See It Instead: The Hunger Games – Catching Fire Edition
Sometimes a movie comes along and makes you aware of an itch you never knew you had. Perhaps a review piqued your interest, or you’d rather stay in and pay yourself $10 for a small popcorn and watch a movie on the cheap. Perhaps you’re valiantly struggling through your queue on Netflix or Amazon Prime, and need a wise, cultured voice to direct you to where the real movie viewing gold is hiding amidst the shitty cannibal movies and serial killer biopics. Well, look no further. See It Instead is here to take today’s new releases and guide you to what you should really be watching.
The Hunger Games – Catching Fire
Fighting for it’s box office life this weekend is the second installment of The Hunger Games franchise, based on the young adult novel of the same name written by Suzanne Collins. It stars Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson as teens forced to fight to the death for a second time in a post apocalyptic North America. Can the two come out on top in this free-for-all, and more importantly, can they continue to dominate at the box office when the similarly themed Ender’s Game flopped? Maybe you should see these other fine films instead.
The Serious Pick: Battle Royale Series (2000 and 2003)
If you want a harrowing look at an oppressive society which forces the young to compete against each other for success…to the death.
Highly controversial, and highly successful, Battle Royale is also the adapted from a novel of the same name, written by Koushun Takami, and filmed by the father/son team of Kinji and Kenta Fukasaku. Tragically, the father, Kinji, died of cancer just as he began filming the sequel, Battle Royale 2: Requiem, but the work was finished by his son in honor of his memory.
Much like The Hunger Games, the story follows young teens who are forced to fight to the death on a isolated wilderness island off of Japan. Unlike Suzanne Collins’ work, the setting is contemporary Japan, and the children are chosen for being delinquents and poor performers in school, a common theme in Japanese fiction. It’s not hard to see why, in a society where poor performance in school can destroy a child’s hope of a good job, and annually leads to scores of suicides.
The film features Takeshi Kitano, and any who know of “Beat” Takeshi’s film history can guess how visceral and violent this film is. The level of carnage led the film being banned in several countries, though it remains one of the most influential and monetarily successful modern Japanese films. It was so successful, that both the novels and film versions of The Hunger Games have been accused of borrowing from it.
The sequel is less widely known and well regarded by critics. The survivors of the first Battle Royale have become a full fledged terrorist group, the Wild Seven, seeking to break free of the oppressive rule of the Japanese government. A new class of students, chosen from among the survivors of attacks from the Wild Seven, are conscripted and forced to hunt and kill the terrorists, or else be killed themselves. Along the way, the full might of the military is assembled, and the Wild Seven must fight both newcomers and soldiers in order to break free.
Both films are explicitly topical, taking the harsh societal emphasis on success in school and obedience to the state in the first, and a exploration of what creates and radicalizes terrorists to rebel against a government in the second (the Wild Seven ultimately end up in Afghanistan, a jab at the current Western led proxy wars being fought there.) While the first is clearly the supperior movie, the extended version of the sequel, Battle Royale 2: Revenge is also well worth a watch.
The Lighthearted Pick: The Running Man (1987)
If you want a comical and action packed look at an oppressive society which silences dissidents by sending killers in cartoonish outfits to attack them with hockey sticks.
If you had cable television in the 90’s, you’ve seen this movie. Rivaling The Beastmaster for air time on TNT and other re-run aggregators, this movie stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as Ben Richards, an ethical cop who opposes the harsh tactics of the totalitarian American government. Framed for the murder of hundreds of innocents, he is sentenced to compete in The Running Man, a televised death match where political prisoners are hunted for sport right in the streets of a major city by professional bounty hunters who resemble the American Gladiators. With the aid of two other convicts, and the reluctant help of an innocent woman who Richards convinces to dig up the truth before being forced into the program, Arnold deals death and witty one-liners in trademark fashion, eventually upsetting the order of society and revealing his innocence.
In what appears to be a theme, this movie is also lifted from a novel of the same name, this time by Stephen King, writing under the pen name Richard Bachman. The novel lacks the camp and humor of the movie, dwelling more on the crushing power of the government over the citizen, and the hopeless poverty that causes the hero to volunteer for the show, as it is the only way he can pay for his ailing families’ food and medicine. No one-liners here, just terse, gritty survivalist fiction at it’s best. I would pay top dollar to see an actual faithful production of both The Running Man and The Long Walk, also by Bachman/King, which follows a televised march of teenagers who can only stop walking when all the other teens have died of exhaustion and one remains. Not for the feel good set, these novels are brutal depictions of entertainment and “opportunity” in a nightmarish America not far removed from our own.
The Unconventional Pick: THX 1138 (1971)
If you want a monochromatic look at a very bleak and oppressive society with a ton of ideas and influences from some of the best literature in the genre.
Set in a mega city underground, society has become effectively an ant colony pacified by mandated use of drugs and restrictions on biological functions such as sex. THX 1138 is the tag code/name for Robert Duvall’s character, a mild mannered factory worker who is drawn into a plot of rebellion and sexuality when his roommate decides to ditch her meds and substitute his for fakes as well. The two become lovers, despite misgivings by Duvall, who is having a gestalt break as he realizes all of the media and drugs that have constituted his reality may not be in his best interest after all.
An incident at THX’s high stress job leads to a near catastrophic accident, and the pair of lovers are discovered. They are split up, and THX is placed among other dissidents who form a vague plan of escape. The escape takes THX through the inner workings of the society, where we see how the media is manufactured to dull the populace, and through the pseudo-religious OMM facilities that placate citizens who have moral qualms about their lives and work. Eventually, THX is the only surviving escapee, and his run for freedom will reveal darker secrets about his society than even he anticipates.
Being George Lucas’ first directorial effort, the picture is sometimes incoherent or vague, but for the commendable reason that Lucas’ is trying to fit a metric ton of ideas and cool visuals into a rather limited budget. The story smacks of such classics as Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World, hardly poor comparisons for an artist’s first work. Duvall is quite brilliant, managing to find a meaningful mode of expression in the greyed-out and drugged-up worker drone THX. Overall, a milestone in cinema that demands your attention.