Take Two #24: Let the Hunger Games Begin!
By Kyra-lin Hom
Surely, you've heard of them, this Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins that's swinging the world around by its sensitive bits? Well if not the books, perhaps you've heard of the recent release of its major motion picture counterpart directed by Gary Ross and starring Jennifer Lawrence? If you haven't, get on that because both are fantastic. It's about time the public gets so riled up over a real heroine. I'm sorry Twilight fans, but even you have to admit that Bella doesn't count.
I read the first book in the trilogy many a month ago at the urging of my absurdly well read mother. In the initial pages, I was skeptical. Being of the anime and Japanese literature generation, I'm always quick to associate any kill until there is only one survivor left scenario with Koushun Takami's 1999 novel Battle Royale. In this Japanese novel, a single class of junior high school students are selected at random to become part of a televised 'Battle Royale' as a means of suppressing the population. I won't spoil the ending, but let's just say the similarities with The Hunger Games don't stop there. More on this later.
Battle Royale became an insanely popular and influential piece of work. It is incredibly Japanese in its execution (both the book and movie adaptation) but universal in its themes. It is impossible to know if the creators of films such as The Condemned (2007), Death Race (2008) and Kill Theory (2008) were directly influenced by Takami's work or not. What is true is that the popularization of the Battle Royale franchise was followed by a long string of similarly themed action and horror films. I even adapted it for a video game class. Trying to work the backstabbing and alliance building into an RPG (role playing game) while still keeping the basic plot of the novel proved a fun challenge.
However, let's not be quick to point fingers, as so much of the Internet has already viciously done to Suzanne Collins. Certain concepts in stories become popular for a reason, seamlessly meshing into the global consciousness. Monster films spilled out of Japan after WWII. Escapist fantasy films flood theaters during economic depressions. Superhero – and not limited to the cape wearing kind – action flicks are often rampant during the early hopeful stages of war. You get where I'm going with this?
Humans aren't complicated creatures. Give us a good story that evokes emotion, allows catharsis and lets us forget our own troubles and you've got a blockbuster. Of course that process is much more complicated than it sounds, but you get the idea. As a girl with a Bachelor's in Screenwriting, let me reiterate that there really is no story that hasn't been told before when you break it down to its basics. What makes it new is how you tell that story.
So back to this theme of battling other trapped individuals for your life, kill or be killed, seeing how real people act when given a weapon and told that only one of them gets out alive. When put that way, does something else come to mind? How about Survivor?
The format for the trendy TV show Survivor first appeared before any of this in 1992 Britain produced by Charlie Parsons. It has since spurred the production of over 60 spin-offs in nearly as many countries. And this isn't including other shows like Big Brother or The Bachelor because, let's face it, they are all based in the concept of a free for all. Then you have the 2004 movie Saw that is all about what people will really do to survive. Apparently we find something innately fascinating about exploring what average people will do in absolutely not average situations. The Hunger Games is a continuation of this curiosity not a rip off of a Japanese novel that Suzanne Collins hadn't even heard of prior to the publication of her novels.
Despite what it seems like I'm not defending Collins so much as defending a franchise that I, for once, can really get behind. Yes, there's romance and the trials of deciding between two boys, but that's not what the story is about. It's about a headstrong and capable girl coming into her power and having to deal with the complications of an unstable, overwhelming and unwanted world, which just so happens to include the confusing advances of two young men. And hey, if it takes putting up with Twilight-inspired badges of 'Team Peeta' vs. 'Team Gale' to push an admirable heroine like Katniss to the forefront of young girls' minds then so be it.