Some say there's no such thing as an original story these days, especially in Hollywood. Any time a movie hits the mainstream, someone somewhere finds a way to call it a knock-off.
Author Suzanne Collins has been more than willing to lay her list of "The Hunger Games" inspirations on the table — the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur, Roman gladiator games, the Vietnam and Iraq Wars, and her work on the reality TV series "Survivor" ... Sounds like a good recipe. Still, we can already smell the "Battle Royale" comparisons brewing.
Yes, "Battle Royale" also involves kids being forced to fight to the death, but we saw enough major differences between the two to be sure in advance that "The Hunger Games" is in a league all its own.
In "The Hunger Games," the audience — basically the entirety of Panem with special regard for citizens of The Capitol — is an active and very developed part of the story. Families, as a form of punishment and deterrence, are forced to watch as their children are conscripted and made to fight one another to the death. On the flip side, it's also a show for those whose kids aren't involved. The entertainment factor of the Games becomes influential in how they are officiated (and played).
In "Battle Royale," though, the audience consists simply of one sour teacher and a gaggle of silent soldiers. Any outsider involvement is almost completely unaddressed.
Much of the story of "The Hunger Games" is about preparing for the fight. For days, the tributes are shown off to the crowd, given assessments and training and access to former game tapes. Half the book is devoted to what goes on before they hit the arena. It's about putting on a good show, after all. "Battle Royale," on the other hand, offers almost no attention to that factor. The kids think they're going on a class trip, and bam! They're gassed and wake up to fighting instructions.
The competitors in "Battle Royale" are almost all seventh grade students from the same class. Some are siblings, some soon-to-be-former best friends. Much of the tension revolves around the fact that these children know each other.
Not so in "The Hunger Games," wherein participants are selected with a complicated system of entries and televised ceremonies. A boy-and-girl pair is chosen from each of the nation's 12 districts. Their ages, sizes, backgrounds and strengths vary, and alliances are thin at best because there's very little history between most of the tributes.
With the exception of the District 3 boy's little mine field creation, the weapons doled out in "The Hunger Games" are fairly old school — knives, spears and Katniss' favorite bow and arrow set. The hand-to-hand combat element is intense, whereas in "Battle Royale," there are guns, guns, and more guns all over the place. Also, the "Battle Royale" kids fight in an abandoned town, so shelter and food (and internet access?) are abundant.
The reasoning behind the Capitol's decision to effectuate The Hunger Games is a big part of the story. The districts are being punished for an uprising against the Capitol which occurred some decades before. The message is that the government of Panem will not tolerate insubordination by its districts, and it has utter control over them, even the lives of their children. With "Battle Royale," it's just a bloody way to keep kids in school.
Katniss represents something in "The Hunger Games." She's fierce and determined, and she knows she'll have to fight in order to win. Her victory carries consequences for the Capitol. In "Battle Royale," the central girl Noriko is very meek and reserved. Her survival is dependent on others defending her.
The Love Triangle
"Battle Royale" does have a teeny bit of a love triangle, but it's short-lived and unexplored at best. With "The Hunger Games," however, the romantic entanglement of Peeta, Katniss and Gale is a major attraction of the story.
There are several villains presented in "The Hunger Games" – President Snow, the Capitol's citizens and their insensitivity to the lives of those in the districts, humanity's bloodlust at large. In "Battle Royale," we really only get to know one: a middle school teacher who's having a nervous breakdown. There's a hint of the government's involvement in passing the law which allows the battle to exist, but it gets very little play in the movie.
After all this, we're just sayin'. We think any similarities are a coincidence and no, "The Hunger Games" a not just some rip-off of "Battle Royale." Tell us what you think in the comments.
And, if you haven't seen "Battle Royale," it's coming out on Blu-ray on March 20.
Amanda Bell is a young adult book-to-film enthusiast and has made a name for herself as a fan-friendly, informative and dependable source. In addition to being the District 14 columnist for NextMovie, she runs the popular Twilight Examiner column. Keep tabs on her on Twitter.