Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Hunger Games

I've started reading The Hunger Games. I'd started Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls, but I'm ... 20? 30? pages in and I really don't care. Hunger Games is a lot more fun. I'm... I dunno, maybe 70 pages in and I had to put it down because it got dark out and I couldn't read anymore. (Agatha has some electrical issues and so we pulled one of the fuses so she wouldn't drain her battery every night, but that means the clock, stereo, and interior light have no power either.)

I was really uncertain about it, because it's gotten a LOT of buzz, and the premise is quite similar to Battle Royale, which I have on DVD and LOVE.

Lemme be very clear on this: once you get past that initial premise, Hunger Games is NOTHING like Battle Royale. At least, nothing like the movie; I haven't been able to find a copy of the book. And I think that's a good thing - there's a lot about the movie that ... I don't know how well it could be accomplished in a book. (I didn't think the manga did justice to the movie either.)

Spoilers follow!

A few thoughts before the comparison: First off, I'm already wondering what happens if the kids just don't cooperate. In Battle Royale, they have a certain amount of time to finish the game. If there isn't a lone winner at the end of that time, everyone who's still alive is killed. There doesn't seem to be anything like this in Hunger Games; OTOH, it's an annual event and this is the seventy-fourth one, so perhaps we should just accept that the practice has become so... not accepted, exactly, but... ingrained, perhaps? that there's simply no way that the entire group would be able to work together against the Gamemakers.

I'm also enjoying the classical references - the Latin-style names, and calling the victims "tributes" - kind of neat. I've heard people describe this as a dystopian novel, but IMO, that's taking the word too broadly. I see a dystopian novel as one that starts off with an illustration of a perfect society, and then slowly, subtly, begins to tear at that facade. In both Battle Royale and Hunger Games, it's clear from the start that we are NOT dealing with any sort of ideal society!

Okay, so! Battle Royale was what I'd consider a horror movie - not a slash flick, like most so-called horror movies, but one that explored the depths of evil possible within humanity. When I first heard about it, it was presented as social commentary, as a literalization of the intense "cutthroat" competition in Japanese schools.

The setup for Hunger Games is a lot stronger. In fact, there's just more introductory exposition in general - you really get more of a sense of who Katniss is before she even goes to take part in the games. Battle Royale focuses almost entirely on the event itself.

Hunger Games also follows Katniss pretty exclusively; with Battle Royale, although you do have central characters, you get to see the other students interacting more. As a result, you're more connected to them, and their deaths are much more horrifying.

And then there's the difference between film and text. What made Battle Royale particularly horrifiying was the acting (no, not that the acting was horrifying, you sillies). They had honest-to-goodness CHILDREN playing the parts, and they fought like - well - children. It wasn't all that gory, but seeing these gangly, sweet-faced kids scuffle around in awkward attempts to kill each other made it even more terrible. And the desperation and panic and terror on the actors' faces was amazing. It was truly a horror: awful and sick and tragic.

It was beautiful.

Hunger Games, OTOH, reads much more like an adventure story. It gives just enough description to keep the action flowing, so it doesn't really describe the Awful Moments in detail. There's also more of an understanding of HOW this situation has come about

Another important difference is that most of the competitors in the Games are strangers to each other, while in Battle Royale, an entire class is chosen, so they all know each other fairly well, and there are several groups of companions as well as some very close friends. This creates a different dynamic within the system of competition.

Image thanks to http://www.earlyword.com/2008/06/05/the-buzz-on-hunger-games/


Melissa B. said...

Thanks for the tip! I read For Whom the Bell Tolls, and had the same reaction. In fact, the way I found a copy of that book-in the seat pocket of a flight home one Thanksgiving-would make a good post. But I'm always looking for a good read, and will definitely check out The Hunger Games. Happy New Year, Clix!

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