13 May 2012

The royal hunger battle of the twilight games

So the most recent literary zeitgeist has hit the world and typically bloggers and critics have taken sides in raving about it or deriding it. And like most parties I have arrived fashionably late.

The Hunger Games trilogy of books has been a massive success. And with that success has come a great deal of criticism. That the books are highly derivative of Koushun Takami's novel Battle Royale.  I have also heard more than one comparison to the Twilight series of books as well.  Although neither of these comparisons has stopped anyone I know from reading and enjoying the series. Included in this is my lovely girl.  She asked me to take her to see the movie based on the first of the trilogy and so I did.

Here is a synopsis of The Hunger Games:

In a dystopian future there is the country of Panem which is split into the Capital and thirteen districts. Each district is a specialized region which supports Panem with a specific resource; coal, horticulture, agriculture etc. In the past the districts revolted against the oppressive authority of the Capital, but the revolution failed. Now every year each district must offer up one boy and one girl aged between twelve and eighteen as tribute to the Capital as a punishment for their disobedience. These tributes are then pitted against each other in a death match for the amusement of the Capitals populaiton and a reminder to the districts of the cost of rebellion.  In district 12 Katniss is a girl who is struggling to support her mother and younger sister after the death of her father. When her little sister is picked as the tribute by lottery, Katniss volunteers to go in her sisters place and fight in the hunger games.

Queue blood sport Hyjinks

At first I found it a little confusing. Like a lot of movies that are based on films there are narrative restraints. So there were a few things I needed clarified from my partner through quiet whispers. But not many, and once the narrative got under way it was fine.

I found the production design was magnificent. Not because the costuming or sets were exceptionally original, on the contrary they are all very familiar. From the uniforms of the Capitals police which are reminiscent of THX-1138 (which has been copied again and again since) to the sets and costuming of District 12, which could have been from The Grapes of Wrath. Very few things in movies are there by accident, and the contrast between the poverty stricken population of District 12, and the opulence, and decadence of the Capital will strike a chord in modern America's (and Europe's) struggle with its recessive economy. hen these two meet at the lottery to determine who the tributes will be I saw reflections of  1984. I found it very subtle and clever. Everything has a familiarity about it, and while you could argue that makes the film highly derivative, I found it more reminiscent. I have argued before that science fiction can be a very successful vehicle for political and moral subtexts, and for me The Hunger Games continues this tradition quite successfully through its subtle and deliberate comparisons to earlier movies.

The cast is also filled with familiar faces; Donald Sutherland, Stanly Tucci, Josh Hutcherson and Woody Harrelson. Also there are less familiar faces, Elizabeth Banks (as you have never seen her before), Lenny Kravitiz, and relative new comer Jennifer Lawrence. You may know her from her work in the drama Winters Bone or maybe as Mystique from  X-men: First class. I enjoyed her performance as the determined Katniss, although I  was particularly impressed with Josh Hutcherson. Of course Stanley Tucci, Woody Harrelson and Donald Sutherland are great. 

It is not a greatly sophisticated story, but then it is not meant to be. But it isn't childish either. It is a simple story of love and sacrifice that inspires others to greater things. A classic tale of heroism and courage against oppression, which is why I think it is so successful. It's a good story.

I now want to comment on the  Battle Royale and Twilight comparisons.

First just because a woman writes a successful series of novels that are targeted at a teenage audience that have a female protagonist, it doesn't make it a Twilight rip off. I have not read the novel yet, but from the movie the two stories could not be more different. The hero of The Hunger Games,  Katniss is strong, clever and compassionate. Her drive to survive is based on a single minded determination to return and protect her family. But she retains her humanity throughout her trials. Bella Swan on the other hand is a self absorbed, highly dysfunctional creature, whose motives are entirely driven by her egocentric fantasies. If my nieces asked me for my opinion as to which to read, I would hand them The Hunger Games without hesitation.

In regards to Battle Royale I have only seen the movies not the books. But that being said I do not agree that The Hunger Games is a rip off of Battle Royale.  At first glance they are very similar, both have authorative regimes which organize gladiatorial combats to the death between teenagers.  But that’s where the similarity ends. In Battle Royale the politics is more of a set piece to the very personal struggles of the children as they are pitted against their friends, partners and classmates. The narrative breifly touches on the dysfunctional nature of society and the government’s attempt to control its population, but it focuses of the individuals as they try to survive. But it doesn't matter if any of the children survice as the greater population seems unaware of what is going on, so on retrospect the whole exercise has certain pointlessness about it.

In The Hunger Games the whole event is a carefully crafted piece of propaganda by the government. It is a reward, the carrot  for a bored disengaged wealthy minority, and a reminder of the stick for the oppressed majority. The film focuses on Katniss's very personal struggle and how her struggle becomes a symbol for the struggles of the majority, but barely scratches the psychology of the children’s circumstances. Both are good, but quite separate.
The GOP finally has a decent candidate

I enjoyed The Hunger Games  and I look forward to the novels and the rest of the trilogy. I don't think it will be the cult classic Battle Royale  is, but then I do think that it may be the vehicle for many young people to seek out similar stories, from  Theseus  to George Orwell.

Six and a half Monkeys

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed the first book and made it to about chapter 4 of the second book before giving up in disgust. The book is very different from the book of Battle Royal. Battle Royal is a piece of literary splatter fic, Hunger Games is not.