Film and TV

Victor Moreno's Cult Classics Screening Battle Royale (aka The Movie The Hunger Games Rips Off)

If the plot of Suzanne Collins' best-selling novel The Hunger Games -- and the soon-to-be-released film adaptation -- seems eerily familiar, it's probably because it is.

The ultra-popular teen-oriented tale of adolescents fighting to the death at the behest of the government in the not-too-distant future is similar in many respects to flicks like Arnold Schwarzenegger's The Running Man or such books as Stephen King's The Long Walk.

And then there's the gory Japanese flick Battle Royale, which screens next Friday at Madcap Theaters in Tempe. Critics have alleged that The Hunger Games flat-out ripped off Kinji Fukasaku's blood-soaked dystopian thriller that was released in 2000 and involves a class of high schoolers forced by their government to kill each other in a deadly game of survival of the fittest.

Sound familiar? Local movie buff Victor Moreno, who's showing the film during the latest edition of his Cult Classics film series, definitely thinks so.

"I think it's fair to say The Hunger Games borrows a lot [from Battle Royale]," Moreno says. "[A] Dystopian future, game show-like contest pitting teens against each other to the death based on the idea of nationalism. Or it could just be The Lottery meets The Running Man. But yeah, I'd lean towards borrowing."

In her defense, Collins has claimed that she wasn't aware of Battle Royale until after she'd written The Hunger Games. Moreno, however, believes it's just a simple case of one artists "borrowing" from another, a practice common in the creative world. Like Steve Jobs famously stated, "Good artists copy, great artists steal."

Hence, The Hunger Games is simply an toned-down and Americanized version of Battle Royale, albeit cloaked in sci-fi trappings and adorned with a patina of teen-friendly bubblegum entertainment.

"I think since Hunger Games is based on a young adult novel, those books tend to take elements of established stories and retell them for younger readers," Moreno says. "Its fair to say if there was no Shirley Jackson's Lottery there wouldn't be a Hunger Games. Whether she also saw some Japanese or Schwarzenegger movies, the world may never know."

While a few teenaged Hunger Games fans might be eager to see the film that helped inspire it, Moreno warns that its far more visceral and gruesome cinematic experience.

"I think having collars that make your head explode with a massive arterial spray and knives to the head might be a bit much for a PG-13 movie audience," he jokes.

It that's not enough to scare away the Hot Topic crowd, there's also a variety of dismembering and disemboweling taking place during its 114-minute running time. There's more than just brutal and gory violence, however, Moreno adds.

"Its great drama, great horror, [and] great science fiction. The characters are very memorable and the premise really works in creating a sense of urgency and danger," he says. "Before 'Anyone Can Be Killed' became a catchphrase for Game of Thrones, it really worked as a hook in Battle Royale. Takeshi Kitano is awesome as the twisted teacher/mentor to the kids. Its Quentin Tarantino's favorite movie and if you've seen the way he treats his characters you can see the influence straight away."

When asked if his screening Battle Royale on the same day that The Hunger Games is released was intentional, Moreno pulls a Suzanne Collins and states it was coincidental.

"It hasn't been able to be licensed [for public screening] for about 10 years, since the studio that made it has kept the rights close to its vest because of school violence in the U.S.," Moreno explains. "The studio that owns the rights to the film in the U.S. finally decided to license the film starting this month to coincide with the release of The Hunger Games and it was sort of an unintentional coincidence that our screening is the same day that Hunger Games opens. But it makes for an interesting bit of counter-programming, pitting the similar storylines from different cultures on the same night."

As with previous Cult Classics screenings, Moreno will offer some special giveaways for attendees. Besides designing a signature poster for the event, he's putting together bags that mimic weapon-filled kits that are handed out to the students in Battle Royale.

"In the film, the 42 class members get a kit once they're released to play the game with an item they may find useful or that may be totally worthless," Moreno says. "The kits at our screening are gonna be of the same variety. The first 42 patrons get a kit, with a useful item in Battle Royale or maybe something random or funny. They'll also have goodies from our sponsor and maybe some other surprises."

Does that mean he'll be filling the bags with deadly implements in case attendees want to re-enact some of the onscreen action? Maybe, Moreno says.

"By useful item I meant weapons," he jokes. "Didn't want people to think I was handing out knuckle-dusters or shurikens at random."

The Cult Classics' screening of Battle Royale takes place at 9 p.m. on Friday, March 23. Admission is $10 (or $20 with a custom poster included). Click here for tickets.

Follow Jackalope Ranch on Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.