Monday, March 18, 2013

MAD, DAY IV: Battle Royale (2000)

If I were a pretentious hipster, I would spend a majority of this review describing the similarities between Battle Royale and The Hunger Games, and how, like, Suzanne Collins ripped off Koushun Takami, dude. To your benefit, I won't do that, but it really is difficult to review one without bringing up the other.
A few years back I took a screenwriting class, and we were given an exercise: all the students were given the first few pages of a script, and the objective was to finish it so that eventually, the finished products are able to be compared with one other. Some scripts were drastically different, others shared several similarities, but none of them were the same. If you accept the plot of a bunch of kids on an island are forced to kill each other to the one standing, there is a lot of room to work with. So while Battle Royale and Hunger Games certainly fit in the "several similarities" category, they both consist of different themes and values. Also, Battle Royale is a helluva lot bloodier.

Considering that the film clocks in at just under 2 hours. and that there are 42 students to kill off, time is clearly a factor, so Battle Royale wastes very little time. The kids are abducted and dumped in a battlefield within the first 20 minutes of the film – 15 of which were used to explain the rules and killing a couple of them just to prove to the kids that it wasn't an elaborate prank. 

Battle Royale borders B-movie quality because (most of) the kids on the island seem to transform from innocent school children to ruthless, psychotic killers in the blink of an eye. Of course, there are the few that seem to keep their sanity and refuse to be apart of the game, but the ratio of scumbags to decent kids is startling, but no less entertaining.

I imagine that a lot of more characters were given more time and background in the novel which the film was based on, and that their deaths are probably more impactful on page than on screen, which is frustrating. It would have been more beneficial to simply cut the cast in half to give the audience more time to breathe and invest in these characters, most of which we know are going to have die in unfathomable ways.

Every now and then the film will show a Lost-esque flashback explaining the background of a few characters, in an attempt to make them a little more human. But with 42 different backgrounds, it is impossible to invest in them all, and that's where the script falls short. The attempt to find the characters more relatable is noble, but is mostly ineffective – even the film's main villain is a bore. Almost every time when a competitor died, it had just about no effect on me, because I had no idea who he or she was – just more flesh and bone tossed aside before we got to the deaths that mattered. 

Other than a couple of oddballs who were actually handy with a weapon, there really weren't any deaths that mattered, because there is nearly no one to root for. Most of the screen time is given to a boy and a girl who appear to be one of the very few kids on the island who refuse to participate in the game, and side with an estranged transfer student, who happens to have only past worth caring about. 

The truth is that other than a few key moments, the dialogue just isn't very well written. The action sequences, however, are a blast to watch. They become even more entertaining when you realize that these kids can take a lot of bullets before they are finally put down, so the death scenes are always extremely overdramatized, and yet amusing as hell.

Bottom line: don't expect a deep story with a rich background in Battle Royale – just have fun counting the tally of a bunch of imaginatively gory deaths that even Tarantino would be proud of (and probably is proud of, because he is apparently a rabid fan of the flick).