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Freedom Fighters

by J.J. McCabe

Four films about being forced into combat for the entertainment of a nation

The Hunger Games is certainly the most successful film to tackle the idea of an update on the gladiatorial combats of ancient Rome, but it is by no means the first. Here are four films that have tackled similar ideas.

Battle Royale
Fans of The Hunger Games may recognize the plot of this infamous Japanese cult film from 2000 (adapted from the novel by Koushun Takami) – in a future Japan a class of 9th graders are taken from school and forced to fight to the death in an island arena. Unlike Hunger Games, Battle Royale has a darkly humorous streak running through, and the inimitable “Beat” Takeshi Kitano gives a fun performance as the overseer of the competition. Though the film was one of the largest Japanese box-office successes of all time, it has just recently finally been given a legal release here in the U.S., unsurprisingly only five days after The Hunger Games opened in theaters nationwide.

The Running Man
Loosely adapted from a Stephen King (writing as Richard Bachman) novella, The Running Man stars the Governator himself Arnold Schwarzenegger as a convict who is forced to compete in a popular reality show where convicted felons fight professional killers to the death for a chance at freedom. The world built around the show is a compelling totalitarian state completely run by corporations, and there’s quite a bit of sly media satire handled with an over-the-top bluntness typical of late ‘90s action/sci-fi films. The Running Man is considered Schwarzenegger’s most violent film.

Any student of history who has read The Hunger Games has probably caught the multiple references to ancient Rome scattered throughout the novels, particularly the character names – Plutarch, Peeta, Cinna and Octavius were all important players in the decline of the empire – but none stand out so much as the games themselves, an obvious analogy to the gladiatorial combats in the Coliseum. Gladiator tells the story of a Roman general (Russell Crowe) taken as a slave during one of the frequent political upheavals of the era and forced to fight for his freedom in the arena. Directed by Ridley Scott, the film won the Best Picture Oscar for the year 2000.

Similar to The Running Man, in Gamer, Gerard Butler is another wrongly convicted felon competing in a death match to win his freedom. The twist is that he is being remotely controlled by an anonymous gamer in a massive Gears of War style video game using live humans. The game is conceived by a malevolent billionaire (played by Dexter’s Michael C. Hall) who has essentially enslaved mankind with a Second Life-esque MMORPG that most of the world lives entirely within. Written and directed by Neveldine/Taylor, the team that brought us the Crank films, Gamer is frenetic and bizarre and has a lot more personality than the trailers revealed.

At the time of this writing, all four of these movies are in stock at the Santa Cruz Streetlight Records.

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