Film Review: Battle Royale

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Sometimes when I can’t sleep, my brain wanders to thinking about lots of things. Sometimes it thinks about the horrible, horrible, horrible movie Battle Royale, and all the billions of things wrong with it. I figure that if I actually write these things down, perhaps I will stop thinking about this when I’m having insomnia. (It’s too much to ask, of course, that I get rid of the damned insomnia…). So, as such, it’s not really necessary for people to read, it’s more to hopefully get this crap out of my head[1]. There’re spoilers herein, so be warned.

First off, this is the thing that just REALLY bugged me about the film — the premise didn’t make a lick of sense, what with the BR Act and all, the government law that said that since all the kids are horrible and bad now, every year, a 9th grade class will be chosen at random to make with the killin’ each other and etc. Which just doesn’t make sense; assuming it’s supposed to be a deterrent, it doesn’t work because it’s totally arbitrary. There’s no need to change your actions — no matter what, you’ve got a 1/50 (an approximate figure of the number actually given in the film about how many 9th grade classes there were. I think it was closer to 42 or so, but, whatever, 1/50 is close enough.) chance of being killed. So, basically, there’s nothing stopping you from Stabbin’ Up Some Teacher Leg anyway because there’s a 49/50 chance nothing’ll come from it (since it seemed that outside of the BR Act, the disciplinary forces were either non-existent or incompetent), and a 1/50 chance you’re screwed no matter what you do, even if you’re the kid who goes and reads all the time and does the work on time and whatnot.

The s

ad thing is, this would be really easily fixed in the script — basically put in some system so, say, people are arranged into classes by how much of Bad Kids they are, and make the Bad Kid Classes like boarding schools or something, and then send them off to the Island to die (and I don’t know why this wouldn’t be written in — it’s a real easy fix, and it would, y’know, not make everything totally stupid and worthless. Actually, I know why they didn’t put this in — it’s so you could “care” about the various cardboard cutouts they call children, because they’re Just Like Us. More on the bad scriptwriting later.) . Granted, it’s basically the death penalty[2], not to mention that the “one victor” win-condition[3] is pretty wacky[4]. Of course, you’d have to let everyone know about this system, or it’d be as useless as the BR Act that’s in the actual script. So, y’know, it’d have to be No Coincidence that all the thugs are in the same homeroom.

Since the BR Act can’t really be a deterrent (even the way I’ve changed it, it can’t really be that much of a deterrent if there’s still a Really Bad Kid Class to be sent to the Island to die[5]; this is probably a logical fallacy, but I say that the entire movie is a logical fallacy. Also, your mom is a logical fallacy.), my other guess is that it’s intended as entertainment[6] — but that doesn’t really work either. I figure that, hey, since apparently the Youth Of Today, By Which I Mean The Future, are totally psychopathic and worthless, even though we’re only really told this rather than shown, and all the kids basically seem to be normal sorts (which is, presumably, TeH Po1nt!11!), who wouldn’t enjoy seeing them all kill each other for no reason at all (except, as BR has proven, me. Yeah, surprised me, too.)? But, the thing is — there are no cameras or anything. Apparently all the public gets is the occasional news update, and they can congratulate the winner when they come back. In fact, the only communication they seem to have, is that all the headthings are wired with transmitters that send to the Main Guy (not the public or anything, just a local thing) who the wearer is, whether or not they’re dead, and audio picked up by a microphone. So, basically, the Main Teacher Guy just hangs out on the couch and occasionally gets calls from his family to let them know that they hate him. For no real reason, it seems[7]. But, since everybody’s miked you have the option to turn up certain mikes and have certain mixes to get information, but it’s still live, so all you’d get for certain is the score. Every so often you’d get something of note, but for every something of note, I’d wager that you’d get at least 10 instances where you’d miss finding out what happened, either through having it be drowned out, or be listening to one of the kids who wasn’t doing anything going “oh god don’t let me die don’t let me die” or “but I love her, I don’t want to kill her![8]“. Even though I hate baseball (and pretty much all sports other than bowling and maybe sumo in an utterly shallow “Hey, fat guys fightin’!” sort of way), I figure that finding out what would be going on would be akin to listening to someone on the telephone telling you the score and occasionally telling you what happens at the end of every inning, sometimes clearly, sometimes not, only it’s a party line, so your lines get crossed, and there’s a lot of dropouts, so it’d be something like this:

SCORE: A: 5 B: 7
“Hey, and the guy for A just got a line drive, and uh, the guy for B got the third base A guy in a pickle between 2nd and 3rd.”

SCORE: A: 6 B: 7
“Then I took the bananas, and then I took some butter and I put them in the pie crust and I baked it and you know what I got? NOTHING! It’s butter and bananas, not a pie! WHAT’S WRONG?!?!”

SCORE: A: 7 B: 7

SCORE: A: 19 B: -3

And so forth. I like to picture the score being given in a metallic voice preceded by a loud bell. Anyway, for someone listening in, it’s at best boring, and at worst, frustrating.

Honestly, deterrence and entertainment are the only two things I can think of that the BR Act could be justified for. And it fails on both counts. Granted, if they were to put a bunch of cameras all over and broadcast it, they’d have The Running Man (Special Edition), but, hey, that was pretty danged Enjoyable Stupid[9], rather than Excruciating Stupid. So, let’s just put aside that part of the Broken-As-Hell Tapestry that is BR.

Instead, let’s look at the script. Granted, the BR Act is a HUGE part of the script (considering that the script is basically: Act I: BR Act Explained, Act II: Kids Kill Each Other For Too Damn Long, Act III: Incredibly Stupid Ending. And it’s not hard to write Act II. You could probably do it in 5 pages. Hell, shorter than that. Here’s my version: Kids that are dumber than dishwater kill each other in incredibly stupid and not-thought-out ways at all. They do this for about an hour and a half of screen time.) Normally, I’d write a proviso here that I did watch an English Subtitled Version, and as such, was not in on the 100% True Version Of The Film, but no matter how good or bad a translation is, there’s a lot of stuff that doesn’t rely on translation — like characterization, say. If there’s nothing in the script about the characters, the translator can’t put it in there. And if there IS stuff in the script, the translator’s not gonna leave it out wholesale. Because then they’d be fired. And it’d be painfully obvious when people were talking for 10 minutes and weeping as if they found out something deep and personal about themselves and others, and the text just read “Do you want a pizza?” “Sure.” So, the fact that it’s translated is irrelevant. The fact that there’s no characterization at all is relevant. Part of the problem with this is that there’s, like, 42 kids, plus a handful of adults. And there’s only 2 hours to get to know them. And I realize this, and I’m not saying that we should have had the life story of every single wiener on the island. But, the thing is, you know about as much about the 3 main characters as you do the girl who got a knife in the face at the beginning, or the two lovers who killed themselves at the beginning, or the teacher who got killed who I don’t even think had any lines or the miscellaneous army guys, or the girl in the training video that was the only amusing part of BR, or the shrubbery or the island itself or the water, or the boat they ride on or etc.

The only things you know about any of them is that occasionally one or two people betrayed each other, everyone else loves everyone else, and none of them apparently have ever looked up the word “act” in the dictionary. They’re just cardboard. Incredibly stupid, stupid, stupid cardboard.

On the subject of stupid, there’re the ringers! For some reason, a couple of outside kids are brought in, I guess to help the killing going on at a faster clip. One doesn’t really do much of anything until the end, and the other one is not only just utterly painfully stupid, he also lists “deus ex machina” on his business card. The painfully stupid (this phrase sure pops up a lot, doesn’t it?) part is that all he ever does is Bonsai Charges. Basically screaming and firing away with apparently unlimited ammo, and just killing everyone and NEVER GETTING TOUCHED, which is just maddening. Not only is he doing incredibly stupid things that are “HELLO, KILL ME NOW!!!” beacons, he’s often in a place where the other people could just ice him really easily, but they NEVER EVER DO. As for the extra credit on his resume, basically, the only interesting thing going on is when a few of the kids get the bright idea to h4xx0r the m41nfr4m3 and disable all the head-explody things and take over the island and whatever. Just as they do it, Cap’n Annoying Ringer shows up, and blows everything up for no real reason at all, and then kills the skr1p7 k1dd13s (which IS what they were, honest — the hacking is that one of them had a program that pretty much automatically hacks in for you, and then does its thing… whoo. h3 w45 n07 7r1n17y.), killing about the only even vaguely-interesting thing part of the plot. I assume because the writer didn’t want to have to worry about anything along the lines of anything that wasn’t kids killing kids getting in the way of the Act II motif (kids killing kids).

The ringer is the Big Stupid of the fighting, but, frustratingly, none of the non-ringer people have any sense, either. Even ASIDE from not killing the ringer. Or anyone else when they’d give their big long “I don’t want to kill you, but I have to, and I hope you forgive me” or “This is for the time you stole that boy from me, and then the other one and such, and the first such incident was in…” or the “I love you so much that I will let you kill me” type speeches. I know it’s an action movie tradition to let people finish talking before killing them, but it’s an incredibly stupid tradition, and can we LET IT DIE? Everyone’s wise to it, everyone expects it, and everyone knows it’s excruciatingly dumb. There’s no reason for the speeches at all. The only time I can see a speech like that being acceptable is if the character is a person who is Immature, Inexperienced and Seen Too Many Bad Bond Movies[10]. In which case, perhaps the proper reaction would be stunned silence for part of the speech that they’d be that dumb, and then killing them in the middle WITHOUT making a stupid quip or mugging to the camera or anything. In fact, just don’t do this at all. Just kill him straight off, and go on about your business, because it’s old, clichéd and dumb.

So, the characters are dumb, and no one can act (if there is any fun in this movie, and there is none, it’s in watching the people dance around when they die. I guess they were using special Buck’n’Wing Ammo.). Thing is — there’s a lot of movies where the same can be said, and they’re enjoyable, so, why isn’t this?

Two main reasons: The first goes to the concept of “buck’n’wing bullets”, and the other is rather surprising that it runs counter to the first. If anything, the most people know about BR (of those who haven’t seen it, anyway) it’s That One Movie About The Kids Killin’ Each Other And It’s Supposed To Be Really, Really Violent. Thing is, and this is the first reason, it’s NOT. I mean, sure, there’s a lot of blood, and there’s a lot of death and whathaveyou, so, yeah, in that case it’s violent, but, it’s neither Realistic nor Fun Unrealistic. Actually, this is the second reason — the movie takes itself way too seriously, and therefore can’t embrace the fun aspects of it. But more on that in a bit, I’m still talking about the aspect of the violence. ANYWAY — the proper way to do something like this, is either to be realistic, so it’s at least a little shocking, surprising or ANYTHING, or (my favorite), to go full-on head-on into the Over-The-Top Silly Gore territory. BR would have made a pretty bitchin’ Troma film, actually.

Case Study: The Head-Explody Collars.
Explanation: All the students are fitted with HECs. If they try to take them off, they explode, killing the student. If they hang around too long in a sector, they explode. If they try to escape the island, they explode. If they’re hit, they explode. If after the time limit, if more than one person is alive, they all explode. There’s probably more. The point is, they explode the head.

How it is done in the movie: It doesn’t look so much like a head exploding. It looks more like a person who just went to Burger King and decided to smuggle out a ketchup packet in their HEC for a sandwich later. When the HEC explodes, it punctures the ketchup packet, leaving a tiny amount of ketchup on the neck, and the wearer dies of shame and disappointment, because they REALLY wanted ketchup on their future sandwich, and they got the ketchup all over their neck and nifty collar, so they’ll have to clean it up before the cute girl they love sees them.

How I would have done it: Huge explosion, perhaps doing a little bit of damage to anything too close. A geyser of blood coming from the neck stump. A plastic head fires, like a cannon, off the neck, and bounces all around the room, bloodying lots of things. Lloyd Kaufman, in the background, does the green vomit-bromoseltzer trick. (Last line optional, depending on the quality of the Plastic Head. Actually, from reading Lloyd’s books, he’d probably be disappointed in me for wanting a plastic head, and would have instead told me to get a melon filled with hamburger with a wig on top.)

Sure, mine’s over the top and not at all realistic, but, well, either was the damaged ketchup packet. And, well, at least mine’s FUN. And it doesn’t really give the actor time to Act Horribly.

But yes, as I mentioned, the second reason is that BR takes itself way too seriously. The film seems to think that it’s saying something Incredibly Important And Deep, but a) I’d wager that everyone reading this thought of a similar plot in middle school and b) the director and screenwriter were too inept to actually pull it off. (I also assume the guy who wrote the original book is also to blame, but I haven’t read the book, since the movie seemed beyond salvage.) So, you have people going around, being Incredibly Important, even though they haven’t done any research at all as to how someone would actually react in that situation and what they would do if they were not brutally stupid. Instead, they took the route of having people spout incredibly clumsy dialogue about how they just love each other and didn’t want this, even though it’s just an incredibly arbitrary system, which is probably supposed to be all the more frightening, but just makes it more stupid.

Hey, actually, OK, they could have just cut the Gordian Knot of the BR Act by NOT MENTIONING IT AT ALL. Just have them somehow be on an island, owned by an insane millionaire or something, who lays out the rules of the game[11]. And then much mayhem ensues. And no damn ringers. And maybe kids who have at least driven past an acting school. And a writer who has a least heard of the written word. The direction was passable, at least, kinda, aside from all the badly-doneness and inept pretentiousness. So, a director who had a pretentionectomy, and maybe a refresher course on the finer points of filmmaking. And either a good special effects budget, or backing by Troma, one of the two.

And finally, the movie should have not been so bad that I waste time thinking about exactly how it was so awful. And also, had it not been so bad that I waste a lot of time writing up a long essay over why it’s so bad, where I’m certain I missed a bunch of points. That would have been really good.

FOOTNOTES [12]: Much like that time when I taught the Man Behind the Winkie’s to play the clarinet. Never mind. The original edit of this had a footnote referring to something that was irrelevant, and I didn’t really want to go and fix 12 footnotes. So you get a useless one.

I really don’t want to get into whether or not the death penalty is actually a deterrent or not, since it’s pretty irrelevant to this film (even though you wouldn’t really think it would be…). At any rate, I’d think that everyone would agree that “You kill him, I kill you, therefore don’t kill him” makes more sense, at least on paper, as a deterrent than the BR Act’s “You kill him, I’m mad at the high rate of murder, so therefore I’m going to drop a nuclear bomb on a town chosen at random every year, and then force the survivors, if there are any, to play Russian Roulette, until at most one person is alive, and it may or may not be your actual town, but it probably won’t be, so watch your back, even though there’s really no reason to.”

I realize this element doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense either, but I’ll give it to them anyway, if for no other reason than without this you don’t have a (really bad) movie.

With the One Victor Win Condition thing, at least you’ve got a higher chance of getting to Enjoyable Stupid, rather than Excruciating Stupid. Even though it means the Most Brutal, Calculating Thug is rewarded and let back into society and all that goes with being the One Victor — is pretty daft. Like I say, it couldn’t ever be a Good Movie, but at least it could have been not-horrible.

This might actually have the added effect of making the movie better, since, well, it’s all fight scenes, but with actual thugs, perhaps the fight scenes wouldn’t be so damned STUPID STUPID STUPID with stupid children doing incredibly stupid things and occasionally dying stupidly, or even worse, NOT DYING exceptionally stupidly. More on this later.

Another useless footnote, since it was about the original conditions the essay was written under. Since you’re actually reading this, I might as well put something here. Here, as a bonus, I’ll throw in Field Marshall Stack’s comments on the film (come back to these after you’ve read the rest of the essay, though):
Re: The second ringer, I’m pretty sure he was the guy who got The Alleged Protagonists off the island.

Re: How to fix this misbegotten movie, well, first obviously I’d have the psycho ringer die really, really early, in the most humiliating way possible. The way I figure it, he… well, okay, this seems to be the venue for extremely long rants about things that other people haven’t seen, so here goes:

Sociopath Ringer should be chasing some random through one of the abandoned buildings at night, firing his machine gun randomly and shouting at the top of his lungs & cetera, as is his wont.

Hiding in this building is The Girl With The Stun Gun, who is cowering quasi-fetally against a wall.

Sociopathic Ringer, too wrapped up in the screaming and the wasting ammunition and the being a retard to notice anything around him, should accidentally trip over her, literally. Just on reflex Girl With Stun Gun should zap him, and then run off screaming and crying. Given that Girl With Stun Gun is Girl With Stun Gun, she wouldn’t even bother to pick up his machine gun before making herself scarce.

While Sociopathic Ringer is still incapacitated, the Alleged Protagonists should come by, pick up his gun, but not kill him. Since they are Good, Kind-Hearted People and all.

The next morning Sociopathic Ringer, totally disarmed, should try to charge some guy in an attempt to kill him with his bare hands. Said guy would have a knife. He’d defend himself, then apologize profusely and try to tend Sociopathic Ringer’s wounds while Sociopathic Ringer lay bleeding to death. Sample dialogue:

“Oh my god… I’m sorry… I’m so sorry… I didn’t mean… what were you doing, anyway? Are you crazy? … god, lemme try to bandage th– HEY! COULD YOU STOP TRYING TO KILL ME FOR A SECOND? anyway… yeah, that bandage should hold GOD DAMMIT WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU?”

After he died the instructional video woman would pop up in a circular picture-in-picture window and say things like “Wow! He was really dumb!”

So, yeah. the proper way to dispose of that character is to have him accidentally kacked by a group of the most timid and kindhearted people on the island. And then mocked brutally.

Which gets me to the, the um crux of my B***** R***** fixin’ scheme. First and less importantly, the stupid people have to get killed for their stupidity. I’m not a big fan of seeing stupid people lauded/rewarded for their alleged combat skillz, as they were in B***** R*****.

But here’s the important thing. I’d fix the movie by scribbling over it. For example, stick the Instructional Video Woman in picture and picture in half the death scenes, pointing out what each of the stupids did wrong. You could put her in other places, too. Like, say, the Male Alleged Protagonist could be having an Allegedly Moving Conversation with the Female Alleged Protagonist, and at some point in the middle of it the Instructional Video Woman could pop up in picture-in-picture, say “Wow! This stuff is REALLY BORING. Uh… what can we do to liven this up… hang on, I’ll go ask the administrators if we can call in an airstrike on them…” *walks out of frame* *walks back in a short while later* “… aw, they don’t want to tamper with the game. But this is so boring! Boring boring boring. La la la la la. Isn’t there anything interesting going on anywhere else? Let’s go check!”, at which point the sound would come back in on the Male and Female Alleged Protagonists and we’d get to hear “-ve you too, no matter wh–” from one of them before the abrupt cut to the next scene.

Perhaps you could even have her point out all the obvious scorn quote plot end scorn quote holes in the movie, though that’s sort of an Eggersian solution to the problem. But, yeah. What that movie needed is the instructional video woman giving it the mst3k-if-joel/mike-and-the-bots-were-in-fact-a-hyperactive-bloodthirsty-japanese-woman treatment. It should mock itself so that we don’t have to.

I should really stop putting things like “for no real reason, it seems” since everything in this movie is for no real reason. Absolutely no one is developed at all. Not even the main characters. We’re supposed to feel sad and shocked when they die. I suppose we’re also supposed to feel sad and shocked when we tear up paper or throw out that bloody Styrofoam they pack meat on.

In BR, everyone loves everyone else, even though none of them really have any character, and many of them are downright unlovable jackasses or ninnies. The ones that aren’t pretty much die straight off in a really forgettable manner.

I think that any movie that has Richard Dawson as a murderous game show host out to kill Schwarzenegger is both Incredibly Stupid and Incredibly Enjoyable. And I don’t think it could be anything other than those two things.

All of them?

For the record, before I saw BR, this is what I thought the premise was, and actually really wanted to see it, thinking it was some variant of this. I figure this is a product of my having read, at least once a year, from about 3-6th grades, “The Most Dangerous Game”. Perhaps it was also a product of my hope of a actually decent film adaptation. Actually, now, I’m no longer really enamored with that story. And I couldn’t really tell you why I was back then. Oh well.

Man, David Foster Wallace was right, these things ARE addictive.

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