When I went to see “The Hunger Games”, I expected to hear the usual arguments: Is it better than all the hype? Is it better than the book? If teenagers throw a house party next door, while I try to sleep, can I too organize a hunger game?
What I did not expect were people yelling, “Thief!” when the credits rolled.
There are those who claim that “The Hunger Games,” which pits teenagers against one another in a fight to the death, plagiarizes such works as “Battle Royal.” This is a Japanese movie in which society has become so afraid of its youth that it forces teens to battle every year.
I can see how the cynical charge of premise stealing is made. This next statement I make may seem cynical itself. But it’s not, and I’ll explain why. This is something that has been true for a very, very long time, now:
There are no more unexplored themes. They have all been thought of already.
Just try to think of a theme that has yet to be discovered. You can’t. Power, love, hate, religion, innocence, fear, the underdog- these are all themes which have already been touched on. There can be no more originality in this area.
Okay, that last sentence hurt, didn’t it? As a creative person, I don’t ever want to see the words “no more” and “originality” together. Ever. But the truth is that themes are finite. So, we must create different angles to explore them. We call these stories, and this is the challenge.
Take for instance the Cinderella story. We often call tales of rags to riches in movies, books and real life a Cinderella story. This isn’t because those tales blatantly steal from the fairy tale, but because of the similar theme. Most of us don’t go to see a film about a homeless man’s rise to wealth, and then leave angrily thinking, “The only thing missing from that movie was the glass slipper!”
The concept of teenagers fighting to the death is not a new one. Even more, the premise of humans forced to fight one another to the death for entertainment is far from original. People have been so busy slamming “The Hunger Games” for “stealing” from “Battle Royal” that I have to wonder if everyone forgot about gladiators. These warriors were forced to battle each other until one stood on the banks of the River Styx and the other stood in front of a cheering upper class of citizens.
Yet, I don’t hear anyone charging “The Hunger Games” with remaking the movie “Gladiator” with teenagers instead of Russell Crowe. The gladiator premise has been around for a long time, and explores many themes: social economics, freedom, war, morality and so forth. Even “Fight Club” could loosely be considered a gladiator flick, you know, if all the gladiators had intense daddy issues and were in need of therapy.
Television, more then anything, demonstrates the reuse of themes. Just think of the “cop” show.
Just about every single network- broadcast and cable- has a cop show. But no one claims that “CSI” is stealing from “Law and Order”, or that “Blue Bloods” plagiarizes “Hawaii Five-O”.
No matter how unique or procedure, each show tackles the cop theme with an angle that is different than the others. “Law and Order” focused on the detective work and courtroom drama. “CSI” gets into the forensics. “Psych” showcases a fake psychic detective with an 80’s obsession. And USA’s soon-to-be released “Common Law”, well, I don’t know what its angle is other than that the two main characters just don’t seem to like one another.
Of course it’s fair to sit back and favor a particular cop show. We watch them, because of their specific spins on the genre or theme. It’s the unique characters, plot devices and issues being explored that makes us watch one over the other- not because you believe “CSI” just can’t do “Law and Order” as well.
To so simply compare “The Hunger Games” to “Battle Royal” is to strip each movie of their meaning. To say that they are about teenagers, who fight one another is a shallow analysis. I guess that is what’s bothering me the most. In our consumer culture, we have these knee jerk reactions instead of going into a deeper analysis. We might as well look at every single body of water on the planet, and say, “Well, the Pacific Ocean definitely steals from the Atlantic.” It would be so easy. Just about all bodies of water look the same on the surface, and based off that, we might as well conclude that both oceans are exactly alike.
And that is sad, because we would miss everything that is taking place underneath: the type of currents, the sea-life unique to each region and even the difference of temperature. We have constrained ourselves to floating on the surface instead of ever diving right in.
While it’s neat to think about how safe all of our intricately carved pumpkins would be on Mischief night, if teenagers were busy battling, “The Hunger Games'” familiar theme sparked actual conversation.
After I saw the movie, my finance and I discussed what the ramifications would have been if we had lost World War II. We pondered the tragedy of real war hitting the American main land, and then realized that our country had already experienced such horrific blood shed in the Civil War. We talked about Roman gladiators, and the possibility of a real “The Hunger Games”-esq reality show premiering after “The Kardashians.”
I feel like I might sound pretentious, and maybe there’s something wrong with that, if all I’m choosing to do is to look pass the surface. As a creative person, I am tired of observations that could easily be those of “The Hunger Games'” upper class towards the districts: simple, meaningless and blood thirsty for the point of being blood thirsty.
So, is it fair to outright compare “The Hunger Games” to “Battle Royal”? If you’re just going to hang out on the surface, then it’s possible to compare both movies to hundreds of others. But Suzanne Collins did not set out to write “Battle Royal.” She did not steal from it. She wrote her own story based on an old theme.
It’s exactly what we all do.