Monday, 9 April 2012

Niche Genres: Dystopian Death Games

In celebration of The Hunger Games' continuing box office success, it is time to look at another of cinema's niche genres: this time, Dystopian Death Games.

What is a Dystopian Death Game? a film set in a deteriorating society whereby random characters are enrolled as contestants in violent games with high stakes: you win or you die.

Not to be confused with... Sporting Movies, which share many of the same motifs (underdogs prevailing, training montages, Machiavellian sporting officials) but have a much lower body count. 

Trademarks of the Genre: a perverse and bleak alternative future; a corrupt government with bizarrely elaborate and expensive ways to keep society in check; an eclectic mix of character types thrown together against their will; ridiculous costumes; ridiculous rules; lots of weapons; underdogs beating the system and prevailing, thus bringing an end to their respective Death Game for good.

Examples: The Hunger Games, Battle Royale, The Running Man, Death Race 2000, Rollerball, Gamer, Death Sport, Tron, Game of Death, Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire (the Triwizard Tournament is mental).

Highlights of the Genre: cool and unusual concepts; the games provide an excellent excuse for highly original and gruesome death scenes; opportunity for great satire of competitive sport and reality TV if handled by the right screenwriter; random characters thrown together in a desperate situation always makes for interesting consequences.

Limitations of the Genre: film-makers often rush into the games and throw character development out of the window; the wardrobe department often feel the need to give their characters stupid costumes in an attempt to show that the film is set in an alternative time; the heroes usually beat the system and put an end to the game, which means ideas for sequels are forced and nonsensical.

Best Example: Battle Royale - directed by Kinji Fukasaku and based on the novel by Koushun Takami, this is the benchmark for Dystopian Death Games films. Gritty, violent and with a dark sense of humour, this is entirely believable, addictive viewing. Following the chilling opening classroom scene, the contestants are set loose across the island, which both provides a stunning backdrop for the violence and emphasises the isolation of its characters. The young and talented cast is superb, launching Shuya Nanahara's career, and Japanese veteran Takeshi Kitano (yes, from Takeshi's Castle) is ever-watchable as the villainous official overseeing the games. Crucially, the pace never slows and the audience's attention will never waver, as the film is told from multiple perspectives, allowing for a rich variety of characters and, of course, violent deaths. This is captivating film-making and in a different league to the usual Death Game film fodder.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Looking Back... March 2012

March in a Tweet: the studios reveal their unlikely blockbuster gambles with varying success and the Jameson Empire Awards right the wrongs of Oscar Season. 

Everyone was talking about: ...the long-awaited Empire Magazine podcast! Available from iTunes.

Best Film: 21 Jump Street - there's nothing quite so satisfying as a laugh-out-loud surprise comedy. You'll want to watch it again as soon as it ends.

Biggest Disappointment: John Carter - with Andrew Stanton at the helm, we all hoped he would work his WALL.E and Finding Nemo magic. Unfortunately, it bombed.

Best Actor: Channing Tatum, 21 Jump Street - I never thought I'd name Channing Tatum as Best Actor of anything but his comedic turn as Jenko stole the show. Give the man more comedies.

Best Actress: Jennifer Lawrence, The Hunger Games - Lawrence brought Katniss Everdeen to life in the bigscreen adaptation of the popular teen book.

Best Line: "Fuck you, Glee!" - Jenko (Channing Tatum) in 21 Jump Street.

Best Scene: the Peter Pan fight in 21 Jump Street.

Other Best Scene: Katniss Everdeen's 'William Tell' moment in The Hunger Games. Bullseye!

Missed Opportunity: The Hunger Games should have ended when the game started. It would have provided an awesome cliffhanger and the game itself could have been explored in further detail in the sequel. Judging by the box office takings, the studio is probably kicking themselves that they missed this opportunity to milk the trilogy for extra films.

RIP: Ralph McQuarrie, concept designer on the original Star Wars trilogy, died at the age of 82 due to complications with Parkinson's disease. Lucas commented after McQuarrie's death: "His genial contribution, in the form of unequalled production paintings, propelled and inspired all of the cast and crew of the original Star Wars trilogy." McQuarrie also worked on Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T. and Cocoon, for which he won an Oscar.

Films Seen: John Carter, 21 Jump Street, The Hunger Games, The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! 3D.

Average The Big Fairbanski Star Rating: 2.75