too over-the-top; a flaw I noticed in Battle Royale much more in my most recent viewing than the last. Scenes like Sakaki poisoning the food seem almost silly despite the material which is a problem all things considered.
Winner- Hunger Games
Remember earlier when I talked about the firestorm scene in The Hunger Games? I have to say it’s one of my favorite scenes in the movie. I bet I would like it a lot more if I could see it clearly. Unfortunately, like most of the action scenes, it goes into crazy, Jason Bourne, shaky cam mode. As far as I can tell the movie spends quite a bit of time filmed via handheld. I get the effect that they wanted the scenes to feel frenetic and chaotic. It didn’t work. I just found it annoying and tried to figure out what the hell was going on. Very much like the action scenes in Transformers but nowhere near as bad.
Battle Royale is almost the polar opposite. By that I mean that the action isn’t nearly as produced or epic as some of the scenes in The Hunger Games. With that said it’s all shot fairly well. Nothing too extravagant or flashy but everything is clear and easy to understand. To me being able to see what’s happening is more important than explosions so Battle Royale takes it here.
Winner- Battle Royale
Battle Royale takes place in a totalitarian Japan; the result of a youth rebellion. We follow Shuya Nanahara after his high school class is forced to participate in The BR Act and is forced to kill his fellow students.
The Hunger Games takes place in a totalitarian North America; the result of an unknown rebellion. We follow Katniss Everdeen after she offers herself as Tribute to participate in The Hunger Games and is forced to kill 11 other competitors.
Of course these are just the basics and the reason the two are compared so much. Past these similarities both movies go down two different paths. Battle Royale takes a more realistic approach when it comes to the story. As opposed to The Hunger Games they don’t broadcast the happenings across the country like some kind of demented Olympics. Instead it’s treated like a cold, dark, 3 day event that the public shouldn’t see. To me this realism is the best, or most horrific, part of the movie. Thinking back on history the whole scenario is plausible. From the kids almost willingly murdering each other for survival to the event itself, I can see this happening in real life. For me this helps me immerse myself in a movie. I also appreciated the occasional twist throughout. Nothing crazy or anything but little bits that surprised and added to the characters.
The Hunger Games takes a more linear approach to its story. While there are cutaways to other characters we generally focus on Katniss (and to a lesser extent Peeta) as they go through training and The Hunger Games event. If I have any complaint with this way of storytelling it is that there seem to be way too many scenes based on convenience. Somebody gets hurt and shockingly a deus ex machina via the sponsors comes around. I thought it just felt TOO convenient. I also felt that the reasons for the event could have been explained more. They give you a basic outline but not much is explained. This actually leads to my biggest problem; the fact that it is planned as a trilogy. Well I should say I don’t mind it being a series; I think that’s a decent plan. The problem arises in that the explanations I would like to have will be explained a year or two from now. This may be fine for fans for the series but for someone coming in fresh it is a bit disappointing.
Winner- Battle Royale
Despite its lower budget Battle Royale more than holds its own against this big Hollywood blockbuster. What it lacks in subtlety it more than with a fascinating story, fascinating characters, and good old fashioned mayhem. Don’t get me wrong, I liked The Hunger Games more than I thought. As a whole product it was surprisingly good. Unfortunately I just don’t think the story was fleshed out enough and the characters were boring/cliché a lot of the time. At least not without reading the books which really is The Hunger Game’s Achilles’ heel in this competition.