a review by Chris Hayes-Kossmann
All the world is going nuts for Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games. The young-adult series is the number-one seller on Amazon on any given day of the week, with Seabiscuit director Gary Ross helming a 78 million dollar film adaptation, due to hit theaters in March 2012. But somehow, many of Collins’ adoring fans are completely unaware that The Hunger Games has already been written, turned into a hit manga, and adapted to film (twice) under a different name – Battle Royale. Originally published in 1999, Battle Royale is a science-fiction novel about a dystopian Japan where, once each year, a class of schoolchildren are transported to a small island and forced to fight to the death. Only one child can leave the island alive, and if a winner isn’t declared after three days, bomb-collars fitted around the children’s necks will explode.
It’s Lord of the Flies with machetes and submachine guns, a brutal, remorseless, kill-or-be-killed situation. Naturally, the 2000 film adaptation ignited worldwide controversy. Filmed on a modest budget and with mostly inexperienced child actors, Battle Royale became a sensation both in Japan and the US. It was dark, violent, depressing, and for the most part very understated in both script and direction. The teenage cast carried the film and elevated it from schlock cinema to something powerful and commanding. Battle Royale earned back its budget five times over at the Japanese box-office alone, and has continued to find new fans in the years since. Now, twelve years after that first cinema release, we have the Battle Royale Director’s Cut on DVD, complete with hours of special extras and about eight minutes worth of new footage. So, should you toss out your old Madman release of Battle Royale and pick up this new edition?
It’s a tough call. I’m usually a sucker for extra footage, but it turns out that much of the new eight minutes is epilogue, and I didn’t think Battle Royale needed to say anything more than it did already. The rest of that eight minutes is scattered throughout the film, half-second cuts that add very little to the original story. They don’t detract from the film at all – the pacing is still superb – but I can see why they were trimmed for the cinema release.
What about picture quality? It’s a little grainy, but without my original Battle Royale DVD on hand it’s impossible to compare. The subtitles are excellent and the sound is crisp and clear. I can’t find much to fault, technically.
So what we have here is a Director’s Cut that, aside from the multitude of extras, doesn’t do much more than the original DVD release. Even so, it’s a must-see film in any format, especially if you’re a fan of the Hunger Games and want to understand the source material from which Collins constructed her (as the New York Times put it) “baldfaced ripoff.” Hunt this one down in either the Director’s Cut edition or the original cut, now available on Blu-Ray as well as DVD, and prepare yourself for a harrowing evening of entertainment.
Originally published in Dark Matter 8.