Adventures In Celluloid

Film critic Dominic Corry celebrates, clarifies and justifies his love for all things film.

Dominic Corry: What came before The Hunger Games?

19 comments
Jennifer Lawrence portrays Katniss Everdeen in a scene from The Hunger Games. Photo / Supplied
Jennifer Lawrence portrays Katniss Everdeen in a scene from The Hunger Games. Photo / Supplied

Following some of the most tangibly feverish anticipation in movie history, The Hunger Games has finally been released this week.

Despite my ambivalent feelings going in, I really enjoyed the film. It's confidently directed, often gripping and occasionally awesome. But it isn't particularly original.

Although they're projected through a fresh prism, many of the concepts in The Hunger Games have already been explored in other movies and TV shows.

In today's blog, I'm going to look back at some of these and hopefully nudge some newly minted Hunger Games fans towards some of its most direct inspirations.

The first movie that must be mentioned is the 2000 Japanese cult classic Battle Royale. Hunger Games author Suzanne Collins was quite understandably accused by many of ripping-off this movie when her book was first published.

Set in a near future, it tells the story of a class of teenagers who are transported to an island and forced to fight each other to the death until only one remains, all in the name of societal calm. Sound familiar?

It bares striking resemblance to the central conceit in The Hunger Games, with the crucial difference that the kids in Battle Royale all knew each other before they got violent.

This allows the earlier film to delve more into teenage power heirarchies, although such concerns aren't entirely absent from The Hunger Games.

Battle Royale is also a much more viscerally violent film - all the participants have bombs attached to their necks to ensure obedience (which itself isn't a particularly original idea).

It's awesomely gruesome, and very much worth checking out as a counterpoint to the new film, which obviously skews a bit younger.

The second major touchstone for The Hunger Games is the 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger film The Running Man, loosely based on the novel by Stephen King (writing as Richard Bachman).

This has Arnie forced to participate in a savage game show in the future where supposed bad guys (Arnie was framed, natch) face off against trained killers inside a massive, varied arena.

The Hunger Games most reminded me of this when it focused on the televised aspect of the ritual, and how the public lap up the violence as mainstream entertainment.

Strangely enough, the book of The Running Man kinda hews closer to The Hunger Games than the movie, in that the contest occurs on a national scale. The Running Man may feature some of Arnie's worst acting ever, but it remains a fun reminder of '80s action excess.

The titular contest in The Hunger Games takes place in a giant dome-covered forested area where there's nowhere to escape the cameras. This strongly evoked The Truman Show for me, especially in how even the most intimate moments were broadcast to millions.

Even more so than The Truman Show, The Hunger Games caused me to ponder the excesses of reality TV like Big Brother and televised competitions like American Idol and Survivor. It also speaks to the role professional sports play in society. This lends the film a sense of relevance missing from the oft-compared Twilight films.

What all these things I've mentioned lack of course is a teenage love triangle like the one at the centre of The Hunger Games, which beyond the fact that they were both young adult literary phenomenons, seems to be the root of all the Twilight comparions. I really liked how we weren't too pummelled with this subplot in the movie, but I appreciate how it is this aspect that speaks to many of the fans.

Overall, I don't consider The Hunger Games to be an overly derivative piece of work. It's got enough of it's own thing going on. And once a story or an idea is out in the world, it becomes part of the cultural vernacular. But it's fun tracking how these ideas are re-addressed.

Watch the trailer for The Hunger Games:

* Did you like The Hunger Games? Did you find it derivative? What other inspirations did you spot?

Have your say

We aim to have healthy debate. But we won't publish comments that abuse others. View commenting guidelines.

1200 characters left

Sort by
  • Oldest

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a4 at 03 Sep 2014 05:46:35 Processing Time: 929ms