When I initially saw the first Hunger Games movie, I absolutely hated it. And it wasn't because the movie itself was pretty mediocre - for a young adult franchise starter, I could easily look past that. And what really irked me about this movie wasn't that it completely ripped off the premise of the 2000 Japanese movie Battle Royale, it was that they toned down one of the most fundamental elements of what made the original movie so great: a fear of violence.
When you think about the premise of The Hunger Games, it's about a bunch of kids who are forced to murder one another on an island for sport. And make no mistake, people die in The Hunger Games movies and there's outright violence, but there's very little fear within this fictional dystopia. With Battle Royale, I remember watching this movie and being completely terrified during every minute of it, which made sense. We're being brought into a post-apocalyptic world where kids are murdering each other, this should have the elements of a horror movie and the audience should be scared shitless. Hell, it's 16 years later, and watching Battle Royale again this weekend still made me anxious and fearful in my living room seat. But you don't really get that when you watch The Hunger Games. Sure, the film still takes a pretty serious tone and there's a sense of a violent world at play, but you're never fearful of the impending violence.
I know that The Hunger Games is meant for a younger demographic, so displaying the same level of violence within the confines of a young adult franchise is simply not possible. But that's exactly my point, maybe the premise of The Hunger Games just isn't meant to be young adult material. On paper, it certainly isn't very kid-friendly, and to water it down just feels inappropriate to me. And it's different when young adult franchises water down things like vampires and werewolves, because those things are purely fantasy. While the premise of both The Hunger Games and Battle Royale are fictional, they're situations that are at least theoretically possible in real life. So I judge it with a different perspective.
So why did Suzanne Collins decide to create such a violence-wrought premise for young adult audiences? This is where I do a bit of a 180, because after watching the rest of The Hunger Games movies (I never read the books), I could actually see why. Even though the 'games' are still prevalent in the next few movies, they end up taking more of a backseat position to a story about survival and resistance. The dystopian future of The Hunger Games world serves as a modern war zone where the youth are forced to overcome oppression and sideline the violence they've been programmed to embrace. Katniss Everdeen values self sacrifice and pacifism over violence, and this is a role model that kids need nowadays. Maybe I'm reading into this more than I'm supposed to, but whatever the case, content created for the young adult audience (from what I remember, anyways) is never this complex. So my 180 is that I've grown to really appreciate the Hunger Games franchise because of the larger ideas at play. It also helps that the movies got substantially better once Francis Lawrence took over, and Jennifer Lawrence can't help but kill it every time she's on screen.
In a sense, the larger ideas created by The Hunger Games franchise is something I think I wanted to happen with Battle Royale. But with just two movies, it's hard to know if the Japanese manga/films would have ever gone in this direction. If Battle Royale 2 is any indication, the 'game' and overall emphasis on violence is still front and centre, so perhaps the simple answer is probably not. Which is why, when all is said and done, The Hunger Games is a great franchise and I would even soften up on my stance that it ripped off Battle Royale. The first book/movie might have, but the series as a whole quickly went beyond this and became its own entity. With franchises, similar to television shows, you sometimes just need to give them time.